Appeal to piece together life of pioneering architect

Historians have appealed for help in piecing together the life of a Scots pioneer of female architects who was mysteriously murdered 51 years ago.

In a familiar story of early female architects, theres little information on the record books about Kathleen Veitch.

Kathleen Veitch was born in 1907 to a tweed manufacturer in Dollar, Clackmannanshire, and raised near Hawick.

She was sent to St Leonard’s School in St Andrews as a boarder, and there a perceptive house mistress noted she had an eye for colour and a talent for maths and encouraged her to pursue a career in architecture.

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Historic Environment Scotland’s Bryony Donnelly said: “The advice was indicative of the more supportive attitudes towards architectural education for women in Scotland than in England.”

Ms Veitch began her studies with the Architectural Association (AA) in London in 1924. Unlike the Scottish schools trailblazing the way to equality, the AA only began to admit women in 1917.

She found work as an assistant with Romaine-Walker & Jenkins architects in London. In 1930, she was admitted as an Associate of the RIBA – one of only 40 women.

Described as “a slim, fair-haired girl”, she won a prestigious Travelling Scholarship and went by steamer to Spain to sketch the architecture there. Her sketchbook is now in the HES Archives.

After her return, her career was split between Scotland and London. From around 1931 until 1934, she lived in the Borders again and was employed by the Duke of Roxburgh to make improvements to his estate. She also made alterations to her family’s home Summerfield House, Hawick, in 1933. Perhaps the jewel in her crown was the now C-Listed Little Salt Hall.

A devout Catholic, she dedicated a decade of her retirement to working on renovations of the Church of Our Lady and St Joseph in Selkirk, and would often travel to Elie and Earlsferry in Fife, to attend a Catholic retreat.

On 11 March 1968, her body was discovered there on the north shore of the Forth. Her fractured skull and signs of strangulation left no doubt to the police that her death should be investigated as a murder. She may have been killed the month before.

Ms Donelly said: “A local man was suspected of her murder, but after being questioned, no charges were brought. His accidental death some time later prompted police to close the case. The full circumstances of Kathleen’s death, like much of her architectural work, remain unrecorded.”