A Brief Introduction to Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens

Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) was a key figure in determining how the dead and missing of the First World War should be commemorated. His designs are admired for the universality of their message of honour and remembrance.

The pure architectural forms of his memorials are mute symbols of grief, the simple inscriptions weighted with sorrow, reminding passers-by that every name is a human story, a loss, a grieving family.

portrait of Sir Edwin Lutyens, architect https://www.flickr.com/photos/cwgc/7696612798
Portrait of Sir Edwin Lutyens. © Commonwealth War Graves Commission 

Today, the National Collection of Lutyen’s War Memorials have been listed.Lutyens is widely held to be our greatest architect since Sir Christopher Wren. Before the First World War his reputation rested on his designs for country houses, moving from Arts & Crafts-style country houses to a Neo-Georgian manor. He had set up his architectural practice when he was just 19 years old and was fortunate to meet the celebrated garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, who introduced him to her wide circle of friends, many becoming his clients. Lutyens became the go-to architect for wealthy Victorians and Edwardians.

As his fame grew, he was appointed in 1912 to design New Delhi, the new capital of India. Soon after in 1917, Lutyens was invited to join a working party advising on the treatment of the war dead on the Western Front and it was his creation of the Cenotaph in Whitehall that brought him the attention of the world. He was appointed principal architect by the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission and in the years directly following the war, the majority of his projects were memorials to the dead and missing, both in England, and abroad.

The Cenotaph, Whitehall - Copyright EH Credit Jerry Young
The Cenotaph, Whitehall. © Historic England/Jerry Young

There had never before, in the history of Britain, been such terrible loss of life in war and there was a profound national yearning to permanently commemorate the dead and missing. Tens of thousands of memorials were erected across the country, all paid for by money raised locally. There was often intense local debate about location and cost, and whether the memorial should be simply monumental, or serve a practical purpose for the community such as a village hall or playing field. Huge emotional crowds turned out at unveilings.

The unveiling of the memorial in Keighley, Bradford,1924.
The unveiling of a war memorial in Keighley, Bradford, 1924. © Historic England Archive

Lutyens designed over fifty war memorials in cities, towns and villages across England, including the Cenotaph in Whitehall. He also designed other commemorative monuments abroad such as the stark and sombre Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval, France and the movingly austere cemeteries on the former Western Front.

His designs are admired for the universality of their message of honour and remembrance, and today fourteen of his war memorials have been honoured and protected by a higher listing status, and one further unusual memorial is listed for the first time. See all of these memorials in the gallery below, and click on the picture to read the full caption:


4 responses to A Brief Introduction to Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens

  1. Cleo Brockman says:

    Lutyens built some glorious memorials, my favourite being Thiepval I think. We are lucky, our local pub here in Cockington, Torquay is a Lutyens building and is beautiful

    Like

  2. Thank you to Tim Skelton (et al?) for that photo-essay. It conveys vast architectural, cultural, and aesthetic information with great economy. Were I an educator, such essays, with their lessons of precedent, would form the backbone of architectural education – superb work.

    Like

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