Thistle Foundation, Craigmillar, Lorimer & Matthew Building, Architect, Project

Thistle Foundation, Craigmillar

Robyn Chapel, Edinburgh, Scotland : Architecture

Thistle Foundation Craigmillar

B listed – Stuart Matthew, Lorimer & Matthew Architects 1945-49
Robyn Chapel: A listed – John F Matthew, Lorimer & Matthew Architects 1949-52

Address: Niddrie Mains Rd, Edinburgh EH16 4EA

Phone: 0131 659 6497

Cockburn Association Comment: Thistle Foundation


Who said that Historic Scotland were behind the times? Well they are to be commended on this occasion for jumping to the protection of the Thistle Foundation. Successive planning ministers have asked were are the conservation areas of tomorrow? Well we seem to have found one.

Thistle Foundation, Edinburgh
Thistle Foundation: Photo by Adrian Welch

Walk into the grounds of the Thistle Foundation and you are suddenly transported from the depths of Craigmillar into a peaceful village. You will be surprised at the tranquil nature of the area, the trees growing in amongst the buildings and the change in the pace of time. Your perceptions are completely dashed, as the institution you were expecting does not materialise.

The foundation is built around Robyn Chapel an exceptional building that was designed by John F Matthew of Lorimer & Mathew and built between 1949 & 1952. Sir Francis Tudsbery commissioned the building as a memorial to his son (Robyn) who was killed in the Second World War. Inside the building is just breathtaking with craftsmen including Thomas Beveridge, Charles Henshaw & Co, James Finnegan, Maxwell Allen and Sadie McLellan. If you want to find peace in a building I would recommend you visit on Doors Open Day when it will be open to the public.

The Thistle Foundation itself was built following the Second World War as a garden village for disabled service men and their families with the buildings and their layout being designed to cater for wheelchair access. Stuart Matthew (again of Lorimer & Matthew) won the commission to design the estate following an open competition and the skill in the design is shown in the creation of an area with a real village ambience enhanced by the stepped nature of the site.

So who is to thank for saving this piece of beauty, not the Cockburn or the AHSS nor the City Council. This was a concerted campaign by the tenants of the Foundation who on appreciating the value of their community worked to save it from redevelopment. There are 105 units in the Thistle Foundation site and the draft local plan had proposed redevelopment to include 400 units. Yes there is room for some new build but the inherent qualities of the site would have been lost completely.

The tenants of the Thistle Foundation are working hard to promote the viable future of the site and hopefully a design brief can be created in partnership with the City Council and the Foundation itself. Robyn Chapel has been listed category A and the surrounding houses being group listed category B. Calls for a Conservation Area to be formed have been refuted by the City Council stating that it is not appropriate as there is only one type of building in the estate and the listing gives these adequate protection.

So the lesson seems to be that when we look to areas like Craigmillar maybe we should examine in more detail their strengths and weaknesses before embarking on major redevelopment in an attempt to solve social problems. A successful and desirable village such as the Thistle Foundation should not be demolished in the name of progress. If Robyn Chapel had not been built these buildings may not have been saved from demolition.

The redevelopment plans now need to be revised to incorporate the Thistle and learn from its successes. Hopefully we will also find a role for the Craigmillar School, which is listed and currently vacant.

Thistle Foundation, Edinburgh: Martin Hulse, Cockburn Association Jul 2002


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