Glasgow: 150 years of Charles Rennie Mackintosh




The first stop of my three-week trip in Scotland this summer was Glasgow. Although the city is not as glamourous as Edinburgh, I tend to have a bias towards Glasgow, partly because of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and partly because of its friendly residents.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, hecne, there are numerous exhibitions and events celebrating the legacy of Glasgow’s cultural icon. Sadly, Mackintosh’s masterpiece Glasgow School of Art caught fire for the second time in June leaving just a burnt-out shell. I never did get to see the original school because my first visit to Glasgow was 2015, a year after the first devasting fire. That year, I did a tour of the new building and saw the furniture rescued from the old building (see my blog entry here). This year, however, the entire area was sealed off to the public, and I only managed to get a glimpse of the site from afar. Walking outside of the barricade made my heart sink, and like many others, I had a lot of questions in my head. Though judging from the extensive damage, it seems unlikely that the building could be rebuild again.


glasgow school of art

glasgow school of art


Since I was only in the city for 1 night, my focus was solely on Mackinstosh. I first went to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to see the Mackinstosh exhibition featuring more than 250 objects from the Glasgow Museums collection and Mitchell Library archives, alongside key loans from The Hunterian, Glasgow School of Art, the V&A and private lenders.

The exhibition showcased stained glass, ceramics, mosaics, metalwork, furniture, textiles, stencilling, needlework and embroidery, posters, books and architectural drawings. Some of the works have never been on display and the majority – like the wall from Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tea Rooms – have not been shown for over 30 years. I wished I had more time to linger at the exhibition, but I was also grateful that I got to see this extensive exhibition on the works of a genius. Since no photography was allowed, I bought the exhibition catalogue instead.





kelvingrove  kelvingrove


The following morning, I went to the newly restored Mackintosh at The Willow to have breakfast. Originally named the Willow Tea Rooms, the premise is the only surviving tea room designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The tea room was part of a long working relationship with local tea entrepreneur Miss Kate Cranston. Between 1896 and 1917 he designed and re-styled interiors in all four of her Glasgow tearooms, in collaboration with his wife Margaret Macdonald. Opened in 1903 at 217 Sauchiehall Street, the Art Nouveau tea room gained immense popularity and became famous for its afternoon teas, but it was sold in 1917 after the death of Miss Kate Cranston’s husband.

Over the years and through various changes of ownerships, the building had deteriorated until it was purchased in 2014 by The Willow Tea Rooms Trust in order to prevent the forced sale of the building, closure of the Tea Rooms and loss of its contents to collectors. When I visited the premise in 2015, it was in a rather somber state, so I was eager to see the newly restored building after four years of restoration which costed t £10 million. The project was a collaboration between Willow Tea Rooms Trust, Doig & Smith, Simpson & Brown and Clark Contracts . The Tea Rooms are also operated as a social enterprise with the objectives of creating training, learning, employment and other opportunities and support for young people and communities.


Mackintosh at the Willow   Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow


Even as I walked past the three story building the day before, I was thrilled to see the beautiful facade featuring the restored black leaded glass frames and decorative ornaments. Since Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a key figure in the Scottish Arts and Crafts movement, this building epitomised the essence of the ‘The Glasgow Style’, which was highly influenced by Japanese design.


Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow   Mackintosh at the Willow


To be honest, I wasn’t so concerned about the food, as it wasn’t the purpose of my visit. I was simply happy to be sitting in a Mackintosh-designed tea room that showcases his furniture, sculpted plasterwork wall panels, railings and fixtures. The attention to detail is immaculate and I salute the team behind the project for their efforts in bringing Mackinstosh‘s designs back to its full glory.

During my visit, the tea room was at a phased opening stage, so tours of the building was not yet available and not all areas of the building were opened to the public. Hence I shall have to join a tour of the building when I return to Glasgow next time.


Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow   Mackintosh at the Willow


After breakfast, I walked over to the Glasgow Art Club, a lesser-known building with designs by Mackintosh at the age of 25 when he was employed as a draughtsman by architects Honeyman & Keppie. Mackintosh was responsible for the design of many of the internal features of the Club including the frieze in the Gallery.

Opened in 1893 at Bath Street, The Glasgow Art Club was founded in 1867 by William Dennistoun, a young amateur artist who had been forced by ill health to leave the city. It started as a meeting place for amateur painters to discuss their works, but soon membership grew with more professional artists joining, resulting in two town houses being bought to accommodate all the members.

From the outside, there is nothing special about the building, and even inside, the club does not look different from most Victorian gentlemen’s clubs.


Glasgow Art Club  Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club  Glasgow Art Club


Yet the secret lies at the back of the ground floor. The bright and spacious gallery is vastly different from the rooms at the front, and you can certainly apprecaite the magic touch of Mackintosh here. The gallery showcases Mackintosh’s earliest work: frieze, decorative panels, feature fireplaces abd brass finger plates. Painted in 1893, the frieze’s stenciled artwork was Mackintosh’s first major public work, but due to water damage it was eventually plastered and painted over. Recently, experts in the work of Mackintosh, collaborated with a notable Scottish artist and a firm specialising in restoration work recreated the frieze and thus the public can now view this beautiful work at the club. The gallery walls also display original artwork by members of the Club which are part of an ever changing programme of exhibitions.

Although the club is a private one, it does offer regular tours that are bookable by appointment. Since I couldn’t join the tour, I walked in and asked if I could view the gallery, and the receptionist kindly let me in. This is definitely a hidden gem in the city, and I am sure many Mackintosh enthusiasts would appreciate the restoration works being done here.

Ironically, Mackintosh‘s innovative styles were not greatly appreciated during his lifetime, yet 150 years after his birth, his name is drawing millions of visitors from around the world to Glasgow. All I can say is that: it is better late than never.


Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club



The Mackintosh trail in Glasgow

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Mackintosh architecture exhibition at RIBA London


Back in May I visited the Mackintosh architecture exhibition at the RIBA, which coincided with my Glasgow trip a month later. I have long wanted to visit Glasgow and buildings designed by the renowned Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (I am gutted that I didn’t visit The Glasgow School of Art before its major fire last year). Hence the exhibition provided me with some background information on the architect, and the evolution of his career and architectural style.

Though the best way to understand and appreciate the architect’s work, one must visit Glasgow to see the bigger picture. And with only two nights in the city, I had to plan my schedule meticulously so that I can visit all the essential Mackintosh sights within a limited time frame ( if business doesn’t work out, perhaps I can switch to planning itineraries for travel agencies one day).


Mackintosh houseLantern and Finial designed by Mackintoshhunterian art gallery

Left: The Mackintosh house at the Hunterian art gallery; Middle: Lantern and Finial designed by Mackintosh; Right: Stairs in the Art Gallery


My first stop was The Mackintosh House at the Hunterian Art Gallery, part of The University of Glasgow. Visitors could only visit the house with a tour guide in groups and no photography is allowed inside. Although the original house was demolished in the early 1960s, all the original fixtures and contents were preserved and reassembled, and the architects have created a replica that closely resemble the original. The house showcases some wonderful and unusual furniture designed by Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald (whose craft work is simply mesmorising), and it is a must stop for all Mackintosh fans.


Margaret Macdonald & mackintosh designs at Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museummackintosh designs mackintosh designsThe May Queen by Margaret MacdonaldMargaret Macdonald designP1130629-compressedMargaret Macdonald design

Works by Charles and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum – First row: A reconstruction of the Ladies Luncheon Room; Third row: The May Queen by Margaret Macdonald; Bottom row: Margaret Macdonald‘s work


My second stop was the magnificent Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum (Argyle St, Glasgow G3 8AG), which showcases 8,000 objects in 22 themed galleries. There is a section of the gallery that is devoted to the Glasgow Style movement and works by the Mackintoshes. There is a reconstructed Ladies Luncheon Room at Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tearooms with the gesso panelshanging on top. One of the panels is ‘The Wassail’ designed by Mackintosh, while its companion panel The May Queen was created by his wife Margaret Macdonald in 1900.


glasgow school of art Glasgow school of art Glasgow school of artGlasgow school of artP1130689-compressedGlasgow school of artGlasgow school of artGlasgow school of art

Glasgow School of Art and Mackintosh’s furniture gallery


Although Mackintosh‘s original masterpiece for Glasgow School of Art (164 Renfrew Street, Glasgow, G3 6RF) was severely damaged by the fire last year, there are daily guided tours available to visit the new building opposite. Completed in 2013, the award-winning Reid Building was designed by Steven Holl Architects. The school offers three (four in the summer) one-hour student-led ‘Mackintosh at the GSA tour’ daily, and it focuses on the story and design of the Mackintosh building, as well as an exclusive access to GSA’s new furniture gallery. This new gallery showcases 20 pieces of furniture by Mackintosh and two rarely-seen embroidered panels by Margaret Macdonald that were rescued from the fire. The tour ends in the Window on Mackintosh visitor centre on the ground floor which is open to the public free of charge.

It is a real shame that Mackintosh‘s famous library and most of its contents had been turned into ashes, but restoration works have begun and hopefully we will be able to visit the restored building in a few years’ time.


The willow tearoomsThe willow tearooms The willow tearoomsThe willow tearooms The willow tearoomsThe willow tearoomsThe willow tearooms

The Willow tea rooms


One of the more popular and accessible Mackintosh landmarks in Glasgow is The Willow tea rooms (217 Sauchiehall Street) in the city centre. Designed by Mackintosh in 1903 for Kate Cranston (daughter of a tea merchant), the tea rooms were the most fashionable hang outs at the time. Described as “a fantasy for afternoon tea”, The Room de Luxe on the first floor was an extravagant and decorative room filled with furniture designed by Mackintosh and gesso panels designed by his wife Margaret. The Room de Luxe was restored in the 1980s, now visitors can dine in the upstairs tearoom, and visit the free exhibition area at the back of the ground floor. However, the ‘Argos’ style jewellery and souvenir shop and fittings in the front section are inconsistent with the rest of the place. It is a pity, and I hope that this will be addressed in the future.


The lighthouse GlasgowThe lighthouse GlasgowThe lighthouse GlasgowThe lighthouse spiral staircaseMackintosh chairMackintosh chair

The lighthouse and the Mackintosh Centre


With little time to spare, I managed to visit The lighthouse (11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, G1 3NU) before it closed for the day. It is housed in the former Glasgow Herald building, the first public commission completed by Mackintosh. The building is now a national centre for design and architecture, with a Mackintosh Tower (which was closed during my visit) and a Mackintosh Interpretation Centre which charts the life & work of the architect/designer. The most impressive feature for me though is the 134 steps spiral staircase that leads you up to the tower. I think I will have to try climbing it on my next visit.


Daily Record Building Glasgow Daily Record Building GlasgowDaily Record Building Glasgow Daily Record Building GlasgowArgyle Street tea rooms Ingram tea rooms

First & second rows: Daily Record Building; Bottom left: Argyle Street tea rooms (interiors destroyed); Ingram tea rooms (interiors can be seen at the Kelvingrove Art gallery)


Aside from the above sights, there are other Mackintosh gems that are also worth visiting:

House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park (10 Dumbreck Rd, Glasgow, Lanarkshire G41 5BW)

Scotland Street School Museum (225 Scotland Street, Glasgow, G5 8QB)

Queen’s Cross Church (870 Garscube Road, Glasgow, G20 7EL)

The Glasgow Necropolis (Wishard Street, Glasgow, G4 0UZ)

The Hill House (Upper Colquhoun Street, Helensburgh, G84 9AJ. 



Street art in Glasgow

taxi balloons by  Rogue-one

Mitchell Street‘s Taxi Balloons by Rogue-one


Before visiting Glasgow for the first time, I had a somewhat gloomy and rundown image of the city in my head, yet this preconceived idea was shattered when I arrived at the bustling city on a sunny day.

I was lucky with the weather, so I was able to walk around the city on foot and enjoyed the sights and architecture that the city has to offer. And I was very pleasantly surprised by the wonderful street art that I encountered in different parts of the city, these uplifting and playful works undoubtedly contribute to enhancing the streets of the city.

A majority of the prodigious wall murals in the city were commissioned by the City Council from 2008 onwards. Many renowned local artists took part in the project including Smug and Rogue One. If you are interesting to learn more or follow the official street art trail, you can download the map via this link and visit the Discover Glasgow website.


Rogue one Girl with Magnifying GlassEmoticon Hamlet Giant panda by Klingatron

Top left: Dancing puppets by Rogue One (John Street); Top right: Girl with Magnifying Glass by Smug (Mitchell Street); Bottom left: Emoticon Hamlet by Peter Drew; Bottom right: Giant panda by Klingarton (Mitchell Lane)


The most impressive murals in my opinion are the series of pieces promoting the 2014 Commonwealth Games at the Ingram Street car park. Created in 2013 by Glasgow based Australia street artist Sam Bates a.k.a. Smug, the pieces depict the four seasons in a picturesque Scottish country scene, featuring an array of animals, including his infamous squirrel. The squirrel can also be spotted under the Kelvinbridge subway station (see below).


Ingram Street car park Ingram Street car park street art Ingram Street car park street artIngram Street car park street art

Ingram Street car park by Smug


Nearby at the Strathclyde University (on the corner of George Street/North Portland Street), a series of murals named ‘The Wonderwall’ were created by several artists including Art Pistol, Rogue One and Ejek.


Strathclyde University, The Wonderwall Strathclyde University, The WonderwallStrathclyde University, The WonderwallStrathclyde University, The Wonderwall

Strathclyde University, The Wonderwall


There is plenty of work to be explored within the city, so on your next visit to Glasgow, watch out for these cool street art!


Kelvinbridge subway station street artKelvinbridge subway station street artKelvinbridge subway station street artglasgow street art glasgow street artKelvin Walkway

Top three rows: Kelvinbridge subway station street art by Smug & Bottom row: Kelvin Walkway by Smug


Scotland by rail

train ride to scotland

Scenery from somewhere north of England


I am one of those people who would get excited sitting in the front row on the top deck of a double decker bus. And often I would end up sitting next to kids under 10 years of age who are equally excited, though I don’t express my enthusiasm as explicitly as they do.

Hence, I can’t verbally express the joy I feel when I am on a train. Perhaps what I enjoy most is staring out of the moving window while scenery, buildings, animals and people disappear from my peripheral vision. Those fleeting moments are not dissimilar to our experiences in life; one minute it is there and next minute it is gone. Unable to grasp the moment, we can only act as spectators and watch the changing scenery pass us by.

Sometimes people are bemused by my keenness to travel by rail, whereas I am equally bewildered by their eagerness to reach the destinations as fast as possible. I often feel that the most thrilling part of traveling is the journey itself rather than the destination. If time permits, I would always pick the longer and more interesting travel route.


train ride to scotland wind turbineUK aqueduct train ride to scotland train ride to scotland


Months ago when I was planning a trip to Scotland from London, I forwent the cheaper flying option and opted for the more costly and time-consuming train option. The booking process also turned out to be more complex and baffling, it is no wonder many travelers prefer the flying option. It took me days to figure out the routes, but one thing certain was that I wanted to include the Caledonian Sleeper, one of the two remaining sleeper trains in Britain (the other is The Night Riviera from London to Penzance).

Finally, I decided to take the Virgin Crusader from London to Glasgow (5 hours), then from Glasgow to Inverness (3.5 hours), and return back to London via the Caledonian sleeper (12 hours). Even though I had planned and booked almost 3 months in advance, I still had to pay £50 for a reclining seat (vs. £130 for a shared berth) on the Sleeper train. I can’t say that it was a bargain compared to a £30 Easyjet flight.


glasgowglasgow train station virgin crusaderglasgow train station

Arriving in Glasgow via Virgin Crusader


Out of the three journeys, the most pleasant and comfortable one was the Virgin Crusader. I paid an extra £10 for first class, and it was definitely worth it. The service was attentive, with complimentary food and drinks available throughout the 5 hour journey. However, the scenery is less spectacular than the journey I took to and from Edinburgh via the East Coast two years ago.


preston station aviemorepitlochrystirling stirling station

 Station after station…


For breathtaking scenery, it necessary to travel further north. The journey from Glasgow to Inverness offers some stunning views of the Highlands. The train passes by two significant summits: Drumochter and Slochd, and two viaducts: Culloden and Tomatin. Although it was the end of June at the time of travel, snow on the summits was still clearly visible.



Scenery of the Highlands


My last leg of the train journey was taking the night train from Inverness back to London via the Caledonian Sleeper. The train was surprisingly busy, but I was lucky to have two opposite seats to myself. In terms of comfort level, I would say the seats are similar to most airline’s Premium class seating. Nonetheless, do not expect to sleep well throughout the night especially if you are a light sleeper. I woke up a few times in the middle of the night and watched sunrise hours before the train arrived into London.


inverness station caledonian sleepersunset sunsetsunset


Since March of this year, Serco has commenced a 15-year contract to operate the Caledonian Sleeper between London and Scotland. More than £100m (part-funded by a £60m grant from the Scottish government) will be invested in building 72 state of the art carriages, which will make up four new trains by the summer of 2018.

It will be interesting to see these new trains, and I wonder if they will lure travelers back to rail travel again (given that they will not be too outrageously expensive)? Although British rail travel has passed its heyday, there are still some notable routes that are worth the time, effort and costs. My only advice is this: book early to avoid being charged an arm and a leg!