Friday, 9 April 2010

English Palladianism begun in Scotland?

“Throughout the eighteen century the most imposing property in Glasgow was the Shawfield Mansion built in 1712 for Daniel Campbell by his namesake Colen (who was, it seems, no relation). The house, which Campbell illustrated in the second edition of Vitruvius Britannicus, is his earliest recorded executed design. Compared to his later Wanstead, Shawfield was modest indeed - a seven-bay house with a pedimented and slightly projecting centre-piece, hipped roof and apparently a belvedere on top. It has considerable historical interest: though retaining one or two Wrennish features, Shawfield was virtually a complete Palladian house on the scale of Palladio’s villas. The type became popular in England in the 1730s and 1740s; but only one English example of the eighteenth-century Palladian revival is known to be earlier - William Benson’s Wilbury Park of 1710. Since Campbell became (after Palladio himself, that is) the greatest single influence on Burlington, English Palladianism may be said to have begun in Scotland.”

(Prince Charles Edward Stuart stayed in the mansion between December 1745 and January 1746. The prince is said to have met his mistress Clementina Walkinshaw there.)

Main text referred from The Architecture of Glasgow by Gomme and Walker.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Sanquhar Knitting Patterns

By the mid 1700s, as knitting skills spread throughout Scotland, a thriving cottage industry was established. It first produced mainly simple knitted stockings in great numbers for sale to the home market and to the colonies. The ancient burgh of Sanquhar was ideally located for this, in good sheep country with soft water for processing wool and established roads following the river valleys to markets in central Scotland. The origins of the distinctive two-coloured pattern to which the town gave its name are obscure but date from the late 1700s. They have some similarities with traditional knitting from Scandinavia and Afghanistan. Ideas may have travelled these distances but it is also possible that they arose independently from the simple coincidence of similar solutions being found to similar problems.

The most common design in a grid of black and white wool is called the Duke. The other main patterns are Prince of Wales, Shepherd’s plaid, Rose and Trellis, Drum and Cornet, Pheasants or Birds Eye and one of the oldest, Midge and Flea.

The entire Scottish hand-knitting industry declined dramatically in the final years of the 18th century. This was caused by a variety of factors; the loss of trade to the American Colonies, the disruption to commerce caused by revolution and wars in Europe; the increasing industrialization of the spinning and processing of wool; and the competition from cheaper, machine-framed garments.

With the recent appreciation of traditional knitting, the Sanquhar pattern has again become widely known. Though, while in use in gloves and scarves, it has yet to return to larger garments and my Sanquhar waistcoat seems to be unique!

Sanquhar Tolbooth to a design by William Adam, 1735

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Visit Scotland?

The Scottish Tourist Board, now called Visit Scotland, might think of republishing the posters that once encouraged railway passengers to holiday here. None of he magic has gone from these places and a bit of nostalgia might add to their allure.

Sadly, of course, we do not have quite the same railway network in Scotland we had in the 1930’s.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Cairness House

Extendeding an 1781 Aberdeenshire mansion by the architect Robert Burn, Cairness House was transformed in 1789 by James Playfair. Inspired by the severe revolutionary forms of the French architects Boullée and Ledoux, Cairness is unique and in the avant-garde of British architecture of the period. Playfair’s ideas were not derived from pattern books as he spent weeks in Paris and returned to incorporate elementary geometric forms, beloved of the French neo-classicists, into his deigns. These can be seen in particular in the two lunette arches with Doric columns and in the round icehouse enclosed in a great semicircular office court behind the main façade.
Playfair died in 1793 before all of his designs for the interiors were executed but enough was done that Cairness is exceptional in having the earliest complete Egyptian room in Britain.

His client, Charles Gordon, also died before the house was complete and the property was inherited by his seven year old son, Thomas. Appropriately, as the owner of a neoclassical mansion with Greek Doric details, he grew up to become a passionate supporter of Greek independence. By 1823 he was briefly the Chief of Staff of the Greek army and considered a national hero. He was a close friend of Lord Byron, son of Catherine Gordon, heiress of Gight Castle in Aberdeenshire.

Playfair’s ambitious designs were only finally realised in 1891 when the family built the gates and lodges to the architect’s plans.

The Gordons of Cairness lived in the house until 1938 when it was sold to Ethel, Countess of Southesk. After the war, Cairness was used as a farmhouse and later was turned into bedsits. The National Trust for Scotland turned the house down as being too costly to repair and it was Patricia and Philip Miller who purchased it in 1994, saving it for posterity. Philip, an architect and historian and Patricia, an interior designer, had previously help to restore Ampthill Park, a mansion by another Scottish architect, William Chambers.Here.
Its potential recognised, the house was sold in 2000 to Khalil Hafiz Khairallah and his friend Julio Soriano-Ruiz who have since spent more than £1 million restoring Cairness. “With no real experience of property restoration, Khairallah, a journalist of Lebanese descent, and Soriano-Ruiz, an art historian from Madrid, set about putting together a team with the right skills to restore Cairness to its former glory. They have retiled the roof, installed central heating, restored 180 windows and spent a year and a half removing and recasting 51 cast-iron chimney pots”. Here. In 2009 it won the best restored country house category in Georgian Group Architectural Awards. Here.
While Cairness is primarily a lived in and very comfortable private home, some 8 bedrooms are available for bed and breakfast. Here.
Tours are conducted on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Christopher Dresser

"Among the first independent industrial designers, Christopher Dresser (1834-1904) championed design reform in 19th century Britain while embracing modern manufacturing in the development of wallpaper, textiles, ceramics, glass, furniture and metalware." The Design Museum has more details here.

 As a designer Christopher Dresser, "reduced his forms; his stringently geometric 1870s and 1880s designs - especially for metalware - are entirely devoid of the luxuriantly decorative spirit of the Victorian age period. An unconventional thinker, Dresser broke new ground in design. From the outset Dresser designed forms suitable for mass production. Unlike William Morris, for instance, Christopher Dresser could very easily imagine the potential of linking industrial mass production and high-quality designs. In this sense Christopher Dresser might be termed the father of industrial design; he submitted designs for objects of metal, glass and ceramics to more than fifty firms. Not only were Christopher Dresser's far ahead of their time; the underlying aesthetic was also boldly forward-looking. Many of the metalware Dresser designed between the 1860s and 1880s anticipates 1920s functionalism in many respects." Here

A Scotland that never was?

The 1911 Scottish Exhibition of National History, Art and Industry was held in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow. While the major “palaces” housed exhibitions of engineering, electronics, painting and Scottish history it was the creation of an Auld Toon, put together to be “characteristic of quaint bits of our older Scottish architecture”, which seems to have delighted the visitors.
Its success was due in part to the popularity of the earlier Kailyard School of writers who nostalgically, and with a more than overt sentimentally, depicted life in Scottish villages as provincial and hidebound in couthie morality. Lead by J.M. Barrie with his publication of short stories Auld Licht Idylls (1888) and A Window in Thrums (1889), other writers followed , such as Ian Maclaren and Samuel Crockett, achieving commercial success on an extraordinary scale. In architecture, the Scots Baronial style had drawn its inspiration from Scotland’s tower houses, castles and Renaissance palaces. Indeed the other exhibition buildings were in a dramatic, almost expressionist version of the Baronial. Perhaps the less grand architecture in the Auld Toon, drawn from simple, mostly domestic Burgh architecture, won the visitors over .
However the imposing turreted tower house did make an appearance. Guarding one entrance to the Toon, a tower ingeniously covered a neo-baroque fountain that was thought to be at odds with the exhibition’s theme but was too expensive to temporarily remove from the Park.
Three pends led into the Toon Square with its central Merket Cross. On one side of the Square was a replica of a Scottish Tolbooth, modelled on Dunbar Tolbooth. Enclosing the other sides were recreations of an assortment of lost Glasgow buildings: St Ninian’s Chapel, Old Gorbals Tower, and houses from Stockwell Street, Tiddler’s Close and Rottenrow.
The Glasgow Herald commented at the time that this, “quiet, old world nook, with its towering turrets, its crow steps and toppling chimneys, just so much awry as to accentuate the verisimilitude of it all, is a place apart, a spot to which one may retire from the din and ecstasy of the coming summer nights and recall the picturesque and historic past.”

However, recent critics have been less favourable. In Glasgow’s Great Exhibitions, Perilla and Juliet Kinchin wrote, “This romantic little township nestling in the heart of Kelvingrove did not have much to do with historical reality. It was a charming sham, constructed of wood, plaster and canvas, so cunningly painted that there was even the semblance of moss upon the walls. Such was the ‘realism’ that delighted visitors.”
It was to this vernacular style that later 20th Century architects repeatedly returned. Ironically, it was Dunbar Burgh Council  who commissioned from the very real Tolbooth, Sir Basil Spence to design one of the most influencial schemes of public housing in the early 1950‘s. His award winning designs for fishermen’s houses combined traditional pinky-red local stone, colour-washed roughcast walls and red pantiled roofs with modern steel window frames and metal balconies.

Another 50 years on it is still to the vernacular that architects in Scotland turn for inspiration as this example from Richard Murphy shows.

Friday, 2 April 2010

State Appointed Sculptors in Scotland

'Totalitarianism is the concept which subsumes three such seemingly different movements as the Leninist-Stalinist stage of Bolshevism, Mussolini’s Fascism, and Hitler’s National Socialism. The deepest and most stricking expression of the inner affinity of these movements, all of which were directed against human freedom, is that they produced identical aesthetic conceptions and the same brand of official art.’
Warner Haftmann, Painting in the Twentieth Century.

This Totalitarian aesthetic can be seen in the choice of realist, neoclassical sculptures to reflect and sustain their world view. It would have been too much to hope that the Head of State of the United Kingdom would not favour this brand of official art.
Alexander Stoddart is Sculptor in Ordinary to The Queen in Scotland. Alexander works in a realist, neoclassical manner and he rather likes the strength of Fascist sculpture too.

Philip Jackson, also Scottish, is Royal Sculptor to Queen Elizabeth II. Philip’s work often bares a marked similarity to Alexander’s sculptures...
Clearly a profitable path which is also followed by Kenny Mackay who very soon after the death of the Scottish Labour Party politician Donald Dewar, was commissioned to create a 9 foot bronze of the lost leader. The statue was unveiled on 7 May 2002, by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. However, after attacks on Dewar’s specs, the plinth was raised by 6 foot, so the ‘man of the people’ now towers even higher, gazing off above us into the blue yonder, spectacles intact.