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Scotland’s trailblazing female architects

Edith Burnett
Edith Mary Wardlaw Burnet Hughes

Scotland is renowned as a country of innovators and trailblazers, and this also applies to the world of architecture. As this month is Women’s History Month, we felt there was no better time to highlight the achievements of Scotland’s first female architects.

Edith Mary Wardlaw Burnet Hughes

Edith Mary Wardlaw Burnet Hughes (1888-1971) is considered to be Britain’s first practising female architect after establishing her firm in 1920. Edith was the daughter of an advocate and lived in the upmarket Stockbridge area of Edinburgh until 1890 when her father, George Wardlaw Burnet, became the Sherrif Substitute for Aberdeenshire around 1890. Edith was from a progressive and successful family; her maternal grandmother Mary Crudelius (1839-1877) had been a campaigner for women’s education, and following her father’s death in 1901 Edith was raised by her uncle, the well-established Glasgow based architect John James Burnet (1857-1938). Until 1911, Edith travelled across Europe and attended lectures at the Sorbonne in Paris. That year, she returned to Scotland and became a student at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen where she was awarded a diploma in architecture in 1914. She became a lecturer at Gray’s in 1915 and worked in the office of Jenkins and Marr until she married her former tutor, the architect Thomas Harold Hughes (1887-1949) in 1918.

One of the reasons Edith and her husband Thomas were not hired…  was because within the entirely male-staffed practice there were no female toilet for Edith’s use

One of the reasons Edith and her husband Thomas were not hired by Burnet’s London office was because within the entirely male-staffed practice there were no female toilet for Edith’s use. Thankfully, times have changed since then. Instead, the couple joined Burnet’s Glasgow office and became partners in the firm in 1919. Thomas later left to teach architecture at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA); Edith became head of the GSA’s School of Architecture and also set-up her practice in 1920. She was nominated to become a member of RIBA in 1927 by John James Burnet, John Alfred Gotch and John Begg but she was not accepted. She was eventually elected as an Honourary Fellow of the RIAS in 1968 and spent her later years living with her daughter, who was a doctor, in Kippen. She died on the 28th of August 1971 at 18 Park Terrace Stirling. Edith’s most notable works are the Mercat Cross in Glasgow, built in 1929, and Coatbridge War Memorial, built in 1924.

Isobel Hogg Kerr Beattie

Isobel Hogg Kerr Beattie (1900-1970) was the first female architect in regular practice in Scotland. The daughter of farmers, Isobel studied at the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) from 1921 and gained her diploma in 1926. Whilst at college, she spent her summers on sketching tours of England and Scotland, and in 1929 gained a further diploma at the ECA. She was admitted to RIBA in 1931 after being put forward by John Begg, Charles Denny Carus-Wilson and Frank Charles Mears. At this point in her career, she had joined the practice of Jamieson & Arnott in Edinburgh. She later moved down to Dumfries where she worked for herself and remained working there until at least 1964. According to the Dictionary of Scottish Architects, she did a great deal of work for the Buccleuch Estate and lived in a house she designed for herself, but her life and works are underresearched, a common stumbling-block when researching women’s history. Isobel never married and died at Sibbaldbeildside Farm, Applegarth on 13th July 1970.

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