R. Wylie Hill & Co.

M005 R. Wylie Hill & Co.

Address: 20–24, Buchanan Street, Glasgow G1 3LB
Date: 1888–9
Client: R. Wylie Hill & Co.
Authorship: Authorship category 2 (Mackintosh and Office) (Mackintosh and Office)

Photograph of detail of Buchanan Sreet elevation of Wylie Hill's store

The 1889 rebuilding of Wylie Hill's department store was one of the major works undertaken by John Hutchison during Mackintosh's apprenticeship in his office. Wylie Hill's previous building on the site burned down on 14 October 1888. 1 Hutchison's impressive replacement – five storeys plus attic, crowned with a square-domed tower – joined a growing cluster of showpiece retail premises at the S. end of Buchanan Street. The facade of bright orange-red Corsehill stone from Dumfriesshire has Italian Renaissance-style details and rows of large windows with glazing set directly into the masonry. Inside, a central glass-roofed light well originally rose from top to bottom through the open-plan floors. The drawings approved by the Glasgow Dean of Guild Court show a system of iron columns, beams and joists supporting timber floors, with a note saying that plaster is to be used to protect the ironwork from fire. 2 A description of the newly opened building says that the 'iron beams and columns are covered with Titancrete, a new fireproof material'. 3 The builders were Bell, Hornsby & Co. 4

Photograph of  Wylie Hill's store from S.W.

W. J. Blain (1870–1958), who succeeded Mackintosh in Hutchison's office in April 1889, informed Thomas Howarth in February 1946 that Mackintosh had made drawings of Ionic capitals to be executed in plaster for the store's interior, and that these 'appeared to be different from the copy-book types customary at the time'. 5 When Howarth published this information he referred to only one drawing, which, according to Blain, was 'brilliantly executed and showed surprising individuality'. 6 Wylie Hill's 1889 building caught fire on 6 November 1903, and Howarth was under the impression that it had been completely destroyed, and with it Mackintosh's capitals. 7 In fact, the building was only damaged, and the following year Hutchison reconstructed it, adding an extra floor. 8 The lower floors must still have been sound, because according to the Dean of Guild Court inspector's reports the clearing of debris did not begin until April 1904 and by 2 June work was underway on the new top floor – an unlikely timetable if the whole internal structure had to be rebuilt from scratch. 9 The unusual Ionic capitals which can still (2012) be seen on the ground and first floors may be the ones for which Mackintosh made his drawings, survivors from the 1889 building. Those on the ground floor have inverted volutes, perhaps derived from the work of 16th- and 17th-century Mannerist and Baroque architects. Mackintosh had not yet visited Italy at this date, but he would have been familiar with published illustrations of such work.

Photograph of Ionic capital, Wylie Hill's storePhotograph of Ionic capital, Wylie Hill's store

Notes:

1: Glasgow Herald, 15 October 1888, p. 6.

2: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Dean of Guild plans, 1B4/12//747.

3: Glasgow Herald, 21 November 1889, p. 6.

4: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Glasgow Dean of Guild Court, Register of Inspections, D-OPW 25/1, p. 9.

5: University of Toronto, Robarts Library: notes by Thomas Howarth of an interview with W. J. Blain, 25 February 1946, B2000-0002/041(08).

6: Thomas Howarth, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2nd edn, 1977, pp. 3–4.

7: Scotsman, 7 November 1903, p. 9; Thomas Howarth, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2nd edn, 1977, p. 4.

8: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Glasgow Dean of Guild Court, Register of Inspections, D-OPW 25/2, p. 95.

9: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Glasgow Dean of Guild Court, Register of Inspections, D-OPW 25/2, p. 95.