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James Archibald Morris was born in Ayr on 14 January 1857, the younger child of Archibald Morris and his wife Anne Watson; his father was a well-off ship master trading between Ayr and Liverpool. Morris was educated at Ayr Academy and articled to A Lindsay Miller in Glasgow 1873-78. While there he attended the Haldane Academy, later absorbed into Glasgow School of Art and at the end of the apprenticeship spent two years studying 'ancient remains' in Scotland and France which laid the foundations for the conservation aspect of the practice. On his return he settled in London, enrolled at the Slade School to study art under Alphonse Legros and at the Royal Academy Schools under Phené Spiers to advance his architectural education, classes also being taken at University College.

Morris set up practice on his own account at 46 Newmarket, Ayr at the early age of twenty-three in September 1880 and was elected ARIBA on 23 May of the following year, his proposers being John Baird, James Salmon and the elder George Bell; the first year of practice was concerned with feuing his property at Savoy Park Ayr and it was not until 1882 that any other significant commissions came in, the earliest being the photographer Ambrose Bara's house in Citadel Place (1882-83) - photography was one of the great interests of Morris's life - and the UP Church in Prestwick (1884).

In 1883 or 1884 Morris married Elizabeth Forgan, the daughter of Captain Charles Forgan of Towerhill, Kilmaurs, and took on as an assistant James Kennedy Hunter. Hunter was born in Ayr in 1863, the son of Andrew Hunter, a prosperous builder and Ayr Town Councillor and had spent two years training as a land-surveyor before entering into a shortened apprenticeship with the Ayr architect John Mercer. In 1885, after two years as an assistant, he was taken into partnership by Morris. Either in that year or the following year Morris moved to London, opening an office at 6 Delahay Street, Westminster leaving Hunter in charge of the Ayr office, and began entering major national competitions.

The reasons for setting up the London office are not entirely clear and it may have acted as an agency for Morris's considerable industrial interests. These are said to have been related to his love of fine craftsmanship as much as straightforward investment. In 1883 he had joined the board of the Kennedy Patent Water Meter Company and nine years later, in 1892, he was to join the board of the Glenfield Company. The companies merged in 1900 and in recognition of his role, Morris became first its vice-chairman, and in 1925 chairman, ending his career by writing the history of the company in 1939.

No actual building designed by the London practice has yet been identified, but it must have had more than an agency role as in 1891 Morris merged it with that of the Frenchman Alfred Chastel de Boinville who already had a Scottish connection. Born in 1850 of an old aristocratic family, Chastel de Boinville was a pupil of A Guyot from 1862 and had worked with Geoffroy of Cherbourg, 1868, followed by two years in unspecified offices to July 1870. In 1871 he moved to Glasgow where he was employed by Campbell Douglas and worked with James Sellars, shortly to become a partner, and was probably in his company that Sellars made his first trip to Paris in 1872. On the strength of his experience he was appointed architect to the Board of Public Works in Japan from 7 October 1873. There he taught architecture, the first significant westerner to do so, and he designed The Hall of the Imperial College of Engineering, since demolished, but his aristocratic demeanour, heavily accented English and somewhat unsystematic teaching resulted in his contract not being renewed and in 1881 he returned to London to set up practice at 2 Westminster Chambers with what appears to have been a younger brother, William Chastel de Boinville who had been articled to Piers St Aubyn from 1870 to 1875 and remained as assistant. While at Victoria Street they seem to have been employed in some capacity at the India Office.

The Morris-Chastel de Boinville partnership appears to have demerged again c.1893-95, most probably in 1895 when Hunter left the Ayr office having established a much larger clientele than Morris had. Morris then returned from London to concentrate on his industrial interests and consolidate what was left of his Ayr practice, although at least one English client appears to have remained loyal.

While in London Morris had joined the Art Workers Guild and became acquainted with its leading luminaries. In 1898 he took a leading role in establishing a similar Scottish body, The Scottish Society of Art Workers which was intended to complement Rowand Anderson's School of Applied Art, both of which had been established in 1892. Morris was the Society's first president, the other leading figures including Robert Lorimer, Phoebe Traquir, Alexander Nisbet Paterson, Oscar Paterson, John Keppie and Henry Edward Clifford.

Morris was one of the most original architects of his generation as can be seen at his own house, Savoy Croft, and particularly at Balgarth as first built. Herman Muthesius observed of him that he was 'a good architect who works in simple modern-looking forms while yet maintaining his own personal style'. Unfortunately his practice was never as extensive as it might have been, as it was seriously affected by the departure of Hunter. Glenfield and Kennedy took up too much of his time, as did the Boys' Brigade, the Ayrshire Association of Federated Burns Clubs, The Burns Federation, 'The Burns Chronicle', The Ayr Academy Club of which he was chairman, and the several conservation campaigns in which he was involved, notably those for St John's Tower at Ayr, The Auld Brig of Ayr, Loudoun Hall, and the Lister Ward of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. He was an enthusiastic Volunteer and was present at the 'Wet Review' in Edinburgh.

Morris's surviving sons had no interest in the business: the youngest, George, had been killed in action with the Royal Flying Corps in 1917, and another, also James Archibald Morris (born 1888), had become an engineer to the Eastern Indian Railways. The practice effectively closed in the early 1920s with a series of war memorials.

The diminution of the practice had little effect on recognition by his peers. He was elected ARSA in 1916 and elevated to RSA in 1931 although by that date he was merely exhibiting projects from many years before, and in 1930 he was appointed to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland in recognition of his extensive antiquarian publications.

Morris's wife was killed in a road accident in 1935 and Morris himself died at Savoy Croft on 8 November 1942, leaving moveable estate of £24,148 1s 3d. He was survived by two sons and a daughter. In his last years James A Carrick described his study as 'a treasure trove of books and antiquarian studies, thick with dust'.
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