Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||Percy Erskine Nobbs |
|Designation: ||Architect |
|Born: ||11 August 1875 |
|Died: ||5 November 1964 |
|Bio Notes: ||Percy Erskine Nobbs was born in Haddington on 11 August 1875, the son of John Leader Nobbs of St Petersburg Commercial Joint Stock Bank and his wife Agnes Fletcher Brown, daughter of the Rev. John Brown of Haddington. He showed an early aptitude for drawing and attended the School of Design at St Petersburg when only ten years old. He returned to Scotland at the age of twelve in 1887 to attend the Edinburgh Collegiate School, and in 1889 began attending the classes in drawing, modelling and design at Heriot-Watt and at the School of Art. After Rowand Anderson's School of Applied Art was opened in October 1892, he studied there under Professor Frank Worthington Simon, completing the course in 1896. He seems to have had an extraordinary capacity for work as these classes were somehow accommodated in parallel with an arts degree course at the University of Edinburgh where he graduated MA in the same year. He returned to Russia in that year to attend the coronation celebrations of Tsar Nicholas II with his father, and in the same year became an articled pupil with Robert Lorimer. While with Lorimer, Nobbs won the Tite Prize in 1900 with a design for a Wren-Archer-inspired clock tower which Lorimer found 'uncommon good' and embarked on a six-month tour of Italy with Ramsay Traquair, also of Lorimer's office, visiting Milan, Verona, Venice, Ravenna and Florence. |
Concurrently with winning the Tite Prize, Nobbs passed the qualifying exam and was admitted ARIBA on 5 December 1900 by the RIBA Council. On his return from Italy in 1901 he joined the staff of the LCC Architects Department Fire Brigade Branch, then led by Oliver Fleming and Charles Winmill, where he worked alongside another Scot, William Fleming Wilkie from Dundee. In 1902 he accepted Alfred Hessel Tiltman's offer of the post of chief assistant, and from there he won the Owen Jones Studentship with a scheme for mosaic decoration based on his studies in Italy in 1900-01. But even Nobbs found the pace of life too fast in Tiltman's office, which was heavily dependent on winning competitions, and withdrew to undertake some commissions 'in or near London' and to go freelance, working as a competition draughtsman ('devilling' as he described it) for John Belcher and Walter Tapper; and for a time helped at Lorimer's office, Lorimer reporting afterwards to R S Dods in Australia that 'Nobby' had been 'back for a few weeks previous to taking London by storm. Don't know how he'll end, that boy, for all his go and ability. I didn't value his services too highly, always find that there's just as good a chance of his drawing being wrong as right, you know what I mean'.
Nevertheless Lorimer took the opportunity of urging Nobbs to give up competition work for others and to draw for nobody but himself. The opportunity to make a fresh start came on 10 June 1903 when Professor Gerald Baldwin Brown invited Nobbs to meet Principal William Peterson of McGill University Montreal who offered him the Macdonald Chair of Architecture in succession to Capper. There he received his first commission, the McGill University Union, on 15 June 1904. It was executed by the Montreal firm of Hutchison & Wood, and in the same year produced for Peterson a master-plan for the future development of McGill.
Nobbs first considered establishing his own practice in Montreal in February 1904 when he approached Peterson about a summer-time association with the Montreal architect David Brown. At a meeting in April of that year Nobbs stressed the need for practical architectural experience in Canada while Peterson observed that the University had not brought him out to Montreal at a salary of $2500 to compete with the local profession. Nevertheless he went on to design the McDonald Engineering Building, additions to the Trafalgar Institute and Royal Victoria College, and redecorated Christchurch Cathedral. The issue was resolved when Nobbs eventually agreed to resign the Macdonald Chair in 1909 and later (1911) accepted the part-time chair of Professor of Design. In the same year (1909) he married Mary Cecelia Shepherd and was elected an Associate of the Royal Canadian Academy. Nobbs' friend Ramsay Traquair was subsequently recruited by Peterson to fill the Macdonald Chair in 1913, again on the recommendation of Baldwin Brown.
In 1910 Nobbs formed a partnership with George Taylor Hyde (born Montreal 1875). In 1912, in association with Frank Darling, Nobbs planned the University of Alberta where he built the Arts block. His practice was interrupted by the First World War in which he reached the rank of major, and at the end of it he won the competition for a war memorial museum at Regina Saskatchewan in 1919. It was never built but he was appointed architectural adviser to the Canadian Battlefields Commission in the following year. In the same year, 1920, Nobbs was elected a full academician. He was also elected President of the Town Planning Institute in Canada in 1929, and acting President of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1942. Nobbs retired from McGill in 1940, but continued his partnership with Hyde.
Hyde died on 23 June 1944. The following year Nobbs entered into partnership with Dundee-born Hugh Allen Inglis Valentine, and in the same year took his son Francis John Nobbs into partnership. Valentine left the firm in 1950 to accept an appointment as chief architect to the Bell Telephone Company, Nobbs and his son continuing the practice thereafter.
Percy Erskine Nobbs presumably retired in 1960, as his son practised under his own name after that date. The elder Nobbs died on 5 November 1964 at the age of eighty-nine and was buried in Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal.
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|14, Phillips Square, Montreal, Canada||Business||Before 1923||After 1930|| |
Employment and Training
Buildings and Designs
|This architect was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):|
| ||Date started||Building name||Town, district or village||Island||City or county||Country||Notes|
|1902||Tite competition design for memorial clock and bell tower|| || || || ||Won competition|
|The following books contain references to this architect:|
|British Architectural Library, RIBA||2001||Directory of British Architects 1834-1914|| || || |
|cac.mcgill.ca|| ||cac.mcgill.ca|| ||Website of the Canadian Architecture Collection, McGill University, established by John Bland||Biography by John Bland|
|Murray, Irena (ed.)||1986||Percy Erskine Nobbs and his associates: A Guide to the Archive|| ||Montreal|| |
|Placzek, Adolf K (ed)||1982||Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects|| ||New York: The Free Press/Macmillan Publishing Company|| |
|Wagg, Susan||1982||Percy Erskine Nobbs: archtect, artist, craftsman|| ||Kingston|| |
|The following periodicals contain references to this architect:|
| ||Periodical Name||Date||Edition||Publisher||Notes|
|Bulletin of the Soc for Study of Arch in Canada||September 1996||v21, no3||Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada|| |
|The following archives hold material relating to this architect:|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|Province of Quebec Association of Architects||Province of Quebec Association of Architects Files|| ||Membership number 35|
|RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert Museum||RIBA Nomination Papers|| ||A v14 p105 (microfiche 68/G6); F v20 no1430 (microfilm reel 13)|