John McKean Brydon was born in Dunfermline in 1840 and educated at the Commercial Academy there. On 1 September 1856 he was articled to William Hardie Hay and James Murdoch Hay in Liverpool for three years and in 1860 secured a place in the office of David Bryce in Edinburgh as assistant with a home address in Picardy Place. During his time there he exhibited at the RSA a sketch of The Presbyterian Church of Rock Ferry (RSA 1862 (778)). In 1863 he moved to the office of Campbell Douglas & Stevenson in Glasgow where he was described as ‘managing assistant’; there may have been a previous connection as Brydon’s time with Bryce may briefly have crossed with that of Stevenson in 1860. During his time at Campbell Douglas & Stevenson’s he became acquainted with Bruce J. Talbert, William Leiper and William Wallace who were also in the office. From Campbell Douglas & Stevenson’s he joined William Eden Nesfield and Richard Norman Shaw as their joint clerk in May 1866 (RIBA papers misread – 1863 in Directory: Andrew Saint’s ‘Richard Norman Shaw’ gives 1867), remaining there until 1871 (RIBA nomination paper: Saint gives 1869) when he joined with William Wallace and the stained-glass artist and decorator Daniel Cottier in establishing Morris and Co in Langham Place. The reason for the choice of name is unclear as the firm had no connection with William Morris’s similarly named firm in Oxford Street. According to his RIBA nomination paper he commenced independent practice as architect at the same date with an address at 98 Gower Street, London, when he exhibited the dining room at The Poplars, Avenue Road, London at the RSA (584). Whether this was simply a refurnishing and decorating job or actual building is unclear. In 1881 he was elected FRIBA, his proposers being John James Stevenson, Sir Robert William Edis and Alfred Waterhouse.
In 1880/81 following the demise of Morris and Co, Brydon had entered into partnership with William Wallace who had broken his brief partnership with William Flockhart from Campbell Douglas & Sellars’s office. The Brydon/Wallace partnership proved equally ephemeral. Brydon’s major works beginning with additions at St Peter’s Hospital, Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London (1880-84) are outwith the scope of the Dictionary but his pioneering neo-Wren and English neo-Baroque advocated in his lectures at the Architectural Association as well as in his personal practice had a profound influence on his contemporaries. He died of a throat infection in May 1901 before his most important work, the new Government offices in Great George Street and Parliament Street (won in competition in 1898) had been begun.