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Charles Rennie Mackintosh heritage leader’s concern over buildings

Stuart Robertson, Director of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society at Queen’s Cross Church in Glasgow 
(Image: Newsquest)

The head of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society has said he is not convinced that Glasgow City Council values the architectural legacy of one of its most famous sons.

Stuart Robertson, Director of the Society, said this was despite Mackintosh being viewed as someone “who brings people to the city”.

Festivals hosted in honour of the architect have generated around £6 million for Glasgow.

The Society, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year, commissioned surveys on dozens of buildings in the city, across Scotland and beyond which had some involvement by the architect to establish what condition they were in with advice given to private owners.

While none were designated on the ‘critical’ list, buildings singled out as at risk included The Lady Artists’ Club in Blythswood Square, Martyr’s Public School in Townhead, the former Daily Record building on Renfield Lane and Ruchill Parish Church.

“Mackintosh did the entrance [for the artists’ club] and did some of the details inside.” said Mr Robertson, who is on the steering group for Glasgow School of Art restoration project.

“I think the plan was to make it a boutique hotel. Then Covid came.

“The amount of rain we have now, it does so much damage and there is degrading of the stone.
“Once it goes like that you get water ingress.”

He said there were many buildings the Society couldn’t get access to when the surveys were carried out including Dunglass Castle in Bowling, which was the home of Margaret Macdonald’s brother, Charles Macdonald, from 1899, Mackintosh designed drawing-room and bedroom furniture and fittings for the property.

Mr Robertson said it was of concern that around 300 buildings of historical interest in the city were on the ‘at risk’ register.

Asked if he thought the city council valued Mackintosh he said: “It doesn’t seem to.”

I think if Mackintosh is not being looked after in the city, there’s not much chance for any other historical buildings.

“Glasgow looks so shabby at the moment,” added Mr Robertson.
“They talk about Buchanan Galleries and the Golden Z. It’s more like World War Z.
“I wish we had someone like Andy Burnham [Mayor of Manchester] running Glasgow.

“If you go to Bristol they made awful things in the 1960s but they have gone back to correct some of these things. Queen’s Square had a road running through it but they’ve put all the buildings back.
“It can be done if there is a will and a drive in the city. We don’t have anyone visionary running the city.”
Mr Robertson, who lives in the village of Skelmorlie in North Ayrshire, said the Mackintosh tourist offering in Glasgow had been severely diminished with the loss of Glasgow School of Art’s ‘Mack’ building following two fires.

He said that there were “good people” involved in plans to turn Scotland Street School into an early learning centre but progress had been affected by rising costs for building materials.

The city council is investing £4.5 million in the building.

He said it was also of concern that Glasgow’s Lighthouse Building, the former home of The Herald, has remained closed since before the pandemic. “They [the council] don’t seem to have any intention to re-open it,” said Mr Robertson.

“It seems very weird that it isn’t open. Creative Scotland have a base in there.

“Is it maybe that they don’t have the money? It is warm in the building so it must be costing a fortune to heat it.”

The council has suggested there wasn’t the visitor demand to re-open the building but Mr Robertson believes it was well populated by visitors.

The Society is based in the Mackintosh Church in Maryhill, perhaps one of the best maintained buildings designed by the architect because it generates revenue from a steady stream of events and weddings.

The Society will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year with a full programme, beginning on 13 May  when the six-metre diameter model of the Earth – Gaia – which has toured the UK is hung inside the church.

“We are doing okay, we’ve got plans to do work on the building,” said Mr Robertson, a former naval architect, who has been with the CRM since 2001.

It was set up in 1973 because Martyrs’ Public School, were under threat of being demolished to make way for the motorway.

“We are trying to do more events but there’s a balance to be struck because it’s a heritage site.”