Situated in the Consecrated/West Section of Jesmond Old Cemetery
John Dobson was born on 9th December, 1787 in the building now known as the Pineapple Inn in High Chirton, North Shields. As a youngster, he displayed a talent for drawing and his father, a Nurseryman and Gardener, and Innkeeper, gave John every opportunity to develop his artistic talent. Eneus Mackenzie in his book, ‘View of Northumberland’, published in 1811, wrote that “the beautiful and extensive fruit gardens of Mr. Dobson render Chirton a place of fashionable resort during the summer. They are tastefully laid out with pleasant walks, and convenient seats and arbours for the accommodation of parties of pleasure. Mr. Dobson has other gardens for the growth of vegetables, of which great quantities are consumed by the town and shipping of Shields”
At the age of 15, he became a ‘pupil – clerk’ to David Stephenson (1757 – 1819), the leading designer – builder in Newcastle at the time, whose work included the now Grade 1 listed All Saints’ Church – the only elliptical church building in England. Whilst a pupil of Stephenson, John also became a student of painting under Boniface Moss (who also taught him how to fence!!), an Italian refugee with a studio in Newcastle, and had John Martin, of Haydon Bridge, as a fellow pupil. After 8 years or so with Stephenson, where he also mastered the rudiments of masonry and carpentry, John wished to develop and improve his technique in drawing and painting, so took himself off to London in 1810 to work with John Varley (1778 – 1842), a watercolour painter, astrologist and a close friend of William Blake. Dobson so impressed Varley with his enthusiasm that not only did he agree to give him lessons, commencing at 5 in the morning in order to fit in with his busy schedule, but also invited him to stay in his home until he could find lodgings. During this year in London, Dobson met the architect Sir Robert Smirke (1780 – 1867) and became a close friend of the family. Smirke was an exponent of Greek Revival architecture and, clearly, must have been a great influence on Dobson’s own developing style. Robert’s younger brother, Sydney, was later to become John’s son-in-law, marrying his eldest daughter, Isabella.
In 1811, Dobson, aged 24, returned to Newcastle to set up his own architectural practice, contributing to the design of Belsay Hall – the Grecian mansion designed and built by Sir Charles Monck (1779 – 1867) – after which his reputation grew and by 1813 was making alterations to Gibside House for Lord Strathmore and Cheeseburn for the Riddell family and designing his first Church, the Scotch Church at North Shields. By 1815, John was making additions to Falloden for the Grey family and designing Prestwick Lodge (now Prestwick Hall) in Ponteland. Wilkes (1980) describes Prestwick Lodge as “elegant”, demonstrating a fine Dobson design characteristic, “the beautifully cut and finely jointed blocks of sandstone….. in Dobson’s houses, the mortar between the large and beautifully cut stone is so fine that you can scarcely see it. They look like dry stone houses, so perfect is the mason’s work.” On a visit to Jesmond Old Cemetery, take a look at the craftmanship of the East and West Chapels to see just what Wilkes was so enthusiastic about.
In 1816, John married Isabella Rutherford of Gateshead. They had eight children, though only their two eldest sons and daughters survived into adulthood.
When the Northern Architectural Association was formed at a meeting held at The Exchange Hotel, Newcastle on the 13th November 1858, the original 27 members who attended included John Dobson, Thomas Oliver and John Green, with Dobson being elected their first President.
In 1863, Dobson suffered a stroke which left him partly paralysed and from which he never really recovered. He kept on his house at 15 New Bridge Street but moved to a house in Ryton where it was hoped the country air and surroundings would benefit him. At the end of December 1864, John’s health deteriorated and he returned to his house in Newcastle where he died on Sunday 8th January 1865, aged 77.
Wilkes L. (1980) John Dobson; architect and landscape gardener. Oriel Press, Stocksfield.