Peter Nicholson (1765 – 1844) born at Prestonkirk and became an architect, creating the layout of the town of Ardrossan.

Peter Nicholson was born on the 20th of July, 1765 at Prestonkirk, East Lothian. The third of nine children, his father was George Nicholson, a stonemason, and his mother was Margaret Hastie. He showed a strong aptitude for mathematics at school and worked with his father as a stonemason but did not enjoy it, choosing instead to start an apprenticeship with a cabinet-maker in Linton, East Lothian. 

Following this he moved to London in 1788 and began teaching practical geometry in a school for mechanics in Berwick Street, Soho while also continuing his work as a cabinet-maker. By 1792 he had accumulated sufficient funds to publish his first of many works, ‘The Carpenter’s New Guide’ which was notable for containing an original method for the construction of groins and niches of complex, double curved forms. He would publish three more books while living in London (‘The Student’s Instructor’ in 1792, ‘The Carpenter and Joiner’s Assistant’ in 1797 and the three-work volume ‘Principles of Architecture’ which he finished in 1798) and was also briefly imprisoned for debt due to overstretching his finances. 

In 1791 he married Mary Perry and they had two children, one of whom was a child named Michael Angelo Nicholson. Sadly, May died in 1799 and Peter returned to Scotland in 1800 with two young children after spending 11 years living in London, at the age of 35. 

This return to Scotland wasn’t a whim, rather he had been requested to return by Glasgow-based merchant James Laurie (Laurieston in the Gorbals is named after him). He worked in Glasgow for the next 8 years, designing various buildings and bridges and marrying Jane Jamieson in 1804, with whom he had a son and a daughter. 

It was during this period that Peter Nicholson made his most notable contribution to North Ayrshire: the layout of the town of Ardrossan, which he completed in 1806. The 12th Earl of Eglinton commissioned him to plan out the town, coinciding with the Earl’s plan to develop the harbour at Ardrossan and to build a canal from Glasgow to Ardrossan. Peter Nicholson laid out the town in a simple yet effective grid which was adhered to for the following 50 years and can still be seen in Princes Street, Montgomerie Street and Glasgow Street. 

It’s likely he met famous architect Thomas Telford while working in Ardrossan. Telford had designed the harbour and was instrumental in getting Nicholson the post of Surveyor to the County of Cumberland in 1808. He would also go on to supervise the construction of the Courts of Justice in Carlisle which was designed by Telford. 

In 1810 he returned to London where he wrote his most important work ‘The Architectural Dictionary’ (1819) which established his reputation as an authority on building technology. 

The North of England would be where Nicholson would spend the later years of his life. Opening a school in Newcastle in 1832, it was not a financial success but garnered him much popularity locally. He was an honorary member of many local institutions but was financially embarrassed. This led residents to attempt to raise funds to purchase an annuity for him but only £320 was raised (around £40,000 today) and it was given directly to him instead. The residents also petitioned the king to grant him a pension from the privy purse but this was denied. 

He left Newcastle for Carlisle in 1841 at the age of 76 where he was financially supported by his relative, Thomas Jamieson until his death on the 18th of June, 1844. He was buried in the graveyard of Christ Church which has since been demolished. A monument to his memory was erected in Carlisle Cemetery in 1865.