IT'S a reasonable question, perhaps: how can two prolific and once-famous Scottish architects, who between them designed Gleneagles and Turnberry hotels, Glasgow's Central Station and many of the city's finest Victorian buildings, not to mention several impressive edifices that grace London, even today ... how can they have been overlooked so comprehensively by succeeding generations?

Whereas Charles Rennie Mackintosh and, from an earlier generation, Alexander 'Greek' Thomson, are widely feted, many decades after their deaths, surprisingly few people remember the names of John James Burnet and James Miller, who were almost exact contemporaries at a time when Glasgow was the wealthy Second City of the Empire.

A new book, however, aims to redress the balance and make good the neglect. Its author, John Stewart, who himself trained as an architect, believes that Burnet, who died in July 1938, is simply one of Scotland’s greatest artists and Scotland's finest-ever architects, while Miller, a Perthshire farmer’s son who died in November 1947, is indisputably the country's most prolific.

They were, he continues, "part of that last great generation of Scottish architects who, along with Mackintosh, [William Forrest] Salmon, [John] Campbell, [Rowand] Anderson, [John] Keppie and [William] Leiper, contributed the best of what remains of Glasgow after the loss of so much to post-war planning and comprehensive redevelopment".

HeraldScotland: Athenaeum Athenaeum

Like Mackintosh, Stewart writes, they deserve to be household names in the country of their birth and their buildings celebrated and preserved for future generations to appreciate.

Burnet and Miller often served a tiny, moneyed part of the population, "and yet, even allowing for all this, no-one can deny that their buildings also rank among their country’s greatest artistic achievements".

"It's quite strange, really", Stewart says by phone when asked about the seeming disappearance of Burnet and Miller from our collective memories. "It's almost as if Mackintosh is standing on top of an iceberg and he's the only one that is ever seen, and yet underneath there's a huge amount of late 19th century-early 20th century Victorian architectural talent".

Why have they been overlooked? "It's partly the period. I think there's been relatively little interest in that period in terms of books that have been published recently.

"Certainly, when I started talking to publishers there was a complete blank. I'd say, I'm interested in doing a book about Glasgow architecture, and they'd say, 'Oh, Charles Rennie Mackintosh!' They were quite happy for someone to do yet another book on him yet it was quite difficult to get any interest on anyone beyond him and Thomson. It's strange, given that there was so much talent in the city at that time".

He praises his Scottish publisher, Keith Whittles, for "taking the risk" of going with a work dedicated purely to Burnet and Miller. The book, The Life and Works of Glasgow Architects James Miller and John James Burnet, is a handsome volume, the photographs showing the lasting power and grace of their buildings. Miller's Union Bank of Scotland building (now the Bank of Scotland), at the corner of Renfield Street and St Vincent Street, is a "magnificent" case in point.

Surviving examples of Burnet's distinguished work across Glasgow include the Athenaeum, the old Savings Bank Hall in Ingram Street, Waterloo Chambers, Atlantic Chambers, the Clyde Navigational Trust (now Clydeport) headquarters on Robertson Street, the "great, swashbuckling" Charing Cross Mansions, and the Cenotaph on George Square.

HeraldScotland: Glasgow Savings bank building on Ingram StreetGlasgow Savings bank building on Ingram Street

Burnet also designed the R W Forsyth department store in Princes Street, Edinburgh (now occupied by Topshop and Topman) and premises for the same retailer in London's Regent Street (now occupied by Burberry), as well as a vast extension at the British Museum. (The remarkable art deco building that used to house the Daily Telegraph offices in London was commissioned from his company but was actually designed by his younger partner Thomas Tait, who also designed St Andrew's House, in Edinburgh, and was chief architect of the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Glasgow).

Burnet's greatest domestic achievement, notes Stewart, was Fairnilee House, built for Alexander Roberts, a Selkirk mill-owner. It's a strikingly handsome country house – rather grand and utterly delightful, as the author says, complete with crow-stepped gables, a corner turret and Baroque carved detail. What really catches the eye is the fact that its steep walls are dressed in pale cream harled whinstone.

Meantime, here is Stewart on the remarkably prolific James Miller.

"His sheer volume of work has had more impact on Scotland, particularly the west of Scotland, than any other architect, and when one considers that he was responsible for everything from St Enoch’s underground station to Gleneagles Hotel, via Hampden Park, Turnberry and Peebles Hydropathic hotels, the Institute of Civil Engineers in London; Glasgow, Stirling, and Perth Royal infirmaries, the interiors of the Lusitania and the Aquitania, the Glasgow Exhibition of 1901, Glasgow Central Station, numerous office buildings, including the Anchor Line and the Union and two Commercial Bank of Scotland buildings in the centre of Glasgow, it seems extraordinary that he is not a household name, at least north of the border.

"But perhaps", Stewart adds, "his quiet nature, his focus on satisfying his clients and looking for the next one, rather than seeking professional approbation, not to mention the relative lack of contemporary interest in this period of Scottish architecture, have played their part. If Burnet deserves to be placed among the greats, then Miller at the very least deserves to be widely known as Scotland’s most prolific architect".

There's an interesting footnote to that 1901 exhibition, incidentally. Many leading architects took part in the competition to design it; among them were Burnet, Miller and Mackintosh (the latter under the names of Honeyman and Keppie).To widespread astonishment, given that he had only relatively recently started his own practice after years working for the Caledonian Railway Company, Miller was announced as the winner.

Recording the decision on September 13, 1898, the Glasgow Herald observed: "Mr Miller's design, while it reveals qualities of restraint and judgment, may be described in every way as a bold one, whether conception, principles of planning, or the way in which it is presented be regarded".

HeraldScotland: Charing Cross Mansions Charing Cross Mansions

"Miller’s win", Stewart writes today, "has long been resented, as it deprived Glasgow of several more buildings by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but it was Miller more than any other competitor who really understood what was required for the exhibition buildings.

"He produced a Ruritanian utopia in Kelvingrove, which gave another generation of Glaswegians the opportunity to escape their ordinary lives for at least a few summer nights of fantasy, in a way that Mackintosh’s comparatively drab Art Nouveau offering would never have done".

John James Burnet was born on May 31, 1857, the third son of John Burnet and his wife Elizabeth. John was a noted (and self-taught) architect, whose works included Elgin Place Church, once described as ‘the purest example of the neo-classic in Glasgow'.

John James was educated at the highly exclusive Blair Lodge School in Polmont, near Falkirk (it later became the site of a Young Offenders Institution). Earmarked to follow his father into the architecture profession, he in time made his way to the prestigious École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris, there being very little in the way of decent architectural education in Glasgow at the time.

"The thought of sending his impressionable young protestant son to Paris was abhorrent to Congregationalist John Burnet", Stewart records. "After all, France was a Catholic country and as for 19th century Paris itself – why, it was simply a den of vice and immorality. It was not an option.

"However, on hearing that the École was the world’s best school of architecture, his wife Eliza soon persuaded her husband that they must do what was best for their son regardless of the risk, and so in the autumn of 1872, still filled with trepidation as to his son’s future moral wellbeing, John Burnet personally travelled with young John James to ‘The City of Light’.

Burnet sparkled at the Ecole and graduated with his diplômé par le gouvernement in Architecture and Engineering in the summer of 1876. After a Grand Tour of Europe, of the kind enjoyed by young men of means, he arrived in Glasgow that December, prior to starting work at his father's firm.

His first handiwork was the decorated doorway at the Lanarkshire House banking hall on Glasgow's Ingram Street (now the Corinthian Club), part of the new façade commissioned from Burnet snr. John James speedily rose through the ranks in the firm as its fame grew amidst the thriving, expanding, prosperous city that was Glasgow during the late Victorian era.

James Miller's background was altogether more prosaic. He was born on July 11, 1860, in Auchtergaven, in rural Perthshire. His father, George, was an innkeeper and farmer but then became a tenant farmer to the Earl of Kinnoull at Upper Cairnie Farm, on his Dupplin Castle estate near the village of Forteviot. The new position saw the family move into a two-storey stone farmhouse, with Miller snr managing a 260-acre arable farm.

Young James had a strict upbringing. He excelled in art and science at Perth Academy and, aiming for a career in architecture, became a pupil under a well-known Perth architect, Andrew Heiton Jnr. He then worked in Edinburgh, under architect Hippolyte Jean Blanc, before finding a job with the engineering department of the Caledonian Railway Company, an ambitious railway operator. Miller made a marked success of his time there, working on the designs of new stations, including Greenock's Fort Matilda, and the sprawling Gourock Pier station.

He also designed Bridge Street station, in Glasgow – with, Stewart notes, some inspiration from Rowand Anderson’s recently completed Central Station Hotel, and the superb Central Station itself.

Among Central's many fans is Simon Jenkins, who in 2018 wrote a book, Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations. “That’s the great, big Scottish station", he said at the time. "It’s as much an emotional station as it is an architectural station. It is just a very wonderful building. It has the sense of presence and destination that you get in the big London termini".

In time, Miller created Scotland's largest architectural practice. Stewart's book says that at one point Burnet, intent on furthering his London practice, made a tentative approach to Miller with a view to partnership, in order to strengthen his Glasgow practice. Miller was flattered but he declined the offer.

"Why should James Miller share what he had achieved?", Stewart writes. "If Burnet was bound for London, it meant one less competitor in Glasgow .... He had his own practice, under his own name, and by common acknowledgement, it was now the most successful in the city and his own architecture was achieving new heights.

"What then had Burnet to offer him beyond a little kudos among his professional peers? Miller accepted Burnet’s approach simply as recognition of what he had achieved and, ‘after careful consideration, Mr Miller decided to plough a lone furrow, and this he did most successfully to the end of his days’."

John Stewart, who is now 66, himself grew up in Kirkintilloch, and after Lenzie Academy studied at the Mackintosh School of Architecture at Glasgow School of Art. He has lived in and around London for decades, and ended his career as a vice-president of a Los Angeles-based company, running its UK architecture and building engineering business.

He speaks about the effort involved in running all of Burnet's and Miller's works to ground, and of the pleasure when he came across, for example, the former's "beautiful" Fairnilee House, at Selkirk, and the latter's equally fine Kildonan House, at Barrhill, Ayrshire.

He adores Burnet's Athenaeum – "it's absolutely stunning, it just rockets skywards and is quite the most amazing composition" – but his favourite is the same architect's Savings Bank building on Ingram Street. "It's not hugely original but, my God, it's good! Everything is perfectly proportioned". He also singles out Miller's superb Lowther Terrace in the West End and the "astonishing" Wemyss Bay station.

And, like many other people old enough to recall it, he laments the disappearance of some splendid buildings, such as Burnet's imposing Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow, which was demolished in 1971.

Still, he says, it could have been worse. Had the planned 'Glasgograd' remodelling, proposed post-war by Glasgow Corporation's chief engineer, Robert Bruce, been actually approved, the entire city centre would have been demolished and rebuilt as a Soviet-style civic centre. "Almost everything that Miller and Burnet had built in the inner city would have been wiped from the map. "Fortunately, the Corporation decided to reject the plan".

We owe a small debt of thanks to those long-forgotten councillors who were singularly unimpressed with Bruce's proposal. Though too many old buildings have since been turned into rubble and dust by wrecking-balls and bulldozers, there are still lots of excellent Victorian edifices to treasure. And that, of course, includes the highly distinctive work by John James Burnet and James Miller.

Stewart's authoritative survey of both men concludes with a fitting flourish.

"What we do know", it says, "is that both architects rode the wave of Glasgow’s extraordinary late 19th and early 20th-century economic success at a time when it was one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

"They put that wealth to good use, creating art of the highest standard in sandstone and granite, and their masterpieces from this period should be treasured accordingly, just as much as any of the finest paintings or sculpture in the Kelvingrove Art Galleries or the Burrell Collection".

The Life and Works of Glasgow Architects James Miller and John James Burnet; Whittles Publishing, £17.99