Ruchill Free Church Halls

M169 Ruchill Free Church Halls

Address: 15–17, Shakespeare Street, Glasgow G20 8TH
Date: 1899
Client: Westbourne Free Church
Authorship: Authorship category 1 (Mackintosh) (Mackintosh)

Photograph of detail of north front of Ruchill Free Church Halls

Background and authorship

Like the slightly earlier Queen's Cross Church, the halls at Ruchill were built as part of a programme of 'church-planting', which the Free Church's Glasgow Presbytery pursued from the mid 1890s. 1 Under this scheme an established congregation – in this case Westbourne Free Church, Kelvinside – would finance a new church in a rapidly expanding area of the city which they perceived to be in spiritual need. Proximity to the Caledonian Railway's Maryhill Station made the Ruchill halls easily accessible from Kelvinside. They were meant to be used as a base for missionary activity at first, with the possibility of a church being added when funds permitted. 2 They were not an entirely new venture – the Westbourne congregation had operated rented mission premises in nearby Gairbraid Street since the 1880s – but they represented an increased commitment to missionary activity in the area. In October 1900, regular church services started to be held in the halls, and the following year Ruchill became a separate charge with its own minister. 3 Within five years, a fully-fledged church was built next door.

The Westbourne congregation's own church in Westbourne Gardens had been built in 1880–1 to the designs of John Honeyman, 4 and by the time the congregation decided to undertake the Ruchill project, the Convener of its Mission Committee was the architect's accountant brother, Michael Honeyman. 5 John Honeyman & Keppie were therefore the obvious choice to design the new halls.

Mackintosh was not yet a partner in the firm, so his name does not appear in the minutes of the Deacons' Court or in other contemporary sources relating to the project. However, the surviving drawings are in his hand, and the style of the building and its many parallels with autograph works such as the Glasgow School of Art mean that it has always been accepted as his work. His nearby Queen's Cross Church with its attached hall on an awkward, hemmed-in site, was well on the way to completion in early 1899, and it would presumably have reassured clients that he could make a success of the Ruchill job.

When the church at Ruchill came to be built in 1903–5, the commission was given to Neil C. Duff rather than to Mackintosh. This has led to speculation that Mackintosh proved difficult to deal with over the halls, 6 but there is no evidence for this. The Westbourne Free Church minutes shed no light on the matter.

Exterior

The halls with attached caretaker's house form a compact, tightly-planned group. Only the sides facing towards the church and onto Shakespeare Street (formerly Ruchill Street) are treated architecturally, the others being more or less invisible. On the S.W., the site is cut off at an angle parallel with a row of tenements on neighbouring Maryhill Road, a constraint that Mackintosh exploited imaginatively in shaping the internal spaces. The Glasgow Herald described the Shakespeare Street elevation as being 'of an ecclesiastical character', 7 but its scale is essentially domestic, and there is little apart from the large traceried window on the ground floor to hint at the building's church-related purpose (the distinctive tracery with oval lights set horizontally recalls the porch windows at Queen's Cross church). The Shakespeare Street front is of yellowish-grey snecked rubble, stugged, with smooth ashlar dressings. The other elevations are mostly roughcast. Gables and visible roof slopes express the variety of internal spaces.

Photograph of Ruchill Church Hall from N.W.Photograph of Ruchill Church Hall from N.E.Photograph of Ruchill Church Hall from N.W.Photograph of rear elevation of Ruchill Free Church Halls

Most distinctive is the treatment of the main entrance. Like the session house entrance at Queen's Cross church, this is based on 18th-century models, composed of remarkably thin slivers of stone, and with a shallow fanlight instead of a shell-shaped hood. Sinuous Art Nouveau curves take the place of classical mouldings.

Photograph of main entrance to Ruchill Free Church HallsColour photograph of 18th-century door hoods, London

In the gabled bay to the right, the splayed reveals of the large ground-floor window extend upwards to frame two smaller windows on the first floor. These are yoked together top and bottom by a shallow segmental open pediment and a shared sill, and tied by a vertical fluted strip to a serpentine dripmould above the lower window. With its complicated linear patterns and subtly modelled planes, the whole composition is like a piece of abstract relief sculpture. However, Mackintosh's original intentions may have been less austere. His drawings of this elevation show what appears to be a sculpture of a standing figure in the gable, and a knot of non-geometric ornament in place of the fluted strip. As the building stands, there are unworked blocks of stone under a canopy in the gable, which were presumably meant to be carved in accordance with the drawing. It is not clear if Mackintosh left them as blocks because he decided that he preferred them that way, or because the money could not be found to carve them, or for some other reason. This may be one of the 'various small deviations from the original plans' that were made at the instigation of the building committee, 'in consultation with Mr Keppie'. 8

Photograph of detail of north front of Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of detail of north front of Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of window of Ruchill Free Church Halls Photograph of gable of Ruchill Free Church Halls

At the opposite end of the front, a D-plan, tower-like projection contains the stairs, a feature that Mackintosh would soon use again at Windyhill and The Hill House. The lower windows follow the slope of the stairs; those at the top have a slight notch in the lintel, giving them the merest hint of an ogee head, and pairs of curious bracket-like projections above.

Photograph of stair tower of Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of stair-tower window of Ruchill Free Church Halls

The windowless E. side faces the later church across a narrow courtyard. It is roughcast, with deep eaves and sloping ashlar buttresses of the type favoured by C. F. A. Voysey. When the church was built in 1903–5 it was physically linked to the halls by a Gothic archway, but the conventional Perpendicular Gothic of Duff's design and his use of red sandstone make for disunity. The caretaker's house closes the opposite end of the courtyard, attached to the S.E. corner of the halls.

Photograph of side elevation of Ruchill Free Church Halls Photograph of courtyard at Ruchill Free Church Halls Photograph of buttresses at Ruchill Free Church Halls

Interior

Most of the ground floor is taken up by the main hall, a top-lit space with open timber roof. It was meant to seat 300, but the Westbourne Church Yearbook for 1902 reported that this could only be done 'by placing narrow forms [benches] closely together', and that it was 'not possible to accommodate more than 270 with any degree of comfort. With this number in mild weather the atmosphere becomes unwholesome.' 9 The roof trusses have tie-beams in pairs, which clasp the queen-posts and appear to be suspended from them. This is a variation on the trusses in the church hall at Queen's Cross and in the Museum at the Glasgow School of Art, where it is the vertical posts that come in pairs, clasping the beams. The platform at the S. end is lit from behind by a segmental-headed window.

Computer assisted drawing of ground and first-floor plansPhotograph of roof of main hall at Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of detail of roof of main hall at Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of window behind main hall platform at Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of window behind main hall platform at Ruchill Free Church Halls

A flat-ceilinged recess on the W. side of the hall can be shut off by folding doors, set with panels of leaded glazing incorporating characteristic Mackintosh roses. The original purpose of this space was to provide a separate reading room when required. 10

Photograph of screen in main hall at Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of screen in main hall at Ruchill Free Church Halls

A door from the recess leads into a smaller hall at the front – possibly the 'club-room for the use of men on the ground floor' referred to in a contemporary description. 11 This has a wooden chimneypiece and is lit by the large traceried window. A third, smaller room – now used as a kitchen, but possibly a committee room originally – is tucked between the large hall and the stairs. All the internal doors have pairs of leaded stained glass inserts depicting leaves.

Photograph of fireplace at Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of stained glass at Ruchill Free Church Halls

The S.W. corner of the main hall is cut off at an angle by the boundary of the site, and Mackintosh mirrored this at the S.E. corner to create an apsidal end to the room, framing the platform. The recess is similarly cut off at an angle, and here too Mackintosh cut off the other corner to match, using the resulting triangular space as a cupboard, accessible from the smaller hall.

The first floor is reached by a winding stair to the left of the entrance, with a balustrade of vertical boards with pierced decoration.

Photograph of staircase balustrade at Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of staircase balustrade at Ruchill Free Church Halls

On this floor there is a 'small hall to accommodate 120 – with folding-doors to divide it into two class rooms'. 12 It has an arch-braced timber roof, simpler than the one over the main hall, and was used for sewing classes and a Sunday class for young women. 13 Once again, one corner is cut off at an angle by the boundary of the site, and once again Mackintosh mirrored this to create an apse. Also on this floor are a lavatory and a small room apparently used for ladies' meetings. 14

Photograph of roof of upper hall at Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of screen in upper hall at Ruchill Free Church Halls

The variety and flexibility of the accommodation reflects the range of activities undertaken by the Mission. According to its published programme for 1900–1, the building was to be used for regular meetings of the Band of Hope, the Boys' Brigade, a sewing class, a girls' drill class, Saturday social evenings and a young men's club, as well as a Sunday school, various Sunday services and a Tuesday prayer meeting. A library and savings bank were also provided, and the club room and reading room were 'open almost every week evening from 7 to 9.30 pm'. 15

Caretaker's house

The caretaker's house is linked internally with the main hall, but also has its own front door under an asymmetrical timber porch of distinctly Japanese appearance.

Photograph of caretaker's house at Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of entrance to caretaker's house at Ruchill Free Church Halls

There are two ground-floor rooms, one a kitchen, the other presumably a living room (it has a decorative chimneypiece). A winding stair leads to two more rooms and a bathroom on the first floor. The staircase balustrade is made of vertical boards, each pierced or carved with a different circular motif

Photograph of fireplace in caretaker's house at Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of staircase balustrade at Ruchill Free Church HallsPhotograph of staircase balustrade at Ruchill Free Church Halls

With its roughcast walls and conical-roofed stair tower tucked into the angle where it joins the halls, the Scottish vernacular character of the caretaker's house looks forward to Mackintosh's later janitor's house at Scotland Street Public School and his rejected designs for Auchenbothie gate lodge. However, this was not his only idea for the Ruchill building. He also sketched an almost Regency treatment of the entrance front, with the door under a segmental fanlight, flanked by pairs of slender columns, and set in a central, bowed projection with a shallow roof and deep eaves.

Alterations and conservation

Soon after the halls opened, the committee pleaded with the Deacons' Court to add a wash-house to the caretaker's house. Plans were made, but rejected as too expensive. New estimates were obtained, and eventually in May 1901 work was allowed to proceed. 16 A washhouse is shown on the undated set of drawings in the Hunterian, University of Glasgow, as a later addition in pencil, but its windows do not match the washhouse as it appears today (2014).

Photograph of rear of church officer's house at Ruchill Free Church Halls

Early in 1907 the Scotch Education Department examined a set of Mackintosh's plans, returning them – to whom is not clear – on 7 February bearing the stamp 'returned for revisal'. 17 Why the Department was concerned with the halls is unclear, unless the building was being considered for educational use, possibly for adult evening classes. There is no evidence that the plans were in fact revised or the buildings altered at this time.

Since the mid 1970s, four separate programmes of repair and conservation have been undertaken:

In December 1975 – January 1976, proposals were prepared by the architects Holmes & Partners of Glasgow for works that included lead repairs, repointing, reglazing of roof lights, repairs to roughcast, replacement of decayed stonework and stone cleaning. 18 The works were completed by 1979. 19

In February 1984, repairs to the church and halls at an estimated cost of 50,000 were begun. 20 During these '6 stained wood & leaded glass leaves of a folding partition screen' were discovered in a basement. 21 This was presumably the original partition between the main hall and the reading room recess, in place today: it may have been reinstated at this time.

A further programme of repairs followed in 1993. 22 Between 2004 and 2006, a major conservation programme was implemented, grant aided by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Scotland among others. 23

There have been few significant changes to the building's original appearance. At some stage, the window of the ground-floor kitchen/committee room has been converted into a door, giving access to the courtyard, while the door from the entrance hall into this room, originally hinged, has been made into a sliding door. The most conspicuous alteration is a timber partition in pseudo-Mackintosh style, immediately to the left of the main entrance, which extends parallel to the front as far as the stairs. It screens an area containing a wash-hand basin in connection with a toilet under the stairs, and appears to have been inserted in the 1970s or 80s.

Photograph of modern screen to wash room at Ruchill Free Church Halls

A report on the condition of Ruchill Free Church Halls was produced as part of the Mackintosh Buildings Survey, led by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society and carried out between 2015 and 2016. 24

Notes:

1: Rev. Robert Howie, 'Glasgow Church-Planting Scheme', The Free Church of Scotland Monthly, 1 December 1898, pp. 294–5.

2: Glasgow Herald, 29 May 1899, p. 12.

3: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Westbourne Church Year Book 1902, CH3/1239/3.

4: Elizabeth Williamson, Anne Riches and Malcolm Higgs, Buildings of Scotland: Glasgow, London: Penguin, 1990, p. 316.

5: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Westbourne Free Church Year Book 1899–1900, CH3/1239/1.

6: Thomas Howarth, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2nd edn, 1977, p. 180.

7: Glasgow Herald, 29 May 1899, p. 12.

8: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Westbourne Free Church Deacons' Court minutes, CH3/1412/19, 8 November 1899.

9: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Westbourne Church Year Book 1902, CH3/1239/3.

10: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Westbourne Free Church Year Book 1899–1900, CH3/1239/1.

11: Glasgow Herald, 11 December 1899, p. 10.

12: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Westbourne Free Church Year Book 1899–1900, CH3/1239/1.

13: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Westbourne Church Year Book 1900–1901, CH3/1239/2.

14: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Westbourne Free Church Year Book 1899–1900, CH3/1239/1.

15: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Westbourne Church Year Book 1900–1901, CH3/1239/2.

16: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Westbourne Free Church Deacons' Court minutes, CH3/1412/19, 6 May 1901.

17: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 52442 (M169-003), GLAHA 52443 (M169-001), GLAHA 52444 (M169-002).

18: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: Ruchill Parish Church Hall, Ruchill Street, Glasgow: Conservation Works, January 1976, typescript in Ruchill Free Church Halls building file.

19: Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Newsletter, 23, Autumn 1979, p. 4.

20: Glasgow Herald, 9 February 1984, p. 3; West End Times, 17 February 1984, p. 4; Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Newsletter, 36, February 1984, p. 3.

21: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: Ruchill Free Church Halls building file.

22: Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Newsletter, 63, Winter 1993, p. 9.

23: Heritage Lottery Fund, www.hlf.org.uk [accessed 4 February 2013]. The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: Ruchill Free Church Halls building file.

24: A copy of the report (MBS21) is held by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, Mackintosh Queen's Cross, 870 Garscube Road, Glasgow G20 7EL. The Mackintosh Buildings Survey was funded by The Monument Trust.