© All rights reserved. RIAS Quarterly no 47, Autumn 1934 

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Basic Biographical Details

Name: Alexander Esmé Gordon (or Esmé Gordon)
Designation: Architect
Born: 12 September 1910
Died: 31 May 1993
Bio Notes: Alexander Esmé Gordon was born at Ramsay Gardens, Edinburgh on 12 September 1910, the son of Alexander Shand Gordon, WS, and Elizabeth Catherine Logan. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy and studied at Edinburgh College of Art from 1928. He spent his year out with Burnet Tait & Lorne in London, and returned to the same firm as a qualified assistant in 1934, working on St Andrews House, Edinburgh, Kirsop's, Glasgow, the 1938 Empire Exhibition, Glasgow and several English projects including the limited competition for a house for King George V and the Curzon Cinema. He worked mainly but not exclusively under Tait and his senior assistant Andrew D Bryce. He had won several minor scholarships which enabled him to make sketching tours of England and two month-long trips to Italy (in 1931 and 1933), and in 1934 was awarded the Owen Jones Scholarship, which he used to travel again to Italy the following year. He was admitted ARIBA on 2 December 1935, his proposers being John Begg, Alexander Lorne Campbell and Frank Charles Mears.

In 1937 Gordon commenced practice on his own account at 34 Castle Street, Edinburgh, having spent part of his time in the Edinburgh office under James Wallace and gained a part-time appointment at Edinburgh College of Art. In the same year he married Betsy McCurry from Belfast, a piano graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London and around this time he was joined in partnership by James Robertson, working with him as Robertson & Gordon until c.1940 when he commenced war service with the Royal Engineers, initially working on canteens. He later saw active service and was involved with reconstruction work at the end of the war in Normandy and the Netherlands.

Gordon took his former assistant William Gordon Dey into partnership in 1946, after they had returned from war service. He was admitted ARIAS in 1948 and FRIBA in 1956, proposed by John Ross McKay, Leslie Grahame MacDougall and Thomas Waller Marwick by which time he had moved his office to his former home at 36 Heriot Row, and was living at 11 Greenhill Gardens. In 1966 Gordon designed and built a house for himself in Greenhill Park. This is one of the few post-war private houses which has been listed (Category B).

In his early post-war years Gordon specialised in church work, writing a book on the subject ‘The Principles of Church Building. Furnishing Equipment and Decoration’ but he later undertook major educational projects for Heriot-Watt and Moray House.

Gordon served as president of the Edinburgh Architectural Association from 1955-57 and designed the Centenary Bronze Medal to be awarded annually from 1957 onwards. He was elected ARSA in 1956, RSA in 1967 and 17th Secretary and historian of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1973, holding this last post until 1978. He retired early in order to devote himself almost full-time to the RSA, making some notable discoveries in the archive and researching and producing its history in time for the 150th Anniversary in 1976.

In person Esme Gordon was of middle height, stocky in build with a crop of upright hair which he retained to the end. He was a superb draughtsman and watercolourist, an important collector of Oriental art of which he had a profound knowledge, and had a delightful personality.

He died in the City Hospital, Edinburgh on 31 May 1993. His wife had predeceased him in 1990. He was survived by his sons Giles (who died in Edinburgh in 2003) , Christopher who lives in Hampshire, and his daughter Celia who lives in Oxford. A memorial exhibition was held at the RSA in 1994.


‘'A Short History of St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh' (1954)

'A handbook on the Principles of Church Building. Furnishing, Equipment and Decoration' (1963)

'The Royal Scottish Academy of Painting Sculpture and Architecture 1826-1976' (1976)

‘The Making of the Royal Scottish Academy’ (1988)

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 736, Heriot Row, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate/businessBefore 1935After 1956Private at first; later used as office
Item 2 of 734, Castle Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandBusinessc. 19371940In partnership with James Robertson
Item 3 of 72, Darnaway Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate1939 *  
Item 4 of 78, Albert Terrace, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate1944c. 1950 
Item 5 of 711, Greenhill Gardens, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate19501966 
Item 6 of 710A, Greenhill Park, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate1966 *  
Item 7 of 72/23, Barnton Avenue West, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate19881993 

* earliest date known from documented sources.

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 4(Sir) John Burnet, Tait & Lornec. 1931c. 1932Apprentice 
Item 2 of 4(Sir) John Burnet, Tait & Lorne19341937Assistant 
Item 3 of 4Robertson & Gordon1937c. 1940Partner 
Item 4 of 4Gordon & Dey1946 Partner 

Employees or Pupils

The following individuals were employed or trained by this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 2Stanley Patrick Ross-SmithAfter 1948Before 1958Senior Assistant 
Item 2 of 2Stanley Patrick Ross-SmithAfter 1948Before 1958Junior Partner 


RIBA Proposers

The following individuals proposed this architect for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 6John Begg2 December 1935for Associateship
Item 2 of 6Alexander Lorne Campbell2 December 1935for Associateship
Item 3 of 6Thomas Waller Marwick6 March 1956For Fellowship
Item 4 of 6John Ross McKay6 March 1956For Fellowship
Item 5 of 6(Sir) Frank Charles Mears2 December 1935for Associateship
Item 6 of 6Leslie Grahame Thomson (or Leslie Grahame-Thomson; later Leslie Grahame MacDougall)6 March 1956For Fellowship

RIBA Proposals

This architect proposed the following individuals for RIBA membership (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate proposedNotes
Item 1 of 5Douglas Haig BamberOctober 1962For Fellowship
Item 2 of 5John Stone Craig4 November 1956For Fellowship
Item 3 of 5Ian Henry Dodd3 October 1961For Associateship
Item 4 of 5Robert James NaismithMid 1965For Fellowship
Item 5 of 5Stanley Patrick Ross-Smith17 July 1968For Fellowship

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 801933Scottish Office buildingsCalton Hill EdinburghScotlandExecuted scheme, known as St Andrew's House - as assistant to Tait at Burnet, Tait & Lorne
Item 2 of 801934Curzon CinemaMayfair LondonEnglandAs assistant to Tait at Burnet, Tait & Lorne
Item 3 of 80Before 1934Masonic HallSilver End EssexEnglandWorked on the drawings while assistant in the Burnet Tait & Lorne office
Item 4 of 801935House for the Jubilee of George V    Competition designs (unexecuted) - as assistant to Tait at Burnet, Tait & Lorne
Item 5 of 801935Kirsop's shop  GlasgowScotlandAs assistant to Tait in Burnet, Tait & Lorne
Item 6 of 801936Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art  DundeeScotlandCompetition design (unsuccessful) - information provided to DMW by Alexander Esmé Gordon in response to questionnaire in the 1980s.
Item 7 of 801936Glasgow Empire Exhibition, masterplanBellahouston GlasgowScotlandAs assistant to Tait in Burnet, Tait & Lorne
Item 8 of 801937House for Miss Logan  EdinburghScotland 
Item 9 of 801937Proposed houses at CorstorphineCorstorphine EdinburghScotland 
Item 10 of 801938Glasgow Empire Exhibition, Travel and Transport PavilionBellahouston GlasgowScotland 
Item 11 of 801938Tanfield Primary School  EdinburghScotlandCompetition design (unsuccessful) (information provided to DMW by Alexander Esmé Gordon in response to questionnaire in the 1980s)
Item 12 of 80c. 1938HermitageMurrayfield EdinburghScotlandAlterations and new lodge house for chauffeur
Item 13 of 801939ChurchWest Pilton EdinburghScotland 
Item 14 of 801939Innerleven East ChurchMethil FifeScotlandMainly by Gordon
Item 15 of 801939St Giles Cathedral  EdinburghScotlandNew organ case
Item 16 of 801940ChurchMethil FifeScotland 
Item 17 of 801940Church of Scotland Canteens   England 
Item 18 of 801940Church of Scotland Canteens   Scotland 
Item 19 of 801940Church of Scotland Canteens   France 
Item 20 of 801940St Giles Cathedral  EdinburghScotlandOpen screens and ceiling in vestibule
Item 21 of 801946Free High Church and Free Church College  EdinburghScotlandAlterations. Perhaps involved in alterations including sub-division of students' common room and alterations in examination rooms
Item 22 of 801946St Giles Cathedral  EdinburghScotlandWar memorial chapel furnishings and extensive alterations to sanctuary for State service at which HM the Queen received the Crown of Scotland
Item 23 of 801947Enterprise Scotland 1947 Exhibition  EdinburghScotlandDesigned the room layouts
Item 24 of 801947Leeds Premanent Building Society office  Edinburgh Scotland 
Item 25 of 801947Moray House Training College  EdinburghScotlandHandiwork and music department added
Item 26 of 80After 1947Children's Homes  EdinburghScotland 
Item 27 of 80After 1947Eventide HomeLoanhead MidlothianScotland 
Item 28 of 80After 1947Eventide homeGargunnock StirlingshireScotland 
Item 29 of 80After 1947Eventide Home Alloa ClackmannanshireScotland 
Item 30 of 80After 1947Eventide Home Galashiels SelkirkshireScotland 
Item 31 of 801949British Linen Bank, Head Office  EdinburghScotlandNew suite for general manager and war memorial
Item 32 of 801949British Linen Bank, Shandwick Place  EdinburghScotland 
Item 33 of 801949Church Hall, Pennywell RoadWest Pilton EdinburghScotland 
Item 34 of 80After 1949British Linen BankHawick RoxburghshireScotlandReconstruction
Item 35 of 80After 1949British Linen BankJohnstone RenfrewshireScotlandReconstruction
Item 36 of 80After 1949British Linen BankBerwick-upon-Tweed NorthumberlandEnglandReconstruction
Item 37 of 801950Research laboratory for Scottish Agricultural Industries  EdinburghScotland 
Item 38 of 801952Moray House Training College  EdinburghScotlandSports pavilion
Item 39 of 801952Woodhall Paper MillColinton EdinburghScotlandReconstruction after fire
Item 40 of 801953British Pharmaceutical Society, exam laboratories  EdinburghScotland 
Item 41 of 801953Free ChurchCorstorphine EdinburghScotlandReconstruction and furnishing
Item 42 of 801953Moray House Training College  EdinburghScotlandScheme of restoration
Item 43 of 801953Oxgangs Primary SchoolOxgangs EdinburghScotland 
Item 44 of 801953St Andrew's Parish Church  EdinburghScotlandAlterations to pulpit, redecoration and plaster ornament in vestibule.
Item 45 of 801954Moray House Training College  EdinburghScotlandSpeech training department
Item 46 of 801955Coldingham PrioryColdingham BerwickshireScotlandReordering of interior
Item 47 of 801955Hermiston HouseRiccarton West LothianScotlandRestoration and modernisation
Item 48 of 801955Tenement, 176-184 Canongate  EdinburghScotlandReconstruction
Item 49 of 801956200 Canongate  EdinburghScotland 
Item 50 of 801956Leeds Premanent Building Society office  Edinburgh Scotland 
Item 51 of 801956Lodge Dunedin  EdinburghScotlandReconstruction after fire
Item 52 of 801956Tenement, Old Playhouse Close  EdinburghScotlandReconstruction
Item 53 of 80c. 1956Heriot-Watt Technical College, new block  EdinburghScotland 
Item 54 of 801960Electricity office and showroom  EdinburghScotland 
Item 55 of 801960Moray House College of Education, Dalhousie Land  EdinburghScotland 
Item 56 of 801960Moray House Training College  EdinburghScotlandAlterations and additions and new gymnasium.
Item 57 of 801960Scottish Life Assurance Co  EdinburghScotlandRebuilding
Item 58 of 801960St David's ChurchBroomhouse EdinburghScotland 
Item 59 of 801961Building (neo-Georgian in style), Holyrood Road  EdinburghScotland 
Item 60 of 801961Canongate Parish Church  EdinburghScotlandSounding board to pulpit
Item 61 of 801962Industrial School for GirlsGilmerton EdinburghScotlandAdditions
Item 62 of 801962St Giles Cathedral, Chapel of the Order of the Thistle  EdinburghScotlandMemorial to George VI
Item 63 of 801963Allan Park UP ChurchStirling StirlingshireScotlandInterior recast including large chancel with panelled organ pipe housings
Item 64 of 80196610A Greenhill Park  EdinburghScotland 
Item 65 of 801967Warriston Crematorium  EdinburghScotlandNW cloister and other extensions
Item 66 of 801969Bank of ScotlandMusselburgh MidlothianScotland 
Item 67 of 801969Old People's Home  EdinburghScotland 
Item 68 of 80Mid 1960sHeriot-Watt University, Department of Brewing and Biochemistry  EdinburghScotland 
Item 69 of 801970North Parish ChurchStirling StirlingshireScotland 
Item 70 of 801971Moray House College of Education, Charteris Land  EdinburghScotland 
Item 71 of 801974Upper Springland CentrePerth Perthshire  
Item 72 of 801975Gannochy Trust Sports Complex, with Bell Sports Centre and Gannochy Sports PavilionPerth PerthshireScotlandThe Gannochy Sports Pavilion
Item 73 of 801975Kinnoull House and MacMillan HousePerth PerthshireScotland 
Item 74 of 80Before 1975Eventide Home for the Merchant Company of Edinburgh  EdinburghScotland 
Item 75 of 80Before 1975Milton Road East Lodge, gates and scaliger railing  EdinburghScotlandSpecial care unit
Item 76 of 80Before 1975Newbattle House  EdinburghScotland 
Item 77 of 80197984-86 Great King Street and 2A and 2B St Vincent Street  EdinburghScotlandRepairs
Item 78 of 801980Christ Church Episcopal Church  EdinburghScotlandConversion 'into a modern idiom'
Item 79 of 801980Moray House College of Education, St Mary's Land and Chessel's Land  EdinburghScotland 
Item 80 of 801980Saltoun Hall  East LothianScotlandRoof repairs


Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
Item 1 of 4Glendinning, Miles1997Rebuilding Scotland: The Postwar Vision, 1945-75  Tuckwell Press Ltdp2 Illustration of St Andrew's House
Item 2 of 4Glendinning, Miles1997Rebuilding Scotland: The Postwar Vision, 1945-75  Tuckwell Press Ltdp4 Image of Electricity Board Office and Showroom
Item 3 of 4RIBA1939The RIBA Kalendar 1939-1940 London: Royal Institute of British Architects 
Item 4 of 4RIBA1950The RIBA Kalendar 1950-1951 London: Royal Institute of British Architects 

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 4Builder3 May 1957  p802
Item 2 of 4Daily Telegraph10 June 1993  Obituary p23
Item 3 of 4Scotsman12 June 1993  Obituary
Item 4 of 4The Independent4 June 1993   

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this architect:
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 3Courtesy of Christopher GordonInformation sent to Dictionary Sent March 2011 and September 2011
Item 2 of 3Professor David M Walker personal archiveProfessor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material Information provided to DMW by Alexander Esmé Gordon in response to a questionnaire in the 1980s
Item 3 of 3RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert MuseumRIBA Nomination Papers A no5839 (stored under F5129, combined box 58); F no5129 (combined box 58)


© All rights reserved. RIAS Quarterly no 47, Autumn 1934 

© All rights reserved. RIAS Quarterly no 47, Autumn 1934