2014 has already proved a very moving and meaningful year for two of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s best-known buildings. However, perhaps surprisingly, the entirety of his work as an architect has not yet come under the same scrutiny as the Glasgow School of Art or the Willow Tea Rooms. Until now!
This week a new online resource is launched with a major exhibition at the Hunterian Art Gallery: Mackintosh Architecture. The website Mackintosh Architecture: Context, Making and Meaning brings together almost four years of intensive research funded primarily by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and provides the first comprehensive assessment of all known architectural projects by Mackintosh. Its richly-illustrated catalogue also provides, for the period of his professional career in Glasgow (1889–1913), entries for projects by John Honeyman & Keppie (from 1901 Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh) and images and data from the office record books; as well as a catalogue raisonné of over 1100 architectural drawings by Mackintosh and the practice, biographies of over 400 clients, contractors and suppliers, contextual essays, timelines and interactive map.
While the Hunterian’s unrivalled Mackintosh collection was absolutely fundamental to the research project, Archives and Special Collections played crucial roles in the (re-)discovery and reassessment of work by Mackintosh and his colleagues by the project researchers.
Records in the University Archive shed light on several late 19th– and early 20th century developments right here on the Gilmorehill campus. The University Court minutes and the records of the Court’s Works Committee gave details of decisions made about competitions and commissions and the design and construction of four of our buildings: Queen Margaret College medical building (1894–5) whose design had links to Oxford and dismayed members of the local community; the addition of the porch at 13 The Square (1898–9) for Principal Story; the competition for the Natural Philosophy (Kelvin) and Medical (West) buildings (1902–3), ultimately won by James Miller; and a design for a Students’ Union hall for Queen Margaret College (1904).
Individual collections, such as Queen Margaret College, added further details to these projects, while others shed new light on organisations with links to the University: Queen Margaret College Settlement Association, a forerunner of today’s University of Glasgow Settlement, to whose buildings in Anderston Mackintosh himself made a contribution; and Anderson’s College medical school, today home of Glasgow International College.
In the Scottish Business Archive the House of Fraser archive, physically housed alongside the University archives, aided research on major city-centre department store Pettigrew & Stephens which the architects worked on between 1896 and 1915, while records of draper Daly’s informed the chronology of the Willow Tea Rooms whose premises the store occupied from the late 1920s until the late 1970s.
The records of measurer (building surveyor) William Dinsmore helped us towards a potential solution in the case of two drawings of golf-club houses which anecdotally had been linked with Pollok Golf Club. Dinsmore’s records proved that Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh had entered a design competition for that golf club in early 1901. However, whether either of the drawings was entered in that competition remains a matter for further research.
At Special Collections research went back to the future with the Hislop collection. Its drawings and client records described later alterations to buildings constructed by Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh and proved vital in the detective work when earlier records had not survived.
Drawings by Alexander Hislop dating from the early 1950s proposed alterations to Cooper’s Tea Rooms, formerly Miss Cranston’s Mackintosh-designed premises in Ingram Street (MS Hislop, 99/1–15). These drawings enabled the researchers to gain a better understanding of how Miss Cranston’s series of eight tea rooms, the billiard and smoking rooms and auxiliary, service spaces developed between 1900 and 1912 as only drawings by Mackintosh dating from 1900 are known.
Four large countryside houses close in commuter villages close to Glasgow designed by Mackintosh and his colleagues turn up in the Hislop records. For Treeshill at Bridge of Weir, for instance, no drawings from the original design and construction phase in 1906–7 had been found. However, it transpired that drawings for alterations and additions to the house by Hislop in 1913 for a new owner (MS Hislop S.35 and S.123) included copies of Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh’s drawings with pencil sketches by Hislop’s firm.
Research took the project team to archives and libraries, buildings and cemeteries across Scotland, and in England, Germany and Austria, and there was additional correspondence with archivists in Italy, Ireland, Canada and Australia.
But apart from raising awareness of the richness of archival resources found in a range of archival collections, what were the results of all of this work, and what is its wider value?
The project website reveals in much greater detail than ever before the extent of Mackintosh’s work as an architect: from apprenticeship to his role in the business partnership with John Keppie; and from adding toilets to tenements, making alterations to charities’ premises and contributing to industrial buildings via competition designs and fantasy projects to the iconic buildings such as the Glasgow School of Art.
It provides the first comprehensive study of an architects’ practice in Glasgow for turn of the 20th century period and a greater understanding of John Keppie’s work as a designer and as a businessman.
The website also provides for perhaps the first time a glimpse into the careers and activities of the many contractors and clients, draughtsmen and apprentices associated with the firm in the form of biographies and contextual essays.
The project is also intended to be a practical resource for learning and teaching, inspire future research, inform conservation reports and work, and support applications for listed-building status.
Explore with Mackintosh & co.
So find out something new about Mackintosh and get to know his colleagues and their work by exploring the website, visiting the fantastic exhibition or attending one of the accompanying events (book now: there are some gems in there!).
If you’re heading into the city centre, take in the recently created walking tour of Sauchiehall Street, which includes numerous examples of Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh work, and at number 217, stop in for a cuppa and to view the new exhibition, Making the Willow Tea Rooms.
Dr Nicky Imrie
Postdoc researcher, Mackintosh Architecture project, 2010–13