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Stroud, Dorothy [Nancy]

Date born: 1910

Place born: London, United Kingdom

Date died: 1997

Place died: London, United Kingdom

Garden and landscape architecture historian; assistant at the Sir John Soane Museum under John Summerson (q.v.). Stroud's father abandoned her mother when Stroud was two years old. Though Stroud received an solid grade school education in Eastbourne and then in Edgbaston, Birmingham, though she could not afford college. She trained as a typist and joined the staff of Country Life magazine in 1930 initially in the book department, but soon transferring to the editorial department. Country Life's editor, Christopher Hussey (q.v.), encouraged a native interest in landscape architecture. She collected material on "Capability" Brown for publication. Through Hussey, Stroud also met the architectural historian John Summerson (q.v.), a contributor to the magazine. Summerson joined the National Buildings Record in 1941, an initiative to document the buildings in London before the blitz destroyed them. When Summerson was appointed curator of Sir John Soane's Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1945, he hired Stroud as "inspectress," a position created in the original charter of the museum. Stroud saw to the day-to-day operation of the Museum while its formal head, Summerson, went on various scholarly and lecture forays. The two worked to raise the profile of the museum to an international reputation. Stroud's lack of formal education perhaps appealed to Summerson, who was also self-trained in architectural history. In 1950 she published a book on Brown, whose own account-book she discovered in the course of her research, as well as a biography of Henry Holland. A book on Soane's architecture appeared in 1961. In 1962 she issued a biography of a landscape gardener, Humphrey Repton. A book on George Dance was published in 1971. She served on the Historic Buildings Council between 1974 and 1982. She retired in 1984 and was succeeded by Margaret Richardson. Her book on John Soane, a monograph Summerson himself was never able to write, appeared in 1986. It was her last. Failing memory in her final years prevented her from being celebrated as one of the pioneers of the history of landscape architecture. She was vice-president of the Garden History Society from 1982 until her death.

Stroud's accomplishments are all the more significant when framed in the backdrop of private women scholars in the first half of the 20th century. Unmarried and uneducated formally, her research was possible only after she completed a full-day's job managing a museum. Her tenacity was only hampered by her gender: her search of Capability Brown's plan for Blenheim Palace's park was thwarted because it hung in the men's lavatory. She also sewed the curtains in the museum and scrubbed the sarcophagus.

Home Country: United Kingdom

Sources: [obituraries:] Colvin, Howard. "Dorothy Stroud: Keeper of the Treasure." Guardian (London) January 26, 1998, p. 13; "Dorothy Stroud." The Times (London) January 22, 1998; Cornforth, John. "Dorothy Stroud." The Independent (London), January 1, 1998, p. 14.

Bliography: The Architecture of Sir John Soane. London: Studio, 1961; Capability Brown. London: Country Life, 1950; George Dance, Architect, 1741-1825. London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1971; Henry Holland, 1745-1806. London: Art and Technics, 1950; Sir John Soane, Architect. London: Faber & Faber, 1984.