Architect and draughtsman. Born near Biggar, the son of a shepherd, Kemp trained as a carpenter and began working locally before travelling to London and eventually France. Returning to Edinburgh, Kemp became draughtsman to architect William Burn (1789 - 1870). As an architect he was self-taught, having closely observed the Gothic style of the abbeys of the Borders and the Cathedrals of France. He came up with a plan for the west towers of Glasgow Cathedral, which was never executed, indeed credit for the design was taken by James Gillespie Graham (1776 - 1855).
Kemp won a competition for the design of a monument to Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832) and this is his lasting achievement. Kemp submitted his entry under the pseudonym John Morvo, the mediaeval master-mason of Melrose Abbey. Sadly, while walking home on a foggy night before his monument was completed, Kemp drowned in the Union Canal. In the latter part of his life, Kemp lived in Saunders Street in Stockbridge (Edinburgh). He is buried in St. Cuthbert's Kirkyard by Princes Street Gardens.