George Paterson Sutherland (b1852) served as an apprentice sculptor in Edinburgh, London and New York. He founded the firm of George Sutherland and Sons (Galashiels), Sculptors and Monumental Masons in 1881.
The family firm, which was continued by George P Sutherland’s son David Sutherland (b1884) and later his son, George Stewart Sutherland (b1918), became the foremost sculptors and monumental masons in the south of Scotland. It ran for 118 years and three generations from its Albert Place yard (with Norman Sutherland (b1890) – David’s brother – running its Hawick office) until it ended with the retiral of George S Sutherland in 1999 at the age of 80.
“(The Sutherland’s) craftmanship can be found across the whole of the Borders and large parts of the south of Scotland,” writes Alison Stewart Martin – great-granddaughter of George P Sutherland – in her book ‘Sculpting the Past’. “Their work ranged from exquisite carvings and sculptures on buildings, both private and public, to thousands of headstones with designs and styles from Victorian gothic through Art Deco, Arts and Crafts, Neo-Classical and War Graves Commission to the modern.”
Many significant pieces – which can be seen throughout Galashiels today – were created in the Sutherland yard including the Sour Plums Coat of Arms (commissioned by the Burgh Council for the Burgh Chambers), the ornamental gate piers of the Scott Park (George P Sutherland’s first commission in 1881 for the Scott family and New Gala House), the ornate carvings on the front of the former Post Office, and the bases for both the Burns and Scott busts on Lawyers’ Brae and Bank Street, respectively.
According to Martin, who quotes from George P Sutherland’s obituary: “…on the completion of the pillars (at New Gala House), the local stonemasons duly paid visits with their friends to the work on Sunday mornings for some weeks, and freely admitted that this was a master craftsman who had come into their midst.”
As George P Sutherland’s reputation grew, his business and personal position in Galashiels became well established. He was elected to the Town Council in 1901, became a magistrate from 1902-1912, Provost from 1912-1915 and after the Great War, was elected onto the War Memorial Committee of 1919-1945.
George McDonald Sutherland (b1886), like his father George Paterson Sutherland, was a notable architect, but unlike his brothers, did not see his future in the business.
Trained by Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer, the prolific designer behind the Galashiels War Memorial and the fountain in Corn Mill Square, George M Sutherland was practicing as a qualified architect by 1907. He later moved to Toronto, Canada to start an architectural business.
George M Sutherland returned to Scotland on the outbreak of war in 1914 and joined the 4th Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers and Lothians and Borders Horse.
He was killed at Arras, France on 9 April 1917 (age 31) and was buried in Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, at Souchez, in the Pas de Calais department of northern France.
Many of George M Sutherland’s architectural drawings, including highly detailed sketches of Melrose Abbey, still survive, and in 2011, a collection was kindly donated by Alison Stewart Martin to Edinburgh University Library, Centre for Research Collections.
Prior to taking over the family business, George M Sutherland’s brothers David and Norman went to art school in America and later worked in a New York sculptor’s business before returning to Scotland. During the First World War they were called up to into the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Territorial Force, respectively.
Following the Great War, the commissioning of War Memorials provided the business with increased work, and as memorials and crosses of various styles were erected in towns and villages across the Borders, the firm expanded expanded. In 1922, they opened premises in Hawick with Norman managing the business until he retired.
When David Sutherland retired, his sons George S Sutherland (as noted above) – who entered the business in 1934 (age 16) and began his drawing apprenticeship – and John McDonald Sutherland (b1921) – who was awarded the Bronze Medal for his design and craftmanship for his City Guilds Certificate and ran another family-owned business in Tweedmouth from 1943 – continued the Sutherland business.
John M Sutherland was enlisted into the Cameron Highlanders and was sent to Europe with the Signal Corps during the Second World War. He died on 28 March 1945 (age 23) when his vehicle went over a landmine.
His name is inscribed on the Roll of Honour on Galashiels War Memorial alongside his uncle, George M Sutherland, and underneath the Angel of Peace carved by his father, David Sutherland. George P Sutherland carved the archway above it.
In 1999, 118 years after the firm had been founded, George S Sutherland retired at 80. He died four years later.
“The legacy of three generations of the Sutherland family is all around us,” writes Martin; “from the carvings on private houses and the Post Office, to the Angel of Peace on the Galashiels War Memorial, the Trimontium Stone at Newstead, the Sour Plums Coat of Arms, and plinths for statues of Scott and Burns…
“In addition, there are the myriad of War Memorials and headstones across the Borders and the south of Scotland which celebrate and recognise not only people’s sacrifice, lives and families, but also celebrate the art, designs and highly specialised, skilled carving of George Sutherland and Sons, Sculptors.”
The firm kept all their drawings and glass slides which are now held in the ‘Sutherland Collection’ in the Scottish Borders Archives at the Hawick Heritage Hub.