Basic Biographical Details
|30 March 1889
|Francis Lorne was born in Falkirk on 30 March 1889, the son of Robert Lorne, a master joiner there. He was articled to the Falkirk architect Thomas Mair Copland in April 1905 and took classes at what he described as Falkirk School of Art (actually the Science and Art School); his 1913 ARIBA nomination paper describes them as evening classes, whilst his 1930 FRIBA nomination paper states that they were half-day classes. At the end of his articles in May 1910 he obtained employment with John Burnet & Son in Glasgow, working on competition designs under Norman Aitken Dick, Burnet's Glasgow partner, until October when he joined Eugène Bourdon's day classes at Glasgow School of Architecture. After six months he left to work for Banister Fletcher & Sons in London, remaining with them for one year until April 1912 when he joined the London staff of the Office of Works, but in June 1913 he sailed for New York where he briefly joined the office of Cross & Cross to study American building. He passed the qualifying exam in July 1913 and was admitted ARIBA on 14 August 1913, his proposers being Herbert Phillips Fletcher, Banister Flight Fletcher and Roland Ingleby Smith of the Office of Works. By that date he had spent some eight months' study on the continent, much of the time being in Paris. In June 1914 Lorne again sailed for New York, arriving one day ahead of Thomas Tait on the 26th. He stayed at the YMCA and may have returned to Cross & Cross.
After the First World War broke out Lorne moved to Canada to serve with the Canadian engineers. It is not known what he did in 1920-21, apart from a book, of which more later. In 1922 he again sailed for New York but it was in Montreal, Canada, that he resumed practice with Frederick Garfield Robb working on an office building for Drummond McCall, which has echoes of Burnet and Tait's Kodak Building, and on an unrealised engineering block for McGill University. By 1924 he had moved to the New York office of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, who died in that year, the firm thereafter becoming Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates. There he worked on buildings for St Lawrence University and the Brooklyn Law School, and by 1929 he was an associate with his name among those listed on the letterhead. In that same year he belatedly became a registered architect and a member of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Less than a year later, certainly by early August 1930, the Wall Street Crash had persuaded Lorne to return to London as a partner in Sir John Burnet & Partners, which then became Sir John Burnet Tait & Lorne following Burnet's semi-retirement to the status of consultant. This development had been engineered by his sister Helen who happened to be Burnet's secretary. She was petite, 'used dark make-up, looked positively South American', and lived in the top flat at Montague Place. Financially she was extremely astute and for several years, certainly since early 1928 when Burnet first became seriously ill, had been trying to arrange Burnet's affairs in a way which would make it possible for him to retire after the losses in the Glasgow practice. David Raeside, the office manager, had died in 1928 and had not been replaced, so she proposed her brother as he had published a manual, 'Architectural Office Administration', in 1921. To this Burnet and Tait agreed, the latter because he wanted another office manager to keep his visitors to a minimum in order to devote as much time as possible to the design side of the practice.
Tait soon discovered that Lorne was not content to be office manager as Raeside had been. His stylish American clothes and manner were very different from Tait's avuncular image. Like his sister Helen he had a lot of personality. A pen-portrait of him obtained by Thomas Fox gives a very good picture of him, a 'below average height, (shipping records give his height as 5 feet 10 inches), slim beautifully dapper man, grey hair (in the 1930s it was black) perfectly groomed, silk shirt and knitted tie, of no age import, speech precise, clear and worldly wise, the eyes penetratingly observant'. Within the office, at least in earlier years he could be aggressive and sharp-tongued ('make it snappy') with the staff and more seriously insensitive to the Taits, once selling to a London dealer asculpture given to Tait by Sir William Reid Dick when Tait was out of the office: predictably and embarrassingly Dick saw it in the dealer's gallery before Tait could do anything about it.
Lorne's approach to business was also very different. He received clients wearing silk shirts without a jacket, unheard-of at the time. He cultivated publicity: he went out and sought work; and he ferreted out the proprietors of underdeveloped sites, secured their agreement in principle to sell, and, when he had assembled enough, set about finding clients for them. He kept the number of staff to just under twenty, a figure it was seldom allowed to exceed, although the firm was one of the three or four largest practices in the country (Montague Place, even with a makeshift drawing office in the garden, could not accommodate any more), and ruthlessly cleared out the more conservative of Burnet's assistants. He put the survivors - Bryce and Ferguson - on overtime at time and a quarter rates. To replace the old guard Lorne brought with him the New York architect Slater-Ellis who had temporarily closed his practice because of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and recruited an amazing team of politically radical - one even communist - colonials and Scots Americans who swiftly brought to a close the formal office protocol of Burnet's day. These included the New Zealanders Edward Armstrong, Lipscombe and Minson; the Australians Oscar Bayne and Henry Pynor; and Lorne's own brother-in-law, Ludovic Gordon Farquhar - who had married his much younger sister Marie - from the United States. All were men of exceptional ability: of particular interest in terms of experience were Bayne and Pynor who had both worked their way across the United States, the latter having worked for Frank Lloyd Wright and brought with him an important collection of drawings from that office; he also had experience of large-scale office organisation and construction, having been in charge of a huge international team of architects and draughtsmen in Russia during the period of the Five Year Plan. Farquhar's background was even more valuable since he brought to the office experience with the Beaux-Arts skyscraper builder Raymond M Hood, architect of the Rockefeller Center in New York, features of which were to influence the design of St Andrew's House. The office was now split into two separate sections, Tait's and Lorne's, Tait retaining the older staff and recruiting new staff from Scotland as he needed them, while Lorne took charge of Stengelhofen and the colonials. Denis Bethune Williams provided a common structural engineering service and checked the measurements on every drawing which was to leave the office, while Farquhar and Helen Lorne attended to the accounts and the office administration.
These changes were accompanied in that same year by the radical shift in architectural direction for which Tait had been preparing. It was exemplified by the Royal Masonic Hospital at Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith, for which Tait had won the competition in 1929. His design was revolutionary in plan and servicing but was still modified neo-Georgian in elevation with steep dormered roofs. In 1930, although still planned on formal symmetrical lines, it was completely redesigned in a Dutch-American flat-roofed idiom, the reception block having hints of H F Mertens's works at Rotterdam for Unilever, the practice's client at Blackfriars Bridge, while the main ward block had a number of features, notably the semi-circular ended wings, which were to appear again at St Andrew's House. It brought him the RIBA Gold Medal for the best building of the year in 1933. Tait never wavered from the path of modernity again. The style of Ravenscourt Park was further developed in his competition designs for Norwich Municipal Buildings and in his scheme for the Brook House site in London's Park Lane where his client did not secure the site; at the Curzon Cinema in Mayfair for the Marques de Casa Maury, where he made some deft improvements on Lorne and Stengelhofen's design, Tait adopted the style of the Dutch architect, Dudok; and at the Mount Royal flats on London's Oxford Street he and Lorne again drew inspiration from the Netherlands, for some details perhaps from F A Warner's Atlanta House in Amsterdam. With the economic difficulties which beset the country from 1931 onwards the firm went into a relative decline in business which was weathered without losing key staff by a 10% wage cut: but even the slump was turned to advantage, Francis Lorne, Ludovic Gordon Farquhar and Oscar Bayne taking the opportunity to produce the architects' bible of the 1930s, 'The Information Book of Sir John Burnet, Tait & Lorne', published in 1933, which consolidated the firm's position as the premier British practice of the decade.
Opinions on Lorne's ability as a designer have varied, and it is difficult to distinguish his work from that of Stengelhofen and Farquhar, who took a more active design role after business began to pick up again from 1933 onwards. Lorne was very much the spokesman for the practice, and a very good one too, arguing that modern architecture required 'a change of heart … only by getting back to architecture as a practical building problem for our own country, our own people, our own climate and conditions of life, can we produce an architecture that will mean something'. He also proclaimed that architecture should give us an emotional reaction: 'Most of us have realised the thrill which comes from boarding an ocean liner, or flying to France on one of the big imperial airways planes, or sitting at the wheel of a high-powered motor car. They are so eminently suitable for use and so attractively presented that they give us an emotional kick.'
As early as June 1933, after only three years in London, Lorne was appointed a member of the Council for Research on Housing Construction chaired by Lord Dudley and promoted by the Chartered Surveyors' Institute. It published its first report a year later on 14 June 1934, recommending a massive programme of slum clearance; and in the same year he designed the stand for the British Steelwork Association at the International Building Exhibition at Olympia and gave papers for the British Steelwork Association on the use of sheet steel in June, and on the use of steel in building and the elimination of timber in ship interiors in September.
With the retirement of Burnet the old territorial division between Sir John Burnet & Partners and Burnet Son & Dick came to an end. Tait now both accepted and sought Scottish business, while Lorne sought clients within the Prince of Wales's circle, having gained an entrée through Mrs Dudley Ward and her husband-to-be the Marques de Casa Maury; both were frequent visitors to the office. These high society connections brought a considerable number of major commissions, most of them developing the horizontal brick idiom of Tait's Royal Masonic Hospital at Ravenscourt Park.
Lorne was, however, responsible for one major monumental stone-faced building, the Anglo-American Corporation's headquarters at 44 Main Street, Johannesburg, which had points in common with Tait's earliest design for St Andrew's House a year earlier. The commission came to the practice from Sir Ernest Oppenheimer in 1935, and as Tait was fully occupied on St Andrew's House and other Scottish projects, Lorne took charge, making a number of visits to South Africa in 1935-38.
In 1937 Lorne succeeded in securing a partnership for Farquhar, his brother-in-law. This resulted in the Lornes becoming rather dominant within the office. At that point Lorne himself was not married and lived a bachelor existence at Chelsea Studio Flats during the week, spending the weekends at Greenacres, Ascot, an extremely smart house designed in 1930 for entertaining prospective clients. But in February 1938 his entrée to Johannesburg society through the Anglo American Corporation and the Oppenheimers resulted in his engagement to Joyce Marie Curlewis, youngest daughter of Sir Julius Jeppe. The marriage appears to have taken place in Johannesburg in the summer as planned. She sailed for the UK, but the marriage was not to last.
As a Gordon Highlanders reserve officer, Farquhar was called up in 1939 and in 1940 Tait became Director of Standardisation because of his experience on school camps before the war. This effectively left Lorne in sole charge of the office until Tait returned in 1942. Not long before that Lorne had remarried, this time to Margot Mills, whose marriage to John Compton Cavendish, 4th Baron Chesham, had been dissolved. Their engagement was announced on 11 June 1941 and the marriage took place shortly afterwards, Greenacres being advertised for sale in October after Lorne decided to move to the Edinburgh office (his mother had a house in Murrayfield) and live at Glenfarg House in Perthshire.
Farquhar died in December 1945 as a result of his experiences as a prisoner of war of the Japanese. After the end of the war Lorne still spent most of his time in the Edinburgh office, and business there picked up spectacularly in March 1947 when Oppenheimer commissioned Lorne to design new technical head offices for the Anglo-American Corporation at 45 Main Street, Johannesburg, immediately adjacent to number 44. Very early in the project Lorne told Oppenheimer that he and his wife intended to settle in South Africa: he had become intolerant of the frustrations of building licences under Attlee's government. Sometime thereafter Lorne withdrew from his partnership with Tait and recommenced practice in Johannesburg in partnership with Kenneth Birch.
From 1948 Lorne and Birch were responsible for twelve large integrated mining communities comprising the industrial plant, housing, hospitals and welfare and recreation buildings. Lorne's appointment as consultant lasted until the programme was complete in 1954. He and his wife then 'retired' to Salisbury, Rhodesia where he recommenced practice with a new partner, Aubrey Pitt, designing the Arundel School and a number of corporate office buildings until he retired at the age of seventy-one in 1960.
Lorne died in June (?) 1963.
Private and Business Addresses
|The following private or business addresses are associated with this :
|1, Montague Place, London WC1, England
|1939 or after 1940
|44, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, Scotland
|1939 or 1940 *
|Salisbury, Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia to
* earliest date known from documented sources.
Employment and Training
Buildings and Designs
|The following books contain references to this :
|Fox, Thomas N
|Francis Lorne, 1889-1963
|Thirties Society Journal, no 6 (1987), pp26-31
|Rebuilding Scotland: The Postwar Vision, 1945-75
|Tuckwell Press Ltd
|p2 Illustration of St Andrew's House
|The RIBA Kalendar 1939-1940
|London: Royal Institute of British Architects
|The following periodicals contain references to this :
|5 July 1963
|p32 - obituary
|14 June 1933
|Council for Research on Housing Construction
|14 June 1934
|International Congress for Steel Development
|22 June 1934
|British Steelwork Association
|25 February 1938
|11 June 1941
|The following archives hold material relating to this :
|Source Catalogue No.
|Professor David M Walker personal archive
|Professor David M Walker, notes and collection of archive material
|Personal recollections of Esmé Gordon, Margaret Brodie, Harold Cullerne Pratt and Stuart Renton. Further research by Russell Tait and Tom Fox.
|RIBA Archive, Victoria & Albert Museum
|RIBA Nomination Papers
|A v21 no2428 (microfilm reel 21); F no2818 (box 12)