The Mary Acre, Brechin

M211 The Mary Acre, Brechin

Address: The Mary Acre, 11, Argyll Street, Brechin DD9 6JL
Date: 1902–4
Client: Alexander Philip
Authorship: Authorship category 3 (Office with Mackintosh) (Office with Mackintosh)

Colour photograph of fireplace, former dining room

Commission

The commission for The Mary Acre, Argyll Street, Brechin, probably originated with the restoration work carried out by the practice at Brechin Cathedral in 1900–2. The client, Alexander Philip, was honorary secretary of the cathedral's executive committee for the restoration and corresponded with John Honeyman about the work. 1 The name of the house commemorates a medieval hospital dedicated to the Virgin Mary which stood on Philip's acre site. 2

Colour photograph of dedication panel, first floor

By late 1900 Philip already owned the Argyll Street plot. In his professional capacity as a solicitor he also represented another plot-owner when they and others wrote to the Brechin Commissioners of Police in November 1900 calling for the 'levelling and Macadamizing' of the street. 3 In October 1901, the Commissioners issued the residents and plot-owners of Argyll Street with payment notices for the improvement works. Alexander Philip was charged 48 16s 3d, considerably less than others. 4

By early summer 1902, planning of the house was well under way with John Keppie in charge of the design. 5 In a reply of 4 June, Keppie wrote to Philip that he had 'embodied' Philip's suggested alterations, and enclosed a sketch showing the latest plan, to which he had also made further slight changes. Keppie closed the letter: 'If you approve of the plans I would go into the Elevations and then we could have a chat about the matter with plans.' 6 The design progressed rapidly: one surviving drawing showing an amended first-floor plan is dated June 1902; a set of 12 drawings for the house was approved by Brechin Dean of Guild Court on 14 July. Contractor tenders for the building work were accepted on 28 August 1902. 7 Three additional drawings were discovered at the time of the launch of this website in 2014, in Brechin Cathedral archive. 8 Keppie's correspondence with Philip also refers to a possible commission from one of Philip's clients for a double villa in Edzell, but this is not referred to in his subsequent correspondence with Philip and no further information has to date been located. 9

Exterior

The elevations of this two-storey pink-grey ashlar sandstone house with its semi-cylindrical tower display similarities to the elevations of commissions of this period for Redlands, Bridge of Weir; Ferndean, Barrhead; and Dunottar, Kilmacolm. In plan, however, it is distinct with individual rooms and the service wing essentially arranged around, and projecting from, a much smaller hall in the centre.

The stonework is snecked and stugged with smooth dressings. The gables at S., E. and W. are half-timbered with roughcast, and both S. and E. have canted bays on the ground floor. Decoration is minimal: there is a first-floor string-course on the E. gable and on the tower; the square-headed front door has a moulded architrave – from door-handle height – and cornice. Windows are largely multi-paned sashes except those of the tower, which are leaded. The pitched roofs are slated, with overhanging eaves and bargeboards on projecting gables.

Colour photograph of E. elevationColour photograph of N. elevationColour photograph of W. elevationColour photograph of front door

Interior

The front door leads though a vestibule with mosaic floor into the central hallway. The inner front door reputedly had Glasgow Style stained glass, but it has been removed. The wide dog-leg stair opens out on the N. side of the hall. To the W. a door leads via an internal vestibule to the large kitchen and service wing beyond. To the S. was the inner hall, which originally served as an ante-room to the drawing room: these two rooms have since been combined to make one large room. To the E. of the inner hall was the library (now–2014– the dining room), and to its W. was originally the dining room (now a sitting room). An architrave in the wall between inner hall and drawing room suggests a folding partition may have formed the division. By 1982, this partition had been removed to create a single, large drawing room. The inner hall with its separate entrance may have served as a waiting room for clients attending appointments with Philip, a solicitor, in his private library. 10

On the first floor, four large bedrooms and a bathroom open off the hall. The bedroom in the E. gable had a dressing room adjacent.

Several styles are in evidence in the interior woodwork here. As at both Redlands and Ferndean, this suggests the involvement of more than one designer, including perhaps Mackintosh or another member of the practice influenced by him. 11 The Mackintosh-style woodwork certainly draws on details of his projects, or includes details appearing in later projects with which Mackintosh is definitely associated, but is less sophisticated.

In the drawing room, the simple, square sandstone fireplace is framed by tapering square wooden pilasters and a cornice at picture-rail height, echoing the hall fireplace at Windyhill of 1901–2. Between the cornice and outward-curving mantelshelf is a wooden overmantel panel with an oval bisected by vertical moulded rectangular forms and five oval-shaped 'beads' arranged along its top edge. These motifs are strongly reminiscent of the decoration around the piano in Mackintosh's 1901 music room for the House for an Art Lover competition.

The dining-room fireplace is framed by tapering square pilasters and has an ogee-shaped mantel. This chimneypiece displays stylistic similarities to earlier bedroom fireplaces at Redlands and Ferndean, and later fireplaces in the flat and offices at Comrie from 1904–5. The turquoise tiles and grate are not original.

Door architraves which are concave above door-handle height, with a thick curved outside edge, and convex below are also found later in the Comrie flat. Stair newel posts are carved with Mackintosh-style rectilinear and oval forms with simple square balusters between.

Colour photograph of chimneypiece, drawing roomColour photograph of fireplace, former dining roomB/W Photograph of Alexander Philip playing chess with a boy before a fireplace in the Mary AcreColour photograph of interior door architrave, detailColour photograph of newel posts and balustrade

Historically inspired woodwork, perhaps reflecting the influence of Keppie, is found alongside the Mackintosh-inspired details. The drawing room and inner hall have Jacobean-style wall panelling to picture-rail height and strapwork moulding on the ceiling. Further strapwork ceiling moulding and a conventional stone 'Windsor' fireplace were installed in Philip's private library.

At the top of the stairs there is a curious amalgamation of stylistically unrelated details: the full-height, square newel post is decorated with an unusual moulded 'capital' corresponding to the height of the wide frieze rail around the hall; panelling above the rail is decorated with both conventional moulding and five low-relief squares. Beyond the door architraves, no further woodwork on the first-floor indicates the influence of Mackintosh.

Colour photograph of post and panelling at stairs, first floor

Alterations

In 1906 the house was extended to provide additional accommodation for Philip's growing family. 12 An unknown architect designed a nursery over the service wing with a hipped roof and dormer windows, completed by 6 October 1906. 13

In 1979, the service wing was converted into a separate residence and the garden divided by a new wall. UPVC double-glazed windows have since been fitted and in 1980 a semi-circular sun porch was added to the N. elevation of the main house, in the angle of the new garden wall. 14

Since 1982, when the current (2014) owners moved into the house, the attic has been converted to bedrooms and a bathroom. New attic stairs have been built from the first-floor hall, with a balustrade and newel post modelled on those of the main staircase. The layout of ground-floor cloakroom has been changed. The original bathroom is now connected to the adjacent bedroom by a new door. The W.C. and store across the first-floor hall were converted to a shower room, and central heating was installed. External secondary glazing has been added. During 2011, eroded stonework was repaired using lime mortar.

Notes:

1: Brechin Cathedral Archive: almost 40 letters dated between 5 December 1898 and 13 September 1904, to Alexander Philip from John Honeyman and the firm.

2: A dedication in Latin is inscribed on a panel now located on the first floor of the house: viewed 29 September 2011.

3: Forfar, Angus Archives: Brechin Commissioners of Police minutes, B1/2/3, pp. 29–30.

4: Forfar, Angus Archives: Brechin Commissioners of Police minutes, B1/2/3, p. 70.

5: Brechin Cathedral Archive: over 50 letters survive from Keppie to Alexander, dating from 15 April 1902 to 26 October 1904. These constitute the largest surviving correspondence with one of the firm's private clients. The archive also holds invoices, receipts and measurements related to the construction and fitting out of the house. This material was located at the time of the launch of the website.

6: Brechin Cathedral Archive.

7: Forfar, Angus Archives: Brechin Dean of Guild plans, BDG 132a and BDG 132c. The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: Honeyman Keppie & Mackintosh job book, GLAHA 53062, pp. 8–9.

8: M207_003, M207_004 and M207_008. Holding images and basic information are currently provided for these.

9: Brechin Cathedral archive, Keppie to Philip, 26 September 1903: 'As arranged yesterday I herewith send two sketch plans of a double villa such as would be suitable for the site I saw at Edzell. The plans would require a little alteration but not much and of course they are merely sketches. I estimate that the two houses could be built for between 1700 + 1800, finished in a very substantial manner. If this is the kind of thing your client wants I would be glad to go into the matter more particularly and send him a special sketch for the site.'

10: Information supplied by current owners during visit on 29 September 2011. The current owners have been acquainted with all four previous owners of The Mary Acre, who included one of Philip's daughters who continued to live in the house until the 1950s.

11: 'The Mary Acre', Dictionary of Scottish Architects, 1840–1980, www.scottisharchitects.org.uk [accessed 26 October 2011]. David Stark, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Co., Catrine, Ayrshire: Stenlake Publishing, 2004, pp. 151, 165.

12: The 1911 census return shows that Philip's second and third daughters were born c. 1906 and c. 1908.

13: The drawing proposing the addition is signed by the Burgh Surveyor on 6 October 1906 to denote completion of the work. Forfar, Angus Archives: Brechin Dean of Guild Court plans, BDG 245.

14: 'The Mary Acre', Dictionary of Scottish Architects, 1840–1980, www.scottisharchitects.org.uk [accessed 26 October 2011]; Charles McKean, 'A new house porch with a pleasing aspect', Times, 24 October 1980, p. 15; information supplied by owners, 29 September 2011.