John Sheridan

Born: September 14, 1951;

Died: November 7, 2023

Glasgow, and indeed much of Scotland, hosts buildings which represent some of the finest Victorian and pre-Victorian architecture in the United Kingdom. John Sheridan had a life-long love of such buildings, and he did much to preserve and rejuvenate buildings that today might otherwise have disappeared.

He was born in Leeds, the son of a Glaswegian mining engineer, and moved house frequently in his younger days, finally attending Fulneck School, a boarding school in Pudsey, Yorkshire, when his father Geoffrey secured a role in Zambia. John was able to spend weekends at his grandmother’s in Robin Hood’s Bay, with summers spent with his family in southern Africa.

Upon return to the UK, the family settled in Auchtermuchty, Fife, and John, then 16, completed his secondary education at Bell Baxter High School in Cupar. He then went on to study geography at Strathclyde University. He followed this with a masters degree, taken at Heriot Watt, in architectural conservation (focused on Edinburgh’s old town), reflecting John’s emergent affection for the preservation of older buildings.

In that same spirit, John returned to Fife in 1975 to work as a planning assistant under James Ramsay in the conservation section of Kirkcaldy Council’s planning department. John was delighted to find himself tasked with securing the conservation of the historic built environment of West Wemyss.

However, John’s time in Glasgow sparked a life-long affinity with the city and an interest in developments there. In the mid-1970s the then Glasgow Corporation’s former strategy of “comprehensive redevelopment” was being supplanted by housing action area programmes to refurbish substandard tenement buildings. Local community-based housing associations were being established in various run-down areas of the city, such as Govan, to drive each area’s regeneration.

John took on the role of development officer, the first member of staff, at Central Govan Housing Association. He took forward the association’s tenement rehabilitation programme and recruited a small, committed staff team as the association’s work expanded, and in due course found himself formally appointed as director.

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In 1982, he was appointed assistant chief housing officer in the private sector division of Glasgow City Council’s housing department. While the city’s community-based housing association programme focused on the tenements in most need of improvement, a strategy was needed to arrest potential decline in surrounding tenements. John took forward the identification and implementation of repair areas over these tenement blocks.

Here, the council undertook repair and environmental work to sustain the buildings under agency agreements with private owners, who could access repair grants covering most of the cost. Former Glasgow housing director Ronnie Macdonald comments: “the tenement repair area programmes John led were so successful that we ran out of scaffolding, and had to import more from England”.

In his role, John also dealt with many private consultants and developers. He struck up a friendship with Douglas Loan, a structural engineer, who had some ideas about the renovation of older buildings with which John empathised. The two decided to set up a development company together, entitled Classical House. John therefore left the cuncil in 1986.

Classical House went on to renovate and restore many older properties, including some iconic buildings, in Glasgow and the west of Scotland. The first of these, Dalzell House in Motherwell, always occupied a special place in John’s heart. An A-listed building, in part dating from the 15th century, it was derelict and abandoned, and was a problem for which the local authority had no solution. Classical House acquired it from the council and went on to restore it to its former grandeur, turning it into 15 desirable apartments, winning Civic Trust and Saltire Awards.

Dalzell House established Classical House’s credentials, enabling John and Douglas to go on to deliver many other successful restorations, often in partnership with a local authority. In Glasgow, the most prominent was perhaps the Italian Centre, in the city centre, which won various architectural accolades, including the prestigious Europa Nostra 7 award.

Other successful projects in Glasgow included the Angel Building on Paisley Road West, Camphill House and Walmer Crescent, in the city’s south side, and Ayton House and No 4 Great Western Terrace in the west end. Classical House’s reach extended also into the rest of Scotland, with many successful projects ranging from the restoration of the former Argyll Motor Works in Alexandria to the conversion of the John Neilston Institute in Paisley (another Saltire Award winner).

When Douglas retired from the business in 1993, John continued with the company, completing the restoration of many more historic buildings. His final project, echoing his first, was another historic but derelict building in verdant surroundings, this time in Linn Park, on Glasgow’s south side. Following the successful restoration of Linn House, John retired in 2007.

Thus, Classical House blazed a trail which demonstrated that older listed buildings facing potential demolition, including some originally designed by Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, could be sympathetically restored on a financially-sustainable basis with the aid of local authority and Historic Scotland grant income. John’s skill was in identifying the right opportunities, and then bringing all the elements together on each project to deliver it successfully. As a result, when Classical House was wound up, there were many other developers endeavouring to follow in its wake.

John served on the board of the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust between 2001 and 2008, and also from 1998 to 2001 on the board of the Margaret Blackwood Housing Association, which provided housing to enable those with a disability to live independent lives.

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In 2008, John and wife Mary relocated to the USA, where John’s step-son Jim had settled in 1994. Their first granddaughter had just been born, and was quickly followed by the birth of triplet granddaughters. John and Mary became fully immersed in the daily lives of the four girls.

In 1986, Jim, an avid skier, encouraged a very reluctant John to try the sport. Surprising himself, John became a very competent and most enthusiastic skier. In due course, John introduced his granddaughters to the sport. He delighted in taking them on skiing trips, the last such trips taking place in 2022. John described the time he and Mary spent with their granddaughters as “the most magical of times”.