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Words and photos by Mark Davey
The most comprehensive study of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s (CRM) architectural work has revealed ‘stylistic evidence,’ of his work, at the Isle of Gigha’s grandest building.
Achamore house’s current owner, Don Dennis, gave a an MA student of garden landscape history, Helen Haugh, the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust’s garden secretary, Alasdair McNeill, a former gardener, Susan Allan and the Courier a whistlestop tour and pointed out some of the most significant Mackintosh features.
Mr Dennis said that the CRM Society had initiated a study, of 50 surviving buildings, following the devastating Glasgow School of Art (GSA) fire in May 2014.
‘B’ listed Achamore house was designed by John Honeyman and built between 1882 and 1886 for Lt-Col William James Scarlett. It was badly damaged by fire in 1896 and reconstructed by Honeyman and Keppie in 1896 to ’97.
As the original designer Honeyman probably oversaw the work but the CRM Society state that it shows ‘stylistic evidence’ of Mackintosh’s interior detailing.
The cost of the work taken from the job book was £5,895 14s 6½d when billed in 1897. The restoration work was mainly a new roof and for joinery.
Mr Dennis said: ‘After the GSA fire the Society employed two architects to survey all the other houses.
‘The accepted wisdom in the architecture world was that here is little Mackintosh to see at Achamore but that is absolutely wrong.
‘By the time of the fire Honeyman was in ill health and sent Keppie and Mackintosh to deal with the redesign.
‘Some of my most fascinating days in the house have been with one of the architects, John Sanders, from Simpson and Brown.’
The CRM Society report on the study states: ‘Photographs from July 1911 show plaster ceilings and woodwork combining 17th-century motifs with decoration of a more sinuous Art Nouveau character.
‘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,.
‘It has 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.’
The tour started in what is the library, upstairs, but Mr Dennis said that according to the 1903 floor plan that room was downstairs.
Facing the upstairs hall is a wide, curved three part window steadily increasing in size which casts light on the staircase.
Mr Dennis said: ‘The bannister is a Honeyman design as it was oak, which does not burn easily and it was rubbed down after the fire.
‘Apparently the workmen said: ‘Does the wall above the stairs have to be curved?’
‘The architrave and doors are Mackintosh and many of the shutters on the windows.’
Wood panelling in the ground floor hall has small flame like pressings or carvings at the top which recall the fire.
The billiard room has a church like feel which comes from Honeyman’s favourite work designing churches. A false ceiling was put into the room because Colonel Horlick – the owner from 1944 into the 1970s – wanted to create more staff accommodation.
Mrs Allan, 73, who was a gardener from 1966 to 1972, confirmed this and said: ‘The billiard room was split into two bedrooms.’
Don Dennis, far right, describes Achamore house to from left: Alasdair McNeill, Helen Haugh and Susan Allan in the library. 25_c04achamore02_don_dennis_group
Achamore house before the 1896 fire. 25_c04achamore18_originally
A 1903 drawing of Achamore House’s floorplan in Mackintosh’s hand. c25achamore01n0_McIntosh’s_ floorplan
What are thought to be representations of flames in the hall’s panelling. 25_c04achamore12_flame_detail
The billiard room at Achamore house. 25_c04achamore16
Window shutter detailing shows Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s hand. 25_c04achamore06
Achamore house’s drawing room. 25_c04achamore14