Basic Biographical Details
|Name: ||Basil Spence & Partners |
|Designation: ||Architectural practice |
|Started: ||November 1946 |
|Ended: ||1964 |
|Bio Notes: ||Basil Spence & Partners was the name adopted by Spence’s practice (both his Edinburgh and London offices) between November 1946 and the end of 1963. It was established in the wake of his separation from William Kininmonth, with whom he had worked since 1932, and it numbered among its staff several members of their former practice, as well as students they had taught at Edinburgh College of Art. |
Basil Urwin Spence was born in Bombay on 13 August 1907, the son of Urwin Spence, an analytical chemist employed by the Indian civil service, and his wife Daisy Crisp. He was initially educated at the John Connon School in Bombay, but in 1919 at the age of twelve was sent to Scotland to attend George Watson’s College as a day pupil. After leaving, he enrolled at Edinburgh College of Art in September 1925, initially to study painting and sculpture. He soon transferred to the School of Architecture, studying design practice and town planning under Frank Charles Mears and Harry Hubbard, and architectural history and theory under John Summerson who was only three years his senior. His other tutors at the college were Sydney J Miller, Leslie Grahame Thomson and George Washington Browne. Bursaries, prize money and income as a freelance perspectivist allowed him to travel extensively in England in 1927, France in 1928 and also in Germany. In 1929 he gained the College’s certificate and exemption from the RIBA’s intermediate examination. His brilliant draughtsmanship secured him a place in the office of Sir Edwin Lutyens, whom he assisted with the designs for the Viceroy’s house, New Delhi, and while in London he took the opportunity to study at the Bartlett School of Architecture under Professor Albert Richardson.
On his return to Edinburgh Spence won the RIAS Rowand Anderson Medal during session 1930-31. In the latter year he gained his diploma from the College of Art and won the RIBA’s Silver Medal as the best architectural student in the UK.
At the College Spence made friends with William Kininmonth, who also went to Lutyens’ office. Kininmonth had previously been employed by Rowand Anderson & Balfour Paul, but when he returned from London Paul was unable to offer further work. Nevertheless, Kininmonth was given the use of a room in the office at 16 Rutland Square, and although it had only a single desk and a telephone this allowed him to take Spence into partnership in 1932. Their practice was immediately successful, thanks in part to the connections of Kininmonth’s radiologist brother, and Kininmonth’s own modernist house at 46A Dick Place (1933) which proved an excellent advertisement. As well as design work the partners also specialised in presentations for other much larger practices.
Spence won the RIBA Arthur Cates Prize for town planning in 1932, tying with Robert Matthew, and then the Pugin Studentship in 1933. He was admitted ARIBA that year, his proposers being John Begg, Reginald Fairlie and William James Walker Todd. Both he and Kininmonth secured part-time teaching posts at Edinburgh College of Art. In 1934 Spence married Mary Joan Ferris of Tiverton, Devon.
In that year Paul offered Kininmonth a partnership, which he felt he had to decline unless Spence was taken into partnership as well. Paul accepted this proposal and the Kininmonth & Spence practice was merged with Paul’s as Rowand Anderson & Paul & Partners. Although business had significantly recovered, to the extent that the practice secured commissions for three country houses, Spence and Kininmonth continued teaching at Edinburgh College of Art. This arrangement continued until Paul died in June 1938.
Independently of the practice, Spence won the competition for the Scottish School of Art & Industry at Kilsyth, and received three separate commissions in respect of the Empire Exhibition held at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, in 1938. These included the highly acclaimed Scottish Pavilion which he designed in conjunction with the Exhibition’s organiser, Thomas Tait.
Spence had joined the Territorial Army in 1934 and was commissioned in the Royal Artillery on the outbreak of the Second World War. He was seconded to the Camouflage Training & Development Unit at Farnham, and later served as an intelligence officer in Normandy. After demobilization and in the absence of substantial practice work he resumed teaching at Edinburgh College of Art, but in 1945 he was appointed chief architect of the 'Britain Can Make It' exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Spence and Kininmonth having dissolved their partnership, Basil Spence & Partners was established with Bruce Robertson in November 1946. By Year’s End it had moved into the townhouse at 40 Moray Place which was to serve as Edinburgh office throughout Spence’s life and indeed long beyond.
Early prosperity depended on commissions for public housing, including the Bannerfield estate in Selkirk and the celebrated fishermen’s cottages at Dunbar, Duncanrig Secondary School in East Kilbride, and exhibition and display work. Spence was Chief Architect for Britain Can Make It and Enterprise Scotland in 1947, the Scottish Industries Exhibition in 1949, and the Exhibition of Industrial Power during the Festival of Britain, 1951. He was also an adviser to the Board of Trade, 1947-49, for the British Industries Fair.
Commissions for public housing in England, at Sunbury-on-Thames and Shepperton, together with the Sea & Ships Pavilion at the main Festival venue on London’s South Bank, justified the opening of an office in the Metropolis, at 29 Buckingham Street off the Strand. Andrew Renton was made partner-in-charge of this office in 1949. John Hardie Glover, whom the practice had employed as an assistant, was made an associate in the same year, as was Peter Scott Ferguson in 1951. Both Glover and Ferguson would be taken into partnership five years later, based in the Edinburgh office.
Spence had begun to feel type-cast as an exhibition designer when he won the competition to design a new Coventry Cathedral in August 1951. Such were the difficulties of the period, and the controversy which surrounded his design (too modern for most tastes, too traditional for many architects), that there was no guarantee the Cathedral would actually be built. At the encouragement of the Diocesan authorities Spence seized every opportunity to talk about his proposals to the general public. He proved to be an engaging and persuasive speaker, and soon became a household name.
He and his family moved to a new London office at 48 Queen Anne Street in 1952, but further commissions proved difficult to come by. Financial crisis struck during Christmas 1953 when Spence returned from a Cathedral fundraising tour of North America to learn that his bank had demanded repayment of a five-figure overdraft within a fortnight. The practice had to part with many valued staff whom it had trained up and employed since the war.
However, the drought of the early 1950s turned into a torrential flood of commissions, mostly public works, during the mid-decade. Construction of the Cathedral was authorised to start in May 1954, there was a series of parish churches in Coventry, Leicester, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh (nine completed in total), civic centres at Slough (not executed) and Hampstead (only partially), five schools in London, Sheffield, Shrewsbury and Thurso, Physics Buildings for Liverpool and Durham Universities, and – most importantly of all – appointment as consultant architect for no fewer than three university campuses at Edinburgh, Nottingham and Southampton.
Despite the difficulties of the national situation, the Government was investing heavily in education, most particularly higher education in the scientific disciplines. Although Spence was often criticised (e.g. at the Cathedral) of being a picturesque designer who was unconcerned by the dictates of building structure, he was in fact a master of the complex brief, whether the requirements were ritualistic as in a church or technological as in a science building. He had studied the requirements of science buildings very carefully when he was commissioned to design the Natural Philosophy Laboratory at Glasgow, 1947-51, and other Universities had duly taken note.
There was no let-up in new commissions throughout the late 1950s, and the practice became severely stretched, but Spence was examiner at many schools of architecture and this provided him with excellent opportunities to hand-pick the very best of each year’s students to assist him with his work. In 1956 he established himself in an additional London office at 1 Canonbury Place where he personally oversaw the development of the drawings for the Cathedral and worked hand-in-glove with an elite group of very young architects who assumed much of the responsibility for English commissions. These were David Rock and John (Jack) Bonnington, Brian and Derek Cobb, and Michael and Anthony Blee, the last of whom married Spence’s daughter Gillian.
It was at this point that Spence received many of the commissions for which he would become most famous: Sussex University – the first of the so-called Shakespearean Seven new Universities; the Erasmus Building at Cambridge University, the first modernist building to be erected on ‘the Backs’; Hyde Park Cavalry Barracks in the centre of London; and the Chancery of the British Embassy in Rome, close to Michelangelo’s Porta Pia. Spence was also involved in the development of Vange, one of the constituent villages which formed the new town of Basildon. His Scottish office was enjoying conspicuous success: its Newhaven flats followed the Dunbar cottages in winning a Saltire Award, it had commissions for university buildings in both Scotland and the north of England, and it was about to embark on two major works in the Glasgow area, Abbotsinch Airport and the Hutchesontown C redevelopment in the Gorbals. Both the Scottish and English practices also secured important commercial commissions.
Spence was President of the Royal Institute of British Architects between 1958 and 1960, and in that time he not only transformed its public image, but that of modern architecture generally. Although he seems to have drawn a little less during this period, he remained in close contact with his offices and their ongoing work.
Major changes were afoot, however. Andrew Renton, who had become increasingly burdened with the practice’s administration, secured in his own right the commission for Thorn House, an office tower for the electrical goods manufacturer, through Jules Thorn who was a neighbour. Ostensibly a disagreement between Spence and Renton over the attribution of this design resulted in a split in the practice in 1961, but in truth the reasons would seem to be more deep-seated and more complex.
Andrew Renton & Associates was established at Queen Anne Street, and shortly afterwards became Renton, Howard, Wood, Levine. Spence remained at Canonbury Place and opened a new office at 1 Fitzroy Square under the charge of Jack Bonnington and Gordon Collins. Between 1961 and 1964 Spence restructured his practice into three separate partnerships: in London, Sir Basil Spence, Bonnington & Collins, and Sir Basil Spence OM RA, in which his son-in-law Anthony Blee was a partner and his son John Urwin Spence a consultant; and in Edinburgh, the practice continued as Basil Spence & Partners until 1964 when it was renamed Sir Basil Spence, Glover & Ferguson (see separate entry for subsequent practice history).
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this architectural practice:|
| ||Address||Type||Date from||Date to||Notes|
|Edinburgh, Scotland||Business|| || || |
|40, Moray Place, Edinburgh, Scotland||Business||1946||1992|| |
|20, Buckingham Street, London, England||Business||1948 or 1949||1952|| |
|48, Queen Anne Street, London, England||Business||1952||1961|| |
|1, Canonbury Place, London, England||Business||1956||1976|| |
|1, Fitzroy Square, London, England||Business||1961|| || |
Employment and Training
Employees or Pupils
* earliest date known from documented sources.
Buildings and Designs
|This architectural practice 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|
| ||The Albyn|| || ||Edinburgh|| || |
| ||Thorn House|| || ||London||England|| |
|1946||Bannerfield Estate||Selkirk|| ||Selkirkshire||Scotland|| |
|1946||Bell's Brae House||Dean Village|| ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Restoration and alterations|
|1947||Enterprise Scotland 1947 Exhibition|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Layout - Spence responsible|
|1947||Glasgow University, Natural Philosophy Buildings|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland|| |
|1948||Housing estate, 14-20 Lower Burnmouth||Burnmouth|| ||Berwickshire||Scotland|| |
|1948||Housing, 15A-15D Victoria Street and 8 Writer's Court||Dunbar|| ||East Lothian||Scotland|| |
|1948||Housing, 19A, 19B, 19C Victoria Street and 10, 12 Writer's Court||Dunbar|| ||East Lothian||Scotland|| |
|1948||Housing, Victoria Place||Dunbar|| ||East Lothian||Scotland|| |
|1949||Housing Scheme, Shepperton||Sunbury-on-Thames|| ||Middlesex||England|| |
|c. 1949||Rossie Priory||Inchture|| ||Perthshire||Scotland||Main part of house demolished and plinth courses converted to terrace|
|1950s||Daniel Stewart's Hospital|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Ceiling decoration in library|
|1950||Alvie Parish Church||Alvie|| ||Inverness-shire||Scotland||Internal alterations and refurbishment (Charles Hope responsible).|
|1950||Crawford's Snack Bar interior, Queensferry Street|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1950||John Smith (Wools)|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1950||Premises for R S Robertson & Scott|| || || ||Scotland|| |
|1950||SAI (Scottish Agricultural Industries) offices|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Reconstruction?|
|1950||Scottish Agricultural Industries||Ayr|| ||Ayrshire||Scotland||Amenities block and other work|
|1950||Secondary School, Duncanrig||Westwood, East Kilbride|| ||Lanarkshire||Scotland|| |
|1951||Festival of Britain Scotland, Exhibition of Industrial Power, Kelvin Hall|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland|| |
|1951||Festival of Britain, Sea and Ships Section||South Bank|| ||London||England|| |
|1951||The Cottage||Longniddry|| ||East Lothian||Scotland|| |
|1951||The Hermitage||Perth|| ||Perthshire||Scotland||Alterations - Spence responsible|
|After 1951||Private house(s)||Bedale|| ||Yorkshire||Scotland|| |
|After 1951||Private house(s)||Ormiston|| ||East Lothian||Scotland|| |
|Before 1951||Fishermen's Cottages, Dunbar||Dunbar|| ||East Lothian||Scotland|| |
|1952||Scottish School of Art & Industry||Kilsyth|| ||Stirlingshire||Scotland||Completion of project|
|1952||Street lighting and street furniture|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1952||Two exhibition stands for ICI, Earl's Court||Earl's Court|| ||London||England|| |
|1952||Two private houses|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1953||Council houses||Dunbar|| ||East Lothian||Scotland||Implemented reduced scheme|
|1953||Housing, Buncles Court and Lamer Street||Dunbar|| ||East Lothian||Scotland|| |
|1953(?)||Plewlands House||South Queensferry|| ||West Lothian||Scotland||Restored and converted to houses|
|1954||Inch Hall Church||Inch|| ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1954||Sighthill Church||Sighthill|| ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Competition entry rejected on cost grounds|
|1954||St Andrew's Church||Clermiston|| ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1955||Community Hall||Broughton|| ||Peeblesshire||Scotland||John Hardie Glover responsible as partner in charge|
|1955||Scottish Agricultural Industries Fertilizer Works||Leith|| ||Edinburgh, Midlothian||Scotland||In consultation with Kinnear & Gordon|
|1956||Flats, Great Michael Rise and Annfield||Newhaven|| ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1956||Housing, Laverockbank Avenue and Laverockbank Crescent||Newhaven|| ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1956||Tenement blocks, New Lane||Newhaven|| ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1956||Tenements, 14-20 Great Michael Rise||Newhaven|| ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1956||Tenements, 4-12 Great Michael Rise||Newhaven|| ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1956||Tenements, New Lane||Newhaven|| ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1956||Western General Hospital, Old Boiler House|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1957||George Watson's School, head masters house|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1957||Trinity College Glenalmond||Glenalmond|| ||Perthshire||Scotland||Extension at E end of N range|
|1958||Glasgow University, Institute of Virology Department building|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland|| |
|1958||Housing, Gorbals Redevelopment Scheme, Commercial Road Area||Gorbals|| ||Glasgow||Scotland|| |
|1958||Hutchesontown / Gorbals Area C Housing Redevelopment||Hutchesontown/Gorbals|| ||Glasgow||Scotland|| |
|1958||Queens' College on the Backs|| || ||Cambridge, Cambridgeshire||England||Spence responsible|
|1958||Scottish Widows Head Office|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1958||Thurso High School||Thurso|| ||Caithness||Scotland|| |
|1958||Western General Hospital, Operating Theatre Block|| || ||Edinburgh, Midlothian||Scotland|| |
|5 September 1958||Nottingham University, Department of Chemistry|| || ||Nottingham||England||structural consultants: Ove Arup and Partners|
services consultants: A.F. Meyers and Partners
per Builder p395
|28 November 1958||Housing, Gorbals Redevelopment Scheme, Commercial Road Area||Gorbals|| ||Glasgow||Scotland||per Builder p935|
|1959||Claremont Court housing|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Basil Spence and Partners (Peter Ferguson, partner in charge; Richard|
Cassidy, job architect; T Harley Haddow, engineers),
|1959||Glasgow University, Natural Philosophy Buildings|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland||W, for teaching and lecture theatre.|
|1959||Hampstead Civic Centre||Hampstead|| ||London||England||Spence responsible|
|1959||House at Oxlease Estate||Hatfield|| ||Hertfordshire||England|| |
|1959||Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station|| || ||Snowdonia||Wales||Spence as consultant architect|
|1959||University of Edinburgh, George Square Redevelopment|| || ||Edinburgh, Midlothian||Scotland||Spence as consultant architect to University|
|Early 1950s||SS Ninian, Martin and John RC Church||Whithorn|| ||Wigtownshire||Scotland||Prepared design - not executed. Commission went to Goodhart-Rendel|
|Late 1950s(?)||Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, blood transfusion extension|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|Mid 1950s||Normal College (later University Staff Club)|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Major alterations|
|1960||RHS Ingliston showground, Yorkshire Insurance Stand||Ingliston|| ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|1960||Royal Showground Stoneleigh, Yorkshire Insurance Stand||Stoneleigh|| ||Warwickshire||England|| |
|1960||Trinity College Glenalmond, Reid's House||Glenalmond|| ||Perthshire||Scotland|| |
|Before 1960||Associated Electrical Industries showroom|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland|| |
|Before 1960||House for A H Alexander|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|Before 1960||Recreation centre for Scottish Oils||Grangemouth|| ||Stirlingshire||Scotland|| |
|Before 1960||Scottish Amicable Life Assurance Society branch|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland|| |
|Before 1960||University of Edinburgh, Department of Natural Philosophy|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Extension|
|Before 1960||University of Edinburgh, King's Buildings, Animal Breeding Research Organisation Headquarters|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||William Norman Hunter as job architect|
|1961||65-71 and 97-103 Canongate and 1-3 Brown's Close|| || ||Edinburgh||Scotland||Begun under this practice title; continued as Sir Basil Spence, Glover & Ferguson.|
|1961||Glasgow (Abbotsinch) Airport||nr Paisley|| ||Renfrewshire||Scotland||£2m terminal building (completed in 1967 under practice title of Sir Basil Spence, Glover & Ferguson)|
|1961||Sussex University Halls of Residence|| || ||Sussex||England||Spence responsible|
|1961||Ten (10) 19-storey tower blocks, New Gorbals||New Gorbals|| ||Glasgow||Scotland|| |
|1961||Trinity College Glenalmond, Sanatorium||Glenalmond|| ||Perthshire||Scotland||Altered and extended|
|1961||University of Glasgow, Department of Genetics|| || ||Glasgow||Scotland||Begun under this practice title; completed as Sir Basil Spence, Glover & Ferguson.|
|1962||Trinity College Glenalmond, Chapel||Glenalmond|| ||Perthshire||Scotland||New gallery and screen|
|1963||Trinity College, Glenalmond, Music School||Glenalmond|| ||Perthshire||Scotland||With Peter Ferguson as partner in charge and principal architect|
|1964||King's College, University of Durham, Research Block|| || ||Newcastle-upon-Tyne||England|| |
|The following books contain references to this architectural practice:|
|Campbell, Louise||1996||Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain|| ||Clarendon Studies in the History of Art|| |
|Edwards, Brian|| ||Basil Spence entry in DNB|| || || |
|Edwards, Brian||1995||Basil Spence 1907-1976|| || || |
|Gibberd, Frank||1977||Obituary: Sir Basil Spence: 1907-1976||April 1977||Architectural Review|| |
|Glendinning, Miles||1997||Rebuilding Scotland: The Postwar Vision, 1945-75 || ||Tuckwell Press Ltd||pXI A 1958 sketch perspective of Hutchesontown / Gorbals Area 'C' proposed blocks|
pXII Demolition of Hutchesontown 'C' September 1993
p10 Image of Thomas Whalen's 'Coal Cliff' relief for the 1951 Exhibition of Industrial Power
p20, p39, p92-4, p98-102, p144-7, p175 Hutchesontown C
p159-60 Fishermen's Houses, Dunbar
|Glendinning, Miles and Muthesius, Stefan||1994||Tower Block: Modern Public Housing in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland|| ||Yale University Press: New Haven and London||p224 Mention of Hutchesontown slab blocks|
Hutchesontown Area C: p170, p327, p368
p381, Gazetteer 2
|Grove Dictionary of Art|| ||Grove Dictionary of Art|| || ||Entry on Spence by Louise Campbell|
|http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/arthistory/research/basil_spence/ || ||http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/arthistory/research/basil_spence/ || || || |
|Placzek, Adolf K (ed)||1982||Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects|| ||New York: The Free Press/Macmillan Publishing Company||Entry on Spence by Louise Campbell|
|Sheppard, Richard||1977||Obituary: Sir Basil Spence||January||RIBA Journal|| |
|Spence, Basil||1962||Phoenix at Coventry|| ||Geoffrey Bles|| |
|Willis, Peter||1977||New architecture in Scotland|| || ||p8, p10 Fishermen's Houses|
|The following periodicals contain references to this architectural practice:|
| ||Periodical Name||Date||Edition||Publisher||Notes|
|Architect and Building News||10 September 1958|| || ||p350 - 'Gorbals scheme for Glasgow'|
|Architectural Review||November 1967|| || ||Nicholas Taylor's largely negative piece on Hutchesontown C scheme|
|Builder||21 October 1949|| || ||p515-?|
|Builder||2 November 1951|| || ||p581-5|
|Builder||20 April 1951|| || ||p569|
|Builder||18 February 1955|| || ||p316|
|Builder||7 July 1961|| || ||p32|
|Housing Review||November 1958||7:6|| ||Illustrated feature|
|The Times||20 November 1976|| || ||Obituary|
|The following archives hold material relating to this architectural practice:|
| ||Source||Archive Name||Source Catalogue No.||Notes|
|Sent to DSA by email||Information from AHRC/RCAHMS Spence project per David W Walker and Clive Fenton|| ||Biographical note by David W Walker. Additional information from David W Walker and Clive Fenton, sent September 2007 and July 2010.|