Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Water pistol owners welcome in Helensburgh (Please go) for ‘Douse the House’

Be nice if some of our east water pistol owners went to Helensburgh – and got lost on the way.

I think they even made the media a while ago, when some of them decided to go touring  – and drive around soaking people walking along the road. Not an urban myth or something a bored reporter made up to fill some space on a quiet day, I was ‘licky’ enough to meet them one night.

Doubt they’d go to Helensburgh though, as answering this appeal would be too much like work for them, and be helpful.

Water pistol owners are being invited to drench a Charles Rennie Mackintosh masterpiece to see if a protective covering is doing its job.

The National Trust for Scotland installed the world’s biggest chainmail mesh around the Hill House to stop it dissolving “like a sugar cube”.

The property in Helensburgh, Argyll, is considered to be the architect’s finest domestic project.

But due to its design and materials it has soaked up water “like a sponge”.

Now the trust is inviting the public to bring water pistols to the property to test the 32.4 million chainmail rings in an experiment believed to be the first of its kind.

“We came up with the idea of the water pistol wet weather test as it’s something that everyone can get involved in and it should show how well the chainmail is doing its job.

“Anyone with a water pistol – the bigger the better – is invited to come down and Douse the House and we’ll have National Trust for Scotland experts on hand to monitor the experiment and explain why the box is needed.”


Water pistol owners invited to soak Charles Rennie Mackintosh masterpiece

While the materials and methods used for the house were new and innovative when it was built, they were also not subject to the same sort of long term test and evaluation expected nowadays, and Scotland’s predominantly wet weather has proven to be problematic for the build.

The building could ultimately fall apart.

It has now been placed under cover, with the aim of drying it out, and keeping it dry, using a ventilated enclosure.

It is a vast semi-transparent shelter around the main house – granted official museum status in June – consisting of a 165-tonne steel frame swathed in chainmail made up of rings weighing 8.3 tonnes.

The free Douse the House experiment takes place at 14:30 on Saturday 28 September.

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image


20/09/2019 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian | , , | Leave a comment

Hill House set to reopen inside ‘cage’ on 08 June 2019

The work to enclose Mackintosh’s Hill House in Helensburgh is reported to be nearing completion, with the house making a ‘soft’ opening on 08 June, and being fully opened to visitors on 10 June.

The cage provided a ventilated enclosure which allows air to circulate around the exterior, to help dry the building, while a steel roof over the house prevents rain from reaching the house, and continuing to soak it, and continue a process which has been likened to ‘dissolving like aspirin’.

Innovative materials and methods were used in the build back in 1904, but the long term problems they were to bring were unknown at the time.

I’ve mentioned this before:

Hill House will not be the only house ‘under glass’

Giant chainmail box begins around Mackintosh’s Hill House

Hill House survey confirms extent of water/weather damage

I can’t nip along the road for pics, but these articles show how the work was carried out, and what visitors can expect to see:

Mackintosh House inside chainmail National Trust for Scotland

Mackintosh House inside chainmail National Trust for Scotland

Mackintosh’s Hill House reopens inside a box

Box to protect Mackintosh house from ‘dissolving like aspirin’

02/06/2019 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , | 2 Comments

Came across The Mackintosh Club (it’s in Helensburgh)

By chance, I happened to be walking down Helensburgh’s Sinclair Street, being nosey (as usual) and spotted the sign for The Mackintosh Club.

I’d almost completely forgotten about its existence, having read about the architect couple (from Kilcreggan) who managed to buy the top floor of the building, the first complete building designed and built in 1894 to Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s design.

I’m not sure when I first came across this, possibly 2016 or even earlier, as I try to dip into news about such things.

You can read more about it here:, in a local feature

Developing the Mackintosh Club

Helensburgh Mackintosh Club

Helensburgh Mackintosh Club


Helensburgh Mackintosh Club Signs

Helensburgh Mackintosh Club Signs

If I get back again, I’ll correct my mistake…

Didn’t cross the road and take a pic of the building!

09/05/2019 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , | Leave a comment

Helensburgh handcuffs

With the disappointing, but not unexpected, changes to the front of Helensburgh, I seem to find the side and back streets have become more interesting.

Most of the shops I used to like to look at have gone since I was last there, and had lasted so long I almost expected them to stay. But, I’m not that silly, and saw this first on Bute (which I visited more regularly), when I realised my usual walk around the town began to miss the ‘old format’ shops, which had very different arrangements of entrance ways and window compared to later shop. Today, they maximise floor space. In the past, they concentrated more on window displays, and even quite small shops would have long entrance corridors leading from the pavement, flanked by long windows along their sides where shops would display their goods. That’s gone, probably everywhere, unless you trip over a shop that has not been ‘modernised’.

This, however, is not about a shop, it’s about a Police Office, or as we’d say nowadays, a Police Station.

Helensburgh’s original Police Office is now just a historic remain, abandoned and up for redevelopment.

But, there still a fairly impressive stone carving in place above the main entrance. There are other entrances to the side, since the office housed a number of related facilities.

It wasn’t really the large carving that caught my eye at first, but the two cute pairs of handcuffs carved into the detail.

I’m afraid this pic is a little incomplete – I’m doing a lot of switching between dSLR and compact at the moment, and while a dSLR viewfinder actually shows about 90% of the image to be recorded (so there’s a slim border around the edge, with more image than seen), the compact viewfinder shows 100% of the final image – so there’s no ‘safety net’ of extra image around the edge. Fine if your brain remembers, not so fine if you’re not fully alert to which camera you have in your hand.

Excuse the ‘missing’ bits.

Helensburgh Police Office

Helensburgh Police Office

I think this building is dated to 1906, but the record I found was not specific.

The carving has survived well, given its location in a seafront (or side) building, with much detail still to be seen.

The composition of the stone used was well suited to the site, which would be exposed to damp salt air from the sea.

I’ve come across many examples of stonework in Glasgow which have only had (industrial) air/rain to contend with, where some blocks of stone have dissolved and lost all their structure, yet may be located beside other pieces of stone which have survived with almost no evidence of weathering.

This can be seen easily in some of the carvings on Alexander ‘Greek’ Thompson’s well-known Free Church in Glasgow’s St Vincent Street, where some have been reduced to featureless blobs, while adjacent examples of the same work, but on different blocks, remain almost complete.

04/05/2019 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , | Leave a comment

Ghost signs – Helensburgh

I’m not sure if there are any left to be found along the shops on the front of Helensburgh, it’s been ‘modernised’ a number of times so the shop signs have been renewed a number of times.

There may be ghost signs behind, but you would have to be there at the right time – to catch a view when a later sign is removed.

However, while I was standing in front of the train station, I noticed a couple across from the entrance.

While one retains a degree of readability, the other was a little too far gone.

Helensburgh Ghost Sign 2

Helensburgh Ghost Sign


Helensburgh Ghost Sign 1

Helensburgh Ghost Sign

This was just a chance sighting, there may be more (I might take a look on another day), but I didn’t have time to stop and look – the last (direct) bus leaves rather early!

01/05/2019 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , | Leave a comment

You want cat’s pyjamas? We HAVE Cat’s Pyjamas

You’ll have to go to Helensburgh though.

And it might not be quite what you had in mind.

Helensburgh Cats Pyjamas

Helensburgh Cats Pyjamas

I wonder if the ‘Bikini clad army of fat’ dragged (or wheeled, if somebody loaned them some wheelbarrows) their slug-like selves there, and protested outside the shop?

Helensburgh Cats Pyjamas shop

Helensburgh Cats Pyjamas shop

I’ll stick with…

Wild Cat Friday

It’s probably safer.

26/04/2019 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , | Leave a comment

The Sun shines on John Logie Baird (while it rains in Glasgow)

I see some Glasgow media is already posting material regarding the sad memory of four days of ‘heatwave’ enjoyed here recently, filling space in their pages by just rerunning all the stuff they published a few days ago. Not bad if your staff are stuck for something new 😉

Yesterday did, however, prove interesting, and when I got up, the morning weather suggested a great day was on its way – I should, of course, have known better.

While it was sunny and warm, and almost tempted me to use the bike instead of the bus, I got lucky as I had to use the bus as I was headed further out later in the day.

I’d have been fairly upset had I been cycling. After being stuck indoors until just after lunchtime, when I emerged, no Sun at all, and the rain was back. Perhaps not chucking it down, but not just a quick shower, and not looking as if was about to stop.

Slow forward (the bus to Helensburgh is anything but rapid), and for once I’m glad to be at the seaside – it’s not raining there, the streets are dry, and the Sun is shining. I’m a Glaswegian at the seaside – I EXPECT to be rained on there, and be blown over by the wind!

In case you think I was imagining the nice weather, here’s the memorial sculpture installed in memory of the town’s local hero, John Logie Baird.

I’ve not seen much, but I’m pretty sure that’s sunlight shining on it, and even casting a shadow 🙂

The bust is on West Clyde Street at William Street.

Just for the record, when I got back into Glasgow in the evening, I got soaked as I walked home, so I really did spend the middle of the day in the right place.

John Logie Baird bust Helensburgh

John Logie Baird bust Helensburgh


John Logie Baird bust Helensburgh

John Logie Baird bust Helensburgh

I should have collected the plaques on the other sides of the column.

Guess that’s a ready-made reason to go back.

26/04/2019 Posted by | Civilian, photography | , , , | Leave a comment

Hill House survey confirms extent of water/weather damage

As the construction of a protective cage around Mackintosh’s Hill House in Helensburgh (built for publisher Blackie and his family in 1904) continues, a new survey using advanced techniques (combining previous survey data obtained in 2003 with new 3D digital survey and microwave moisture readings) has revealed the extent of the water damage. This has resulted from a century of Scottish weather (which we know is wet), and lack of knowledge of how the materials used aged over that time period. Then, the materials were largely experimental.

The method of infra-red thermographic (IRT) imaging records differences in surface temperature, which give an indication of where moisture from decades of wet weather is retained within the building fabric. The technique highlights differences in surface temperature, which shows where moisture from decades of wet weather has accumulated within the building. Combining the three surveys allow building conservators to pinpoint areas of damp, and gain a better understanding of the declining condition of the property.

Carried out in partnership between the National Trust for Scotland, which owns and cares for Hill House in Helensburgh, and Historic Environment Scotland, it shows the extent of the damp and water damage to the building in increasing detail.

“Due to the design of the Hill House, there are many ledges, wall heads and chimneys that have had a history of many attempts to remedy, yet this problem continues.

“We’re also now have additional areas of concern. We have also been able to see the direction that the water is travelling in some of the rooms, in particular in the exhibition room, where there was already clear damage.

“The works to create the ‘box’ are now well under way and we are grateful to the many individuals who have generously donated to help us to tackle these problems. The intention is that the structure will provide a temporary respite for the Hill House pending a long-term solution to the water ingress being found.”

The house and gardens are currently closed to the public but are expected to reopen in late spring.

Mackintosh Hill House damage revealed by new survey

The data shows the direction that the water is travelling in some of the rooms, in particular in the exhibition room, where there was already clear damage.

New survey reveals extent of damage to Mackintosh house

Imaging: Areas of concern Credit: National Trust for Scotland

Imaging: Areas of concern Credit: National Trust for Scotland

19/03/2019 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Giant chainmail box begins around Mackintosh’s Hill House

I didn’t realise I’d made the mistake (way back at the start) of referring to the protective box being erected around Mackintosh’s Hill House as a ‘glass box’.

I hadn’t originally meant it literally, as the initial stories clearly referred to the box as allowing ventilation, meaning that it would protect the house from further wet weather damage, while allowing the water damaged structure to dry out slowly/naturally, while remedial work was carried out.

But the idea stuck, and I did reinforce it by referring to another protected house, in Argentina, which actually is in a real glass box.

The project is now underway, and the much better description of a ‘chainmail box’ has been applied.

I don’t think the initial stories gave that sort of detail, but it does make the plan clearer now.

(I really must try to get a proper look since I have no excuse not to. The train to Helensburgh passes not that far away.)

The first pieces of a pioneering plan to save Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s domestic masterpiece from the driving West Coast wind and rain have been put in place with work now underway on the giant chainmail ‘box’ that will protect the property from the elements.

For more than 100 years, The Hill House in Helensburgh has been absorbing the worst effects of the weather putting the building and its unique interior at risk.

Now, a unique chainmail structure is being built around the property which will allow conservation work to continue and the property to remain visible to the public.

This semi-permeable metallic mesh pavilion, designed by architects Carmody Groarke, will allow the building to dry out over a number of years while conservation work continues.

The public will be encouraged to come onto the site and see how the project is progressing, with a community hut to open over the winter.

The work has been possible due to a public fundraising campaign which has generated £1.3m since February 2018.

A push to find the final £200,000 required to complete the work is now underway.

The total cost of the Box project is £4.5 million.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House gets giant chainmail ‘box’

As usual, The Scotsman’s ‘Comment Area’ after this story would be better described as a “Moron’s Area”.

I’m beginning to miss the days when my clever adblocker used to interpret the comment service used as ‘dangerous’ and blocked it.

Maybe it should have a setting for ‘useless’, and I should let it block the comment again, on that basis.

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

24/11/2018 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Pub-crawling cat emigrates from Campbeltown, and continues in Helelnsburgh

I wouldn’t normally mention anything from a source that aggressively ties to block me from viewing it because I’m using an adblocker (or tries to force me to disable or even uninstall it), so while I’ll return the favour by not identifying the source of the tale, I will tell about the cat (which I should point out only eat there, doesn’t drink).

The cat was being cared for by a lady in Campbeltown, who sadly died, so the cat lost its home.

A couple who had been friends with the lady tool the cat in, and brought it to their home in Helensburgh, thinking/hoping it would settle in with the incumbents.

However, the cat had been used to wandering around Campbeltown, and visiting the pubs.

It wasn’t long before it decided it wasn’t going to change its habits, and it left its new home.

However, far from being lost, it was spotted on a pub’s security camera, they opened the door, the cat came in – and made itself at home!

Long story short – a deal was done, and the move from the couple’s home to the pub became official.

Sorry for the generic tuxedo cat pic (obviously I can’t go with the original) – but Brook is tuxedo lady.

Tuxedo Cat

Tuxedo Cat

15/09/2018 Posted by | Civilian | , , , | Leave a comment

Hill House rescue works release Mackintosh items for Lighthouse display

Work to help preserve Mackintosh’s Hill House in Helensburgh have provided the opportunity to display some of the contents in Glasgow’s Lighthouse.

Good old Scottish weather (and Helensburgh doesn’t help by being beside the sea, and having a nice salty atmosphere) means that while Mackintosh may have been a revolutionary designer, what were cutting-edge materials and building techniques of 1902 have not stood the test of time, and The National Trust for Scotland is currently carrying out an extraordinary conservation project which involves enclosing the house in a mesh box, in order to protect it from the weather and allow it to dry out.

Since this has required the contents to be moved out of the house, it has allowed them to be moved into The Lighthouse as a temporary exhibition, so you can see them even if you can’t get to Helensburgh.

Working with his wife, Margaret Macdonald, Mackintosh designed the rooms and interior features of the house including those most well-known: the entrance hall, drawing room and main bedroom. Items from all these spaces are represented in this exhibition of more than 30 objects from the house, including chairs, light fittings, beds, mirrors, and tables.

Emma Inglis, curator (Glasgow and West), the National Trust for Scotland, said: “The Hill House is the most complete surviving example of Mackintosh’s whole-house approach to design. He designed the architecture of the building, interior decoration, and household furnishings to work in unison, creating rooms rich in interest and colour. Fundraising is still ongoing to save the Hill House and this exhibition is an opportunity to display objects which represent the heart and style of the Hill House.

Find The Hill House at The Lighthouse between 04 August and 23 September 2018 in Gallery One.

This is the drawing room of Hill House, as seen in 2017.

Click the image to see the huge original by Tony Hisgett on Flickr, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

It’s actually one of a number of photographs you will find with it, taken inside the house.

Hill House Drawing Room by Tony Hisgett on Flickr by Creative Commons

Hill House Drawing Room by Tony Hisgett on Flickr by Creative Commons

06/08/2018 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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