Scotland Street Public School

M233 Scotland Street Public School

Address: 225, Scotland Street, Glasgow G5 8QB
Date: 1903–7
Client: School Board of Glasgow
Authorship: Authorship category 1 (Mackintosh) (Mackintosh)

Colour photograph of Scotland Street School, tower glazing

Commission

Scotland Street runs E.–W. through the district of Tradeston, between the River Clyde and the Glasgow to Paisley railway. The O.S. map of 1896 shows a grid of streets on its N. side lined with tenements, and it was to serve the residents of this densely populated area that the School Board of Glasgow chose Scotland Street for the site of a new school.

B/W aerial photograph of Scotland Street School

By 22 June 1903 the Board had decided to appoint 'Mr Mackintosh of Honeyman, Keppie and Mackintosh' as architect, although the official letter of confirmation was not sent until 21 August. 1 It appears that no competition was held, and it is unclear how the commission was awarded. By this date the practice had worked on several projects for the Board – Rockvilla, Henderson Street and Tureen Street schools were designed by John Honeyman as early as 1874–7, 2 followed by a substantial addition to Little Dovehill Street in 1893–5, and Martyrs Public School in 1895–8 – so it was well qualified by experience.

Mackintosh's design was revised a number of times in response to comments from the Board and the Scotch Education Department (which provided a loan to finance construction). Initial drawings, which do not appear to survive, were submitted on 2 November 1903, but the Glasgow Dean of Guild Court did not finally give its approval until 24 November the following year. There were further revisions to the design of the janitor's house and boundary wall, approved in February 1905. 3 The building was first occupied on 4 August 1906. The Board's minutes and letters make clear that the independent-minded Mackintosh was not easy to deal with, and in October and November 1905 he was severely reprimanded for departing from the agreed plans, the Board threatening to hold the practice liable for any additional costs incurred. 4

Design

Exterior

The Scotch Education Department insisted on separate entrances and staircases for boys and girls, which automatically favoured a symmetrical, bilateral plan and elevations. 5 Within these constraints, however, Mackintosh produced a design that is far from conventional. The N. front is dominated by a pair of projecting, conical-roofed towers, containing the two main entrances and giving access to two staircases. The towers flank a central, three-storey block, with a small entrance porch for infants in the middle: the ground floor here is occupied by the drill hall, used for physical exercise. Immediately E. and W. of the towers, the roof level is lower but the number of storeys increases to five: these relatively low-ceilinged floors, which step back from the building line as they rise, correspond to the landings and half-landings of the stairs, and contain children's cloakrooms. They are book-ended by three-storey bays containing teachers' rooms, set back still further from the main building line. 6

B/W photograph of Scotland Street School, N. elevationColour photograph of Scotland Street School from N.E.

The much simpler 18-bay S. front has no projections and no variations in roofline. Unusually for Mackintosh, it is almost classical in composition: the uniform windows of conventional, upright proportions are regularly disposed, the middle and end bays emphasised by ornament.

B/W photograph of Scotland Street School, S. elevationColour photograph of Scotland Street School, S. elevation

The centre of the N. elevation is similar, with a cornice-like string-course above the first floor, making the top storey read as an attic. The E. and W. ends, by contrast, seem to derive from Scottish vernacular architecture, their asymmetrical gables and large expanses of blank wall punctured by variously shaped windows and shallow, canted oriels. Neighbouring buildings make the E. end difficult to see, and the W. end was originally obscured in the same way.

Towers and windows

The towers are rooted in Scottish architectural tradition (they can be compared with the conical-roofed towers of Falkland Palace, Fife, which Mackintosh sketched c. 1900) 7 but at the same time they subvert this tradition.

Photograph of sketch of Falkland Palace by Mackintosh

In 16th- and 17th-century Scottish architecture, round towers invariably contain spiral stairs and have thick, defensive walls and small windows. The Scotland Street towers, on the other hand, are more glass than stone, and while they light the stairs, they do not enclose them. They are in fact semi-cylindrical bay windows, their leaded glazing divided into narrow strips by slender mullions, and they have more in common with the windows of Elizabethan houses such as Kirby Hall, Northamptonshire, and with their late 19th-century descendants, such as C. F. A. Voysey's Broad Leys, Cumbria, of 1899. The Earl's Palace of 1606 at Kirkwall, Orkney, has comparable glazed oriels, but a closer precedent in Scottish architecture is perhaps the multi-storey stack of bay windows so characteristic of late 19th-century Glasgow tenements. 8

Colour photograph of Scotland Street School, E. towerColour photograph of corner bay window at Great George Street and Kersland Street

In the January 1904 drawings for Scotland Street, the semi-transparent towers were matched by a huge window, 12 ft (3.65 m) high and 44 ft (13.41 m) long, lighting the drill hall. The lintel of this giant horizontal opening would have been carried on slender cast-iron columns, standing on the window sill and visible only from inside. From outside, the impression would have been of a shimmering, uninterrupted expanse of leaded glazing. This extraordinary proposal, comparable to the fenestration of the Willow Tea Rooms and the unexecuted billiard room for The Hill House, but on a much larger scale, appears to have been vetoed by the Scotch Education Department. 9

Computer assisted drawing of N. elevationComputer assisted drawing of S. elevationComputer assisted drawing of E. elevationComputer assisted drawing of W. elevationComputer assisted drawing of perspective view from N.W.Computer assisted drawing of perspective view from N.E.

In the drawings of August 1904, seven sash windows of conventional proportions were substituted, matching the floors above. The elaborate perspective drawing of 1904 shows that Mackintosh wanted all the windows to have small, square panes. This was opposed by the School Board, who insisted on windows divided into larger panes. These survive on the S. elevation, but on the N., windows like those in the perspective were introduced during refurbishment in 1989–90. 10

Decoration

Surprisingly, the School Board's stringent approach to costs did not eliminate Mackintosh's elaborate programme of carved decoration, carried out by R. A. McGilvray & Ferris. Concentrated around the entrances and towards the top of the building, it breaks up what might otherwise be a top-heavy mass of stonework. It has been suggested that the carved decoration rising up the stair towers and the rear elevation evokes themes of the tree of life and the tree of knowledge and connects with that of childhood development from infancy to maturity, reflecting the progress of pupils from ground to first to second floor in the course of their years at the school. But no evidence has emerged to link this to Mackintosh's intentions. 11 On the S. front, the two end bays are emphasised by extraordinary carved mouldings, largely geometric, but incorporating roundels of stylised organic forms above the ground-floor windows.

Colour photograph of Scotland Street School, S. elevation, carving at end bay

Between the middle pair of second-floor windows is a Scottish thistle composed of triangles, and a chequered Tree of Life, both apparently influenced by contemporary Viennese decorative art. 12 Coloured ceramic squares set into the stonework complement the carving.

Colour photograph of Scotland Street School, S. elevation, carving at centre

On the N. front, the stubby, square piers flanking the infants' porch have grids of squares and triangles on their capitals.

Colour photograph of Scotland Street School, infants' entrance

The boys' and girls' entrances are set within cubic projections, low and broad, seemingly extruded from the tower bases, and framed by heavy, angular architraves. The carving here has no obvious historical source, but includes unexpected triplets of square guttae, like those found in Edwardian baroque versions of the Doric order. The tops of the towers are enlivened by rows of inverted V shapes, resembling paired sycamore seeds, arranged against close-set vertical mouldings 'like notes on a musical stave' (in Alan Crawford's phrase). 13

Colour photograph of Scotland Street School, E. tower detail

The carving is echoed by comparable motifs in stained glass, set into the tower windows.

Interior

Inside, an E.–W. corridor runs almost the full length of each floor, connecting with the stairs at each end. This arrangement was unusual for Glasgow, where central-hall plans like that of Martyrs School were the norm, but it had the advantage of maximising the number of well-lit S.-facing classrooms. 14 Indeed, classrooms occupy all three floors on the S. side, plus the two upper floors on the N. On the ground floor of the N. side is the drill hall.

From the interior, it is obvious at once that the stairs are not contained in the rounded, glazed part of the towers, but set behind the main building line. The stone treads are carried on exposed ironwork and rise in straight flights in a conventional dog-leg pattern. The half landings are treated as internal balconies, looking into the glazed void, which extends uninterrupted from ground level to the open timber roof. The Scotch Education Department did not allow 'triangular steps or "winders"', presumably on safety grounds, but it seems certain that the straight flights and balcony-landings were an aesthetic choice on Mackintosh's part: he resisted pressure to extend the half-landings into the rounded bays, which the School Board prosaically argued would make window-cleaning easier, no doubt because it would have destroyed the uninterrupted flow of light and space that was the crux of his design. 15 Where the landings meet the corridors, Mackintosh's treatment of space is now compromised by glazed fire doors, installed in 1972. 16

Colour photograph of Scotland Street School, tower glazingPhotograph of void in stairwell

Apart from the towers, the most interesting interior space is the bright but austere drill hall. It is enclosed E., S. and W. by colonnades of piers linked by low walls (the openings between the piers were blocked during the Second World War but opened up again by 1990, restoring the original views through to the stairs and corridor). 17 Mezzanine floors cut across the W. and E. ends at the level of the half-landings. Piers, corridors and stairs are all tiled, mostly in cream, the borders of the openings picked out in broken lines of black. Blue is used for the piers at mezzanine level, green for the capitals, which have a vaguely Egyptian, zig-zag profile. Mackintosh originally wanted all the tiling to be 'dark', but the School Board overruled him. 18 The N. side of the hall is visually of a piece with the colonnaded treatment of the other three, the residual strips of sandstone wall between the windows reading as square piers. The floor level is lower than the corridor, necessitating the introduction of a ramp at the W. end in 2000–1 for museum visitors.

B/W photograph of Scotland Street School, drill hallColour photograph of Scotland Street School, stone piers in drill hallColour photograph of Scotland Street School, tiled piers in drill hallColour photograph of Scotland Street School, tiled pier at mezzanine level

Scotch Education Department rules determined the 8 ft (2.44 m) standard width of the corridors and the size of the 21 classrooms in relation to numbers of pupils. 19 They are mostly 25 x 24 ft (7.62 x 7.32 m), giving ten square feet for each pupil. The school was designed with capacity for 1250 pupils, though attendance in the first ten years averaged between 800 and 900. 20 Dividing walls between classrooms are solid below, glazed above, but the middle two classrooms on each floor of the S. side were originally separated by folding partitions, and could be thrown together to form single, large rooms. Only one original sliding partitions survives, on the first floor.

B/W photograph of Scotland Street School, classroom

The former cookery room, which fills the space between the towers on the N. side of the second floor, is the only classroom that shows something of Mackintosh's individuality. Its shallow vaulted ceiling pushes up against the trusses of the roof to maximise the height of the room, but Mackintosh may also have intended it to evoke the barrel-vaulted basement kitchens of Scottish tower houses.

B/W photograph of Scotland Street School, cookery roomColour photograph of Scotland Street School, cookery classroom

Materials and services

External walls are of red Locharbriggs sandstone ashlar, with slate for the roofs. Mackintosh wanted white Dullatur stone, but he was overruled on grounds of cost. 21 The floors throughout are of reinforced concrete, carried on steel girders of the type patented by John Burdon & Sons of Bellshill. Heating was by low pressure hot water, and contaminated air was extracted by Boyle's Air Pump Ventilators on the roof. The school was lit by electricity from the outset.

Subsidiary structures

The boundary between the N. playground and Scotland Street has two wide stone entrance arches for boys and girls (the W. one a reconstruction dating from the 1980s), 22 and a blind stretch of wall in the middle. This is carved with the school's name, and serves also to screen the infants' toilet block, a flat-roofed structure within the playground. Between the arches and the central wall are railings incorporating wrought-iron motifs, sometimes interpreted as thistles. 23 The boundary wall enclosing the S. playground is utilitarian brick; that for the N. playground is largely stone. On the E. side, a semicircular stone arch supporting an arched bellcote links it to the school; on the S., play shelters and toilets for older children are built against it.

Colour photograph of Scotland Street School from N.W.Colour photograph of Scotland Street School, W. gateway, 1975

Integral with the N. boundary wall is the L-plan janitor's house, a picturesque cottage resembling the lodge of a country house, with deep eaves and a cat-slide roof over the door. Its walls are of snecked rubble, adding to its rustic character. The design dates from December 1904, replacing a proposal of January that year for a simpler rectangular house with a circular stair-tower on the S. side. 24

Colour photograph of Scotland Street School, janitor's house

Critical reception

The Builders' Journal and Architectural Engineer published photographs and a description of the school some six weeks after it opened, along with three other recent Glasgow Board Schools. 25 It noted the glazed towers, 'which give such an unusual appearance to the front', and observed that 'The architects were Messrs. Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh, but it is clear that the last-named has controlled the design'. It also commented on the simple, functional character of the interior: 'In designing the school every effort has been made to arrive at a frank solution of the requirements, the furnishings and fittings of the classrooms being of the simplest character, and glazed tiles used as a sanitary finishing to walls and piers.'

Reviewing the impressive perspective drawing shown in the 1906 exhibition of the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts (974), the critic of the Glasgow Herald described the building as 'distinctly away from the commonplace', contrasting it with schools at Dalmuir and Bowling that were 'happily less original'. 26 He noted that the 'two flanking round towers make up a good composition, and window space is abundant', but questioned the functional relationship between exterior and interior, remarking that '[a] key plan would have shown how the towers are utilised'. Perhaps in response to this criticism, when the drawing was reproduced in Academy Architecture's coverage of the exhibition it was accompanied by floor plans. 27 In 1947 W. S. Moyes wrote of this drawing: 'Regarding [the] perspective of Scotland Street Public School, I may have set up the perspective in pencil for Mr. Mackintosh but he would have completed it in ink and added the master touches.' 28

A report on the condition of Scotland Street School was produced as part of the Mackintosh Buildings Survey, led by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society and carried out between 2015 and 2016. 29

Notes:

1: Glasgow City Archives Collection: School Board Property Committee minutes, D-ED 1/1/1/7, 22 June 1903; Glasgow City Archives Collection: School Board Property Department letter book, D-ED 1/1/12/20, pp. 418–19.

2: David Stark, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Co., Catrine, Ayrshire: Stenlake Publishing, 2004, p. 103.

3: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Dean of Guild Court proceedings, D-OPW 19/21, 24 November 1904, 9 February 1905.

4: Glasgow City Archives Collection: School Board Property Department letter book, D-ED 1/1/12/22, pp. 867–8, 969–70, 1 and 27 November 1905; Glasgow City Archives Collection: School Board Property Committee Minutes, D-ED 1/1/1/9, 30 and 31 October 1905, and 14 November 1905.

5: Scotch Education Department, 'Rules to be Observed in Planning and Fitting-Up Public Schools, February 1906', in Felix Clay, Modern School Buildings: Elementary and Secondary, London: B. T. Batsford, 2nd edn, 1906, appendix E, pp. 548f.

6: A passenger lift was installed at the W. end in this area in 2000–1. Alison Brown, 'Scotland Street School', Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Newsletter, 82, Spring 2002, pp. 7–10.

7: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 41423.

8: Robert Macleod, Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Architect and Artist, London: Collins, 1983, p. 114.

9: Glasgow City Archives Collection: School Board Property Department letter book, D-ED 1/1/12/21, 16 March 1904, p. 50.

10: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Glasgow District Council building control warrant drawings, GDC12/3/1989/3570/A.

11: Alison Brown, 'Mighty Oaks from Little Acorns Grow: Deciphering the Ornament at Scotland Street School', Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Newsletter, 90, Spring 2006, pp. 10–2; Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Newsletter, 91, Winter 2006, pp. 4–9.

12: Alan Crawford, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, London: Thames & Hudson, 1995, p. 119.

13: Alan Crawford, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, London: Thames & Hudson, 1995, p. 119.

14: 'Glasgow School Board – New South-Side School', Glasgow Herald , 6 October 1906, p. 10.

15: Felix Clay, Modern School Buildings: Elementary and Secondary, London: B. T. Batsford, 2nd edn, 1906, appendix E, p. 548h; Glasgow City Archives Collection: School Board Property Department letter book, D-ED 1/1/12/22, 27 November 1905, pp. 969–70.

16: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Glasgow City Council building control warrant drawings, GDC12/3/1972/802.

17: Dorothy Stewart, 'Scotland Street School', Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Newsletter, 54, Autumn 1990, p. 3.

18: Glasgow City Archives Collection: School Board Property Department letter book, D-ED 1/1/12/22, pp. 785, 867–8 and 969–70; Glasgow City Archives Collection: School Board Property Committee minutes, D-DE 1/1/1/9, 30 and 31 October 1905, and 14 November 1905.

19: Felix Clay, Modern School Buildings: Elementary and Secondary, London: B. T. Batsford, 2nd edn, 1906, appendix E, p. 548h.

20: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Scotland Street School log book, D-ED 7/275/1/1.

21: Glasgow City Archives Collection: School Board Property Department letter book, D-ED 1/1/12/21, p. 728.

22: A photograph showing it in its restored state is in Gavin Stamp, 'School Lessons', Architects' Journal, 187, 6 April 1988, pp. 42–53.

23: Timothy Neat, Part Seen, Part Imagined: Meaning and Symbolism in the Work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald, Edinburgh: Canongate, 1994, p. 164.

24: Glasgow City Archives Collection: Glasgow Dean of Guild plans, B4/12/2/532 and SR4/4/48.

25: Builders' Journal and Architectural Engineer, 24, 28 November 1906, pp. 266–8.

26: Glasgow Herald, 14 April 1906, p. 5.

27: Academy Architecture, 29, January 1906, p. 77.

28: University of Toronto, Robarts Library: letter from W. S. Moyes to Thomas Howarth, 22 July 1947, with postscript dated 30 July 1894, B96-0028/017 (13). The drawing is now in The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, GLAHA 41346 (M233-024).

29: A copy of the report (MBS37) 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.