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Help solve the mystery of a missing female architect on International Women's Day

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Historic Environment Scotland are calling on the public to help solve the mystery of a talented female architect who vanished from the record books.

The work of a female architecture student who attended Edinburgh College of Art from 1934-1940 was recently uncovered. Her work included designs for private houses, a music school, a holiday camp for children and even a dam.

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A rare find, due to the male-dominance of the sector during this period, researchers at Historic Environment Scotland decided to dig deeper and find out more about this trailblazer.

Jean Payton-Reid was born on 4 January 1917 during World War I. She studied at the School of Architecture, Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) from 1934-1940 but her time as a student is really when most is known about her.

Gaining practical experience working in the office of Tarbolton & Ochterlony from 1937 to 1938, Payton-Reid was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects after receiving her diploma from ECA in 1940. She was also a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute but it appears that she had left the profession by 1974. This is where the trail goes cold.

Collection highlights

One of the highlights from this small collection is a design for a National Theatre. In 1940, Jean entered a series of drawings for the Rowand Anderson Studentship, a competition for architecture students hosted by The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS). She entered under the pseudonym ‘Lee’. According to the RIAS Quarterly Journal (No. 64 May 1946), Jean was the only female competitor for the 1939-40 Studentship and she was awarded a £20 prize - around £300 in today’s money.

These accomplished drawings not only showcase Jean’s tremendous talent, they are also extremely valuable as archive material because they were produced during the Interwar period in Scotland, right on the brink of the outbreak of World War II. This time period, 1918-1939, is known for the development of Modernist architecture and Jean’s design for a National Theatre is a great example of the ambition and innovation of the Modernist movement in Scotland.

Solving the mystery

Niamh Crimmins, Archive and Library Assistant at Heritage Environment Scotland, said: “As I catalogued her work, I became fascinated by her and on International Women’s Day, it would be amazing to find out what happened to this talented architect. We would love to know more information about Jean Payton-Reid. While, researching this collection I discovered that the Scottish academic painter Robert Payton-Reid (1859-1945) painted a portrait of a young girl titled ‘Jean’ and this could be a relation.

“It would be great to add to our knowledge of this fascinating woman so we are calling on the public to help us celebrate Jean Payton-Reid by getting in touch if they know more.”

The work of Jean Payton-Reid is digitally accessible to the public and can be viewed on a blog written about her for International Women's Day.

  (images copyright Historic Environment Scotland)

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