Monday, 5 April 2010

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment