It has been previously acknowledged that the stepped fire surround in the hall-lounge of 78 bears a striking resemblance to the decoration over the door in the west facade of the Glasgow School of Art. Closer viewing also shows that the dropped finials or ‘tassels’ in stone above the west door, as well as the stepping, has been produced in a reduced version in wood to fit the dead light above the door of 78. Obviously the west door of The Glasgow School of Art is much more elaborate in scale being executed in stone, even without the intended carved figures which remained unexecuted (see “Charles Rennie Mackintosh”, Fiona & Isla Hackney, 1989).
Mackintosh also repeated some of his architectural motifs in other work with slight variations and I would suggest that given that The Glasgow School of Art (GSA) was built in two stages with the west facade being constructed after the north the ‘tassel’ and stepped designs probably were first realised in stone on the Scotland Street School (1904/6) on the separate Boys and Girls entrances. Then the west door of GSA, and again in 1916/17 in a much reduced scale in wood at number 78 (One design not implemented for the door of 78 also had the stepping much further down the frame of the door rather like the GSA finish).
Mackintosh also produced two sets of drawings for the school. The first set given to the School Board for approval and the second to the Clerk of Works which had a much more elaborate design finish. It was not until November 1905 that the Board discovered these costly alterations to the design and encouraged CRM to revise his specifications. Scotland Street School also has the inverted triangle as an integral part of the decoration both in stone on the south elevation and in green stained glass on the staircase towers of the north (those of you who have been on a Friends visit to the School will have noticed the glass). Though the inverted triangle in stone and glass is nothing compared to the startling yellow triangle transformation by CRM for Bassett-Lowke’s hall-lounge wallpaper!
Bassett-Lowke was not above re-using decorative schemes he liked, too, and he re-used the second more Art Deco triangular scheme that CRM designed for the hall-lounge of 78 in New Ways, a house for which it wasn’t intended. Also much later during the second world war Bassett-Lowke dusted off the idea of the ‘yellow’ triangle formation to use in gigantic form to cover up the front of his shop window in High Holborn that had been blown out by bombs!
As a footnote you might also like to see the dropped ‘tassel’ is still in use on a ‘new’ classical piece of architecture for the entrance into The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.
First published in 2002 In The Friends of 78 Derngate Newsletter Issue 22.
Author: Rob Kendall
Transcribed 2018: Barbara Floyer