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:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 114, Phillips Square, Montreal, CanadaBusinessBefore 1923After 1930 

Employment and Training

Employers

The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 6(Sir) Robert Stodart Lorimer18961901Apprentice 
Item 2 of 6London County Council Architects' Department (LCC Architects' Department)19011902AssistantFire Brigade Branch
Item 3 of 6Alfred Hessel Tiltman19021903Assistant 
Item 4 of 6Nobbs & Hyde19101945Partner 
Item 5 of 6Nobbs & Valentine19451950Partner 
Item 6 of 6Nobbs & Nobbs1950(?)1960Partner 

RIBA

RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 4(Sir) Robert Stodart Lorimer28 February 1910for Fellowship
Item 2 of 4RIBA Council5 December 1900for Associateship
Item 3 of 4John Alan Slater28 February 1910for Fellowship
Item 4 of 4Alfred Hessel Tiltman28 February 1910for Fellowship

RIBA Proposals

This architect proposed the following individuals for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 8William Edward Careless (or Carless)1915for Fellowship
Item 2 of 8Arthur Robert Doggart9 June 1913for Associateship
Item 3 of 8Francis Roland Foster20 July 1911for Licentiateship
Item 4 of 8Francis Roland Foster9 June 1913for Associateship
Item 5 of 8David James Moir2 December 1912for Associateship
Item 6 of 8J Kenneth NesbittMid 1923for Associateship
Item 7 of 8Arthur PrideauxMid 1923for Associateship
Item 8 of 8Alexander Cameron Todd22 April 1912for Licentiateship

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 startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 11902Tite competition design for memorial clock and bell tower    Won competition

References

Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
 Author(s)DateTitlePartPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 5British Architectural Library, RIBA2001Directory of British Architects 1834-1914   
Item 2 of 5cac.mcgill.ca cac.mcgill.ca Website of the Canadian Architecture Collection, McGill University, established by John BlandBiography by John Bland
Item 3 of 5Murray, Irena (ed.)1986Percy Erskine Nobbs and his associates: A Guide to the Archive Montreal 
Item 4 of 5Placzek, Adolf K (ed)1982Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects New York: The Free Press/Macmillan Publishing Company 
Item 5 of 5Wagg, Susan1982Percy Erskine Nobbs: archtect, artist, craftsman Kingston 

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 1Bulletin of the Soc for Study of Arch in CanadaSeptember 1996v21, no3Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada 

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 2Province of Quebec Association of ArchitectsProvince of Quebec Association of Architects Files Membership number 35
Item 2 of 2RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Nomination Papers A v14 p105 (microfiche 68/G6); F v20 no1430 (microfilm reel 13)