Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Kerr, Robert

KERR, ROBERT (1823–1904), architect, born at Aberdeen on 17 Jan. 1823, was son of Robert Kerr by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas McGowan, yeoman, of Peterhead, and cousin of Joseph Hume [q. v.]. Kerr's only brother, Thomas, who settled at Rockford, Illinois, was a doctor both of medicine and divinity. After education in Aberdeen, Kerr was articled in that town to John Smith, the city architect. Early in his professional career he attempted practice in New York, but returned to England, where he acquired a practice.

In 1852 Kerr put forward a scheme for architectural training, and soon ranked as a pioneer in the educational movement among architects. He was appointed examiner in the voluntary examination established by the Royal Institute of British Architects, and in 1857 was elected a fellow of that body, on whose council he served in 1861-2 and again in 1870-2, and in whose development and organisation he played an important part. For forty years he was a constant contributor to the literature and the debates of the Institute.

From 1861 to 1890 he was professor of the arts of construction (and a fellow) at King's College, London. From 1892 to 1896 he was lecturer on 'Materials, their nature and application,' to the Architectural Association, a body of which he was one of the founders and was the first president in 1847. From 1860 to 1902 he was district surveyor (under the metropolitan board of works and the London county council) for St. James's, Westminster.

Kerr's chief works as a designer were the National Provident Institution, Gracechurch Street (corner of Eastcheap); Ascot Heath House, Berkshire; Ford House, Lingfield, Surrey; Bearwood, Berkshire, a large country house for John Walter [q. v.], proprietor of the 'Times'; Dunsdale, Westerham, Kent, for Joseph Kitchin; and two important competition designs, one (in 1857) for the Home and Foreign Offices, the other for the Natural History Museum at South Kensington, which was awarded the second premium. Kerr's forcible personality was better displayed in his writings, lectures and trenchant speeches than in his architecture. He died on 21 Oct. 1904 at his residence, 31 Cathcart Road, West Brompton, and was buried at the Church of the Annunciation, Chislehurst.

Kerr's chief publications, apart from technical articles in periodicals, were:

  1. 'Newleafe Discourses on the Fine Art Architecture,' 1846.
  2. 'The English Gentleman's House,' 1865.
  3. 'Ancient Lights,' 1865.
  4. 'The Consulting Architect,' 1886.
  5. 'Chapters on Plan and Thoroughfare in the Principles and Practice of Modern Home Construction,' edited by Lister Sutcliffe, 1900.

He edited (with introduction and enlargement) the third edition of Ferguson's History of Modern Architecture in 1891. For many years Kerr wrote the leading article in the 'Architect.'

Kerr married in 1848 Charlotte Mary Anne Fox, and was survived by eight of his nine children. Of four sons three became architects.

[Journ. Royal Inst. Brit. Architects, vol. xii. 3rd series, p. 14; Builder. 12 Nov. 1904; Information from Henry N. Kerr.]

P. W.