Obituary: Mary Tindall, architect and town planner.

Mary Tindall: Dedicated architect and planner whose work set standards for best practice

Mary Tindall: Dedicated architect and planner whose work set standards for best practice

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Born: 2 April, 1924, in London. Died: 2 November, 2014, in Ford, Midlothian, aged 90.

It seems that Mary Constance Tindall was destined to become an architect. She was the only child of Hemsley and Constance Miller. She attended Streatham High School until, due to wartime, the school evacuated to Chichester, where she was taught art by the well-known artist Peggy Angus. Mary spent many happy hours in the Bishop’s Palace, to which she gained a special pass, honing her drawing skills, and becoming a really fine artist.

Childhood holidays were spent travelling in Europe with her father and on the south-west coast where she found a great love of nature, developing a good knowledge of native flora and fauna, guddling in rock pools, walking, riding and sailing. Mary enjoyed English, and in due time Scottish, folk music and country dancing

In 1943, Mary Miller joined the Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture (run by practising architects), the leading architectural school of its day, located during wartime at Mount House in Hadley Wood, Barnet.

AA students were permitted by the government to study for two years for the Royal Institute of British Architects Intermediate examination.

Male students then had to join the forces, females were given civilian work, and Mary took up a post in the Scottish Home and Health Department in 1945, working in Edinburgh under Robert (later Sir Robert) Mathew recording abandoned coal bings and shale works in the Central Belt for the Central Scotland Plan.

When the war in Europe was over, Mary met up again with Joyce Taylor, whom she had first met at the AA and who was to become a lifelong friend, and they completed their architectural studies.

They spent that summer in Switzerland, working in an architect’s office in Zurich, and were much impressed by the standard of Swiss design. In the spring of 1947, the two friends worked in various architects’ offices in Toronto and visited Marcel Breuer in New York.

Returning to London to study for a planning degree at the School of Planning and Regional Redevelopment, Mary met up with Frank Tindall, (who was to become an eminent town planner in Scotland), and the three friends spent holidays conducting surveys of the bomb-damaged cities of Coventry and Portsmouth. Frank records that Mary’s first impression of him was as “Major Tindall, wearing a waistcoat and carrying an umbrella, which she considered most unsuitable wear for a student” and his of her as “the first girl I had seen wearing the New Look”.

In 1948, Berthold Lubetkin, who had been appointed to design a new town at Peterlee in County Durham, head-hunted top students from the School of Planning and Mary, Frank and Joyce were appointed, Mary and Frank moving north, Joyce opting to remain in London.

Peterlee was the only new town to be requested by a local community. However, there were management problems which resulted in Lubetkin and his entire planning team resigning two years later.

Mary’s Edinburgh experience some years before had introduced her to East Lothian, Frank was appointed East Lothian’s first County Planning Officer, and Mary took a senior planning job with Kent County Council.

They married in 1951 and set up home, in what had been a condemned house, at 1 Bridge Street, Haddington, Mary designing the restoration and there setting up her architectural practice.

This work set the pattern for Haddington being described in later years as “the best preserved example of eighteenth and nineteenth century burghal architecture in Scotland”. Mary Tindall’s architectural practice blossomed, focusing in the main upon skilful and sensitive reconstruction and conservation of important major and minor historic buildings. Architectural awards followed, including a Civic Trust Commendation for Little Stevenson and Stables, near Haddington (1959), a Civic Trust Award at Woodend, Dirleton, for Lord Guest (1965), and a Civic Trust Award for the conversion of prominent nineteenth century grain and potato warehouses and fishermen’s stores at Harbour Terrace, North Berwick (1971).

Mary successfully combined her professional life with raising a family and as they grew, architectural practice and family relocated to Ford House in Midlothian, built in 1860 and typical of its period, which was in dilapidated condition and was beautifully and faithfully restored under Mary’s guidance.

Among the other major historic buildings upon which Mary Tindall brought her skills to bear were Stevenson House; The Doune on the Rothiemurchus Estate where, winning an invited competition, she integrated the low ceilings of Old Doune and the high ceilings of New Doune with the clever use of a spiral staircase; and Greywalls, Gullane, a fine Lutyens building, where she was involved firstly in fire reinstatement and then retrospective fire precautions, done in a way that is almost invisible, using black tiles from Holland and local Rattlebags stone. 

Mary Tindall generously combined her architectural practice with service on related building and architectural conservation committees including Edinburgh’s Old Town Committee; the Management Committee of Hanover (Scotland) Housing Association Ltd, where she initiated and led a group of members and officers on a study trip to Denmark to learn from post-war Danish housing which she greatly admired; and the Scottish Georgian Society (now the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland) where she was involved in the preparation of architectural design guidelines for best practice in the conservation of historic buildings.

Until last year Mary continued, with others, to monitor planning applications and to make representations to planning authorities on behalf of the AHSS.

In 1963, Mary also collaborated with the late Douglas C Baillie, in surveying and writing the Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, Dovecots of East Lothian.

Crichton Collegiate Church Trust was formed in 1993. Mary acted as Secretary and raised considerable funds for structural repairs in 1997 and for restoring the glass in 2003.

Mary Tindall was a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland and the Royal Town Planning Institute.

She led an active and fulfilling family and professional life. The leisure activities of her childhood and youth were pursued with vigour into adulthood and with her family. Mary was hospitable and generous with advice and wisdom acquired over 90 years of assiduous commitment to learning and to the task in hand.

When Frank sadly died in 1998 Mary devoted herself to editing and publishing his Memoirs and Confessions of a County Planning Officer.

Mary enjoyed the last months of her life being looked after by her family and exceptional carers in her lovely home with views of her garden.

She was much saddened she was no longer able to visit her beloved Croft Cottage where she and Frank had shared so many happy times with family and friends from home and in the valley on the beautiful Rothiemurchus Estate.

Mary was loved by family and friends and is survived by her three children Benjamin, Daniel and Jemima, and by her four grandchildren and one great grandchild.

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