Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for John Honeyman and Keppie in 1894-95, the former Helensburgh and Gareloch Conservative Club is an Art Nouveau style red sandstone building on one of the main streets in Helensburgh. The narrow three-storey, three-bay decorative principal west elevation has later alterations to the ground floor shop fronts. The terraced building is a deep rectangular plan that extends to a two-storey section to the rear, housing the main hall at first floor level.
The main entrance to the upper floors is at the far left, comprising a round-arched doorway with pilasters topped by moulded consoles with cartouche style decoration. There are two leaf pannelled doors with small squared glazed panes (now blocked) and a multi-pane semi-circular fanlight in the pediment. The ground floor shop premises to the right is late 20th century plate glass.
The upper floors have asymmetrical shallow canted bays to each side with individual stone details. The first floor of the left side has a full-height canted bay with a five-light mullioned window with round arches narrowing to three small square stained glass windows immediately above. Small round colonnettes with art nouveau female heads at their bases extend up to enclose the second floor tripartite window, which has a decorative scrolled cill and an ornately carved tree on the breaking eaves parapet. The right side is flush at the first floor level where there is a tripartite mullioned and transomed window with three small squared stained glass windows over three tall arched windows. There is a shallow canted corbelled section above with single window enclosed by colonnettes with art nouveau female heads and foliate mouldings. At the centre of the elevation there is an arched niche with statue of St Andrew (the crest of conservative club) at the first floor and a pierced tracery panel at the parapet.
The first floor windows are plate glass with fixed stained glass panels above. The second floor has sash and case windows with a six-over-one pane glazing pattern. The stair window has lead-pane glazing (not seen 2019). There are pitched slate roofs with large glazed rooflights. There are cast-iron rainwater goods and red sandstone corniced end chimney stacks.
The interior was seen in 1992. Photographs from 2012 (Mackintosh Architecture) show a long wide stair leading to the first floor to access the main hall to the rear. There is a turned stair with wrought iron bannisters, timber handrail and stylised squared newel posts leading to the second floor accommodation. The main hall has timber pannelling, cornice, semi-circular arched chimneypiece with rusticated keystone and a Glasgow style moulding to the overmantel. There are glazed panels to an Art Nouveau style braced collar roof. There is a timber pannelled former billiard room to the second floor with chimneypieces at the end walls and glazed panels to a braced collar roof. There are smaller service rooms to rear with original Art Nouveau fireplaces. The interior may have undergone alterations to form residential accommodation (2019).
Statement of Special Interest
Designed by the firm of John Honeyman and Keppie, with the likely involvement of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the former Conservative Club at Sinclair Street is an outstanding example of the work of this internationally renowned architect. It is an early example of what became Mackintosh's trademark of a complete and unified aesthetic across all parts of a buildings design. The innovative main elevation has a shallow undulating facade of finely worked masonry with crisply detailed carvings in his signature style. The interior of the upper floors is believed to retain the original layout and detailing. This includes the main hall, billiard rooms and ancillary accommodation which all have bespoke detailing in a distinctive early Mackintosh style.
Plans were approved by the Helensburgh Dean of Guild Court in 1894 and it was officially opened by the Lord Advocate in December 1895 as a clubhouse for the Helensburgh and Gareloch Conservative Club at a subscription cost of £4000. The two shops on the ground floor were included to generate revenue. The first floor had a reading and smoking room, and the attic storey housed the billiard room and caretaker's offices. The two-storey section to the rear housed the large hall for public meetings.
Photographs of the Dean of Guild Drawings show annotations in Mackintosh's hand. There is no documentary evidence that he designed the building, however such individual design features produced from John Honeyman & Keppie's office in the early 1890s suggest it was Mackintosh's design. Certain details, such as the carving around the ground-floor entrance to the club rooms and the unusual treatment of the right-hand bay, have parallels in other works of around the same date, such as the Music Room at Craigie Hall (LB33583) and the first phase of the Glasgow School of Art (LB33105), where Mackintosh's authorship is more certain. (Mackintosh Architecture)
Some details of the main elevation are derived from Scottish buildings of the late 16th century, such as the slender, round shafts that mark the angles of the bays and frame some of the windows at Maybole Castle at Dunloe. John Honeyman and Keppie had already used this distinctive feature in their design of Wemyss Bay mansion in 1889–91 (LB48936). In the former Club at Helensburgh however the shafts are given a Gothic flavour by knots of foliage and a stylised tree. This may reflect the influence of English late-Gothic Revival architects such as Henry Wilson (1864–1934), whose design for Ladbroke Grove Free Library, published in the Architect in 1890, features the tree motif prominently. In Helensburgh the intricate decorative details are distributed more sparsely across large areas of smooth wall in a distinctly Scottish way. (Mackintosh Architecture)
The interior of the building is notable because it retains a high level of individually designed details in an Art Nouveau style. The original layout and detailing is largely preserved to the upper floors. The ground floor shops have been altered to form one large space, although the original cast iron columns can still be seen (2019).
Much of the interior detailing is unusual enough to suggest that Mackintosh may have contributed to its design. Panelling in the Billiard Room is stained dark grey and divided into broad, vertical, plank-like sections. It is somewhat similar to the panelling at Queen's Cross Church (LB33764) and the Glasgow School of Art (LB33105). Other areas of distinctive woodwork that suggest Mackintosh's involvement include the elegant curves of the panelled dado to the stair, the highly unusual timber newel posts, and the sinuous mouldings, thin pilasters and heart-shaped capitals in the main Hall.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) was born in Glasgow and is regarded internationally as one of the leading architects and designers of the 20th century. He became known as a pioneer of Modernism, although his architecture took much inspiration from Scottish Baronial, and Scottish and English vernacular forms and their reinterpretation. The synthesis of modern and traditional forms led to a distinctive form of Scottish arts and crafts design, known as 'The Glasgow Style'. This was developed in collaboration with contemporaries Herbert McNair, and the sisters Francis and Margaret Macdonald (who would become his wife in 1900), who were known as 'The Four'. The Glasgow Style is now synonymous with Mackintosh and the West of Scotland.
Mackintosh's work is wide-ranging and includes public, educational and religious buildings to private houses, interior decorative schemes and sculptures. He is associated with over 150 design projects, ranging from being the principal designer, to projects he was involved with as part of the firm of John Honeyman & Keppie (Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh from 1901). He had been in the offices of Honeyman and Keppie since 1889 and while many commissions at this period were ostensibly designed by John Keppie, a large number including the extension of the Glasgow Herald Building (LB33087) and Queen Margaret Medical College in the 1890's (LB32902), were considered minor projects not warranting the attention of a senior member of the firm. They were instead placed in the hands of a junior such as Mackintosh, who's reputation as an original architect soon spread.
Mackintosh's most important work during this partnership was the Glasgow School of Art (LB33105), which was built in two phases from 1897 and culminated in the outstanding library of 1907. His other key works include the Willow Tea Rooms (LB33173), the Glasgow Herald Building (now The Lighthouse) (LB33087) and Hill House (LB34761), which display the modern principles of the German concept of 'Gesamtkunstwerk', meaning the 'synthesis of the arts'. This is something that Mackintosh applied completely to all of his work, from the exterior to the internal decorative scheme and the furniture and fittings.
Mackintosh left Glasgow in 1914, setting up practice in London the following year. Later he and Margaret moved to France, where until his death, his artistic output largely turned to textile design and watercolours.
Listed building record revised in 2019.
Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1897, published 1898). Dumbartonshire XVII.5 (Rhu; Rosneath) 25 inches to the mile. 2nd Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Dumbarton District Library, Dean of Guild Drawings for Helensburgh (Box 1890-1894).
Helensburgh and Gareloch Times, 11 December 1895.
Brown, A (2018) Charles Rennie Mackintosh Making the Glasgow Style. Glasgow: Glasgow Museums.
Crawford, A (1995) Charles Rennie Mackintosh. London: Thomas and Hudson.
Cooper, J. (editor) (1984) Mackintosh architecture: the complete buildings and selected projects. London: Academy.
Howarth, T. (1977) Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.
Neat, T. & McDermott, G. (2002) Closing The Circle Thomas Howarth, Mackintosh and the Modern Movement. Aberdour: Inyx publishing.
Robertson, P. (editor) (1990) Mackintosh: The Architectural Papers. Wendlebury: White Cockade Publishing.
Walker. F. A and Sinclair. F (2000) The Buildings of Scotland: Argyll and Bute London: Penguin. p. 273-4.
Dictionary of Scottish Architects, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=200362 (accessed 30/05/2019).
Mackintosh Architecture. M091 Conservative Club, Helensburgh, at https://www.mackintosh-architecture.gla.ac.uk/catalogue/freetext/display/?rs=6&xml=des&q=sinclair%20street (accessed 15/01/2019).
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