James Salmon (Junior) was born on 13 April 1873 at 12 Seton Terrace, Glasgow, the son of architect William Forrest Salmon and Jessie Alexander, and grandson of architect James Salmon (Senior). He was initially educated privately and sent to Glasgow High School in September 1883. After his mother's sudden death in 1887 while staying with her sister and brother-in-law Elizabeth and William Scott Morton in Edinburgh, James and his brother Hugh (born 16 November 1874) were brought up partly by their father's formidable elder sister Wilhelmina - 'Aunt Mina' - who had looked after her father since her mother's death in 1881. Hugh was tall like his father and grandfather, James was relatively short in stature resulting in the sobriquets of 'Wee Troot' or 'Sardine', both of which he used himself. He was witty, forceful and irreverent both as a speaker and as a writer. Although he could often be hilarious his brother Hugh recalled that he never laughed: a sardonic 'Huh huh' was as much as he could manage.
After the death of James Salmon (Senior) on 5 June 1888, William Forrest continued the business under the same name. In the same year James Salmon Junior left Glasgow High School to join the family firm, where he remained for two year, studying at Glasgow School of Art. In 1890 he was sent to William Leiper's office to complete his apprenticeship, continuing to attend the classes at Glasgow School of Art until 1891 and again from 1892 to 1895, an unusually extended period. His aim appears to have been not only to benefit from the teaching of William James Anderson but also to maintain links with the 'New Sculpture' group there, the cosmopolitan Francis Derwent Wood, who had studied in Karlsruhe and Paris, the Dutchman Johan Keller and their Scots student Albert Hodge (who were to have a profound effect on the firm's architecture in the later 1890s and early 1900s).
James left Leiper's office in 1894 at the end of his articles. Leiper's influence on him was to remain marked in both commercial and domestic work. As a twenty-first birthday present Forrest sent him on a Grand Tour of the continent which is partly chronicled in watercolours in the Salmon collection at NMRS made between April and July of that year; the tour included France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Belgium, Holland, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, Greece and Spain. He returned to the family firm in March 1895 to find John Gaff Gillespie (born 1870) in charge of most of the design work. Gillespie had been articled to James Milne Monro c. 1884, concurrently attending classes at Glasgow School of Art, and he won the Glasgow Institute of Architects prize in 1889 jointly with Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This had brought him to the notice of Forrest Salmon who engaged him in 1891. Like Mackintosh at Honeyman & Keppie, Gillespie was given design responsibility very early, notably at the free Flemish Renaissance Scottish Temperance League building in 1893 and the West of Scotland Convalescent Seaside Homes at Dunoon in 1895. Sometime in that same year, Forrest made Gillespie a partner, the everyday work of the practice having grown as a result of Forrest having secured some of the business of the British Linen Bank, whose architects were usually J M Dick Peddie & Washington Browne. Unlike the diminutive James Salmon, Gillespie was very tall, slim and cleanshaven with a calm equable temperament.
On his return James Salmon Junior worked under his father and Gillespie for rather more than two years, being given much of the design responsibility for Mercantile Chambers on Bothwell Street, a huge project in which the Salmons had a financial interest and which was to become their office. James became a partner in 1898, but for the next few years and even beyond the individual design responsibilities of Gillespie and James Junior are not always easy to separate. Their names were not acknowledged in the practice title until November 1903 when the firm became Salmon Son & Gillespie.
By that date there had been domestic changes in the Salmon family. Wilhelmina had remained unmarried and eventually a house at Lochgoilhead, renamed Gowandean, was bought for her and extended in 1897-98, before her father's death. On 11 June 1889 Forrest, remembered in the family as something of a ladies' man, married Agnes Cooper Barry, the daughter of a Forfar grocer who lived with her brother the Reverend James Cooper Barry, a civil engineer who had switched career to become a Free Church minister in 1882 and had obtained the charge of the North Free Church at Dumbarton. Neither Wilhelmina nor Forrest's sons took to Agnes, always referring to her as 'Steppy'. Hugh left home in 1894 to work for his grandfather at Arrat Mill, Brechin, and Auchenblae, Kincardineshire, emigrating to Dunedin in 1898 as wool and seed manager to Wright Stephenson & Company. James remained at home and in 1898 the Salmon family moved to the newly built Rowantreehill at Kilmacolm where they rapidly acquired a significant domestic clientele.
In his later years Forrest became prominent in professional matters as a Governor of Glasgow School of Art, President of the Glasgow Institute of Architects 1892-94, and a member of the RIBA Council. It was probably due to his influence that Gillespie and James Junior were admitted directly to Fellowship of the RIBA on 3 December 1906, James's proposers being Leiper, John James Burnet, Watson and his father. By 1906 both Gillespie and James Junior had travelled extensively. James Junior's nomination paper records travel in Norway, Holland (1904), Romania, Austria and Hungary (1904), France (1894 and 1906), Switzerland (1894), Spain, Italy (1894 and 1904), Greece and Turkey (probably 1904). We also know from a letter from James to Hugh Salmon of 14 April 1903 that James had travelled to Brittany in 1896 with Robert (Bob') Whyte. Sketches and photographs preserved in the Salmon collection at NMRS have left his travels well documented.
By the early 1900s Gillespie and Salmon's styles had begun to diverge, Gillespie's work tending to be a simplified free classic and Salmon's still a sculpturesque art nouveau as seen in the alternative elevational treatments in the competition for the new Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College competition of 1901, both partners adopting a highly simplified arts and crafts style for domestic, cottage hospital and golf clubhouse work. But from 1904 when they received the commission for Lion Chambers both Gillespie and James Junior had become interested in the possibilities of reinforced concrete, working closely with the structural engineer Louis Gustave Mouchel, the British-based representative of Francois Hennebique. Within the firm Forrest seems to have been responsible for the 'scheming out' of commissions, the detailed design work being delegated to Gillespie or to his son James. Forrest was latterly known as the commercial traveller adept at moving in Parish Council School Board and clubland circles to obtain directly commissioned work for the practice which spent much of its time on designs for national and local competitions, none of which it succeeded in actually winning until 1908 when William Leiper selected their design for Stirling Municipal Buildings which was mainly Gillespie's work. Construction was, however, some years away and in the summer of 1911 Forrest began to suffer from cancer. He died at Rowantreehill on 7 October. By his own wish he was buried with his first wife and the Scott Mortons at Merchiston Cemetery, Edinburgh. He left moveable estate of £7,008 11s. 4d..
While the Finance Act of 1909 had probably affected the prosperity of the practice as it had so many others, Forrest Salmon's will proved the catalyst for the dissolution of the partnership in June 1913. The will made no provision for James to inherit his share of the practice; instead, it remained part of his trust estate and entitled 'Steppy' to a share of such profits as the firm had at that time. Gillespie now became senior partner and as James Junior had spent all his income on foreign travel and motoring (as a letter to Hugh of 18 August 1910 records) he could not afford to buy out either Gillespie or his stepmother. Gillespie bought out Agnes's interest, retaining the office in Mercantile Chambers, the archive (which was later sent for pulping when his successor Jack Antonio Coia was interned in 1940) and the Stirling commission. James moved out to a rented flat at 48 Jane Street, Blythswood Square which was both home and office, apparently without even a secretary. He retained the commission received in 1909 for the Admiralty Village at Cove Farm, Greenock of which only a few houses had been built in 1910, and was allowed to revive the name of the firm as it had existed prior to 1903, James Salmon & Son, later abbreviated simply to James Salmon FRIBA.
The few clients James Salmon Junior had for actual building in 1913-14 were all medical, probably introduced through his friend Dr James Devon. He developed Repertory Theatre connections from 1914 but although he made many sketch designs, one including an hotel, none of these was pursued further. When war came his Admiralty connections stood him in surprisingly good stead, with the garden village development at Cove Farm going ahead; he also received commissions for workers' housing at Greenock and Cambuslang, which were not built. The income from these enabled him to marry, in a civil ceremony on 2 (or 14; sources vary) February 1917, Dr Agnes Picken, a colleague of Dr Devon's at Duke Street Prison, remembered by Hugh's daughter Anne as 'a very direct, no nonsense, amusing resolute woman who had had to make her own way in the world'. They lived in Salmon's house and office in Jane Street and at the end of the war became deeply involved in welfare work in the Balkans, particularly in respect of Dr Katherine McPhail's Sanatorium for sick children at Brababic, Ragusa working in association with the American Relief Administration European Children's Fund. Lectures given in 1920 and 1921, together with other papers relating to these activities, survive.
Salmon's post-war clients remained exclusively medical, his only sizeable commission being the reconstruction of Redlands on Great Western Road as Glasgow Women's Private Hospital, begun in 1921. Like his father he took a particular interest in professional matters and was editor of the RIAS Quarterly in 1921-22.
James Salmon's last months greatly distressed his wife and friends. By the autumn of 1923 he was unable to continue his practice because of bowel cancer. Moreover he was responsible for his aunt Wilhelmina who had become senile with arterio sclerosis and had to be taken into Craighouse, Edinburgh, the cost of which must have been a considerable financial strain. She died on 9 January 1924 and it fell to him to wind up what was left of his grandfather's Trust for her. Salmon himself died only three-and-a-half months later on 27 April, at his home, 48 Jane Street. The letters Dr Devon wrote to keep him amused and interested in his last weeks are in the NMRS collection. His estate amounted to only £535 9s. 6d., part of which was his inheritance from his Aunt Wilhelmina's Trust; his funeral was private.