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William James Smith ('Smithy' to his students) was born on 15 January 1893 and commenced his apprenticeship with G N Beattie & Morton of Glasgow in October 1908, remaining with John Gibb Morton after the dissolution of the partnership the following year. This apprenticeship was cut short in late 1910 or early 1911 when Morton, who was engaged to be married but was in some difficulty financially, emigrated to Canada, leaving his father to pay the rent and provide money for Smith to redeem the office equipment from the pawnbroker. Smith transferred to John Hamilton & Son to complete his training, becoming a close friend of Hamilton's son Arthur and virtually an adopted member of the family, frequently spending weekends with them in Rothesay. Throughout this period he attended the diploma course in architecture at The Glasgow School of Art under Eugène Bourdon, to whom he became much attached. In 1913 Smith was awarded the Franco-Scottish Travelling Scholarship and later the National Art Survey Scholarship and the Haldane Day Bursary (for full-time study). In 1914 Smith moved to the office of McKellar & Gunn as the Hamiltons had little work in hand, and in the same year he spent four weeks studying in France with the aid of a travelling bursary. From 1915 to 1919 he was on active war service with the Royal Engineers, during the course of which he obtained special leave to visit Cairo, Gizeh, Luxor, Jerusalem, France and Belgium. It has not been possible to discover much about his war service but he was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his exemplary gallantry. On his return to Glasgow in 1919 he rejoined John Hamilton & Son as a prospective partner, Arthur Hamilton having been killed in the war, and he was admitted ARIBA under the war exemption scheme at the end of the following year, his proposers being Hamilton, William Brown Whitie and Henry Edward Clifford. He taught part time at Glasgow School of Architecture and also at the Royal Technical College in Glasgow. Smith left the Hamilton practice in January 1921 to commence practice on his own account, but continued teaching. In 1942, he was appointed acting Director of Studies at Glasgow School Architecture following the departure of Thomas Harold Hughes, due to health reasons. The Glasgow School of Art's Annual report of 1942-43 records that the School of Art suggested he took over the supervision of the School of Architecture classes in addition to his work at the Royal Technical College. The Scottish Dictionary of Architects records a recollection of him as "small and slim with a brisk manner and a lively mind". Smith also contributed various articles and reviews to journals including 'Architectural Review', 'Architect's Journal', 'RIAS Quarterly' and 'RIBA Journal'. He was admitted FRIBA in late 1930, his proposers being John Watson, Thomas Harold Hughes and George Andrew Paterson. In 1933 he was the Athens Bursar. At about that time his office was at 227 Bath Street, Glasgow and he was living at 3 Ferngrove Avenue, Kelvindale. His nomination papers fail to mention his time with Morton, presumably through embarrassment at the association. In addition to the specific works cited, his job list mentions 'numerous smaller domestic dwellings in Glasgow suburbs' which have yet to be identified. Smith proposed numerous individuals for RIBA membership including former students of The Glasgow School of Art, such as Thomas Jack, who join him on the Roll of Honour. Examples of his work are held by The Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections, as is a painting of him by Jack Coia, presented to him at a reuinion dinner held on the S.V Carrick in 1975. A bust of Smith by Benno Schotz is also part of the Collection. Smith died on 25 March 1979. He was predeceased by his wife and in his later years spent Christmas and part of the winter in Malta, of which he was very fond William J. Smith is commemorated on The Glasgow School of Art's First World War Roll of Honour.
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