Scottish Tour Guide's Blog

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Abbey Church of Dunfermline, Scotland

This afternoon I visited the ancient city of Dunfermline (pop 50,000) in the east of Scotland, about one hour north of Edinburgh.

Dunfermline benefits from a high elevation which affords excellent views over the Firth of Forth and bridges to the east.

Key features are:

  • Medieval Abbey and former Royal Palace.
  • Birthplace (1835) of Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie who endowed his home town with public buildings.
  • Burial place of King Robert the Bruce inside Abbey Church.
  • 16th century Abbot House.
  • 17th century, Pittencrieff House. This was the birthplace of Brigadier General John Forbes (1707-1759) whose British army defeated the French in North America and named Pittsburgh after William Pitt the Elder.
  • A well maintained public space and gardens, Pittencrieff Park.
  • A medieval Mercat Cross.

Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline

Birthplace of Andrew Carnegie, Dunfermline

War Memorial, Dunfermline

Mercat Cross, Dunfermline

Pittencrieff Park

Pittencrieff House

Pittencrieff Park

Bridge Street, Dunfermline

Dunfermline City Chambers

Decorative ironwork at Dunfermline Abbey

Abbot House, Dunfermline

Abbey Church and Abbey at Dunfermline

Dunfermline Carnegie Library

Inside Dunfermline Abbey, Scotland.

This evening, I am reporting on a rich and compact site in the east of Scotland, about 18 miles N.W. of Edinburgh. Historically, this was a combined important ecclesiastic site and Royal Palace with origins in the 11th century.

Dunfermline Abbey (left) and Church (right).

The Abbey was incepted as a Priory, inspired by Princess Margaret in the 11th century, adjacent to the Royal Palace. The Priory was upgraded to Abbey status in the 12th century by David I. Image above shows the current Abbey Church with two distinct architectural styles. The right half (east) was substantially rebuilt in the 19th century following structural collapse whilst the western section was preserved. As illustrated above, the interior of the western section features arcades of circular piers with spiral and chevron decoration. Note also impressive western doorway featuring in image no 3 below. The western section is a visitor attraction managed by Historic Scotland whilst the eastern section is a living Presbyterian Church. In the latter section can be found the burial-place of legendary Scottish King, Robert the Bruce (1274-1329).

Remains of interior decoration from the medieval period inside Abbey.

Burial Place of King Robert the Bruce inside Church.

Romanesque arch over West Door of Abbey

View from House for an Art Lover

This morning, I collected a three-strong tour group from central Glasgow and embarked on a tour of sites associated with famous Glaswegian architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Background on Mackintosh and wife, Margaret MacDonald.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) was an outstanding, Glasgow born architect and designer who pioneered the Modern Movement. He was famous for designing every aspect of a project down to such details as cutlery, furniture and light fittings. Mackintosh’s wife, margaret MacDonald had design skills in her own right and co-operated with her husband on various projects. There exist about nine extant examples of Mackintosh’s work in and around Glasgow, West of Scotland.

Margaret MacDonald:

  • Wife of Charles Rennie Mackintosh
  • An early female graduate of the Art School.
  • Had skills in metal panelling, embroidery and textiles.
  • Worked closely with her husband on commissions.

First to House for an Art Lover

This building, although designed at turn of the 20th century, was not completed until 1996, the design having languished for some 90 years. Rooms include the Main Room, Oval Room, Music Room and Margaret MacDonald Room. The Glasgow School of Art (principal building also designed by Mackintosh) has space and facilities at House for Art Lover.

House for an Art Lover

Dining Room at House for an Art Lover

Next to Scotland Street School.

Now a museum this building  was designed by Mackintosh between 1903 and 1906 and proved to be his last public commission in the city. Key features here are:

  • Reversal of tradition by giving the towers with conical roofs walls of glass with narrow stone mullions.
  • In the interior, spiral stairs were replaced with straight flights which benefit from the light streaming inside.
  • Verticality of towers played off against horizontal nature of rest of the building.

Scotland Street School

Next to the Mackintosh Church.

  • Commission for the design work was awarded to the Glasgow firm of Honeyman & Keppie with the work delegated to Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928)  who was simultaneously working on the new Glasgow School of Art.
  • Design influenced by the Free Gothic Style.
  • The only Mackintosh designed church which was actually built.
  • Mackintosh was restricted by limited space due to proximity of tenements and other buildings (since demolished).
  • The main body of the church seats 559 under a timber barrel-vaulted roof spanned by steel tie-beams.
  • The church features a short, tapering tower with attached octagonal stair tower.
  • No longer used for worship but a visitor attraction and Chief Office of the CRM Society. Weddings and other events take place at the church.

Inside Mackintosh Church

Next to the Mackintosh Gallery at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

The work on display at Kelvingrove principally comprises furniture, decorative panels and light fittings from the Ingram Street Tea Rooms and date from 1900-1912.

Mackintosh Gallery

Final visit to the Reid Building at Glasgow School of Art.

The Rennie Mackintosh designed building opposite was severely damaged by fire in 2014 and may not re-open until 2019.

Information obtained from the tour as follows:

  • During the 19th century Glasgow was a centre for heavy industry including shipbuilding and textiles.This wealth creation and activity generated a demand for design expertise across a range of disciplines which was supplied by the Glasgow School of Art (founded in 1845).
  • Francis H Newbery was Director of the School from 1885 to 1917. Under Newbery’s enlightened leadership new ideas and horizons were introduced, including art nouveau, which led to the ‘Glasgow Style’. Also, female students were admitted thus setting a precedent for Europe. It was here that English student, Margaret MacDonald met her future husband, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
  •  Under Newbery a new, purpose-built building was commissioned. Charles Rennie Mackintosh won the design competition in 1896 notwithstanding he was not a fully qualified architect at the time. He became a partner of Honeyman and Keppie in 1901.
  • The Art School was constructed in two phases (both designed by Mackintosh) with east section (below) completed in 1899 and the west section in 1909. Although superficially identical the later western half incorporated subtle changes influenced by art nouveau and Japan.
  • The iron-work embellishments (image no 2 below) feature the form of a rose, which is the symbol of art and life.Roses progressively open up from left to right (east to west).The bunch of vertical spikes may represent arrows or tulips.
  • The main entrance features the only stone carving, with a rose and female forms on either side.Latter are guardians of art and the Art School.
  • The east elevation incorporates Scottish Baronial influences, with even a dovecote on top. Absence of windows is to avoid conflict with light from north. The two apertures at ground level ( to left of group of people) were a later addition to allow for circus animals to enter. These were used as models by the students.
  • The blond, natural sandstone used in construction was quarried locally, near Queen Street Station.

Moving on to the new Reid Building:

  • Designed by Stephen Holl Architects, New York which was the winner out of 153 submissions.
  • Design complements and respects the original building opposite.
  • Faced with a thin skin of acid etched glass which is non-reflective.
  • Concrete inside with natural light providing an empty canvas for students.
  • Contains a row of three huge 5m-wide concrete cylinders that penetrate through the five storey frame on a sloping incline from the ground floor right up to roof level. These“driven voids of light” are multi-purpose cylinders to (a) bring light into the centre of the building (b) assist the building’s natural ventilation (c) provide structural support to resist vertical forces and wind loading and (d) in the basement, function as large cylindrical water tanks for the sprinkler system.
  • Displays less ornamentation than the original building opposite.
  • The furniture illustrated in the images below was specially commissioned by Mackintosh for particular properties. The clock dates from 1910 and has fourteen faces connected to a master mechanism which runs on a mixture of electricity and gravity.The clocks were produced by Dykes Bros, Glasgow.

Reid Building.

Mackintosh furniture inside Reid Building.

At conclusion of tour guests were returned to central Glasgow to connect with return trip to Edinburgh.