Obituary: Catherine Holway Cruft OBE Hon FRIAS

Born: 18 March, 1927, in London. Died: 13 January, 20, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 87

Catherine Cruft OBE Hon FRIAS: Researcher who made an outstanding contribution to Scottish architectural history

Catherine (Kitty) Cruft made an outstanding contribution to architectural history and the conservation of Scotland’s historic buildings. With a ready smile and ever willing to help, Kitty was a much-loved friend to generations of architects, academics and students. Always generous with her time and expertise, she never belittled the lack of knowledge of anyone requesting her help. Many recent volumes on Scotland’s historic buildings gratefully acknowledge Kitty’s invaluable contribution.

Kitty was born in Lewisham, south-east London, in 1927, the elder child of Alec Godfrey and Annie Margaret Cruft (née Holway). The family later grew with the addition of Kitty’s brother, Holway, always known as Holly. During Kitty’s childhood, they moved to Chipstead, Surrey and Wellington, Somerset, before finally settling in Colinton, Edinburgh in 1942.

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The Convent of the Sacred Heart School at Craiglockhart had a renowned piano teacher so, as the family was musical, Kitty was sent there. Her love of music was lifelong and she was an enthusiastic member of the renowned Edinburgh Bach Choir for more than 60 years.

After graduating MA from the University of Edinburgh in 1951, Kitty became a “portfolio worker”, with three jobs. She was a researcher at the Scots Ancestry Research Society and an architectural investigator for the Department of Health. Most notably, for her career development, she joined the Scottish National Building Record (SNBR) housed in the National Portrait Gallery, as a research assistant under Haswell Miller, the director of the gallery.

Late in 1951, the historian, Colin McWilliam, was appointed director of the SNBR, at the recommendation of Sir John Summerson. Many of Scotland’s great country houses had been damaged by wartime use. No longer lived in, or affordable, a significant number were soon to be demolished. Keenly aware of the threat to this unique heritage and before it was too late, Kitty and Colin embarked on an ambitious recording programme.

Initial surveys were carried out with minimal fuss and on the tightest of budgets, using buses, trains and on foot. Sadly, however, in the late 1950s, due to government financial constraints following the Suez Crisis, both Kitty and Colin were laid off. Kitty then took on two further part-time jobs, one with Miss Lerne Grant at the Scottish Records Office. This experience and friendship fed Kitty’s love of research. Her other job was working for the architectural historian, Iain Lindsay.

In November 1956 she took over the responsibility for the listing survey of Edinburgh from the architect Alan Reiach. This tremendously important re-survey of Scotland’s initial lists of historic buildings, known as the Bute Lists, was led by Lindsay and employed a number of retired or under-employed architects. Kitty was one of the few non-architects. Lindsay, a stickler with the most exacting standards, had the highest regard for Kitty and her work.

In December 1958 Kitty was appointed officer in charge of the Scottish National Buildings Record. In 1966 the responsibility for the Record passed to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments in Scotland (RCAHMS) and moved to 54 Melville Street, Sir Robert Lorimer’s former townhouse where the new National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS) was housed in the dining room.

Kitty championed the survey whereby architectural drawings held in private collections were copied, to supplement the ever growing collections. Almost everyone who was involved in the Scottish historic buildings world in the second half of the 20th century was encouraged and inspired by her.

Under her curatorship, the Monuments Record flourished. She gave her staff the space and opportunity to develop their interests, which led to an increased focus on collections of architects’ office papers, a development that resulted in internationally renowned research and cataloguing initiatives. One of Scotland’s most highly regarded architectural historians, David Walker, recalls of that time: “Kitty was the queen bee. She got everybody going and where we couldn’t easily find information for ourselves, with her immense knowledge of sources at the Record Office, the Central Library and elsewhere, she would simply set about finding it.”

It was impossible to walk anywhere in Scotland in Kitty’s company without her expert commentary on the local buildings of note, whether still standing or demolished and the history of their ownership, development, adaptation and too frequently, lamented demise.

Beyond all this she continued to research and write. Titles she contributed to include The Buildings of Scotland: Borders, James Craig 1744-1795; the Ingenious Architect of the New Town of Edinburgh, The Architecture of Scottish Cities and Edinburgh Old and New.

Kitty retired from the RCAHMS in 1991, after 40 years at the heart of the Scottish historic buildings world. She was made an OBE and was awarded Honorary Fellowships of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland and the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland (AHSS). Always modest, she was quietly flattered.

As Lord Crawford wrote in the introduction of Scottish Country Houses 1600-1914, the festschrift (volume of essays) honouring Kitty’s tremendous contribution to her adoptive Scotland, edited by her close friends Ian Gow and Professor Alistair Rowan and published on her retiral: “Her knowledge and scholarship have not only been brought to bear on the study and practical application of architectural history, but have also been selflessly placed at the disposal of generations of other scholars and casual visitors alike. This generous spirit of enquiry and enthusiasm has underlain all her activities, contributing to an exceptional standard and style of public service, and creating the bond of numberless friendships.”

Kitty’s passionate engagement with Scotland’s architectural heritage was a lifelong vocation. After her formal retiral, she continued to contribute greatly to the work of the AHSS, working tirelessly for their cases panel. She led numerous tours throughout Scotland. For the Old Edinburgh Club, she helped organise trips and publications. Kitty was also an active member of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain.

Her extraordinary energy and enthusiasm were also evident in Kitty’s leisure pursuits. For many years she relished summer camping holidays on Canna, initially as a leader with the Girl Guides and latterly with friends and family. Kitty did not travel light and an enormous amount of equipment had to be loaded onto the Ferry at Mallaig and then off-loaded by hand onto tractors.

In the 1950s and 1960s many winters would find Kitty on the Alpine ski slopes. After a tumble resulted in a badly broken leg in 1964, she decided her skiing days were over. However, foreign travel remained a favourite leisure pursuit, including extensive exploration of Italy and France and a fondly remembered trip to the USSR, long before perestroika. Closer to home she also enjoyed numerous weekends away in Landmark Trust properties.

Pioneering in both her career and her personal life, family lore has it that when Kitty purchased her first flat, in Colinton, she made history as the first single woman to gain a mortgage in Edinburgh. She loved her home and garden in Morningside Place, where she moved in the 1970s. She grew Alpines and was a member of the Scottish Rock Garden Club.

Sadly, Kitty spent the last few years of her life in care, her extraordinarily sharp mind and memory blunted by dementia. Her brother Holly and beloved nephews and niece were regular visitors. They and the staff in the care home, who always respectfully referred to their guest as “Miss Kitty”, fondly recall that, in spite of her illness, she never lost her sense of curiosity, or her ever-twinkling smile.