Hill House, Helensburgh, Scotland, Scottish National Trust

One day six weeks ago or so we took the opportunity to travel across to my beloved west of Scotland, to the coastal town of Helensburgh to be precise. We were taking a friend of ours for her first ever visit to The Hill House at Helensburgh, it was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It was a wonderful commission for him and his wife Margaret Macdonald, as not only did he design the house for the publisher Walter Blackie but Margaret designed all the decor, art works and the soft furnishings, upholstery, bedcovers and such. Charles Rennie Mackintosh said that he had talent but that his wife Margaret Macdonald had genius. Below is one of her designs for a CRM chair. I must admit that I think those beads might be a bit uncomfortable if you lean back!

Margaret Macdonald chair, Hill House Helensburgh, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The artwork above the fireplace was also done by Margaret, annoyingly you can’t see it all that well in the photo below.

Fireplace, Hill House, Helensburgh, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Below you can see some of the detail of the fireplace.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh fireplace detail, Hill House, Helensburgh

To the left of it is this built-in shelving unit. I’m not a big fan of the sugary pink, but he was keen on pinks, lilacs and purples as was Margaret.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh cupboard, Hill House, Helensburgh

I love the window seat which is in the same room. From previous visits I hadn’t remembered the small niche at either side of the seat, it’s the perfect size for parking your glass of wine, or cup of tea. It must have been a great place to sit and read.

Hill House, Helensburgh,Bench , Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Hill House Bench end, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald, Helensburgh,

The lamp below is in the same room, I think.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh lamp, Hill House, Helensburgh

Sadly Hill House itself is in a bit of a poor state. I believe that the Portland cement which was used to harl/roughcast the walls has never been weatherproof, as CRM was assured by the builders, so dampness has always been a problem as you can imagine, in the damp weather of the west of Scotland.

So a huge metal framework has been erected over the whole building in an attempt to dry out the building while they come to a decision as to how to tackle the problem best. There is an advantage to this for the vistors as it’s possible to walk up a metal staircase which reaches right above the roof of the house, so you can get a really good close up view of the outside of the building, and you can get a great view of the Firth of Clyde, but it was a bit misty when we were there. I’ll leave Hill House for the moment but if you’re interested you can see better photos of an earlier visit here.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times – 1st November

I’m a wee bit later than I had hoped to be with Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times which was originally hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but at the moment I’m gathering any posts.

My bookshelf this week is another one in my sewing/crafting/ironing room and this bookshelf is home to a variety of children’s books, I suppose they could all be described as being classics.

Books Again

As a youngster I adored Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series and had all of the books, but my mother gave my books away to a boy who was certainly not going to appreciate any of them and I now only have a few of the books, I intend to gather them all and have a re-read at some point. These were the very first books that I read with a Cornish setting, not long after Malory Towers came Rebecca another favourite and ever since then I’ve loved to travel to Cornwall in fiction. My one holiday there (it’s a long drive from Scotland) was a very damp one. The BBC recently dramatised Malory Towers and I really did enjoy it although I wish they hadn’t updated it to appeal to more modern viewers, it’s always a mistake to remove the period charm of any books.

I have quite a few books by Rosemary Sutcliff, she really was a very good historical writer.

I started buying Angela Brazil books whenever I saw them going cheap, some can be eye wateringly expensive online, I must admit that I haven’t read all of them and I’m not even sure if I ever read any as a child. I was more of a Chalet School (Elinor M. Brent-Dyer) girl, I think I preferred the more exotic locations.

I sometimes buy books by particular publishers, namely Blackie. They were a Scottish firm and Blackie commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design Hill House in Helensburgh, including all the furniture, lighting, fabrics and clocks. It’s just about all that’s left of the architect/designer’s work now so I have a soft spot for Blackie and their books which often had book covers designed by Mackintosh. I doubt if For the Sake of the School was designed by Mackintosh but I really like it anyway.


I bought another Blackie book just for the dust jacket which features an aeroplane flying above a Zeppelin on fire. I haven’t read The Corsair of the Skies yet and hadn’t even heard of A.Guy Vercoe, have you?


Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster is one that I read for the first time recently. I like to catch up with children’s books that I missed as a child. My copy dates from 1929 and cost me all of £2.

Some of the books lying flat on top of the shelved books are American and were kindly sent to me by Jennifer, a blogpal that I met up with in Edinburgh, remember those lovely days when we could do that? Fingers crossed we can do that again at some point in the future. There’s also A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh. I noticed that her obituary was in the Guardian this week, you can read it here.

Other Bookshelf Travellers this week are:

A Son of the Rock

Bitter Tea and Mystery

Staircase Wit

New to me books

A couple of weekends ago we went to a book charity sale in the Scottish Borders and inevitably I came back with quite a few more books for my ever groaning bookcases, in fact within the last three weeks I’ve managed to squeeze four more into the house!

I have to say that there were loads of modern paperbacks for sale but the books that came home with me were the type that most people would dodge. They’re all fairly old and this time they’re mainly for children. In truth a few of them I bought just for the book cover or illustrations – as good a reason as any I think you’ll agree.

Books Again

So I bought:

We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea by Arthur Ransome.

Riders and Raiders by M.E. Atkinson (the author was recommended by a friend.)

The Golden Book of Children’s Verse – this book was published by Blackie and Son, the Glasgow based publisher who was a client of Charles Rennie Mackintosh who designed Blackie’s family home Hill House in Helensburgh, but also designed a lot of the Blackie book covers, including this one.

Granny’s Wonderful Chair by Frances Browne – it’s another Blackie book.

Two Joans at the Abbey by Elsie J. Oxenham. This seems to be an adventure tale which was first published in 1945. Chosen because of the title – well why not!

Breakfast with the Nikolides by Rumer Godden. I’ve been buying her books when I see them over the years. This is one of her Indian ones.

Mortimer’s Bread Bin by Joan Aiken, illustrated by Quentin Blake.

And lastly

Just What I Like which is another Blackie publication. It’s an annual sized book and has an inscription dated 1932 and I think the illustrations are lovely – so of their time. I suspect I’m turning into a Blackie book collector. Inadvertently of course!


I was really surprised to see the evidence in this 1932 book that apostrophes were also misused back then. Bus’s indeed!

Book Illustration

Hill House at Helensburgh in the west of Scotland

In October 2017 we found ourselves running around all over the place, from Norway to Lancashire, but the photos below are from Hill House in Helensburgh, much closer to home, well what was home when I was growing up, the west of Scotland. Hill House was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and he was incredibly lucky to be commissioned to design not only the house but everything inside it too, very rare for an architect I think. It’s only recently that The National Trust for Scotland has allowed visitors to take photographs of the interior. The house was built between 1902 and 1904.

Mackintosh was keen on light and dark so a lot of the woodwork is black, but really that serves to be a wonderful contrast to the beautiful cream coloured rooms. It was practical too I think as the hall and stairs are dark, places that would have been quite difficult to keep looking absolutely pristine, especially as this was designed as a family home – for the Scottish publisher Walter Blackie. If you have some old Blackie books the binding will almost certainly have been designed by Mackintosh.

The photo below is of a small hall table as you can see the design is arts and crafts. His designs are a mixture of arts and crafts, art nouveau and Japanese.

Hill House Hall table at Helensburgh

A very dark stairwell entrance below, unfortunately very difficult to photograph because of the wall light.

stairwell entrance

The drawing room below has a handy niche for the baby grand and as you can see the room is nice and bright.

Drawing room 1

Below is another view of the drawing room.

Drawing room

And another view of the drawing room. Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald worked as a team on this project with Margaret designing and making some of the art works and soft furnishings.
Drawing room 3

She embroidered the settee backs which are still in reasonable condition considering how old they are now.
Drawing room 4

Drawing room 7

I have plenty more photos but they can wait for another blogpost. Sadly Mackintosh used Portland cement on the exterior of the building, it was a ‘new wonder product’ according to the manufacturers. But in the damp climate of the west of Scotland it was a disastrous choice as it drew the moisture into the fabric of the building causing lots of problems. Now they are even thinking about building a huge glass structure over the whole house to try to preserve it. Desperate measures!

Blackie’s Children’s Annual

I have a lot of collections of ‘stuff’, often completely useless and worthless but just pretty, such as shells and stones and there are the books and china of course, old brooches and boxes, old postcards… the list goes on and on. But I’m absolutely not going to start a collection of Blackie’s Annuals although I believe they are collected by a lot of people.

Blackie's Children's Annual

I just came across this one at the weekend whilst looking for something completely different – a set of pine shelves which I want for the kitchen but am having no luck finding. In fact today I just bought wood to have a go at making them myself, with Jack’s help. I wish I had been able to take woodworking classes when I was at school, I would have loved that.

Anyway, I’m rambling, back to Blackie’s Children’s Annual, I couldn’t resist buying this one but unfortunately it doesn’t have any clue inside it as to when it was published. It must have been sometime during World War 1 because of the endpapers, beautiful wee soldiers, in kilts too albeit rather short ones.

Front Endpapers

Back Endpapers

Also the very first story in the book is about a father going to war, he’s in the Special Reserves and the family’s ‘fraulein’ is having to return to Germany. So I’m plumping for Christmas 1914 for the publication date although Jack thinks they wouldn’t have had time to get it published in time for Christmas 1914. I think it was probably all ready long before Christmas and they just added the first story about the war and the endpapers to catch the spirit of the times. After all – the war was going to be finished soon wasn’t it?!

Actually I’ve just realised that the front cover was almost certainly designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh as he did a lot of work for Blackie’s books as well as designing Hill House in Helensburgh for him.

If you’re interested there are more images of Blackie’s books here.

The Glasgow School of Art

On our pre-Christmas visit to Glasgow we ended up way up at the top of Sauchiehall Street, we hadn’t meant to walk that far but it was a nice bright day and we just kept finding more and more good buildings for Jack to photgraph, he’s a bit of an art deco fan.

The Art School

Anyway as you can see from these photos we decided to hike up to the Art Nouveau Glasgow School of Art as it was so close to where we were, and I mean hike, I had forgotten how steep that hill is! As you can see from the photos a large part of the building is swathed in scaffolding and I think some sort of covering has been put over the top, to keep the rain out.

The Art School

There was a chap on the TV recently saying that they should NOT rebuild the library and the rest of the damaged building as it was, but should add on a modern design instead. I really hope that that was just some hopeful architect in wishful thinking mode because although a newly built Mackintosh building is obviously not going to have the same history as the original, it’ll be an awful lot better than some random structure being tacked on to Mackintosh’s masterpiece.

Art School

As you can see from the photo above the undamaged part of the building has some lovely details but apparently his designs were always practical as well as pretty. The metal brackets at the windows were for the window cleaners to put their ladders against. I still wouldn’t fancy that job though. If you’re interested you should have a look at the lovely images of The School of Art here.

I think it’ll be scandalous if a decision is taken not to rebuild the damaged parts of the building as they were originally, apart from anything else a new extension to the Art School was just opened across the road from the original – and it is in a modern architecture style, and I bet it doesn’t last anything like as long as the old building has, I give it 30 years!

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Willow Tearooms, Glasgow

Willow Tearooms  in Glasgow

On our recent stopover in Glasgow I had thought that we might have our lunch at one of The Willow Tearooms in the city. But we were too busy photographing the loads of gorgeous buildings nearby, so we ended up just having Cornish pasties – on the go. Next time we’ll be more organised.

Willow tea rooms

These tearooms were designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh – as I’m sure you will have realised. The photos above are of the tearoom at the bottom of Buchanan Street. You can read about them here. The actual tearoom is upstairs I believe.

The photos below are of the tearooms at the top of Sauchiehall Street. These have only fairly recently been opened as a tearoom again as the building had been taken over by a jewellers for some years.

Willow Tearooms

I think the windows of this one are wonderful. You can see images of the tearooms here.

Willow Tearooms

It was Miss Cranston who commissioned C.R. Mackintosh to design her tearooms for her and you can see the original interior in the Kelvingrove Art Galleries in the west end of Glasgow. There are more images of The Miss Cranston interior in the gallery here.

Nowadays of course there are gift shops alongside the tearooms. There’s so much Mackintosh inspired ‘stuff’ around that we have taken to calling it Mockintosh.

In fact I couldn’t resist buying some Mackintosh inspired fabric from the nearby Manders shop. I got a couple of yards in their sale, at a seventh of the original price! I have no idea what I’m going to use it for though.

Mackintosh fabric

From the Guardian

In this Saturday’s Guardian Review section the author of Madame Doubtfire, Anne Fine, talks about her hero Robin Williams, you can read the article here.

Elsewhere, in the Guardian Weekend magazine there’s an article by the author Esther Freud. I haven’t read anything by her and after reading the article I doubt if I ever will. Her new book is called Mac and Me and the ‘Mac’ is actually Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I can’t help thinking that this book must have been put together in tearing haste to take advantage of Mackintosh having been in the news recently.

Freud briefly owned a cottage in Suffolk which she discovered had been an inn which Mackintosh had stayed in at some point, talk about tenuous links!

I have no idea what Esther Freud’s writing is like but given that she states towards the end of the Guardian article that the Glasgow School of Art was Mackintosh’s one and only project, I certainly don’t think anything of her research skills. Mackintosh may not have been a prolific architect but he definitely designed more than one building. There’s the Scotland Street School in Glasgow and Hill House in Helensburgh as well as a few houses in England and of course House for an Art Lover was built posthumously in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park.

Such glaring mistakes make me wonder if Freud’s success in writing is solely because of that name ‘Freud’ with so many well known Freud relatives it certainly can’t be a disadvantage anyway. Not so much standing on the shoulders of giants as scrambling up the ankles of your ancestors. It makes me wonder why her editor didn’t point out just how wrong she was or do the editors at Bloomsbury not actually do any editing?

The Glasgow School of Art

I didn’t have the heart to blog about this before now, but on Friday the Glasgow School of Art caught fire, you can read about it here.

I’m never sure about how well known Charles Rennie Mackintosh is elsewhere, but in Glasgow we love him and his work. The School of Art was his masterpiece of course and I was shocked when I heard that it was on fire, I was standing in the kitchen cooking, with Radio 2 on and the traffic report woman just blithely said that there was congestion in some parts of the city because the art school was on fire!!

I ran into the living room to switch on News 24, hoping that it was the newly built part of the art school which was on fire, but no – it was the Mackintosh building, and when I saw the flames bursting out of the roof and heard that the fire had started in a basement, my heart sank.

Not only did Mackintosh design the building but he also designed all the fixtures and fittings, clocks, lights and furniture. The good news is that the fire brigade say they have managed to save 90% of the structure but the bad news is that the library is entirely destroyed. They think that about 70% of the contents of the building have been saved, but that’s still a lot lost.

Apparently the fire brigade got there within 4 minutes and they put their lives in danger by entering the building to fight it, and you can’t ask more than that. Thankfully everyone got out safely and they think that the students’ work has been saved.

I’m now so glad that I did go to see the building a while ago, you could go and gaze at it whilst the life of the school carried on around you, I also attended an auction of art noveau furniture and decorative ware which was held there a few years ago.

As well as housing one of Europe’s leading art schools, the listed building is a tourist attraction in its own right. Completed at the turn of the 20th century, it was voted the best building of the past 175 years in a poll by the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba).

The damage will be repaired of course, but it won’t be the same even although it might look exactly as it did, minus the 100 years of wear and tear which was also part of its charm, it was a cherished building but it was still a work place, not preserved in aspic.

You can see what was going on on Friday here and scroll right down to read about Mackintosh and see some of the library.

Home Sweet Home – the stairs


We’ve lived in our house for over 25 years now but I realised that we have hardly any photos of some parts of it so I thought I would take some for posterity as we plan to downsize at some point in the future. The house is around 110 years old, so Victorian/Edwardian. The photo above is of the bottom of the stairs, they lead up to a half-landing – or mezzanine as estate agents call it. They lead up to the bathroom, yes, halfway up/down the stairs is the place where we sit. I’m going to spare you a photo of that though!

staircase 4

I suppose it’s a bit of a quirky house, I don’t think too many houses have a window right at the top corner of the wall on the stairs. You can’t see it too clearly here though. In fact you can’t see much. The small prints are all of Peter Pan illustrations by Arthur Rackham. The large poster facing you is of a Charles Rennie Mackintosh building – The Daily Record Buildings in Glasgow, (the Daily Record has moved somewhere else now) and underneath it is a print of Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh’s The White Rose and the Red Rose.

staircase 2

I took the photo above from the half landing. As you can see, just about the whole wall is covered with prints, almost all of them with a Scottish link. C.R.Mackintosh flower prints, Scottish British Rail travel posters and some Scottish colourist prints in the shape of The Orange Blind by Cadell and Lilies by Peploe. It occurs to me that it’s the sort of thing which you would expect to see in the home of an exiled Scot, rather than one who lives in Scotland – as I do.

staircase 3

And there’s that window I was telling you about. It doesn’t open and I have to drag ladders out to clean it so that doesn’t happen too often, but it does throw some light onto the stairs, which is handy. Next time I’ll take some photos of the top of the stairs, which you can just see in one of the photos. At the moment it’s a bit of a guddle (mess) though as our main computer is still on that landing – its winter headquarters.

Don’t you just love Kermit’s nephew Robin singing this song by A.A. Milne – Halfway Down the Stairs? I do anyway, so here it is.