Elisabeth Scott

Elisabeth Whitworth Scott (20 September 1898 – 19 June 1972) was a British architect who designed the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, England. This was the first important public building in Britain to be designed by a female architect.[1][2]

Early lifeEdit

Scott was born in Bournemouth, England, one of ten children of Bernard Scott, a surgeon. She was a great-niece of the architects George Gilbert Scott and George Frederick Bodley and second cousin of Giles Gilbert Scott, architect of Liverpool Cathedral.[3][4] She was educated at home until the age of fourteen, when she enrolled at the Redmoor School, Bournemouth. In 1919 she became one of the early students at the Architectural Association's new school in Bedford Square, London, graduating in 1924.[4]


Scott's first position was with the architects David Niven and Herbert Wigglesworth, a practice specialising in the Scandinavian style. In turn she became an assistant to Louis de Soissons, a progressive architect producing buildings in the contemporary style for the new garden city of Welwyn, Hertfordshire (where she worked on the design for the iconic Shredded Wheat Factory, now a listed building) and the modernist Oliver Hill.[4][5]

Shakespeare Memorial TheatreEdit

In 1927 a competition for a replacement to the burnt-out Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was announced and Scott entered, with a confidence in her own abilities taken from the sound theoretical grounding at the Architectural Association's school.[6] At the time she was working for Maurice Chesterton's practice at Hampstead, London, and Chesterton agreed to oversee her proposals for feasibility. (Maurice Chesterton was a cousin of the theatre's publicist A. K. Chesterton.) Maurice Chesterton's daughter Elizabeth Chesterton, herself an architect, claimed in a late interview that the competition entry had been falsely "submitted under Scott's name", suggesting that all research into the practical requirements of theatre function had been her father's. Maurice Chesterton himself "disclaimed any personal share whatever in the successful design".[7][2][8] Scott was assisted by two fellow AA students: Alison Sleigh and John Chiene Shepherd. On winning the competition (against seventy-one other entries) the four formed a partnership to prepare the detailed plans and supervise the construction.[9][3]

The reaction to Scott's design was mixed. The Manchester Guardian suggested that, although the design reflected the building's purpose, its bulk in the small town was "startling...monstrous [and] brutal."[10] The Times did not agree, noting how well the building "adapt[ed] itself to the lines of the river and landscape".[9] Sir Edward Elgar, then 75, was to be the theatre's new musical director but, after visiting the building, he so was furiously angry with that "awful female" and her "unspeakably ugly and wrong" design that he would have nothing further to do with it, refusing even to go inside.[11] On the other hand, playwright George Bernard Shaw (a member the SMT committee notwithstanding his earlier telegram of congratulations to its chairman on having the unsuitable old building burnt down)[12] was a firm supporter of Scott's design as the only one to show any theatrical sense.[9] Scott herself acknowledged that in her design she had not intended to conceal the functionality of the building.[6]

Although most criticism was directed at the building's external form, in the auditorium the performers—although acknowledging that Scott had been at the mercy of her theatrical advisors: William Bridges-Adams, Barry Jackson and stage designer Norman Wilkinson (1882–1934, since 1920 a governor of the SMT[13])—found that it was curiously difficult to connect with their audience: evidently the large, plain expanse of the cream-painted side walls had the effect of diffusing attention from the stage. Only in 1951, when the gallery seating was extended along the sides, was this overcome.[12][13] However the building's lack of "meaningless decoration" was one of the features enthusiastically praised in the special June 1932 edition of the modernist Architectural Review.[14][15]

From today's viewpoint the theatre, now called the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, is regarded as a "nationally significant building" representing the "best modern municipal style of architecture".[15] It was made a Grade II* listed building on 14 October 1980.[16]

Later practiceEdit

Fawcett Building, Newnham College, Cambridge

Scott was joined in the partnership by John Breakwell and—as John Shepherd and Alison Sleigh had married—the practice became "Scott, Shepherd and Breakwell". None of their subsequent commissions had the prominence of the SMT, although their 1938 work on the Fawcett Building at Newnham College, Cambridge, is of note.[17] In the Post-war period Scott returned to Bournemouth, working with the practice of Ronald Phillips & Partners.[3] In the 1960s she joined the public sector, working for Bournemouth Borough Architect's Department on such projects as the new Pavilion Theatre on Bournemouth Pier.[2] These relatively mundane schemes were no reflection of Scott's early talent; largely forgotten, she was "unable to live up to her perceived early promise".[18] She retired in 1968.[3]


In 1924, when Scott entered practice, there were no prominent women architects and her selection for the project to rebuild the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre after it was destroyed by fire was only through her success in an international competition. Her achievement, and her decision to employ where possible women architects to assist her on the Stratford design, was instrumental in opening up the profession to women.[3] Scott was not an outspoken feminist[19] but was identified with the progressive movement to overturn traditional assumptions about women and the professions.[20] She was by nature more of a quiet and practical feminist, ensuring that women were represented on her design projects and working through the Fawcett Society to promote wider acceptance.[3] Above anything else, she disliked being labelled as a 'female architect' rather than simply an 'architect'.[19] Elisabeth was a Soroptimist and an active member of Soroptimist International of Bournemouth.[21]


In 1936 she married George Richards.[18] She died in Bournemouth on 19 June 1972.

UK passportEdit

In November 2015 it was announced Elisabeth Scott would be one of only two prominent British women (the other being Ada Lovelace) to be featured in the design of the new UK passport, to be used for the next 5 years.[22][23][24][25]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Richardson, Albert (22 April 1932). "Shakespeare Memorial Theatre". The Builder. 142: 718.
  2. ^ a b c Walker, Lynne (2000). "Women and Architecture". In Borden, Iain; Penner, Barbara; Rendell, Jane (eds.). Gender space architecture : an interdisciplinary introduction (2000 ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 254, 257. ISBN 9780415172523.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Stamp, Gavin (2004). "Scott, Elisabeth Whitworth (1898–1972), architect". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ a b c Staff writer (6 January 1928). "The Shakespeare Memorial". The Times. London (44783): 12.
  5. ^ Howard, Sarah Collins (August 2009). "Whitworth Scott's role in the winning design" (PDF). Elizabeth [sic] Whitworth Scott The Architect of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (MPhil). University of Bath. p. 91. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  6. ^ a b Staff writer (6 January 1928). "Miss Scott's aim". The Times. London (44783): 8.
  7. ^ Wilson, Richard (4 May 2017). "Bonfire in Merrie England". London Review of Books. pp. 15–17. ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  8. ^ Howard (2009) pages 186–190
  9. ^ a b c Staff writer (30 November 1931). "The Shakespeare Memorial". The Times. London (45993): 13.
  10. ^ "Trial flight for the Swan of Avon". The Guardian. 27 March 1932. Retrieved 28 February 2007.
  11. ^ Beauman (1982: 100), quoted in Stamp (2004)
  12. ^ a b Mackintosh, Iain (1993). Architecture, Actor, and Audience. London: Routledge. pp. 102–105. ISBN 978-0-415-03183-7.
  13. ^ a b Armfield, Maxwell; Pottle, Mark (2004). "Wilkinson, Norman (1882–1934), stage designer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/36906. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  14. ^ quoted in Mackintosh (1993)
  15. ^ a b "Memorandum submitted by English Heritage to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport". House of Commons. February 2002. Retrieved 16 February 2009.
  16. ^ Historic England (2007). "Details from listed building database (1207396)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 15 February 2009.
  17. ^ Roach, J. P. C., ed. (1959). "The colleges and halls: Newnham". A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely. 3. Victoria County History. pp. 493–495. Retrieved 17 February 2009.
  18. ^ a b Darley, Gillian (29 January 2011). "A stage of her own: Elisabeth Scott and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2012.
  19. ^ a b "The extraordinary Elisabeth Scott: why pioneering Bournemouth architect would have hated starring in new passport". Bournemouth Echo. 4 November 2015. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  20. ^ Walker (1999: 244)
  21. ^ Miles, Jeremy. "A thoroughly modernist architect". Dorset (January 2020). Norwich, England: Archant. p. 25.
  22. ^ Davies, Caroline (3 November 2015). "New UK passport design features just two women". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  23. ^ De Freytas-Tamura, Kimiko (4 November 2015). "New Passport in Britain Puts Women in 2nd Class". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  24. ^ Eleftheriou-Smith, Loulla-Mae (3 November 2015). "New UK passport changes: Shakespeare, Anish Kapoor and Ada Lovelace part of 'most secure design ever issued'". Independent. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  25. ^ "Introducing the new UK passport design" (PDF). HM Passport Office. Retrieved 3 August 2017.