Brenda Colvin Collection

Brenda Colvin (1897-1981) was landscape architect, born in Simla in India, where her father, Sir Elliot Graham Colvin (1861-1940), became resident in Kashmir (1902) and later agent to the governor-general in Rajputana (1905-17). Her mother, Ethel Bayley, was the elder daughter of Sir Stewart Colvin Bayley, who also served with distinction in India, as had previous generations of the Colvin family.

In 1919 Colvin attended Swanley Horticultural College to study gardening and market work, during the first year she became interested in the design course under Madeline Agar, a landscape architect trained in the United States then working on the rejuvenation of Wimbledon Common; she worked for two years as a pupil and foreman in Miss Agar's office. Then about 1922 Colvin founded her own practice. By 1939 she had advised on about 300 gardens. Her largest work before that date was an extensive addition to the garden at Zywiec in Poland for Archduke Charles Albert Habsburg.

Until about 1965 she practised from an office in Gloucester Place, London, which she shared with Sylvia Crowe (though they never worked as partners). After reaching the age of fifty she designed at least another 300 landscapes, most of which were carried out.

Colvin was early to design one of the new generation of reservoirs, at Trimpley in Worcestershire (from 1962). She designed the landscape for the new University of East Anglia, but fell out with the architect, Sir Denys Lasdun, because she insisted upon providing paths for students to walk across grassland and remodelling the landform alongside the buildings to look undisturbed. She designed industrial landscapes around several of the new generation of power stations, including Stourport (from 1952), Drakelow (from 1963), Rugeley (from 1963), and Eggborough (from 1961).

In 1962 Colvin was appointed landscape consultant for the rebuilding of Aldershot military town, a project on which she worked for over fifteen years. A particularly long-term project was Gale Common in Yorkshire (begun in 1962).

In 1951 she was elected president of the Institute of Landscape Architects, and was the first woman to be president of any of the environmental or engineering professions; she had been a founder member of the institute in 1929, and from that date she was re-elected for forty-seven years without a break as a member of council of the institute, a mark of her standing among her peers. In 1948 she was a British representative at the foundation of the International Federation of Landscape Architects.

In 1969, at the age of seventy-one, with several long-term commissions in hand, Colvin converted her practice into the partnership of Colvin and Moggridge. She was appointed CBE in 1973.

Brenda Colvin died on 27 January 1981.

Her books include Trees for Town and Country, written with Jacqueline Tyrwhitt and published in 1947, Land and Landscape, published in 1948, revised edition published in 1970 and Wonder in a World, 1977

Taken from:

Hal Moggridge, 'Colvin, Brenda (1897-1981)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/46400, accessed 22 Oct 2014]

More information

  • Reference number: AR COL

  • A catalogue is available on the online database or download a pdf here of the main catalogue (634 KB) and of the drawings section here (159 KB)
Architecture Colvin

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