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22 Jan 2021

The Lorimer archives

Written by Ian Riches
A black and white photo of a young man working on a sculpture of a cherub-type figure. He holds a small stone chisel and is working on the figure's hand. The statue and the man appear to be looking at each other eye to eye.
Hew Lorimer at work
This article serves as a brief introduction to the archive collection held at Kellie Castle in Fife, which relates mainly to the Lorimer family, and in particular Hew Lorimer, the noted Scottish sculptor.

In honour of Hew, who died in 1993, members of the Lorimer family, the National Trust for Scotland and other bodies initiated two major projects: one was to recreate Hew’s sculptural studio by converting the Stables at Kellie Castle to be a permanent exhibition of Hew’s work, with an adjoining education room; the other was to establish an archive room at the castle to house Hew’s considerable collection of papers, photographs and drawings.

The sculptural studio became an area in which to display particular items that Hew used whilst undertaking his sculptural commissions, together with interpretation panels and photographs. I believe the plan was to recreate the studio as if Hew had just popped out for a while …

A view of an artist's sculpture studio, with a ladder leading up to a wooden loft area above. A tall statue of a woman with golden hair holding a sheaf of wheat stands in the corner. In the foreground are wooden steps, easels and a blue toolbox.
Recreation of Hew Lorimer’s studio; image © National Trust for Scotland

The archive room was specifically designed to house the archival material that had been collected by Hew over his many years at Kellie and beforehand. It was decided that although the papers still belonged to the Lorimer family, it would be more suitable and relevant to house the papers at Kellie; this would also afford access to future researchers.

Initially, the plan was to have the archive room in an upper floor of the older North Tower of the castle, but an alternative room was found on the top floor of the East Tower which was deemed to be the most suitable as an archive store.

A view of Kellie Castle on a sunny day with bright blue sky behind. A tall corner tower with turrets is closest to the camera. A large tree frames the shot.
​Kellie Castle, with the East Tower on the right of the picture; image © National Trust for Scotland​

Hew Lorimer and the Lorimer family

Before looking at items of interest within the archive collection, it would be apposite to have a brief overview of the Lorimer family, and Hew in particular.

Hew Lorimer was born in Edinburgh on 22 May 1907, the second son of the distinguished Scottish architect Robert Stodart Lorimer and his wife Violet Wyld. Robert’s father was James Lorimer, who was a Professor of Public and International Law at Edinburgh University.

A paper birth certificate has been unfolded and laid out for display. The paper has started to brown. Details have been handwritten on it in black ink. A section to the right appears to have been taped.
Hew Lorimer’s birth certificate; image © National Trust for Scotland

Professor Lorimer was asthmatic and in the late 19th century had sought the better air of the East Neuk of Fife to help with his medical condition. He derived ‘indescribable relief’ from the sea air, and the family’s two month-long ‘autumn holidays’ were spent in rented cottages and houses along the Firths, from Arran to Crail.

In 1878, the Professor and his family (his wife Hannah Stodart and their six children: sons James, John Henry and Robert, and daughters Hannah, Louise and Alice) came upon Kellie Castle. He rented the castle, which at that time was a near ruin, from the Earl of Mar and Kellie on an improving rent and he began to renovate the property.

Kellie Castle became the Lorimers’ holiday home and they were associated with it for many years. After the death of the Professor in 1890 the family continued to stay at Kellie. Hannah Stodart passed away in 1916, which was the year the 38-year lease on Kellie expired. John Henry Lorimer, a noted Scottish painter, took on the lease but was only able to renew it annually until he died in 1936.

Hew attended Cargilfield School in Midlothian and then Loretto School in Musselburgh before going to Magdalen College, Oxford. He left Oxford after a year and then travelled around France before returning to Scotland. Shortly after his father Robert passed away in 1929, Hew changed direction, initially studying architecture at Edinburgh College of Art but then transferring to the School of Sculpture, under Alexander Carrick.

In 1934 Hew spent some time on a placement with the Eric Gill sculptural studio at Piggotts, in Berkshire – a trip that was organised by the-then Principal of the College, Hubert Wellington. In 1935, Hew married Mary McLeod Wylie, also an artist who studied at the Edinburgh College of Art. After the placement with Gill and further travels in Europe studying Romanesque stone-carving, both Hew and Mary were awarded a Grant Bequest Fellowship. In fact, Hew was awarded the £250 travelling scholarship twice.

Hew and Mary moved to Belford Mews in Edinburgh where Hew set up his carving studio in the stables. But for the outbreak of the Second World War, it’s thought that they would have stayed in Edinburgh. Mary’s family were nearby, she would have continued with her painting, and it might have suited Hew’s career. However, in 1939 Hew, Mary and baby Robin moved to Fife.

An old colour photo of Hew Lorimer, who stands and rests his arms over a metal railing. He is holding a small mallet in both hands. He wears glasses and a brown tweed jacket. He has a wry smile.
Photograph of Hew Lorimer, taken by his niece Elizabeth Anderson; image © National Trust for Scotland

Due to his eczema, Hew was rated unfit for active service and was employed on a local farm whilst staying with his Aunt Louise. In 1939 Mary and Robin were evacuated to the Gyles House, Pittenweem. This property was previously bought by John Henry Lorimer in 1929 in a condemned state, blackened by fire, with most of the ceilings fallen in. However, he saw its great potential and spent a considerable sum in making the property habitable.

The family were then evacuated from the Gyles House in 1941, mainly due to Admiralty mines (which were protecting the Firth of Forth from U-boats) being washed up and exploding on the rocks outside, which also caused damage to the property. Hew then wrote to the Earl of Mar and Kellie, who kindly renewed the lease for Kellie Castle – ‘on the same terms as previously, for as long as we liked’ – and the young family moved there. When the Earl of Mar and Kellie died, his grandson offered to sell Kellie Castle to Hew and Mary, and so they bought it outright in 1948.

Hew’s sculptural commissions that made his name included Our Lady of the Isles on South Uist and the wonderful allegorical figures of Medicine, Science, History, Poetry, Law, Theology and Music on the façade of the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.

From the early 1960s Hew became the Fife representative for the National Trust for Scotland and got deeply involved in the Trust’s Little Houses Improvement Scheme (LHIS). After the sad passing of Hew’s wife Mary in 1970, Kellie Castle passed into the hands of the Trust, but Hew remained the representative, staying in the East Tower of the castle. He also wrote some of the early guidebooks for the property.

The Lorimer Archive

Once it was decided that an archive could be established in the East Tower of Kellie Castle, the room began to be set up. The walls, flooring and ceiling of the room were refurbished, new shelving was acquired, and conservation heating was installed.

The collection itself consisted of Hew’s books, periodicals, papers, letters, files and photos. A basic handlist was created for this material, and then more detailed cataloguing began. Alongside this, the collection was preserved in acid-free archive materials such as Melinex sleeves for the photos, archive envelopes and boxes. The picture below shows what the archive room looks like now.

A view of an archive room, with a large metal shelving unit filled with neatly ordered boxes and files.
Kellie Castle Archive Room; image © National Trust for Scotland

Although the Studio and Archive Room projects were initiated in and around 1999–2000, my involvement came later. One of my first tasks was to list the published material and some of the drawings and photos in more detail.

In the meantime, the National Register of Archives for Scotland [NRAS] collected many boxes of manuscript material which they had kindly agreed to survey. The subsequent NRAS survey is available online to all researchers under the reference NRAS4100 at the National Records of Scotland website. Any research enquiries that are received about the collection are passed to the family for approval before researchers can access the material.

The whole collection is a wonderful testament to Hew Lorimer, his wife Mary (there are several wonderful drawings of Mary’s), his involvement with Kellie and his work. There are a number of different series of files including:

  • personal and family correspondence
  • letters relating to Hew’s education and early career
  • correspondence relating to Hew’s sculptural commissions
  • some early pencil sketches by Hew, some of which have come from his travels around Europe in the 1920s and 1930s; there are also designs for memorial plaques and inscriptions
  • transcripts of talks and lectures given by Hew
  • legal correspondence and financial papers
  • documents relating to Kellie
  • files pertaining to Hew’s involvement with various societies including the St Andrews Preservation Society and the Association for the Preservation of Rural Scotland
  • papers relating to his work as the National Trust for Scotland’s representative in Fife and his involvement in the Trust’s Little Houses Improvement Scheme

Clearly, there are many potential areas of research – more details on this can be found at the end of this article.

A selection from the Lorimer Archives

This can only be a small selection from this wonderful archive, but I hope it gives a flavour of what the collection holds.

Hew Lorimer passed away in 1993, but his legacy lives on in the form of the studio and archive room at Kellie Castle. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kellie Castle and the archive room are currently closed, but it is hoped that both will re-open in the not-too-distant future.

The NRAS4100 survey is available online for consultation.

Alongside the NRAS survey, there are also catalogues for the rest of the collection which are available on request to the National Trust for Scotland Archivist – please email

The archives included in this article are reproduced by kind permission of The Lorimer Society (incorporating the Hew Lorimer Trust). I’m also indebted to members of the Lorimer family for their input into this article by kindly supplying their recollections.

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