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The Scots Week-End
Kirks and Corbie Steps


"Ah, it’s a brave kirk—nane o'yere whigmaleeries and curliewurlies and open-steek hems about it—a’ solid, weel-jointed mason-wark, that will stand as lang as the warld, keep hands and gunpowther aff it."

Scott

ARCHITECTURE IN OUTLINE

THE earliest type of building you are likely to meet with in Scotland is the broch, an open, round and tapering tower superbly built of stone slab walls 16 ft. thick, originally about 40 ft. in height, enclosing a circular space about 40 ft. in diameter. No windows pierce the walls, only a small door, while within the walls are built galleries, cells and stairs, and a hearth and a well occupied the centre space. Many brochs exist in the north and west of Scotland, dating mostly from the first to the fifth centuries A.D., and they were used either as a defence against sea-raiders or as the castles of a conquering aristocracy. They are stark and solemn and have no parallel outside Scotland.

The arrival of Columba at lona from Ireland in the sixth century and his missionary successes among the Picts on the Scottish mainland were the means of establishing cultural relations between Ireland and Scotland. The architectural consequences were, briefly, the hermit’s cell (to be seen at Inchcolm), the carved Celtic cross, the square-ended plan for churches and the tall round refuge towers to be seen at Abernethy (Fife) and Brechin. One of the most perfect of Celtic crosses is in lona itself. It is dedicated to St. Martin of Tours and stands opposite the west door of the Cathedral.

St. Margaret, who as wife of Malcolm Canmore was Queen of Scotland from 1070 to 1093, was granddaughter of an English king and had been brought up in Hungary. It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that she, like St. Columba, was the means of bringing fresh influences to bear on Scottish life and architecture, and it was largely through her and her son, David I, that Romanesque or Norman architecture penetrated into Scotland. The Romanesque characteristics are the round arch, generally massive proportions, flat wooden ceilings and long narrow churches. The large Scottish churches of this time rank among the great ones of Europe. Kirkwall Cathedral, begun in 1137, is a noble building originally planned in the orthodox Norman manner with a central tower, transepts with eastern chapels, nave of seven bays, choir of three and a single eastern apse. The interior is very high for its width. Dunfermline Abbey church nave was the work of David I and is reminiscent of Kirkwall. (Note especially the two spirally fluted and two incised columns at the east end.) The west façade of Jedburgh Abbey is another important and striking example of Norman work.

Several small Norman churches show the influence of the square-ended Celtic plan—St. Oran’s at lona, Stobo and Aberdour are all churches of this type that finds no similar expression outside Scotland. The more usual Norman plan, with an apse, can, of course, be seen at Dalmeny Church (which is superb) or at Leuchars.

Scots were (and are) very fond of sticking to certain features of building design long after they had been dropped elsewhere, and the round arch is an example of this eclectic conservatism; at the Nunnery chapel, lona (1203), we find a round-arched arcade accompanied by Gothic ornament—a very effective ensemble. At St. Andrew’s Cathedral, on the other hand, we have an east front in simple Romanesque and a west front in early pointed Gothic, for churches were usually begun at the eastern or sanctuary end.

Gothic architecture is more than just a pointed-arch style of building—it embodies a scheme of structure more scientific than Romanesque, enabling larger areas to be roofed in and bigger windows to be inserted for the better lighting of the interior. In other words, wall spaces were diminished and, as Gothic design developed, the structure gradually evolved itself into a framework of columns, buttresses and ribbed vaulting. (Modern industrial architecture, it is instructive to note, has developed along the same lines by exploiting the possibilities of steel and concrete.) One of the great glories of Gothic architecture in Scotland is the huge crypt of Glasgow Cathedral. It would be impossible here to describe the complex system of vaulting that so successfully avoids monotony, provides space for St. Mungo’s shrine and yet achieves unity by what is a structural and aesthetic tour deforce of vaulting design.

What Elgin Cathedral loses by lack of size it gains by a uniformity almost as impressive as Salisbury Cathedral, with which it is contemporary. The east end, with its two tiers of lancet windows surmounted by a rose window, must have lit the interior magnificently. Other notable features are the high-roofed octagonal chapter-house and the elaborately shafted west doorway. Elgin was burnt by the notorious Alexander Stewart, surnamed the Wolf of Badenoch, but its present ruinous state is due to the removal of the roof-lead by the Regent Moray.

Other great early Gothic ruins in Scotland are Arbroath Abbey and Dryburgh Abbey.

From the simplicity of early Gothic with its lancet

windows ("Early English") we proceed to the next development, which shows an increase in the ornamenting of vaulting and window tracery, and is known as middle or "decorated" Gothic.

Despite Bannockburn and Bruce’s successful rule, English influence still persisted. Sweetheart Abbey, near Dumfries, is, generally, English in appearance though there are a few Scottish details such as tall buttresses without breaks or offsets. On the other hand, Dunblane Cathedral has the essentially Scottish proportion of a long but narrow nave. Very rich is the nave arcade, and the fine effect of seeing the whole length of the church from west to east end is probably unique in Scotland. Melrose Abbey is the most famous Scottish ruin (of which the view by moonlight, recommended by Scott, is a stock-in-trade of all the right post-card shops). As a whole it has no clear national characteristic but is a mixture, the rich vaulting and south transept window being in the best English "decorated" tradition, except for a flavour of French flamboyancy in the windows, while the shafted pillars and moulded arches provide another example of the Scottish arcading we admired at Dunblane. Melrose has the usual Cistercian plan.

There is a fine group of parish churches of this period in Fife (T-shaped in plan with a broad tower topped by a blunt spire), of which St. Monans is easily the finest, with its "decorated" window tracery displaying sometimes English, sometimes French influence.

Late Gothic in Scotland did not follow England’s lead into the "perpendicular" style; actually there are certain French details which become fused with the national idiom of design of both secular and religious buildings—the revival of apses and the use of flamboyant tracery in windows, and the corbelling out of turrets in secular buildings. Of the national features which developed about now are the naïve curvilinear tracery, the stone slabbed roofing (to be seen at Seton and Corstorphine), the elaborate "Sacramental Houses" for the Elements, such as we see at Kintore and Crichton churches, and lastly, the well-known open spires or "crowns" at St. Giles, Edinburgh, and King’s College, Aberdeen.

The fifteenth century saw the building of our few large medieval parish churches—Linlithgow, Haddington, Stirling and St. Andrews. St. Michael’s, Linlithgow, is the finest of the four, with its three-sided apse and typically Scottish separate gabled roofs of transepts and a porch—a common feature in Scottish domestic architecture for the next two hundred years. St. Giles, the High Kirk of Edinburgh, suffered from two burnings in the fourteenth century and has been added to frequently so that it has numerous aisles. Its most beautiful feature is the open spire: the inside is dark and conveys a confused impression not helped by dark window-glass and a plethora of chairs. Both Aberdeen and St. Andrews universities have fine chapels, the original woodwork in the former being unique in Scotland. Perhaps the most striking church building of this time, however, is the cathedral of St. Machar, Aberdeen, the west front of which has a simple grandeur in its treatment of granite and a boldness in the general design of windows and twin spires, which takes one entirely by surprise, while inside is the equally surprising medieval wooden ceiling which heraldically displays the ideal structure of Catholic Christendom.

From a number of characteristically Scottish all-stone churches, Roslin Chapel stands out as an elaborate exotic, largely the work of foreigners. It has to be seen to be believed.

The earliest medieval secular buildings are thirteenth-century stone keeps (Dunstafnage or Inverlochy), usually built with stone surrounds on promontories overlooking river or loch, During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries we see development from the simple peel tower such as Neidpath (Peebles) or Newark, to the more elaborate plan of such castles as Tantallon, Spynie and Doune. Usually these incorporated separate ranges for kitchens, visitors and chapel, grouped round a courtyard. Castles were not only fortresses, they served as local government centres.

The sixteenth century saw the building of palace-castles, such as Linlithgow, Stirling and Falkland, all of which demonstrate Scotland’s early use of Renaissance detail (which arrived via France). The courtyard front of Falkland, with its medallions and double tier of ornamental columns, is typical of this group.

Simultaneously we have the development of Scots Baronial, wherein French features like the elaborately corbelled turret were welded with naïve ingenuity into the design of Scottish fortified houses, the lower storeys of which were left plain so that the elaborate upper floors and roof structure blossomed forth with the extraordinary profusion that characterises Castles Fraser and Craigievar in Aberdeenshire or Amisfield in Dumfriesshire. Allied with this evident vigour of essentially functional [Functional: a style of building wherein convenience and the claims of structure dominate design, taking little heed of external symmetry.] design was a sure sense of proportion—for seldom, if ever, do we find a roof that seems "wrong" in shape.

Meanwhile the ordinary house took form and a few remaining examples reveal its naive and varied charm. Perhaps the most interesting town houses are Provand’s Lordship, Glasgow, The Palace, Culross, Acheson House, Edinburgh and Argyll’s Lodging, Stirling, while by far the most impressive country mansion is Traquair, rambling yet shapely, its lines softened by the casual texture of harling. At no time before or since had Scottish domestic architecture such individuality, and though this wholesome tradition in effect died out in the seventeenth century, being killed by the later Renaissance, it persisted much longer in cottage and farm buildings: it was the native idiom.

Two buildings occur about this time which will strike the reader as out of the normal course. Heriot’s Hospital and Wintoun House have generally a flavour foreign to the strongly national tendencies of contemporary architecture. Their details, notably the chimneys at Wintoun, are markedly English, and they were built, it transpires, by the same master of works, Wallace.

The stranger into whose hands this book may have fallen will probably have noticed a nauseating habit that has spread recently in Scotland, of attaching to (Scottish people or institutions a sobriquet indicating by way of exaplanation) a better-known English counterpart; thus our Government Offices are the "Scottish Whitehall", Dunbar is the "Scottish Chaucer", and but for loud and bitter laughter our new Inland Revenue offices would actually have been named "Somerset House"—and "Somerset" is a name that should stink in the nostrils of anyone who has seen the inside of a Scottish History book. So with Sir William Bruce the architect, he is the "Scottish Wren". Contemporary he certainly was, but little else. His most complete work is Kinross House and garden, his most famous the main court of Holyroodhouse. Both are refined and neither is the least English, but rather

French in flavour. It is rare to find a house and garden in such harmony of design as Kinross, with several garden houses and the famous "Fish-gate" opening on to Loch Leven. Bruce built it for himself and it is clearly an architect’s house. The 1691 front of Caroline Park, Edinburgh, is probably his most original work. French in general appearance—it has been likened to a Burgundian manor-house—but unmistakeably Scottish in its sly detail. Following on and influenced by Bruce came William Adam, the father of sons whose fame has eclipsed his own. But the old man had great talent, and as he was responsible for introducing the Palladian style into Scotland, he may be said to have bridged the gulf between Scottish and English architecture. He designed Yester House, The Drum near Gilmerton, Mellerstain near the Border, and Hopetoun House, where he incorporated work by Bruce. He also designed the now demolished Town House at Dundee. His celebrated sons did most of their work in England, but in Edinburgh will be found their University Buildings, the Register House and the magnificent Charlotte Square, the north side of which has recently been restored and is worth a visit; it is well massed yet delicate in detail. The work of the sons is more refined than the father’s—sometimes it comes dangerously near the "refaned".

The best monument of this age is the planning of Edinburgh’s New Town; the view down George Street from St. Andrew Square gives perhaps the most complete impression. Adam’s University Building in Edinburgh was finished and altered by Playfair, who was a leading architect of the Greek revival that flourished in the early nineteenth century, and his University dome is of excellent proportions. The vestibule of his Academy at Dollar is worth seeing, and more convenient perhaps, the National Gallery in Princes Street and the fine façade of Royal and Regent Terraces in Edinburgh. Hamilton was another important architect of the time, and his Royal High School is a bold Athenian group of buildings of grace and dignity on the rocky slopes of the Calton Hill, Edinburgh. The Greek revival was strongly expressed by "Greek" Thomson in the west of Scotland, and his St. Vincent Street Church, Glasgow, is easily the most striking example of this movement. Note how splendidly the advantage of the sloping site has been used.

And now we come to what is the very depth of Scotland’s architectural winter, for the neo-classicism of the Adams and the Greek revival almost knocked the life out of native architecture, which retired to obscure farm buildings and cottages.

Thirst for the romantic impelled our fathers and grandfathers to revive Scots Baronial as a style. Probably their most thorough revivalist debauch is epitomised in Balmoral, but the habit spread throughout the kingdom, ranging in expression from the mansions of county families to the turreted villas of Edinburgh’s suburbs. And of course there was Abbotsford. Of these all that can be said is "Non ragioniam di lor, ma guarda e passa". As imitations of the real thing they are all depressingly amateurish, they abound in restless lines and hard textures, and their interiors are veritable forests of varnished pitch-pine.

Gothic was, of course, deemed the essential of a good church, but few churches were in scholarly Gothic. The general tendency was towards an attenuated style of little vitality. The development of an architectural idiom suited to Presbyterian worship unfortunately made no headway, for a Scottish church was after all a place for the preaching of the Word, not a shrine for sacraments and contemplation, as most original Gothic buildings had been.

Largely owing to the zeal of Sir Rowand Anderson, revivalism was directed to real research into Scottish tradition, as his excellent restoration of Dunblane Cathedral testifies, and his work was developed by

Sir Robert Lorimer, the architect of the Scottish National War Memorial. The Scottish tradition, not fully understood, it is true, became popular and Lorimer throve as a fashionable architect, the "Lutyens" —let us too commit the nauseating sin—of Scotland. And truly, few buildings can have caught the public imagination as fully as Lorimer’s war memorial, whatever we may think of it architecturally.

But the real hope of Scottish architecture does not lie with Lorimer or his followers. In 1894 a young architect, C. R. Mackintosh, suddenly produced his design for the Glasgow School of Art, a piece of pioneer modernism which has had more influence on modern European architecture than any other building of its time. Here are the seeds of modern "functional" architecture, and, if we have eyes to see, we shall realise how much Mackintosh owed to the sturdy functional tradition of sixteenth and seventeenth-century Scottish architecture. His houses at Helensburgh and Kilmacolm tell the same tale. But Mackintosh was a prophet in his own country and it is only now he is dead that we begin to give true recognition to his genius.


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