Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Holmwood House has reopened

Last time I spotted Holmwood in the news was about three months ago, just as closed for three months renovation work.

And three months later, it’s open 🙂

No point in repeating the waffle I posted back then, follow the link if interested.

That said, I never did note when I first visited the place, and still find it a bit of a shock that it was when NTS took it over, and that must have been 1994.

It was a ‘Doors Open Day’, and despite being the first opening, the place was mobbed – visitors inside were packed in like sardines.

It’s interesting to note that in 2019 the article refers to the ‘windows’…

The wallpaper was scraped back to reveal “windows” to the original schemes, with work also based off photographs of other Thomson interiors, including his own home.

Greek Thomson’s Holmwood House reopens after restoration

That was exactly the same thing the guides were pointing out back in 1994, when the place VERY unrestored, and they had little idea of the original appearance thanks to years of redecoration obscuring that view under layers of later paint and other coverings.

Guess I’ll have to start looking for a public transport, or alternative, means of getting from here to there.

Holmwood House by emma mykytyn

Holmwood House by emma mykytyn

10/08/2019 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

Fundraising appeal for Alexander “Greek” Thomson designed villa Holmwood House

It’s some years since I was last able to go visit Alexander “Greek” Thomson’s villa, Holmwood House, and my first visit was probably back in the 1990s, as soon as the place was opened to visitors after NTS Scotland took it on.

Thomson designed Holmwood House for paper magnate James Couper and his wife.

I think that may also have been the first time was shocked to see how many people had turned up at a then not-so well-know Doors Open Day venue. I was used to meeting only a handful of people at any of the ‘open’ places, and the only time I had encountered a massive queue was at the registry office in Park Circus, which was mobbed the only time I went for a look (and left).

As noted, that first visit was the first time the public had been given access, and the place was completely bare, still being cleaned up, and with many area looking their age due to neglect.

But work was underway to find out just what sort of condition the building was in, and there were many small exploratory ‘reveals’ showing just what original material lay under the various coats of paint, varnish, and other decoration that had been added over the years.

I never cease to be amazed by the conservators’ skill, as they remove layers of paint and varnish to reveal what lies below, without damaging that original layer of decoration.

I have to confess to usually failing miserably when trying the same, as the solvents that take off the offending layers I want rid of just carry on their work – and take out most of what I’m trying to reveal as well! Fortunately, what I do this to is not historic and doesn’t matter, so it’s just very irritating, as opposed to destructive. Probably part of the trick I’m missing is that all the material I play with are modern, so the same solvents affect most layers in the same way. When working with genuinely old originals, they used different solvents to those used in more modern decorating materials.


The National Trust for Scotland is fundraising to conserve original decorations found hidden under paintwork in the historic house.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) needs to raise £120,000 to protect and recreate the original interior design found in the Alexander “Greek” Thomson designed villa Holmwood House in Glasgow.

Since NTS took over the property in 1994, conservators have discovered Thomson’s original decorations which were hidden beneath layers of paint and wallpaper applied by previous owners.

A three-year restoration project is now under way to return the house to its original glory so that visitors can see what it would have looked like when it was first built in 1857-8.

The process sees conservators carefully peel away paint and wallpaper to reveal areas of the original design which can then be recreated across the rest of the room.

A three-year restoration project is now under way to return the house to its original glory so that visitors can see what it would have looked like when it was first built in 1857-8.

The process sees conservators carefully peel away paint and wallpaper to reveal areas of the original design which can then be recreated across the rest of the room.

The restoration work is currently in its second year and the funding will help carry it through to the end of the three-year project, extending work throughout the house including into the parlour and up the stairs.

Drive to raise £120,000 to conserve Alexander “Greek” Thomson house in Glasgow

Amazingly (given the ridiculous number of duplicate pics some places are allowed to have) Geograph has only ONE shared pic of the exterior of Holmwood, and that is from 2006, so thank goodness ’emma’ cared enough.

Holmwood House by emma mykytyn

Holmwood House by emma mykytyn

21/05/2019 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian | , , , | 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

Burns’ Cottage joins the list of decaying ‘oldies’

Before I start, I feel the need to make it clear that I’m NOT being negatively critical, as I don’t want to be misrepresented, or misinterpreted.

It looks as if Burns’ Cottage in Alloway is showing its age.

Interestingly, there is a trend (to me, at least) where many of our now ageing historic artefacts are doing the same, with high profile items such as the Winter Garden at the People’s Palace, and even Glasgow’s Tidal Weir featuring in the news.

I can only recall one visit to Burns’ Cottage, and that was a long, long, long time ago, when we used to have the family holiday in Ayr.

I might add Hill House in Helensburgh to that high profile list too.

An urgent appeal has been launched to stop the first home of Robert Burns falling into disrepair.

The world-renowned poet was born in the Alloway cottage in 1759 and lived there until he was seven years old.

But now a £100,000 public appeal has been launched to save the visitor attraction.

The cottage’s thatched roof, walls and chimney all need vital repairs, The National Trust for Scotland has revealed.

The cottage has been in the care of the National Trust for Scotland since 2008 but the charity now says it needs help to stop it getting into a severe state of disrepair.

The trust has a plan to repair the cottage in stages.

A wall at the end of the cottage will be propped up and pulled back in line with the rest of the building.

Cracks along the walls and windows will be filled, and the roof rethatched and the outer walls re-limewashed, weatherproofing the cottage.

Appeal launched to save Robert Burns’ Alloway birthplace

As I’ve strived to point out, I’m NOT complaining, suggesting care has not been taken, or that those in control of ANY of these artefacts have been negligent.

It’s worth bearing in mind they all have paymasters above them, from whom they must justify the funds they are granted.

What I would perhaps suggest is that the model used to raise those finds needs to be changed, to reflect changes in those artefacts.

In the past, they were relatively ‘new’ (a term that varies from item to item), and in better condition by virtue of their age than they are now, as time has passed and various types of decay have set in, and taken their toll of these places.

There’s also the aspect of increased wear and tear on them, as increased mobility has brought greater visitor number to them.

My point being that today, as opposed to a few decades ago, what I would refer to as ‘Cost of Ownership’ is increasing over time, yet in realistic terms, many sources of funding for these places (which often have ‘Free Entry’ in Scotland) are suffering cuts, so have LESS cash available, at a time when maintaining them is probably becoming MORE costly.

Much as I’d like to suggest some sort of magical way to solve that issue, what I really think is needed is NOT the sort of negative knee-jerk we saw some respond to the news of problems at the Winter Garden with.

Instead, rather than see those ‘clever know-alls’ score imaginary points by jumping into (useless) action, there should be a new move to review and change the way these features are looked after, and how they are financed, since the old models are not going to work in future.

There is a potential downside to this – it may mean saving a few while losing a few, if something cannot be done to make the ‘pot’ bigger, and address what would seem to now be a steadily increasing ‘Cost of Ownership’.

Burns Cottage

Burns Cottage

25/01/2019 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian, council | , , , , | 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

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

Hill House protection project get close to funding target

Back in February, I noted the ambitious project to erect a protective box around hill

House in Helensburgh, the family home by Charles Rennie Mackintosh commissioned by publisher Walter Blackie.

Although the project has secured most of the funding needed for its completion, £500 k of the £4.5 million target is outstanding, so the hoped for start date of June will slip.

However, a date of 05 July 2018 has been set for the work to begin.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) appealed in February for £1.5m in donations towards the £4.5m total cost of a major renovation project.

Work will begin on 5 July, with a giant mesh box being constructed around the house.

It is expected to remain in place for at least five years, protecting the property from the worst of the weather.

Mackintosh Hill House appeal passes £1m milestone

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

I haven’t been to Helensburgh for years – I really should threaten the piggy bank, and see how the trains are doing.

Sad to say, last time I did this I found the news was full of stories about the service being withdrawn due to incidents at the town’s station.

28/06/2018 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian | , , , , | Leave a comment

Scotland set to get its own Chernobyl style sarcophagus

I have to admit I’m always a little surprised to see anyone allowed to implement an innovative solution to a problem.

I’m more used to seeing lots of hand-wringing, debates, committees, and rubbishing of anything that looks like a new approach – while the subject crumbles and dies, or decays the point where there no alternative but to send in the bulldozers and flatten it.

I think the last time I got a pleasant surprise was when talk of tarting up the anti-aircraft gun battery off Blantyreferme Road turned from talk to reality.

I haven’t made it back since an early visit (when it was really lost in the undergrowth), and have to apologise at the moment, since Photobucket’s greed has seen most of our pic links broken, but other reports I’ve been shown from visitors look good.

It’s also some time since I made my way up to Mackintosh’s Hill House (well worth the effort though), and that was so long ago the place appeared to be perfect, and I don’t recall any talk of deterioration, but having followed the development of the problems reported in recent years, there seems little surprise about the growing concerns over its condition.

I’m sure there will be a group of ‘Naysayers’ and miserable traditionalists (aka ‘old dogs’) that can’t live with the idea of a protective cocoon around the house, as proposed by National Trust for Scotland (NTS), but it does seem to be a more rational solution that some sort of temporary cover that would probably get blown away umpteen times, and less offensive to the eye than a solid enclosure that hides the structure from sight.

I’m even more impressed to read that visitors will be able to access galleries and platforms that allow the building to be seen from within the enclosure.

“The temporary enclosure is see-through, which means that the building will still be visible from the outside, despite its respite from the elements after a century of being drenched.”

The enclosure is expected to go up in 2018 and could be in place for a number of years.

NTS will launch one of the biggest fundraising drives in its history early in the new year to raise money for the £4m project.

Born in 1868, Mackintosh trained as an architect and went on to create much admired buildings including the Glasgow School of Art and Scotland Street School in Glasgow.

The building will remain open to the public while conservationists are at work, and visitors will be able to climb stairs and gangways to gain a bird’s eye view of Mackintosh’s masterpiece and watch the restoration work as it progresses.

Via Giant cage to help protect Mackintosh masterpiece

More details, video, and illustrations ‘Giant cage’ plan for Helensburgh’s Mackintosh Hill House

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

Hill House Enclosure Via NTS Image

Hill House was originally commissioned by, and built for publisher Walter Blackie, between 1902 and 1904.

I’ll admit to a little envy 🙂

But, on the other hand, I don’t have the bills!

06/12/2017 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , | Leave a comment

St Kilda residency on offer for two artists

While it may not be a full-time job such as the post recently offered on Inchcolm – and the successful candidates also have to be artists – I wonder if we will see a follow-up to this story, and find out how many applied for the places?

In this case, the National Trust for Scotland and Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre on North Uist have launched a search to fill two residency spots on St Kilda, in a project funded by the Year of Natural Scotland. The residencies are open to visual artists from all over the world, working in a variety of mediums.

St Kilda Property Manager Susan Bain said: “The beauty, mythology and atmosphere of St Kilda have inspired many artists over the years.

“We hope that this opportunity attracts artists who can present a fresh take on the wild coastlines, fascinating history and unique heritage of this special place.”

The resulting works will be exhibited at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre as part of their The Fragility of Flight project in 2014.

Via Recruitment call for St Kilda artists in residence – Visual Arts –

Also Artists given chance to gain residence on Isle of St Kilda | Highlands & Islands | News | STV

I wonder if anyone will point out to STV that St Kilda is actually an archipelago, made up of a number of island in a group, and that there is no Isle of St Kilda?

Below, you wil find an aerial view of Hirta, the main island which makes up the archipelago, and probably the one is mistakenly referred to as St Kilda, or even the Isle of St Kilda, by those who haven’t done their homework.

(I’m not proud, and freely admit I was one of them until I had to write a detailed article about the place – and then couldn’t make the bits fit together until I got it right.)

You can read some lesser known tales of the archipelago here Secret Scotland – St Kilda

Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre | Lochmaddy, North Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Welcome to the National Trust for Scotland Online

Visit the following NTS item for downloadable document giving an application form, and notes for residency:

Isle paint St Kilda – search for artists in residence starts

12/04/2013 Posted by | Appeal, Civilian | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Scottish island (Great Bernera) on offer to the residents


Quite unintentionally, I seem to have become a spotter of Scottish islands being offered for sale, and more often than not these days, they seem to be small islands that the landlord is offering to the residents, so they can be responsible for their own futures.

In this case, it’s the 230 residents of a small Hebridean island named Great Bernera in Lewis who are being given the chance to buy it and become their own landlords.

It has been reported that, until last summer, the small island was owned by a flamboyant aristocrat – Count Robin de le Lanne-Mirrlees (Born: January 13, 1925; Died: June 23, 2012)- who had made it his home since 1962, and died in a nursing home on the island last June. He left the island to his family.

HE became known as a flamboyant Scots aristocrat, well-known for his charitable work and steadfast refusal to raise his tenants’ rent in 50 years.

The  family has decided to sell the island, and solicitors for his German-based grandson, Cyran le Lanne, have written to tell the islanders he does not wish to keep the island and they have been offered first refusal. They have until April 1, 2013, to make up their minds.

There’s no mention of the price, or any conditions in the new story of the sale.

Via Great Bernera residents given opportunity to become landlords | Highlands & Islands | News | STV

The laird with an interesting past

Although the current price does not appear to be mentioned in the news, it is known that towards the end of 2012, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) turned down an offer by Count Robin de le Lanne-Mirrlees, after he left the Hebridean island to,then estimated to worth more than £1 million, the nation in his will. The conservation charity last week claimed Little Bernera was not ‘significant’ enough to warrant the cost it would take to keep.

It seems this arose from a family feud, which led to the Count disinheriting his only son, Patrick de la Lanne, mayor of Delmenhort in the Lower Saxony region of Germany.

It is also noted in other reports that he Oxford-educated nobleman’s thinly disguised identity was ‘borrowed’ by James Bond in Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Back in 2005, he was in the news after suffering a mild stroke, when he was expected his stay in hospital to last no longer than a few weeks.

Instead he was there for 16 months and ran up a £130,000 NHS bill – due not to the stroke, but to the MRSA superbug.

There were more problems in 2009, when the local council claimed it could no longer afford the £97,000 needed to keep open the tiny residential home. similar only to a small bungalow, where the count, then 84, lived with only one other resident.

22/02/2013 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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