Originally from Shetland, Irvine joined Scott and Moffat at the age of fourteen and became one of Scott’s most trusted Clerks of Works, staying in the office until 1884. Jackson presumably remembers him partly because of his subsequent prominence as an Anglo-Saxon scholar, producing many papers on his archaeological discoveries.
He was Clerk of Works at Bath Abbey, Scott’s ‘very painstaking friend and assistant’, and came from supervising Scott’s careful restoration of Ludlow Church, which was carried out between 1859 and 1860. While at Bath, Irvine measured the Saxon church of St. Laurence at Bradford-on-Avon, five miles east of the city, which the Rev W. H. Jones, Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, had discovered in 1856 hemmed in by sheds and houses and used as a school and a cottage. In 1868 Scott showed Irvine’s drawings to the students of the Royal Academy and again he describes Irvine as a friend and ‘a zealous antiquary’. Between 1874 and 1881 Irvine carried out a meticulous restoration of the little church. He had a keen interest in Anglo-Saxon architecture, which had perhaps developed from work he had carried out on Westminster Abbey and published several papers on his findings. He also worked on Wells Cathedral for Ferrey, and in about 1874, Scott appointed him Clerk of Works at Rochester Cathedral, where, Scott says he ‘discovered many interesting matters underground’. There is also no doubt about the warmth of Scott’s feelings towards Irvine who was able to indulge in the type of antiquarian research that he yearned to do himself but never had the time to carry out. Perhaps the less destructive nature of Scott’s later restorations was, in some measure, due to Irvine’s influence.
After Scott’s death Irvine acted as Clerk of Works for Pearson on the reconstruction of the tower of Peterborough Cathedral. But he had a life-long admiration for Scott and dedicated a pamphlet that he wrote on the west front of Peterborough as late as 1895 to ‘the memory of my dear old Master’. Irvine’s admiration for Scott was so great that in 1886, when John gave him sixteen note books of ‘my old Master Sir G. G. Scott’, he handed them over to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland to be preserved for posterity. But his admiration went to the extreme when he saddled his son, who qualified as an architect in 1894, with the first names ‘George Gilbert’. He was still alive in 1932, so it must have been rather embarrassing for him to have had that name during the period when Scott and all that he stood for were highly unpopular.