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.

Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond

One day last week we had to drive over to my beloved west of Scotland, it’s only around 70 miles away but it’s very different from the east coast. Below is a photo of Ben Lomond, I don’t remember ever seeing it with so much snow on it before.
Snow on Ben Lomond

There was still plenty of snow piled at the side of the roads on the way there, but by the time we got to central Scotland, the Stirling area – it had disappeared. We couldn’t resist stopping at Loch Lomond to take this photo of Ben Lomond capped with snow. I was brought up just a few miles away from here and in the summertime, in the days when we actually used to have decent summer weather, I used to walk here to visit my older married sister who lived nearby.

In Scotland the largest hill in any area is called ‘ben’ and locally that one will always just be known as ‘the ben’.

Snow on  Ben Lomond

We drove onward to Arrochar and Tarbet where what had been a gorgeous day turned briefly quite grim with rain, so no photos were taken but you can see some images of the area here.

I took the photo below of Loch Long whilst we were driving along, it reminds me of the Norwegian fjords with those layers of mountains in the background.

Loch Long
Then we drove over to Rhu and Helensburgh by a very skinny road which twists and turns and has ups and downs reminiscent of a big dipper ride. We breathed in at times whenever a 4×4 was coming from the other direction. You can see images of Rhu and Helensburgh here.

It’s a pity there are so many trees lining the loch as it can be quite difficult to get a glimpse of it at times.
Loch Long

The only place that you can stop is when you reach the Ministry of Defence area, where my dad used to work in fact, straight ahead it’s a blot on the landscape, all military metal, nuclear nonsense and razor wire, but looking back up Loch Long it does feel very Nordic.

Loch Long

Loch Long

A walk around Helensburgh and coffee at The Sugar Boat ended a perfect day out.

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 Classics Club

The Classics Club October question is: Why are you reading the classics? Before you start, I’m warning you this is a ramble and a half!

There are lots of reasons why I read classic books. When I was about 9 or 10 I started reading classics which had been abridged for children and Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. I really enjoyed reading books which were set in a more genteel time I think and it was about that time I tried my hand at embroidery, I think I fancied myself as a Victorian heroine!

I soon moved on to reading the unabridged books like Jane Eyre and then everything by Jane Austen, and George Elliot’s Mill on the Floss was a favourite of mine when I was about 12. I think at the back of my mind I had a feeling that if a book was still being read and reprinted after so many years then it must mean that it’s a book worth reading. I do hate giving up on books which have been a disappointment to me, there’s less chance of that with a classic I think.

I still have the very first classic book which I bought with my own money, and I can clearly remember buying it. My mum gave all of my books away when she was having a mad clear out, apparently I had grown out of them, I of course knew nothing about it until the deed was done. But my first purchase survived the pogrom because it was for adults. It is a small cream coloured book, published by Thomas Nelson and it’s Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson. Apart from being a dinky wee book it was the title which made me buy it, vanity I suppose, or just curiosity because Catriona is the Gaelic spelling of my own name of course, and I wanted to know what this other Catriona/Katrina got up to.

I had to wait though as I hadn’t looked inside the book where it says – sequel to Kidnapped. As I hadn’t read Kidnapped I had to find that one first. Both books are well worth reading and have a Scottish setting, which is something else which I enjoy. I know – how parochial of me!

I’ll give you a flavour of that first classics book purchase. I bought it in John Menzies (pronounced Ming-is – it’s that yogh letter of the alphabet again) Stationers and Bookshop in Helensburgh, on the west coat of Scotland, north of Glasgow. Helensburgh is a town just about 7 miles north of where I was brought up and it was a favourite place to have a nice day out, a bit of a change of scene. It was a popular destination for day trippers, holidaymakers and at that time had the most millionaires living in it of any town in Scotland. It attracted successful football players and theatrical entertainers, showbiz types I suppose you could say. The actress Deborah Kerr was born there and John Logie Baird lived there and apparently started his experiments on the development of television there in the 1920s.

But all that was of not very much interest to my mum, what she liked Helensburgh for was the American Navy! At the time they were based at the Holy Loch and possibly Faslane, on the Clyde. Yes, all the nice girls love a sailor – so they say, and my mum certainly did. She was always terribly disappointed if for some reason there were no US sailors in the town when we were there. I was always quite relieved because she would urge me in a stage whisper, which really more resembled a fog horn. Touch their stars for luck! She always got the attention of the sailors – I always just about died of embarrassment and of course refused to touch up any sailors. I’m sure my mum made it up – that it’s supposed to be lucky to touch the star on the bottom corner of a US sailor’s collar.

Well I warned you it was going to be a ramble! But when I look at my copy of Catriona it reminds me of sailors and my somewhat eccentric mum. As it happens my dad had been a sailor when they got married, but then, it was during World War II and there were a lot of them about back then.

If you look carefully you should be able to see my cream coloured copy of Catriona on the shelf below.