Repairs and alterations to Achamore House, Gigha

M126 Repairs and alterations to Achamore House, Gigha

Address: Gigha PA41 7AD
Date: 1896–7
Client: W. J. Yorke Scarlett
Authorship: Authorship category 2 (Mackintosh and Office) (Mackintosh and Office)

Original house, 1882–6

John Honeyman designed Achamore (or Auchamore) House in 1882 for Captain W. J. Scarlett (c. 1840–1888). The date 1884 is inscribed over the entrance, but final payments to the measurer and some of the contractors were not made until December 1886. 1 The total cost was just over 5700. Honeyman exhibited his design at the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts in 1885 (957). He also showed a watercolour of the house at the 1888 Glasgow International Exhibition (1702), on the basis of which the British Architect described it as 'nicely grouped, but wanting in cohesion and interest'. 2 No drawings or photographs from this period appear to survive.

Repairs and alterations, 1896–7

On 28 March 1896, the house was badly damaged by fire. 3 The owner was now W. J. Yorke Scarlett, son of the original client, and he immediately engaged John Honeyman & Keppie to rebuild it. Although contemporary newspaper reports speak of the house being 'nearly all destroyed' with the exception of the billiard room, it seems that the walls must have survived the fire. The job-book entry for the reconstruction makes no mention of mason work, and the main task was evidently the replacement of the roof: the largest payment recorded is for carpentry and joinery, with further substantial sums for slater and plumber work. 4 With an eye to avoiding future disasters, payments to the plumber included 50 for fire-fighting equipment such as hydrants, and 200 feet (61 m) of hose pipe with copper couplings. Extensive work was also done to the interior: the job books include sums of 135 for oak flooring, 45 for an oak stair and 769 for 'oak finishings' (presumably the panelling that lines many of the rooms), as well as 655 for plasterwork and 368 for painting. 5

In 1897, Honeyman exhibited a watercolour at the Royal Scottish Academy (518) showing the house with three floors, rather than the two it has today (2012). 6 It has been suggested that this represents Achamore before the fire, as designed by Honeyman in 1882. 7 This may be so, though it is puzzling that he should have exhibited the drawing just as he was rebuilding the house along significantly different lines. Another possibility is that the watercolour shows an alternative proposal for the post-fire reconstruction, more ambitious than the scheme that was carried out.

Possible involvement by Mackintosh

Stylistic evidence suggests Mackintosh may have had some involvement in the design of the interior. Photographs dating from July 1911 show plaster ceilings and woodwork combining 17th-century motifs with decoration of a more sinuous Art Nouveau character. 8 These ceilings evidently date from after the fire: they are quite different from the only surviving pre-fire interior, the billiard room, which has an open timber roof with Renaissance and vaguely Romanesque details. The drawing room ceiling has strapwork similar to the editor's room of Mackintosh's contemporary Glasgow Herald building, with bosses in the form of stylised thistles, shamrocks and roses along the cornice, and the dining-room panelling and chimneypiece have more of this type of decoration. It may have been for these features that Achamore was included on a list of Mackintosh's works compiled in the 1930s by Ronald Harrison, an early student of his architecture who had access to the records of John Honeyman & Keppie.

B/w photograph of drawing room at Achamore House, 1911B/w photograph of dining room at Achamore House, 1911

For reasons that are not clear, Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh prepared a ground plan of the house in June 1903, although no work relating to Achamore is recorded in the firm's job book or cash book at this date. The drawing appears to be in Mackintosh's hand, and was in his possession at his death. 9

A report on the condition of Achamore House was produced as part of the Mackintosh Buildings Survey, led by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society and carried out between 2015 and 2016. 10

Notes:

1: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: John Honeyman/John Honeyman & Keppie job book, GLAHA 53059, pp. 28–9, 48–9.

2: British Architect, 29, 25 May 1888, p. 371.

3: Glasgow Herald, 30 March 1896, p. 7.

4: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: John Honeyman & Keppie job book, GLAHA 53061, pp. 75–8.

5: A small amount of income in connection with Gigha school is also recorded in January 1898 (The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: John Honeyman & Keppie / Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh / Keppie Henderson cash book, 1889–1917, GLAHA 53079, p. 45).

6: Academy Architecture, 11, January 1897, p. 70.

7: David Stark, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Co., Catrine, Ayrshire: Stenlake Publishing, 2004, pp. 68, 73; Frank Arneil Walker and Fiona Sinclair, Buildings of Scotland: Argyll and Bute, London: Penguin, 2000, p. 259.

8: Edinburgh, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland: Estates Exchange, Argyll item 1482, MS 265/15.

9: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 41875 (M126-001). A similar drawing with the same provenance, GLAHA 41874 (M228-001), shows the ground-floor plan of Skipness Castle, Argyllshire. Both drawings may have been made for an unidentified publication.

10: A copy of the report (MBS14) 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.