Edwin Lutyens was born in London in March 1869. He was named for a friend of his father, artist Edwin Henry Landseer. Lutyens studied at the Royal College of Art and graduated as an architect in 1887 before working for a year in the offices of Ernest George and Harold Peto, where he met noted architect Sir Herbert Baker.
In 1888 Edwin Lutyens set up his own offices, working for several years in fashionable Bloomsbury Square, during which time he met garden designer and leading horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll, with whom he collaborated on several commissions. His style mixed brick paths, with overflowing borders of lupins, lilies and lavender to create a mixture of the old formal style garden and the informality of a cottage garden and was to define many outdoor areas of period style houses of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His popularity was increased dramatically with the endowment of Edward Hudson, founder of “Country Life” magazine, in which Lutyens could showcase many of his house designs. Hudson commissioned Lutyens to work on several projects including his home, The Deanery in Sonning and8 the nearby headquarters of Country Life in Tavistock Square.
Tavistock Square is one of several “squares” which stand on the site of the former land owned by 18th century architect and builder James Burton, who bought the land piecemeal that belonged both to the older foundlings hospital and that of the Duke of Bedford. It became known as Bloomsbury Square and the later squares grew from that. Lutyens also designed the British Medical Association’s building also in Tavistock Square which stands on Burton’s former home. Lutyens was to become well known as an architect with a keen eye for detail and the ability to reproduce substantial private homes in the styles of much earlier periods, notably the late medieval and Tudor styles. His work so impressive that many have difficulty knowing the difference. Key buildings he contributed to include Marsh Court, Overstrand Hall, the Main building of Amesbury Prep School – originally a private residence – and Le Bois de Moutiers in France. He was also hired to renovate and rejuvenate 16th Century Lindisfarne Castle into a family home.
Lutyens received one of his biggest honours, the work for which he will eternally be remembered, when commissioned by David Lloyd George on behalf of the public and the Imperial War Graves Commission to submit to the committee designs for the layout of the war cemeteries under consideration following the Great War. His work includes some of the “stones of memorial” in some of the larger war cemeteries. In addition, Lutyens was asked to put forward a design for a memorial on the Somme battleground to those killed in action during that battle, who had no known grave. The result was the iconic Thiepval Memorial. Lutyens further designed both the temporary and the later permanent Whitehall Cenotaph structures, requested initially to commemorate the 1919 victory parade, and later to provide a lasting memorial to the fallen in the Nation’s capital. He also designed similar cenotaphs and other memorials, notably several in Canada, British Columbia, Sydney, the War Memorial gardens in Dublin, the Memorial Arch in Leicester and the Tower Hill Memorial.
Following his work on war memorials, in the late 1920s Lutyens designed and oversaw the famous mock-medieval Castle Drogo in Devon, England for businessman and entrepreneur Julius Drewe. During this period, he was also engaged by Sir Herbert Baker to work with him on commissions in New Delhi, most notably the India Gate, the Viceroys Palace, (now Rashtrapathi Bhavan) and Hyderabad House. In 1924, Edwin built four storey replica Palladian villa, Queen Mary’s Doll House, in 1/12th Scale. This piece was never designed with the intention of actually being a toy, merely a presentation of the standards and styles of British Architecture. It is now part of a permanent display near Windsor castle. A few years later, Lutyens was awarded the commission for the design of the new Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool. Sadly World War Two interrupted the building, and lack of funds post-war prevented the commission being completed. The Cathedral only reached crypt level, and the design was modified into the present Cathedral. In recent years, the model of the complete original was restored by Walker Art Gallery, and now rests on display in the Museum of Liverpool. Its front entrance startlingly reminiscent of the archways of the Thiepval Memorial.
Edwin Lutyens died on New Years’ Day in 1944 following several bouts of pneumonia over the preceding years, and a diagnosis of cancer. He left a reluctant widow, Lady Emily Bulwer-Lytton, with whom his marriage had failed somewhat from the beginning, despite having five surviving children. Lady Emily had proposed to Edwin, in 1895 with their wedding taking place two years later. She had then developed a disconcerting obsession with theosophy and one of its leading philosophers, to the detriment of her relationship with Lutyens. Following his death, Edwin was cremated at Golders Green, where his ashes remain interred. A memorial to him was designed and constructed by his friend and fellow architect William Curtis Green, which can be found in the crypt of St Pauls in London.
In a fitting continuation to the memorial work for which Lutyens is best known, the Bloomsbury area, in which Lutyens worked and designed several of the buildings for, became something of a peace gardens, with the laying of memorials in honour of Mahatma Ghandi, the victims of the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Conscientious Objectors of the War. Nearby was also the Tavistock Clinic, a psychiatric facility, used during and after the Great War to treat victims of shell shock.
The peace was shattered in July 2005, at Tavistock Square, when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive packed rucksack on a crowded double decker bus, onto which commuters had been forced to travel due to emergency closures on the underground trains that morning. The closures were caused by similar devices being detonated by fellow terrorist perpetrators; following their attacks, all underground services had been cancelled and passengers sent above ground to make their way to their destinations by alternative means. One of those to board the bus was the final bomber who had not yet had chance to detonate his device, intended for another underground train. In all, fifty-two innocent people were killed that morning, thirteen of whom were fatally injured as the bomb tore the bus wide open outside of Lutyens’ fine British Medical Association Building. Many passers-by were also caught up in the blast. Several medical personnel who were attending a meeting there, that morning, made their way out of the building following the explosion and dedicated their efforts to treating as many of the victims as they could.
Edwin Lutyens is not everybody’s first choice when asked to name any renowned British Architect. His name falls by the wayside when compared with such well-known and prominent fellows as Christopher Wren and Capability Brown. But with the legacy remaining from Hampton Court Bridge, the 44 memorials to the Great War found throughout Britain and Ireland, which have now been granted protected status as listed monuments and buildings, and his most prominent works around the world, Lutyens has ensured that his memory will continue in the fine examples of architecture he left us with which arguably outrank anything that his better known contemporaries could offer.