William Lamb did not come from a wealthy background and had a reputation of spending most of his income on two things. Generously supporting family and friends and applying money to creating more art pieces. He readily acknowledged that sculpture was an expensive art form, with materials alone costing large sums of money “up front” – even when there was a proposed commission. So for much of his early working life he lived and worked in simple rented rooms. With the exception of his years in France and Italy in 1922-3 these were in Montrose, although he could, and often did, carry out the early work on his commissions elsewhere. One of these places was the Guthrie/Burns house, Milrig, in Edinburgh which was also used as a store and display space for many of Lamb’s pieces with the permission of the tenants, the Simm family.
From January 1924 Lamb rented a first floor workshop that he used as a Studio from George Cathro at 13 Bridge Street. Opposite the library, this has recently been extended and converted into a flat. As a first floor studio – and apparently with poor heating - it was not always an ideal working place for Lamb. He occasionally borrowed the purpose built studio of the artist Nan – Agnes - Sim (“Portrait of a Lady”) in the garden of the family home The Bield on the North Esk Road.
In 1934 for personal and practical reasons Lamb decided he needed a permanent Studio of his own and that it was going to be located in Montrose. He used local people as his models and he admitted he took inspiration of the Angus landscape for his watercolours. He made the decision to invest in a purpose built studio. He bought some semi derelict buildings on the corner of Market Street and Trades Close and his friend George Fairweather, an architect, prepared the plans for him and these were submitted to Montrose Town Council for permissions. Lamb employed a builder Thomas Reid. Lamb was to pay £100, but would offset some of the other cost by undertaking some of the work himself – he would undertake the panelling of the upstairs room himself as well as all the built in and freestanding furniture – still to be seen in the Studio today.
Problems soon developed; first there were objections to the Studio being built as there were proposals to widen Market Street. These were rejected. Mr Reid would die too during the course of the work and the agents of his sequestrated estate would carry out a campaign of legal action for payment (albeit paid) that ran for years. But nonetheless by 1935 Lamb was in the Studio, working and receiving visitors. He now had clear working areas for sculpture – together with storage of his plaster models – etching and drawing and a cleaner area upstairs for his drawing board, display or sale pieces and receiving customers.
This would now be Lamb’s working studio for the rest of his life. In the 1930s his nephew David came to work with him on an apprenticeship as a monumental mason. As well as Lamb’s more artistic sculptures a lot of the training work included extensive work on designing and carving gravestones – something Lamb too had learnt as an apprentice. David worked here until he was called up for the army during the War. Once he returned from service overseas and was de-mobbed he initially worked from the Market Street Studio until setting up his own business elsewhere. William Lamb was still working out of the Studio at the time of his early death in January 1951.
The Studio was bequeathed to the town to be maintained as a Studio. Many of Lamb’s artworks of the original bequest – together with an increasing number of donations – were on display as it was opened to visitors from all over the world. The Studio was let out to others as a workspace too, but over the years its condition deteriorated.
In 1977 a serious campaign was launched to ensure the long term safety and improvement of the Studio and collections. The Friends of the William Lamb Studio was set up – and the Studio passed under the management of the Museum Service of the new County Council. The Studio was seriously modernised with better facilities, display staging and proper lighting, heating and electrical supply. It was then re-launched as a new small museum gallery of Lamb’s internationally important works of art. It would be regularly opened over the summer season, but visitors could contact Montrose Museum throughout the rest of the year and have tours given by Museum staff or Friends.
In 2018 Museum Service support of the Studio was withdrawn for financial reasons and it was suggested it should be closed and the collections dispersed. Following a large public outcry this idea was reconsidered. It was eventually agreed that the building will be “managed” by Council Staff, the collections will be “managed” by the trust ANGUSalive under Council contract and the Friends of William Lamb will undertake all public openings of the Studio through our volunteers.
William Lamb died in January 1951. When his estate was being sorted out his will, dating to 1935 was examined. In it William lamb bequeathed his Studio in Market Street, together with his artworks, furniture and materials (with his family’s permission), to the town of Montrose provided that it was maintained as a Studio.
Lamb’s nearest surviving relative was his sister Caroline. She returned from America later that summer to sort out the bequest. It was agreed that that the Studio would be accepted by the then Montrose Town Council, subject to a scheme of administration” and it would be managed by committee of two town Councillors and the two executors of Lamb, George Fairweather and David Lamb, William’s nephew. The cost of maintaining the Studio was to be met by the Montrose Common Good Fund
The Studio was to be upgraded to more modern standards. Re-named the “William Lamb Memorial Studio”, it was formally opened to visitors in the summer of 1955and has been opened every year since. Caretakers were appointed to hold the keys and open the Studio. Later the Studio would be leased out to artists (and Academy pupils) as a place to work on their art.