John Begg lived from 20 September 1866 to 23 February 1937. He was an architect best remembered for his work in India and for his teaching at the Edinburgh College of Art. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
John Begg was born in Bo'ness, the son of the proprietor of an iron foundry who claimed descent from Robert Burns. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy and then learned his architecture with Hippolyte Blanc in Edinburgh. He also studied architecture at the predecessor to the Edinburgh College of Art. After completing his apprenticeship with Blanc, Begg moved to London where he worked in a number of architectural practices and became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
In 1896, Begg became the architect to the Real Estate Corporation of South Africa, a position that became untenable during the Second Boer War from 1899. Begg returned to Edinburgh, where he worked for Sir Robert Lorimer. In 1901 Begg became the consulting architect to the Government of Bombay, and in 1907 was appointed to the more prestigious post of consulting architect to the Government of India. During his time in India, Begg oversaw the design and construction of over 20 buildings, including post offices, customs houses, court buildings, colleges and hospitals. In 1912, Begg strongly opposed the plans of the Viceroy of India to bring in British-based architects to redevelop New Delhi. When his advice wasn't heeded, he leaked details of the proposals to the UK press, which resulted in a campaign against the project in the House of Commons. Begg nearly lost his job, and this incident seems to have ensured that when he left India in 1921 he was not honoured as he might otherwise have expected.
In 1922 Begg became Head of Architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art, a post he retained until his retirement in 1933. During this time he was responsible for the design of a number of Scottish war memorials, but otherwise had few commissions. He served as President of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland in 1932 and was responsible for the conversion into offices of the house Sir Robert Rowand Anderson had left RIBA in Rutland Square. John Begg died in Edinburgh in 1937.