This is an unusual post for me although it fits my general aim of writing about people who have brought great benefit to Glasgow, Charles Rennie Mackintosh being one such individual. I wrote about him briefly in my Keppie post and intend to add a bit more about my personal view of his character compared to what is generally accepted about him.
I have been able to discuss informally my views with a couple of academics over the last couple of years and whilst they have not agreed with me, in one case almost entirely however the need for further exploration of the subject was accepted, and in the other some common ground was established. What does seem more difficult is objective discussion with folk who revere Mackintosh, who think, it seems to me, he came out of ‘the egg’ fully formed, prepared for artistic life with no formative experiences necessary, consequentially with none requiring acknowledgement. Also that the troubles he encountered were not of his doing but the result of other people not understanding him and his abilities, that he was hard-done by. He seems also to be viewed as an ‘innocent abroad’ by some people; the ‘artist in the garret’ syndrome.
As may be expected in 2018 the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mackintosh was celebrated by exhibitions, tours, publications, the creation of the Oak Room in the V & A in Dundee and many other events in Glasgow. It was also the year in which a second disastrous fire all but destroyed the Glasgow School of Art (GSA), which building is considered to be his masterpiece.
When most people are asked ‘what do you know about Charles Rennie Mackintosh’ I believe the most frequent casual answers given would be that he was an architect, or the GSA would be mentioned. More considered answers would include references to other specific buildings, tearooms, and high back chairs.
I’m not saying these are the views of academics or aficionados of Mackintosh but if the above is true, if this is the man in the street view, then is it not the case that his fame is more narrowly based than it should be and that perhaps his reputation as an architect is overstated as a consequence?
This is heresy no doubt to a large number of people and I must admit I felt a touch uncomfortable writing it. However, in my non-academic, but instinctive view it is as a designer and artist that Mackintosh’s fame and reputation is best based on.
His paintings are exquisite, but not very much is made of them. His designs are exceptional and wide ranging and are capable of being translated in a number of materials including stone.
Trying to understand Mackintosh and his work better than I do I have read a number of books over the past two years all of which have added to my knowledge of the man, particularly with reference to his paintings and furniture design. They have enhanced my opinion of his broad artistic abilities, in which I include his architecture.
However little objective effort is made to fully understand his behaviour from his weekends with Keppie at Prestwick to his inability to complete work in his final years as Keppie’s partner, nor is proper heed paid to the broader influences he experienced from Honeyman and Keppie, his wife Margaret and her sister Frances, Herbert McNair, and perhaps even fellow designers such as George Walton.
The following hopefully will illustrate what I mean. I make it clear that it is pure conjecture on my part, not to do Mackintosh down but to provide a different story that will, if possible cause a more objective understanding of the man and his motivations to be established.
When he joined Honeyman and Keppie in 1889 it was as a draughtsman/assistant. It wasn’t long after that Keppie began the working weekends at his house in Prestwick with Mackintosh and Herbert MacNair. On occasion they would be joined by the Macdonald sisters, Keppie’s sister Jessie, and others who would stay at accommodation in Dunure. This group of young men and women in due course became ‘the Immortals’.
The purpose of these weekends was primarily, at least initially, to discuss and work on architectural projects. Perhaps in time they became more like social events, they probably were when the ladies stayed at Dunure. During this time Mackintosh became attached to Jessie Keppie, which attachment lasted a number of years.
What did Keppie get out these weekends? I believe for him it was, in modern parlance, a team building process involving perhaps two of the brightest stars of the architectural practise, the three of them having common artistic skills in varying degrees. If so, such a process involves coaching, teaching, influencing, exchanging ideas, free discussion on aspects of any project in hand, the objective being two fold. Firstly, in the short term in the context of a specific project. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, in the long term establishing a critical modus operandi that would serve the business well in the future.
Why did Mackintosh in particular attend these weekends? By comparison with the others he did not come from a particularly well to do family. The Keppies had money, the Macdonald sisters had money and MacNair came from a well to do military family.
Put cynically, did he see the weekends as a means to mix with people who were financially better off, to keep close to his boss directly and also through his sister Jessie, and to be in the company of a number of young attractive women, all for his own personal advancement? If the foregoing has little or no truth, what did he get out of it in terms of his professional artistic and architectural life, what ‘seed corn’ was planted in his mind by these weekends? There does not seem to be any narrative that discusses this, in particular with reference to Keppie. In fact, their entire relationship until the end of the partnership, as indicated by the more subjective, in my view, of Mackintosh supporters, can perhaps be described in simple Donald Trumpesque as CRM – good, JK – bad.
In the event he did not marry Jessie but married Margaret Macdonald in 1900, her family however being very unhappy about her marrying beneath her financial status.
When Mackintosh was nearing the end of his partnership with Keppie he was not bringing in significant work to the practise; he was taking out more money than he was bringing in, he drank, he was vague in respect of leading his team, did not complete work, his mood swings affected those he worked with and generally he would/could not listen to suggestions and advice.
All sorts of reasons have been put forward for this and indeed for his behaviour during his life. One which I read about recently. and is the more believable to me, is that he may have suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome. The author John McKean’s view was that this explanation would cover his physical and psychological/mental issues, which is probably why he drank. I found this really intriguing, not least because it was the first time I had read any serious attempt to explain Mackintosh and his behaviour.
However, perverse as ever, I had some difficulty squaring that entirely with how I believe he behaved when younger, particularly between c.1889 and 1900 when he associated with the Immortals and was photographed frequently in the company of the young women of the group. Therefore, maybe he was just a typical young man, a bit of a lad, liked the ladies and the booze, and enjoyed socialising/partying. Maybe therefore his drinking was the cause of his problems and not as a result of them.
I should say I don’t necessarily believe what I have written above but what I genuinely believe is that if an individual such as Mackintosh is fully understood in all aspects, if that is possible, then his works get put into a fuller, broader context which can only improve our appreciation of them.
I have hesitated to publish this post because I’m not trained in architecture and know only a little about art. My views whilst striving to be objective are probably tainted with more (total?) conjecture/subjectivity than I would like. They are not meant to do anything else other than tell what I think could possibly explain Mackintosh. Whether they are sound to any degree by any academic test or any other, is secondary to me. In a sense I’m getting Mackintosh off my chest! However, a lot has been written about Mackintosh the genius, what about Mackintosh the man?
I became interested in Charles Rennie Mackintosh when researching the architect John Keppie. (see John Keppie – Architect) Not in terms of his artistic prowess or architectural innovation but simply to find out what his family’s background was.
Where did Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s family originate from? Both his paternal and maternal lineages have proved difficult to fully establish however three of his four sets of great grandparents have, at least, been identified, but little else has been discovered about them. The information about his grandparents is also patchy with no direct evidence of his maternal or paternal grandparent’s marriages, both being indicated in census returns or deaths registrations only.
What is clear is that his forebears are a mixture of Irish and Scottish born individuals whose origins include County Cavan, Fife, and Ayrshire.
Generation 1. Parents: William McIntosh and Margaret Rennie.
William McIntosh was born in 1836 at Belturbet in Ireland.[i] His parents were Hugh McIntosh and Marjory (May) Morrice (Morris).[ii] In 1851 he was living with his parents at 94 Glebe Street in the Barony parish of Glasgow and was working as a store clerk.[iii] Seven years later on the 17th March 1858 he became a clerk with the Glasgow Police. The records indicate he was age 22 and was 5ft. 11in. tall.[iv] He continued to live in the family home in Glebe Street until his marriage to Margaret Rennie on the 4th August 1862 at 54 McIntosh Street, Dennistoun,[v] the home of his brother Thomas.[vi] In the registration document he is described as a mercantile clerk[vii] which is clearly an error as police records show he had unbroken service until his retirement.[viii]
Soon after joining the police he became an inspector, in charge of the Chief Constable’s office. He was promoted Lieutenant in 1864 and Superintendent in 1889, still within the Chief Constable’s office, his particular focus being the administration and organisation of the force. He had a keen interest in sport and was a founder member of the Glasgow Police Athletic and Rowing Club in 1882. He was a skilled rifle marksman and won trophies as a founder member of the 19th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers. He was also captain of the Tug-of-War team and led the team in competitions at the 1888 Glasgow Exhibition and in Paris in 1889.[ix]
In January 2016 five silver tug-of-war medals he won were sold by Easy Live Auctions[x] to the Glasgow Police Heritage Society and are now on display in the Police Museum in Bell Street. (see figure 2) The awards were for 2nd or 3rd place at the Govan Burgh, Partick Burgh or Aberdeen Sports held between 1894 and 1898.
Margaret Rennie was born circa 1836 in Ayr, the daughter of Charles Rennie and Martha Spence. At the time of her marriage she was working as a muslin darner and lived at 121 Great Hamilton Street, Glasgow.[xi]
William and Margaret had eleven children:
Martha, born at 54 McIntosh Street on the 22nd March 1863[xii], died unmarried on the 16 August 1925.[xiii]
Isabella Marjory, born at 74 Parson Street on the 28th November 1864[xiv], married Robert Dingwall (commercial traveller) in 1896[xv], thought to have died in Darlington, England in 1946, no substantive proof.
William Hugh, born at 70 Parson Street on the 21st September 1866[xvi], died before 1908[xvii].
Charles Rennie Mackintosh 1868-1928
Margaret Rennie, born at 70 Parson Street on the 6th April 1870[xviii], married Robert Williamson Cleland (coal merchant then thread manufacturer’s clerk) on the 20th November 1906[xix], died on the 1st February 1924[xx].
Agnes Mary, born at 70 Parson Street on the 23rd November 1871[xxi], died in 1872[xxii]
Cecilia Bruce, born at 70 Parson Street on the 22nd June 1873[xxiii], died in 1877[xxiv]
Ellen Eliza Robinson, born at 2 Firpark Terrace in 1875[xxv], died in 1878
Thomas David, born at 2 Firpark Terrace on the 17th June 1878[xxvi], died in 1879[xxvii].
Ellen Eliza, born at 2 Firpark Terrace on the 4th February 1881[xxviii], married William Lamb Gibb (confectioner) in 1926[xxix], died in Glasgow, (lived in Milngavie) in 1965[xxx].
Agnes, born at 2 Firpark Terrace on the 2nd August 1883.[xxxi]
Margaret McIntosh died at 2 Firpark Terrace on the 9th December 1885, cause of death was cardiac hypertrophy and cerebral haemorrhage.[xxxii]Charles RennieMackintosh was aged 17 years, already an apprentice architect. Two of his sisters were under the age of 5 years.
In the preface to the first edition of his book on Charles Rennie Mackintosh Thomas Howarth states that he is “indebted to Miss Nancy Mackintosh, and Mrs Gibb, his sisters”, for conversations he had with them when writing his book. Later in the preface he describes Nancy as Mackintosh’s youngest sister. [xxxiii] I’m certain this is Agnes, Nancy being synonymous with, or a diminutive of, Agnes. It’s perhaps worth making the point that these two ladies, the only surviving siblings by 1946, would have no personal knowledge of Mackintosh’s childhood, therefore that period of his life could only be illustrated anecdotally by them. On the 5th April 1947 Nancy (Agnes) opened the Mackintosh Room in the Glasgow School of Art.[xxxiv]
William married again on the 8th June 1892 to 42 year old widow Christina Forrest (nee McVicar). [xxxv] At this time he was still living in Firpark Terrace with his five surviving daughters[xxxvi] which is where he continued to live with his new wife until late in 1892 when the family moved to 2 Regent Park Square.[xxxvii]
Circa 1894 they then moved to Holmwood Cottage in Langside Avenue which faced into the Queen’s Park.[xxxviii] (not to be confused with ‘Greek’ Thomson’s Holmwood House in Netherlee Road!). This cottage appears to have been built around 1884[xxxix], its owner being Alexander Morton, a messenger at arms and a private detective. It was from this gentleman that McIntosh rented the cottage.[xl] They lived there for just over two years, moving to 27 Regent Park Square in 1896 [xli] where William lived for the rest of his life.
He retired from the police on the 30th September 1899 after forty one years’ and was presented with the silver tray in the photograph to commemorate his dedication and service to the Glasgow Police Force.[xlii] He died from heart disease on the 10th February 1908[xliii], leaving an estate valued at £482 10s 7d, included in which was 50 shares in the Rangers Football Club Ltd., reference certificate 134, each share valued at 12s. His daughter Martha Mackintosh was his executor. His inventory indicates that that he was survived by five daughters and one son. They were CRM, Margaret Rennie, Martha, Isabella Marjory, Ellen Eliza (Mrs Gibb), and Agnes (Nancy)[xliv].
One final point; when did William McIntosh, (and his family) change their name to the anglified Mackintosh? In 1892 when he remarried; the last use of McIntosh was in the 1891 census. Having said that the original spelling was continued with in the Post Office directories until his retirement. In my view the reason for the change is not particularly clear, some sources think it was to move away from an ‘Irish’ spelling of the name, others because of an estrangement between CRM and his father. If CRM initiated the change maybe he just wanted to be different, adding to his ‘avant garde’ style and his growing reputation for artistic flair and innovation.
Generation 2. Grandparents: Hugh McIntosh and Marjory (May) Morrice (Morris).
Hugh McIntosh was born sometime between 1797 and 1801 in Paisley, Renfrewshire.[xlv] His parents were James McIntosh, a distiller, and Isabella Morrison.[xlvi] In the 1851 census Hugh is recorded as a distiller and is married to Marjory Morris. No registration of their marriage has been discovered.
They lived in the Barony parish of Glasgow along with three of their five sons and their daughter, all of whom were born in Ireland.[xlvii] They were as follows:
The family lived in Belturbet until 1844 when they returned to Scotland and settled in Glebe Street.[lvi]
Why the family was in Ireland from circa 1828 to 1844 is not particularly clear however Belturbet was the location of the distillery of Messrs Dickson and Dunlop and Co. which was established in 1825 and expanded in 1830, producing 90,000 to 100,000 gallons of whiskey per annum.[lvii] It seems reasonable therefore to assume that Hugh with Marjory moved there sometime between 1825 and 1828 because he found work at the distillery.
On the family’s return to Scotland Hugh McIntosh did not remain a distiller, becoming a clerk in an iron works sometime before 1861,[lviii] working as such for the rest of his life in various industries and being described as a mercantile clerk.
Marjory (May) Morris was born on the 16th December 1797 in Methil in the parish of Weymss, Fife. Her parents were Robert Morris (Morrice) and May (Marjory) Adamson.[lix]She died at 94 Glebe Street on the 18th August 1855, cause of death dysentery, having lived in Glasgow for eleven years with her husband and children, confirming the family return from Ireland in 1844. Her son Hugh registered the death.[lx]
Hugh McIntosh died at 208 Garngad Hill, Glasgow on the 28th June 1873, cause of death was recorded as “Age”.[lxi]
Generation 3. Great Grandparents:
James McIntosh and Isabella Morrison.
This research has not established any vital records for these names in Britain or in Ireland.
Robert Morris and May Adamson.
Robert Morris (Morrice) married May Adamson in Weymss parish on the 5th January 1790. He was a sailor.[lxii] They had seven children, six daughters and one son, the fourth of whom was Marjory (May).[lxiii] No other information has been established.
Generation 2. Grandparents: Charles Rennie and Martha Spence.
Charles Rennie’s birth and death dates have not been established. Using various search criteria forty nine births are recorded in the Old Parish Records (OPR) between 1553 and 1854, none of which occurred in Ayr, (see Howarth) some possibles exist between 1780 and 1795 but are unlikely as they relate to individuals born in Aberdeenshire or in the East of Scotland.
Nine deaths are recorded in the OPR, none of which are in Ayr. Similarly between 1855 and 1862 there are no Ayr deaths of that name in the Statutory Records (SR).There was one possibility who died in Bo’ness in 1859 however he was a labourer, who was a widower. 1862 was chosen as according to Margaret Rennie and William McIntosh’s marriage registration document he was already dead by that time. He was described as having been a coach proprietor in that document.
Re his marriage to Martha Spence (as per the marriage registration mentioned above) no such marriage can be found in any of the OPR, anywhere in Scotland.
No record of the Rennie family in any of the 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses has been found.
Martha Spence’s family background has also proved difficult to definitively establish. However there are strong clues to who her parents were and when she died.
A search of OPR births produced fourteen results, eleven of which can be discounted as being too early or too late. Of the three that are left one is from Ayr which is, I believe, correct. The others are from Dunfermline.
The Ayr one indicates that Martha Spence was born on the 21st September 1812. Her parents were Peter Spence and Sarah Johnston.[lxiv]
A search of SR deaths for Martha Rennie between 1862 (she was alive at the time of her daughter’s marriage) and 1900 produced no acceptable results. However when a search was made for Martha Spence there was one only registration from Ayr (out of nineteen results). This document confirmed her parents as detailed above however it seems she had married (again?) as she was described as being the widow of William Godfrey, a cabinet maker. She died on the 19th December 1885, ten days after her daughter Margaret’s death, at 36 Main Street, Newton Ayr, cause of death was a carcinoma.[lxv]
Re her apparent second marriage I could not establish any marriage either before 1855 or after, between a Godfrey and a Spence, regardless of forenames.
Generation 3. Great Grandparents:
Peter Spence and Sarah Johnston
Peter Spence married Sarah Johnston on the 29th December 1802 at Newton on Ayr.[lxvi] A search of the 1841 census naming Peter and Sarah produced one result for the whole of Scotland and that was in Ayr. He was described as a cotton hand loom weaver, age 66 years, born in Ireland. Sarah was age 56 years also born in Ireland.[lxvii] When his daughter Martha was born in 1812 he was described as a soldier in the Ayrshire Militia,[lxviii] when she died in 1885 he was recorded as being a Sergeant in the Militia.[lxix]
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to the volunteer staff of the excellent Glasgow Police Museum (http://www.policemuseum.org.uk) and in particular to the curator Alastair Dinsmor for his help with William McIntosh’s police career. The photographs are my own by kind permission of the museum.
[i] Registry. City of Glasgow Police Force. Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Reference: SR.55. 3, page 38.
[xxxix] Its first appearance in the Valuation Rolls is 1885, Alexander Morton is shown as the proprietor/occupier. He is also listed at that address in the PO Directory of 1884-85 p.457. There are no entries for that address in the Directories before that date, Morton previously staying in Annette Street.
[xl] Valuation Rolls (1855) Scotland. Glasgow, Cathcart. William McIntosh and Alex. Morton. VR01020047-/428.