Ronald Harrison


Ernest Ronald Harrison (1915–2007) studied architecture at the Glasgow School of Art for five years from September 1933, receiving his Diploma in Architecture in June 1938. 1 For part of this time he worked in the office of Keppie & Henderson during the day, apparently attending classes at the School in the evening. 2 He later recalled that John Keppie took a particular interest in him, introducing him to former clients of the firm. 3

As a student, Harrison developed a keen interest in the architecture of Mackintosh. He may have been stimulated in this by the Memorial Exhibition of Mackintosh's work held in May 1933 at the McLellan Galleries, Sauchiehall Street. With encouragement from William Davidson, organiser of the exhibition and a trustee of the Mackintoshes' joint estate, he sought out the available literature on Mackintosh in the Mitchell and RIBA libraries, made contact with people who had known him, and visited his former London studio in Chelsea. 4 Along with another student, Tom Lyon (1911–1973), he made measured drawings of the School of Art as part of a wider project to record Mackintosh's buildings, and finally produced a thesis on the subject. 5

Though only an undergraduate at the time, Harrison can be regarded as one of the earliest scholars to carry out original research on Mackintosh, focusing on close first-hand study of the buildings. His interest in a largely unsung architect of the late Victorian and Edwardian era must have placed him outside the mainstream of student taste in the 1930s. Although his letters to Davidson refer to the 'simple logic' of Mackintosh's work – a quality which might well have appealed to an interwar architecture student with modernist sympathies – he seems to have been more attracted by Mackintosh's individualism: 'we are always discovering something fresh,' he wrote of his survey work with Lyon, 'some detail of construction or design that has passed unnoticed. This seems to be characteristic of his work, which being so full of craftsmanship cannot be appreciated at a glance, but which on close inspection reveals his very soul.' 6

Working for Keppie & Henderson gave Harrison access to the firm's archive of drawings, and he made a number of tracings from them. Twenty six of these were acquired from him in 1989 by The Hunterian, University of Glasgow. Among these are several that provide the only known record of original drawings which are now lost. At least one records a proposal that was never carried out, the lift enclosure for 137–143 Sauchiehall Street. 7 Along with these tracings, The Hunterian acquired twenty two autograph drawings by Mackintosh which had been given to Harrison by Keppie. 8

Also in The Hunterian are two manuscript lists, apparently compiled by Harrison in the 1930s. One, under the heading 'WORK OF C. R. MACKINTOSH', includes buildings that have always been acknowledged as Mackintosh's, such as Windyhill and Scotland Street School, alongside others that have not traditionally been ascribed to him, such as the tenement known as McConnell's Building at 307–335 Hope Street, and the dormers of James Simpson & Sons' shop at 309–313 Sauchiehall Street. 9

Colour photograph of p. 1 of list of work by Mackintosh, compiled by Ronald Harrison c. 1936–7, p. 1Colour photograph of p. 2 of list of work by Mackintosh, compiled by Ronald Harrison c. 1936–7, p. 1

The second list, headed 'REFERENCE NUMBERS OF DRAWINGS', records drawings for a wide range of projects undertaken byJohn Honeyman & Keppie, or Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh. 10 Some are annotated with a letter 'T', apparently indicating that Harrison made tracings from them; five of these correspond to tracings in The Hunterian: GLAHA 52344, 52348, 52349, 52353 and 52473. It may be that Harrison believed all the drawings on the list were by Mackintosh, but this is not certain.

Colour photograph of p. 1 of list of reference numbers of drawings, compiled by Ronald Harrison c. 1936–7, p. 1Colour photograph of p. 2 of list of reference numbers of drawings, compiled by Ronald Harrison c. 1936–7, p. 1Colour photograph of p. 3 of list of reference numbers of drawings, compiled by Ronald Harrison c. 1936–7, p. 1

Given that Harrison actually worked for Mackintosh's old practice, and that he was in contact with figures such as William Davidson and John Keppie who had known him personally, his lists are potentially of great interest. They may offer an insight into the sort of work Mackintosh carried out anonymously, first as an assistant and later as a partner in the practice. However, they should be treated with caution. It is by no means certain that they do reflect knowledge obtained from Mackintosh's contemporaries and former colleagues: they may have been compiled by Harrison independently, and since he was young and relatively inexperienced, they may show more enthusiasm than discernment. They are also undated, and may represent his thoughts when he commenced his research, rather than his considered conclusions. Accordingly where there is no corroboratory documentation or stylistic evidence to support Harrison's list, the projects have been categorised as 4. However, where stylistic evidence suggests Mackintosh's involvement, Harrison is cited as corroboratory evidence.


1: Dictionary of Scottish Architects, [accessed 10 January 2012].

2: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: letter from Ronald Harrison to William Davidson, 19 January 1937.

3: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: letter from Harrison to Pamela Reekie, 10 February 1981.

4: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: copy of letter from Davidson to Harrison, 19 January 1937; letter from Harrison to Davidson, 4 February 1937.

5: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: letter from Harrison to Davidson, 13 March 1937; letter from Harrison to Reekie, 10 February 1981. The whereabouts of the thesis are not known.

6: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: Letter from Harrison to Davidson, 4 February 1937.

7: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 52331.

8: The tracings and drawings can be accessed on The Hunterian's online catalogue, Keyword search: Ronald Harrison.

9: The following is a transcription, with additional puctuation where necessary: 'WORK OF C. R. MACKINTOSH: Door Lady A[rtists'] Club, Blythswood Sq., Glasgow C2 [illeg]; Annan's [?], Sauchiehall St. C2; Door to choir passage Belhaven Church; Lounge for J. Rankin, Skelmorlie; Roof, Rothesay Parish Church; Dormers, Jas. (Muir) Simpson's, Sauchiehall St.; Detail of house at Fairlee for Dobbie Esq.; Glasgow Herald Building; Interior Restoration, Craigie Hall, Ibrox; Hous'hill, Nitshill; Panelling for Capt. Rickards; Restoration panelling, Castlemilk, Rutherglen; Billiard Room, Rocklands, Largs, Mr Donaldson; Chancel Screen, Greenock W Parish Church; Improvement scheme, N. Hope Street; St. Martyrs' School, Barony Street; Windyhill, Kilmacolm (Davidson); Alterations, Calderwood, Barrhead; Alterations, Achamore Ho., Gigha; Associated Scott. Newspaper buildings; Roof & Tower Boatmen's Institute, P[ort] Dundas, 189[1]; Alterations to W[est] U.F. Ch[urch] Perth; Conservative Club, Helensburgh; Queen's X Ch[urch], Maryhill; Dome & Dormers, Pettigrew & Stephens; 2 Fireplaces Brit[ish] & For[eign] Min[eral Water] Fact[ory] & […]; Scotland St School; Flat, Mains Street C2; Flat, 58 S[ou]t[h] Pk. Av.; Studio, Harold Squire, 44 Glebe St., Chelsea.'

10: Drawings of the following subjects are named (the significance of the reference numbers is not clear): 25, Door at Lady Artists Club; 34, Alteration to door at Nairn Parish Church; 25, Roof and porch at St David's Parish Church, Kirkintilloch; 25, Elevation and doors at Annan's, Sauchiehall Street; 25, Details of billiard room, 9 Queen's Gate, Dowanhill; 26, Door to choir passage at Belhaven Church; 16, Lounge for J. Rankin, Skelmorlie; 16, Roof of Rothesay Parish Church; 17, Details of Simpson's, 309 Sauchiehall Street; 9, Details of house for Dobbie, Fairlie; 56, Details of tower and chimney, Glasgow Herald; 45, Details of Clairmont Gardens; 32, Staircase, etc., for Trustees of Dr Walker, Sauchiehall Street; 23, Details of Craigie Hall, Ibrox; 23, Gothic windows, etc., Brechin Cathedral; 23, Scale drawing Treeshill, Bridge of Weir; 23, Plans of Hous'Hill, Barrhead; 23, Details of panelling for Captain Rickards; 24, Details of restoration of panelling at Castlemilk, Rutherglen; 15, New billiard room for Mr Donaldson at Rocklands, Largs; 15, Detail of new chancel, Greenock West Parish Church; 15, Elevations of Hope Street improvement scheme; 14, Elevations of Martyrs' School, Barony Street; 14, Unnamed project for 'Davidson, Kilmacolm', presumably Windyhill; 6, Stables and panelling for Dr Calderwood, Barrhead; 6, Detail of Craigie Hall, Ibrox; 78, Elevations of tenement, Dove Hill; 7, Elevation and detail of Achamore House, Gigha; 55, Associated Scottish Newspapers; 30, Details of U. F. Church, Garscube Road; 30, Tower and timber roof, etc., of Boatmen's Institute, Port Dundas; 29, House at Whistlefield for Mrs White; 29, Details of West U.F. Church, Perth; 29, Details of Gareloch & Helensburgh Conservative Club; 22, Elevations of Westbourne Mission; [no reference number], Findlay Bell, Monkton Miln; [no reference number], Queen's Cross Church, Maryhill; [no reference number], Dome and dormers, Pettigrew & Stephens; 11, House at Dumgoyne, Stirlingshire, for Sir Archibald Lawrie; 1, Detail of two fireplaces at British & Foreign Mineral Water Factory; 20, Details of Scotland Street School; 20, Fairfield offices ('early work'); 12, Anchorage, Burnside ('early'); 12, Outhouse, Gadgirth, Ayrshire; 12, Alterations for Thomas Kay, Woodside Place; 11, Details of fireplaces, British & Foreign Mineral Water Factory.