Lorimer, Robert (1864-1929) by Scholes, Robert

Robert Lorimer (1864 – 1929) From the pages of the Edinburgh City Libraries: Sir Robert Lorimer is an architect noted for his restoration of and alterations to old Scottish houses and castles, and his promotion of the Arts and Crafts style in Scotland. Lorimer was born in Edinburgh, the son of James Lorimer (1818-90), a Professor of Law, and educated at Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University. In 1878 Lorimer’s parents took over the lease of Kellie Castle in Fife and set about its restoration. As a young adult, Lorimer spent much of his time in this family holiday home, which undoubtedly increased Lorimer’s awareness of the Scots Baronial style and influenced much of his later work. After working with Sir Rowand Anderson in Edinburgh and G.F. Bodley in London, Lorimer set up practice for himself in 1893 at 49 Queen Street, Edinburgh. The principal source of Lorimer’s inspiration was Scottish domestic architecture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The first work that brought Lorimer to public notice was the new chapel for the Knights of the Thistle, St Giles Cathedral, 1911, for which he received a knighthood. There is no doubt that the success of the Thistle Chapel prompted his selection to design the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle in 1919. After some alterations to the original plan this building was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1927. During his early career, Lorimer, influenced by the ideas of William Morris, became an exponent of the Arts and Crafts style of architecture. He gathered around him in Edinburgh a talented group of artists and craftsmen and together contributed furniture to the Arts and Crafts exhibitions in London. In 1896 he was elected to the Art Workers Guild. Lorimer designed a series of cottages in the Arts and Crafts style in the Colinton area of Edinburgh and also the Roman Catholic Church of St Peter, Morningside. These ‘Colinton Cottages’ were built using traditional construction methods and materials. They came with a package of garden layout and interior design, including furniture, all contributing to the overall arts and crafts concept. Examples of these cottages include ‘Westfield’, 40 Pentland Avenue and ‘Binley Cottage’, 42 Pentland Avenue. In 1900, eight cottages had been built and four more were under construction. However by 1901 the impetus for the Arts and Crafts cottage movement was waning and Lorimer started to work on a series of large scale country house commissions in a Scots Baronial style: Brackenburgh, 1901-3; Rowallen, 1902, Ardkinglas, 1906 and Formakin, 1908. With the outbreak of World War 1, the demand for large new houses declined and Lorimer’s practice concentrated on restoration projects. Lorimer had already established a reputation as one of Scotland’s leading restoration architects following the restoration of Earlshall in 1899 and Hill of Tarvit in 1905, both in Fife. Lorimer managed to impart an essence of Scottish spirit in all he designed and was an ardent nationalist. His influence spread well beyond the confines of Scotland. His most eminent pupil Percy E. Nobbs called him ‘the last of the great Romantics’ so while one may admire the Thistle Chapel and the Scottish War Memorial it is perhaps his domestic architecture and designs which have the most influence.

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