Friday, July 19, 2024

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The Making of Tormore – Why Richardson? Why Bracken?

I want to use this post to double underline how singular the Tormore building is and how it would not have been anywhere near as distinctive if it hadn’t been for Brendan Bracken. Without him  it is impossible to imagine any reason for Sir Albert Richardson to be the architect. It is inconceivable that he would have actively sought a commission so far outside his normal range. He was after all primarily know as a professor of architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture, the President of the Royal Academy, and a writer of books looking back at styles of English architectures well as  very many journal articles.  He was well known but his architectural work had mostly been domestic, renovations, extending buildings,  remodelling interiors, monuments and some offices. His work was firmly rooted in an English tradition and most of his commissions were in the south. Not only would he not have looked for an opportunity to design an industrial building in the north of Scotland, he would not have been on the radar of anybody seeking to place the contract. Anybody that is except Brendan Bracken. With Bracken in control though the commission was almost inevitable. 

Richardson was Bracken’s architect for everything.

The difficult question, though, is how did Brendan Bracken come to lead Schenley project? There is no definitive answer as there is no paper trail, which is not surprising as the deal would likely to have been done through informal contacts. One can only make guesses.

The most likely explanation is Bracken’s extensive social network, not only in the UK but also America. He had been very early in recognising the importance of America and how the fortunes of both it and Europe were bound together. In the 1920s and 30s many in Britain were still a bit sniffy about the upstart country and were complacent that the Empire was still there, even if crumbling under the surface. It was still possible to retain illusions about Britain’s pre-eminent place in the world and ignore the way international power dynamics were changing. Bracken, on the other hand, admired the frontier spirit and its full throated capitalism of the new country. He was an avid reader of American newspapers and because of his interest he forced the Financial News to take greater note of the country. In 1935 it published a 65 page supplement on America. In 1937, when he was both a publisher and an MP, he went on a tour where he visited New York, Washington, Chicago and Montreal (where it might be tempting to wonder if he met Sam Bronfman). During this tour he met the great and the good and was invited to visit the Senate. This knowledge of how the country worked along with his contacts was especially valuable  during the war, when Churchill was desperate to get the Americans on board. As an illustration of this, on his tour Bracken had recognised how important an advisor Harry Hopkins was to Roosevelt, so when Hopkins came on a fact finding visit in 1941 it was Bracken rather than the Foreign Office who acted as liaison.

The circles he moved in in America would have overlapped with those of Rosenstiel, who through his close association with J Edgar Hoover, was well embedded in Washington. Rosenstiel would have been well aware of of Bracken’s business background, his government role, his unparalleled book of social contacts, and his behind the scenes influence. In other words he was the perfect man to get a venture off the ground. From Bracken’s point of view a role helping Rosenstiel, apart from any material reward,  would be an opportunity to increase inward investment and improve employment in an area he loved. For both men it would  a beneficial alliance.

Whether there was anything more to the story we do not know. For the moment it is all we can say in answer to the question: Why Bracken?

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