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Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland
By Billings

"BILLINGS' BARONIAL AND ECCLESIASTICAL ANTIQUITIES OF SCOTLAND" will always occupy a prominent place in the library of every student of Architecture and Scottish History. The cost of the original edition placed it beyond the reach of the many, but this new issue is published by Messrs OLIVER AND BOYD at a price that will ensure to this important work a far wider circulation than ever it had.

The buildings of Scotland first attracted attention in the early part of the eighteenth century. Slezer's Theatrum Scotia, published in 1718, is the earliest work of the kind, and up to the time of the publication of Billings' work, the best of them.

Between the time of Slezer and Billings, several other works made their appearance. Pennant, in his Tour in Scotland, published in 1769, illustrates a good many of the buildings, but his work is not devoted exclusively to the Architecture of Scotland. This was followed by a work in three volumes, published by the Rev. C. Cordiner of Banff, between 1780 and 1795, entitled Letters and Remarkable Ruins and Romantic Prospects of North Britain. His views of buildings are confined to those in his own district and the north of Scotland. Two small volumes were published by Adam de Cardonnel in 1788; and between 1789 and 1791 appeared what was then considered an important work, in two volumes, entitled The Antiquities of Scotland, by Grose.

When these works were published draughtmanship was at a very low ebb, so all the views given in them are more or less inaccurate. This is a distinct loss to the student, because many of the buildings were more entire in those (lays than they are at present, and many of them have since disappeared. In Slezer's view of Stirling Castle the fine group of entrance towers, one of the most interesting specimens of Mediaeval Military Architecture in Scotland, was entire and roofed in, as also the Great Hall of James III., since cut up into barrack rooms, and all its interesting architecture defaced. Much of Falkland Palace and the Abbey and Royal Palace of Dunfermline, shown in these drawings, no longer exist. Had Slezer's draughtmanship been equal to that of Billings', this volume would have been invaluable to the Architectural student of to-day.

Pennant's views have some merits, but are unreliable. It would be impossible to recognise Stirling Castle from the view he gives of it, and as a representation of the old Gordon Castle he gives a view of Heriot's Hospital.

Adam de Cardonnel's two small volumes, which he says were prepared to serve as a guide-book to travellers, contain illustrations of twenty castles and thirty churches---small etchings, averaging in size about 3 inches by 2 inches, and all of them equally bad and inaccurate. The views in Cordiner's volumes are no better.

In Grose's time the magnificent residence of Chancellor Seaton was very complete, although roofless. Had his draughtsmanship been equal to that of Billings', we would have had handed down to us what must have been one of the finest mansions in the Lothians.

A full half century elapsed before anything was done to illustrate the Architecture of Scotland. England fared better, and it was during this period that the works of Britton, Pugin, Mackenzie, Le Keux, etc., were published; and it was in this school that Billings was trained, he having been a pupil of Britton.

In 1845-52 his work, in four volumes, on The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland was published. The high standard of artistic and accurate draughtsmanship, and careful selection of examples, at once placed this work in the front rank of Architectural publications, and from this position it has not yet been displaced. Its publication coincided with the interest in all things Scottish, stirred to life by the writings of Scott, and a period of great agricultural prosperity, justifying large outlays by land-owners in enlarging and improving existing houses, and the erection of new ones.

This work disclosed such a wealth of native Art hitherto practically unknown, that it came as a revelation to all, and by common consent the style of Architecture displayed in the buildings illustrated by Billings was adopted for the many new houses that were erected from this time onwards.

It might have been better for the progress of true Art if the architects of the last half of last century had studied the buildings illustrated by Billings more scientifically, and from a sounder standpoint. We should then have been spared the many sham castles we see everywhere; but the public taste of the day called for such things. It was maintained "that one of the great causes of success in the Domestic or Baronial Architecture of Scotland was the comprehensive study of situation, and the composition of designs to suit these. The builders of our Scottish houses and castles worked on no such principles. They never troubled themselves about picturesqueness or the composition of designs to suit sites. They did what suited their purposes and wants at the time, and the result was—as may be seen in all the works illustrated in these volumes—buildings that show an adaptation of means to an end, functional truth, with resulting intelligence, expression, and picturesqueness.

To-day, happily, better principles prevail. Buildings are no longer made to look like what they are not, but their character is impressed on them by the various purposes that call then into existence. Hence the great value to the Architect of the work in these volumes is the accumulated experience of centuries of builders in meeting all the problems that from time to time arose, and it is only by following in their footsteps that the Architect of to-day will produce buildings as thoroughly national in character, and representative of the social and political state of the time, as any building illustrated in this valuable work.

LL.D., H.R.S.A.

15th October 1901.

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