Robert Stodart Lorimer was born in Edinburgh on 4 November 1864.
His name isn't as well known as some of the architects like Robert Adam or William Playfair, but Lorimer was active across the UK and further afield during the early twentieth century, and found a reliable supply of work after the First World War as a designer of graves, monuments and war memorials. He also worked extensively in domestic settings, creating not the grand public buildings of better known architects, but contributing to his clients' domestic experience instead.
He was a notoriously frugal figure who never had more than four people working in his architecture practice, and resented having to buy coal to heat the offices during the winter months. He could also be a difficult man to work with, and lost several commissions because of his lack of tact or his insistence on features and elements that his clients didn't like.
One of his chief draughtsmen once commented that Lorimer was "terrible with clients", and remembered that during one argument with a client was heard to say, "'This house will be remembered because I designed it, not because you paid for it"...!
But some of Lorimer's greatest works were public buildings and features in Edinburgh. Here are some highlights.
THISTLE CHAPEL, ST GILES' CATHEDRAL
Lorimer produced several memorials and commemorative features in St Giles' Cathedral, but his most significant early contribution to the church building was the Thistle Chapel, designed in 1909.
This octagonal feature on the south-east corner of the building is filled with incredibly ornate decoration, with every surface covered in carved wooden panels with the crests of major Scottish figures around the space. It is in the Thistle Chapel that the Queen awards the chivalric title of Order of the Thistle, a historic royal honour dating back to the seventeenth century.
It's a small space, and not always open to the public (which is why I don't have photos of it!) but is worth visiting if you can get access during a visit - it is in the Thistle Chapel that you'll find the famous carving of an angel playing bagpipes! See if you can spot it amongst all the other decorations and carvings.
WALLACE AND BRUCE MONUMENTS, EDINBURGH CASTLE
The gatehouse of Edinburgh Castle was (only) built in the 1870s, but modifications were made in 1929 by Lorimer, for this grand entranceway to accommodate two statues of two of Scotland's historic heroes.
King Robert the Bruce and William Wallace stand on either side of the drawbridge entrance into the castle, cast by the sculptor Alexander Carrick.
But it's inside the castle itself that Lorimer's greatest work is visited by thousands of visitors a year...
Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle
Designed and planned in the aftermath of World War One, Lorimer's building honouring the Scottish soldiers who lost their lives during that war was opened in 1927 and today honours all those Scots who have lost their lives in conflict since 1914.
Lorimer utilised a part of an existing barracks block on the site at the top of Edinburgh Castle for his plans, which today are a quiet and peaceful place of reverence and respect.
Rolls of the names of the dead are kept in books for visitors to trace family and loved ones, and even in the middle of the summer when the castle is at its busiest, the Scottish National War Memorial remains a place of remembrance.
A number of other war memorial from Lorimer can be found in the city. Look for the memorial inside Old College, part of the University of Edinburgh, along with the memorial outside the City Chambers on the Royal Mile.
Another of the University of Edinburgh campuses is King's Buildings, a collection of science and technology departments a little way from the city centre. Lorimer's architectural firm, which he ran with John Fraser Matthew, was responsible for several of the buildings on the site, including the building which originally housed the university's zoology department
Lorimer died in 1929, so it's likely that the bulk of the zoology building from 1928 was designed and overseen by Matthew, but it's an intriguing structure that always catches my eye on my frequent trips past it to do my weekly supermarket shop...
The building features reliefs of a variety of animals, a fun and creative addition to what could otherwise have been a very sombre and imposing 1920s structure!
Here's an aardvark, but you might also see crocodiles, an elephant, a kangaroo and many more cast in the building's stone...
Find out more about some of Edinburgh's other architects and designers on my private city walking tours!
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