Friday, 29 January 2021

Charles Rennie Mackintosh Half Marathon

With the days blurring into each other in yet another Covid-19 induced lockdown, the motivation to go for a cycle, a run or a walk in these Winter evenings can be hard to find sometimes. However, I know that after I get home from work it will be the best way to clear my head and relax. Trying to exercise near to home during our current lockdown does inevitably mean that you go walking or running over the same routes again and again. I am a bit tired of jazzing up my long Sunday run by maybe running around the Subway stations clockwise instead of anti-clockwise, or going out to Clydebank along the Yoker cyclepath, and back along the canal instead of doing it in the other direction (which for some reason feels as if it is more downhill). 

So a new week, and a new 13 mile route. A half marathon around the creations of Glasgow's most renowned architect, artist and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Charles Rennie Mackintosh


Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born in 1868 at 70 Parson Street in Townhead, Glasgow, a flat which would now roughly lie underneath the on-ramp to the M8 at the top of Castle Street. His father was a policeman, and later chief clerk in the City of Glasgow Police. 

From 1880 to 1883 he went to Allan Glen's School where he began learning architectural and technical drawing, then from 1883 he studied part time for 10 years at Glasgow School of Art, while starting an internship under architect John Hutchison. In Glasgow of the 1880s there was a building boom as industry flourished and the population grew, with the city rapidly expanding. In around 1889 Mackintosh started working for architects Honeyman & Keppie, later becoming a partner in the company. He worked with them until 1913.

In 1900 Mackintosh married designer and artist Margaret MacDonald and they worked together on many projects, creating their distinctive ideas, that would later become synonymous with the term "Glasgow Style".

Many of the buildings designed by Mackintosh are now treasured museum pieces, looked after for us all to enjoy, such as Hill House in Helensburgh, by the National Trust for Scotland. Some are still private residences such as Windy Hill in Kilmacolm. In Glasgow many of his buildings are still in regular use, though not many for their original purpose. His masterpiece in the city however, the Glasgow School of Art "Mackintosh building", is a miserable sight as the current custodians of it have managed to see it burnt down not once, but twice in the past 10 years. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose it once may be regarded as a misfortune: to do it twice looks like carelessness.

So starting off on Byres Road I headed up to Maryhill to start my tour of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Glasgow buildings. It has been pointed out to me on Twitter that I missed some of his handiwork here at the start. Some Mackintosh flourishes can be seen on the old BBC building on Queen Margaret Drive. The former Queen Margaret College building had an extension designed by John Keppie in 1890, with Mackintosh assisting.

Ruchill Church Hall

Finished in 1899 as a Mission Hall for the Free Church of Scotland, Ruchill Church Hall stands on Shakespeare Street, now overshadowed by the later church building alongside it, and overlooking a drive-in McDonalds. When it re-opens take the chance to go in to their wee cafe to admire this simple, functional but handsome space.

Ruchill Church Hall, Glasgow

Ruchill Church Hall, Glasgow

Ruchill Church Hall, Glasgow


Queen's Cross Church

Now home to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, the Queen's Cross Church is the Mackintosh building that see most frequently, passing it every time I head to Firhill Stadium behind it. Opened in 1899 Mackintosh managed to smuggle in some stylish flourishes in the necessarily simple design for the Free Church. Inside the timber-lined barrel-vaulted ceiling makes me feel like I am in a ship whenever I am at any events in here and the unembellished stained glass heart in the window above the pulpit draws up your eyes. From the outside I always think it looks more like a castle than a church.

Queen's Cross Church, Glasgow

Queen's Cross Church, Glasgow about 12 months ago at a gig

Queen's Cross Church, Glasgow

Queen's Cross Church, Glasgow

Queen's Cross Church, Glasgow


Glasgow School of Art


Glasgow School of Art
When the Mackintosh building at the Glasgow School of Art opened in 1909 it heralded a new style of 20th century architecture. Inside and out it was beautiful, functional and practical and widely regarded at Charles Rennie Mackintosh's masterpiece. A devastating fire broke out in 2014, and reports at the time suggested a lack of fire protection in the building contributed to the blaze. As restoration work was nearing completion a more extensive fire in March 2020 gutted the art school building, and neighbouring buildings on Sauchiehall Street. The fire investigation has been long delayed and accusations have been laid at the door of the Art School management board for inadequately planning for these eventualities. 

Glasgow School of Art in former times


Glasgow Art Club


At 185 Bath Street the unassuming friontage below conceals a surprising interior designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. In 1893 when the Glasgow Art Club commissioned Honeyman & Keppie to transform two adjacent townhouses into their new clubhouse. The 23 year old Mackintosh drew up many of the plans for the interior detail, including the glorious frieze in the main gallery. It is all closed up just now, and peering through the glass only reveals some delicate carving on the entry door, but if you see their annual exhibitions advertised, take the chance to step inside and have a look. 

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Entrance to Glasgow Art Club, founded 1867


Willow Tea Rooms


Miss Cranston's Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street opened in 1903 and after designing parts of other tea rooms in the city, this time he was responsible for the exterior, interior, decor and furnishings, alongside his wife Margaret MacDonald. The Willow Tea Rooms as they came to be known were a great success. After a couple of decades of becoming rather shabby, with the tea rooms accessed through a jewellers shop on the ground floor, the Willow Tea Rooms have been extensively restored and had not long re-opened prior to the Covid induced lockdowns. Hopefully there will still be a few shops left open on Sauchiehall Street in the future to draw customers back to this wee gem of a building when it gets to open its doors again. 

Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchiehall Street

Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchiehall Street


Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchiehall Street


Martyrs' School


Heading east we come to Parson Street, where Mackintosh was born, and Martyrs' School. If you head here via the footpath from east of Buchanan Bus Station, that weaves through the high flats, there are a couple of memorials to local boy Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Commissioned in 1895, and built to accommodate 1000 pupils, Mackintosh had to stick to the authorities' design conventions for new schools, such as symmetry and separate entrances for boys and girls. You can still find some of his typical designs in the roof ventilators and around the windows. The building is not open to the public. 

Martyrs' School, Glasgow

Martyrs' School, Glasgow

Martyrs' School, Glasgow

(The completists wishing to take in every Mackintosh related building in the city may want to head 3 miles north here to walk past a villa on 140 Balgrayhill Road that Mackintosh seems to have designed for his cousin in 1890. However, I will leave that for another day. I headed next to the Necropolis.)


Gravestone, Glasgow Necropolis


An unassuming gravestone in the Glasgow Necropolis is an early piece of work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It marks the grave of Alexander McCall, for 18 years police chief of Glasgow, who died in 1888. He was in effect the boss of Mackintosh's father for many years. The gravestone is in the lower graveyard of the Necropolis, facing towards the Tennent's Wellpark Brewery

The Lighthouse/ Former Glasgow Herald Building


The Herald Building on Mitchell Street was one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's early public commissions. Built as a warehouse behind the Glasgow Herald printing office, its most distinctive feature is the water tower, designed to hold an 8000 litre tank of water to protect the building from fire. In 1999 it was remodelled interiorly and opened as The Lighthouse, a centre for architecture and design, with a gift shop, cafe and exhibition spaces. The Mackintosh gallery here is free to access, as is the stairwell to the top of the water tower. If you prefer an easier option there are fantastic views over the city available from the viewing room in the other tower that is serviced by a lift. The best views of the building can be had from the top floor of the NCP carpark across the road. 
 
The Lighthouse, Glasgow

Carved details on the sandstone doorway jostle for attention with modern clutter

The Lighthouse, Glasgow from across the street

Pre-lockdown views from the top of the water tower


Former Daily Record Building/ Stereo

Designed by Mackintosh in 1900, the former Daily Record printing works can be found hidden up Renfield Lane. Hard to spot as the lane is so narrow, but looking up you see the unusual features of this hidden building, with its white glazed tiles and art deco styling. Unfortunately the fantastic Stereo bar/ cafe/ venue located in the ground floor and basement here is closed at present, but will again hopefully soon be home to crowded gigs.

Former Daily Record building, Renfield Lane

Former Daily Record building, Renfield Lane

Former Daily Record building, Renfield Lane

Just around the corner from here, as I head south towards the river, can be found the less impressive side of Glasgow's Charles Rennie Mackintosh tourist honeypot. Just because you put a Mackintosh font on your building and a Margaret MacDonald style rose above the door, it does not make your building a Charles Rennie Mackintosh building, as the Rennie Mackintosh Hotel ably demonstrates. 



Scotland Street School


My daughter has mixed memories of a school trip here as one of the people acting as a mean Victorian teacher was overdoing it a bit and reduced one poor child to tears. Not sure that was a great idea. Usually open as a "museum of education" with period classrooms and related exhibitions, Scotland Street School is obviously closed at present during lockdown. However I see that plans are afoot to possibly open a nursery within the building in the future. 

Designed between 1903 and 1906 it was Mackintosh's last major commission in Glasgow, and he created a building that is both functional and handsome. The impressive glass towers at the stairwells mean that the interior is flooded with light and his typical flourishes can be found in the stonework and vents. Designed for 1250 pupils, urban redevelopment destroyed a lot of the local housing by ploughing the M8 motorway through this part of town,. The school roll had fallen to 100 in the 1970s and the school was closed in 1979. 

Scotland Street School, Glasgow

Scotland Street School, Glasgow

"School Board of Glasgow"

Infants' entrance at Scotland Street School, Glasgow


House for an Art Lover


Situated in Bellahouston Park, The House for an Art Lover was opened in 1996, a full 95 years after Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed it. His plans for this building were submitted to a German design magazine in 1901 as entry to a competition to design a "Haus Eines Kunstfreundes". He worked with his wife Margaret MacDonald on the project. The building in Bellahouston Park is therefore not quite the real thing, as it wasn't a fully worked up architectural plan that Mackintosh had created, but it is as near as you can get. It is available for hire as an events space and has a small cafe, gift shop and gallery. 
 
House for an Art Lover, Glasgow

House for an Art Lover, Glasgow


Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum


To make my walking/running/cycling loop an actual loop, I headed back across the Clyde at The Science Centre and headed back in the direction of Byres Road. But two further stops first. 

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum now has a gallery on the ground floor dedicated to "Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style" with a collection of furniture, jewellery, glass, interiors and textiles by Mackintosh and his contemporaries. 

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, 
 on a frosty January morning


The Mackintosh House


From 1906 until 1914 Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald lived in a terraced house at at 78 Southpark Terrace, which was demolished in the 1960s and replaced by a university building. The interiors have been reassembled in Glasgow University's Hunterian Museum, in a concrete replica of Mackintosh's house, roughly one block back from where the house would have stood. Inside the house layout is recreated, with all his own furniture and decoration. His beautiful, bright bedroom here makes it hard to believe that you are standing within a Victorian terraced house in Glasgow. 

The Mackintosh House, Glasgow

The Mackintosh House, Glasgow

In 1914 Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald moved to rural Suffolk, working increasingly as a watercolourist. During World War 1 he was briefly arrested as a possible spy, and fell out of love with Suffolk, moving to London. In 1923 they moved to Port Vendres in the south of France. Within 5 years they had to return to London due to his ill health, and he died of cancer in 1928, aged 60 years old. His style and imagination are unique, a blend of diverse influences pulled together to create something new. He's one of those people you wish you could go back and tell them how loved their work is a century after it was created. 
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (now wearing a face mask) on a mural above the Clutha Bar



Wednesday, 30 December 2020

The Great Outdoors Indoors - (eg Stay Home)

Normally at this time of year (December 2020) I would be trying to spend as many weekends as possible out in the hills and mountains of Scotland. It is my favourite time to be out there. In the colder weather the boggy ground is usually frozen solid, making for easier going on the lower slopes, the biting midges have all died off for a season with their eggs awaiting the arrival of warmer weather, and with a bit of luck there will be enough snow at the summits to let me dust off my ice axe and crampons. 

Buachaille Etive Mor seen from Beinn a'Chrulaiste


Covid restrictions

But this isn't a normal year. With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging onwards I would like nothing better than to spend my downtime in the outdoors, getting the chance to stretch my legs and clear my head. As I live in Glasgow however, the higher rates of infection in the city have meant that for several months now travel restrictions have been in place to reduce the risk of infection being spread. At the start of the year I planned to jog, in stages, from St Andrews to Largs (for no great reason) but this too was thwarted near the end, when I had frustratingly got as far as Weymss Bay before travel restrictions meant this non-essential trip had to be paused. Instead I am spending my time in Glasgow vicariously enjoying the hills and the outdoors by reading about other people's exploits. 

With various restrictions in place for over 9 months now, with many people's foreign holidays cancelled, and closed venues, there has been a growth in the numbers of people exercising outdoors and some concerns raised that the rural infrastructure is being stretched. Footpaths need maintained, also public toilets have often been closed, car parks overcrowded and rural communities which often rely heavily on visitors for income. They are likely to suffer heavily due to Covid restrictions. It is maybe a timely reminder about the importance of investing in our wild areas and rural communities to allow us all to enjoy them in the future, and also there is an unmet need to educate people in how to look after these fragile assets. Counting on volunteers and charities alone is not enough. 

Local travel

The tier 3 and tier 4 restrictions in Scotland that we have been under mean that only essential travel beyond our local council boundaries has been permitted. Travel is permitted for "local outdoor informal exercise that starts and finishes at the same place (which can be up to 5 miles from the boundary of your local authority area)". 

This 5 mile limit has made me look for different walks from those I would normally chose. As well as taking in the green spaces of the many Glasgow parks, I have enjoyed walking along the Seven Lochs Trail from Hogganfield Loch to Drumpellier, along the edge of Glasgow north of Easterhouse. It has also made me re-visit the Kilpatrick Hills (the Kilpatrick Braes car park is just over 4 miles outside the Glasgow boundary) - when I was at school we used to hitchhike out along Great Western Road at the weekends and then head into the Kilpatricks and the Campsie Hills beyond. Our next youthful walks took us onto the West Highland Way, which marked its 40th anniversary in subdued fashion this year, by telling people to stay at home, and some outdoor enthusiasts got together by organising successful virtual walks and races this year. My recent, more local walks have been very nostalgic (and often very wet it has to be said). I have enjoyed the views over Glasgow from Cathkin Braes, from Queens Park, Ruchill Park and Park Circus, but it is the wilder, more remote hills that I am missing. 

Glasgow seen from The Kilpatrick Hills

Bishop's Loch on the Seven Lochs Trail

The travel restrictions are necessary, and are important so I am very happy to remind myself (through gritted teeth) that the hills will always be there. I would strongly encourage people to resist the temptation to bend the travel rules, as they are there for all our benefit. 

I am however collating a growing list of hills, mountains and walks that I want to undertake as soon as it is practical and permitted. Whilst confined to the city I seem to have been reading more and more books about the great outdoors, and will share a few with you that I have enjoyed this year. If you can't be there in body, you can be out there in spirit. I have tried to include a selection of memoirs, poetry and guides that I can lose myself in.

My reading matter - a personal selection


  • Islands



 
At the start of the year I had booked my first ever trip to the Orkney Islands, and read as much writing from the islands as I could lay my hands on. My Easter trip had to be cancelled due to Covid, but this book is one that I was glad to have found. Overwhelmed by her hedonistic London life, the author returns to her childhood home in Orkney and describes the rhythms and wildlife of island life. Mental illness, alcoholism and corncrakes. All aspects of life are there.

From the people that brought you the fabulous Walk Highlands website comes their latest book. As exhaustive list of all the Scottish islands that can be easily travelled to, with suggested walks and sites. Whether you want to work your way through all the islands ticking them off, or just look at the excellent photographs and cherry pick a few day trips, it is a thoroughly delightful book. 

The men of Ness, at the northern tip of Lewis, have annually set sail to the remote island of Sulasgeir to hunt gannet chicks, guga, for many years. Their ongoing tradition is part of the fabric of their village life and the book interweaves a social history of the islanders and their ancestors. Mixing in Gaelic and English, poems and prose it is not a romantic picture of life there, but full of all the hard work and danger generations have faced there. (Having eaten gannet when I was in Iceland, I don't think that it is no bad things the numbers allowed to be taken each year and restricted).

Angus Peter Campbell worked on this collection whilst living in a thatched house in his native South Uist. Gaelic poems with his own translations (which sometimes poke fun at the fact a translation is not always possible) of everyday life, walks up a hill, childhood recollections, ferries and seasons. Personally I enjoyed the poems here because it took me back to a time many years ago when I was briefly working in Daliburgh in South Uist, where Gaelic was the first language of most of the people I worked with, and where my wife spent our last couple of weeks before our first child arrived. 

  • Mountains




I never head into the hills without first reading 4 different routes up any planned mountain, and spending an evening poring over an OS map. Sometimes I wonder if I get as much pleasure from planning trips as I do from actually carrying them out. The first guide to the Munros that I had, from the days before you could use the internet to find your way, was the SMC guide. If you keep using a book, you get to understand what the author means when they say "an easy scramble" or a "narrow ridge". Triangulating between Cameron McNeish's Munros book and the SMC one I can find the right level of challenge for my planned expeditions, and I know how long each book's "6 hours" will take me. 




After decades of writing books, editing magazines, and presenting TV shows on Scotland's outdoors, Cameron McNeish recently published an excellent memoir (There's Always The Hills) which described how a working class Glaswegian fell in love with the mountains of Scotland, and elsewhere. In this new book he recounts trips to his favourite places, from Borders hillsides to Shetland beaches, with many familiar mountains in between. The next best thing to actually getting out into the hills myself. 

The bizarre sight of commercial climbing crews queuing up to reach the summit of Everest is an abject vision. This book tells in great detail about one such climb in 1996 which resulted in the death of eight climbers. It is a gripping read, and a cautionary tale more strange than any fiction. A reminder that turning back and not reaching a summit can often be the most sensible decision you make on any given day. 

I had read this book a couple of years ago, looking for early stories of Glen Coe mountaineering when I was writing an obituary for an old family friend. Hamish MacInnes was a mountaineer, and has been described as "the father of modern mountain rescue in Scotland". He died earlier this year at the age of 90 and this memoir of his days in Glen Coe mountain rescue gives a great insight into the affinity some people develop with the mountains.

Written over the year 2014, when Scotland was gripped by the independence referendum, these poems by Kathleen Jamie cover a variety of topics. However the ones where I have turned down the page corners to read again are those in the natural realm, where the characters are "oxter-deep in a bramble-grove". One of my favourites finds itself on one of my favourite mountains, Ben Lomond. It starts "Thae laddies in the Celtic shirts" and when I walked up Ben Nevis earlier this year a similar group clad in green and white striped tops were making their way up that mountain, a very real scene, and a reflection of the communal sense of ownership we all feel we have for our mountains. Or at least we all feel we have a right to be there. 


  • Countryside 




A few years ago, bored of running around the same city streets and looking for new routes, I picked up this book by Susie Allison. It has suggested routes from all over Scotland, through forests, over hilltops and along riverbanks. Suitable for walks or runs I have used it when I have been on holiday or with work in different parts of Scotland to find interesting and diverting routes. It's addictive once you start and has led me to start entering hill races. I am not going to win any medals, but it is a different way to see a mountain or hill, unencumbered by boots and backpack.

The Fife Pilgrim Way is a new long distance walking route which tries to introduce you to some of the lesser known parts of the Kingdom. The book focuses very much on the history of the pilgrim routes, and the backstory to saintly Queen Margaret, the monasteries and mining of the region, much of it completely new to me before I decided to run the route twelve months ago. Who knew that there was an underground grotto in Dunfermline, and a witches grave on the foreshore at Torryburn? I previously always made for the mountaintops, but am growing to love the highways and byways too, and the stories you can uncover.

I did not know which of Jim Carruth's collections to include here as every one of them exudes knowledge and empathy for the realities of rural life. The son of a dairy farmer from Renfrewshire, the poet laureate of Glasgow in the book Killocheries presents a verse novella that observes a troubled man spending a year living and working on a farm. Fantastic storytelling.

I read this book when I was staying in a cottage up north one year and was completely immersed in it. Andrew Greig follows request Norman MacCaig made of him, to fish in the Loch of the Green Corrie on his behalf. Ruminating on friendship, land ownership, poetry and the countryside Andrew Greig and Norman MacCaig loved it is a lovely, reflective way to end my list.


These books were just the first ones that came into my head tonight, books I have read, re-read and enjoyed. Please give me your own suggestions of what I should read next in the comments below, and don't forget. STAY HOME, STAY SAFE. 

Thursday, 2 July 2020

The Progress of Science

The Progress of Science - a sculpture at Glasgow University Engineering Building


Views over Kelvingrove Park from University of Glasgow
During the recent coronavirus lockdown, like many people I have spent more evenings wandering around the streets of my hometown, and maybe paying attention to some details that had previously escaped my notice. Now 12 weeks in, I think I have now walked up and down each and every street, lane and park within a 5 mile radius of my house. One place I keep coming back to is the University of Glasgow building on Gilmorehill, either enjoying the views over Kelvingrove to the south, sheltering in the university cloisters, or just wandering about the various buildings. 

Western quadrangle, University of Glasgow
Cloisters, University of Glasgow

One of these buildings that I have looked at more closely than ever before is the James Watt Engineering Building. This sits just east of the main University building. The chemistry department was previously found here, but with the prevailing wind blowing from the west, their fumes were regularly being blown all over the main campus. So at the start of the 20th century the chemists were moved to new premises further to the west, leaving a prominent spot for the faculty of engineering to move in to.

I spent 7 years as a student at Glasgow University, and the James Watt Engineering Building was never one that I paid much attention to. Work started on it in 1899 and it was opened in 1901 by Lord Kelvin, to the north-east of the main Gilbert Scott building. Over time various extensions were added and between 1957-59 a further large extension was added, a functional, and rather non-descript building designed by architects Keppie, Henderson and Gleave. Its otherwise undecorated ashlar south-facing surface was decorated with a 30 foot high frieze carved in Portland stone. 

James Watt was born in Greenock in 1736 and was working as a mathematical instrument maker at Glasgow University on the High Street when he came up with the idea of his steam engine that would make his name. In recent times his name has been linked to the money his father made from rum, sugar and cotton produced by slaves on Caribbean estates. James Watt himself was also involved in a case of selling a slave boy to his new master in Scotland. More light has been cast on these facts in recent weeks as the spotlight from the Black Lives Matter movement spreads into previously overlooked aspects of our collective history. The "James Watt School of Engineering" at Glasgow University has been quick to flag up these issues on its website, whilst continuing to ally itself to the "innovative spirit of Watt".
James Watt (south) building in front of the main University of Glasgow building

The architects of this new building specified a relief sculpture of some kind should be an integral part of their design from the outset. The University authorities suggested that the subject of the sculpture should be "the development of engineering relative to the University". Their initial suggestion was for abstract shapes, inscribed with various important names and dates, "a unified composition of small units", rich in texture to match the Scott Gothic of the neighbouring University main building.

In the correspondence between the University authorities and the architect it is clear that the University quickly fear that none of their plans are being listened to and they complain that "the plaque is unlikely to seem a good £3000 worth", and that it does "nothing to tie the New to the Old as claimed." It would be fair to say that the building as a whole adds little to the beauty of the University of Glasgow campus, but it was the images on this frieze that caught my eye as I was walking past it today. 

James Watt building, south extension. Not the prettiest building on the university campus.

Eric Kennington - artist


A cursory look at the relief on the southern face of this building shows you that the finished sculpture bears very little comparison to the brief laid out by the architects. Entitled "The Progress of Science" it stands about 30 foot by 10 foot in size. Instead of describing the "development of engineering relative to the University" it in fact has only one scientist in it, who stands in Arabic robes, and lots of imagery from nature, religion and mythology. 
 
The Progress of Science, by Eric Kennington
The architects in their early reports to the University authorities described their plans for the sculpture and in their 1957 "Notes On Bas-Relief Sculptural Panel". With no explanation given, they recommended a "non-Scottish sculptor".They suggested Eric Kennington for the job, as the "British sculptor most likely to make an outstanding job of the panel."

In a letter to the architects from the assistant secretary to the University court, disquiet that the architects favoured Kennington to a Scottish sculptor, suggesting "What about Hew Lorimer or Benno Shotz?" Benno Shotz had recently completed a 15 foot high tablet on the side of the new chemistry building of Joseph Black, and Hew Lorimer was commissioned to sculpt the facade of the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. 

Joseph Black by Benno Schotz
In the end Kennington was given the commission for what was to be his final work. The work had to be completed by September 1959 for the official opening, and when Kennington took ill in June 1959 he headed back to England and his assistants, Eric Stanford and Archibald Robertson, who had been working alongside him for 2 months on the job, completed the sculpture. Kennington died, aged 72, before the work was completed.

Eric Kennington was born in 1888. After attending the Lambeth School of art he enlisted in 1914 and was injured while fighting on the Western Front. After 4 months in hospital he returned to France as a war artist. After the war he met T.E. Lawrence who had come to an exhibition of his paintings, and they became lifelong friends. In 1921 he traveled through Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria drawing portraits or Arab subjects and many of these were used as illustrations in T.E. Lawrence's book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

One of Kennington's illustrations from the 1935 edition of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom that belonged to my father-in-law
In 1935 he was one of T.E. Lawrence's pall bearers and sculpted the bust of Lawrence for his tomb. Throughout the 1920s and 30s he was increasingly working as a sculptor. During World War 2 he was again commissioned as a war artist, working mainly for the RAF. 

Parachutes, 1941, by Eric Kennington
After the war he continued to work and was elected as member of the Royal Academy. His sculpture for the University of Glasgow in 1959 was his last work. 

The Progress of Science

Top of Kennington's sculpture

The main features in his sculpture seem to have little connection to Glasgow, to science or to engineering. At the top stands Hermes, messenger to the Gods of Greece, with his winged feet, and his staff with entwined snakes about it in his right hand. As the Roman god Mercury he often carries his staff in the left hand, so I am going to stick with the Greek versions throughout. Also I suggest that a major source of ideas for the sculpture was Belgian scientist George Sarton. He is credited as largely being the founder of the discipline of the history of science. He wrote extensively on Greek scientists, such as in his book "Hellenistic Science and Culture in the Last Three Centuries BC". This book was published in 1955, just in time for any artist in 1957 who was looking for ideas for a work on the history of science to find inspiration.  

In this book he talks about one of the greatest scientists in the Greek world, Eratosthenes. Eratosthenes became chief librarian at Alexandria, he was known as a critic of Homer and he made some of the earliest calculations of the size of the Earth's circumference, and the tilt of the Earth's axis. He also wrote poetry, and Sarton quotes his Hermes as "his masterpiece. Such poems satisfied the scientific curiosity as well as the love of metrical words of the Ptolemic aristocracy." 

Beside Hermes can be found motifs from mythology and the natural world. Pegasus the winged horse, a swan, the sun with rays coming across towards an eagle, who seems to be bowing down. Above the eagle parachutes are falling, and Pegasus was the emblem of the newly formed British parachute regiment in the second world war. Is the eagle the German Reich succumbing to the British forces? A compass is found in the background here, and the word "PROGRESS".

Progress of Science, or memories of war?
To the left is found a kite (is this Benjamin Franklin's kite that he flew in a thunderstorm to experiment with electricity), and a quiver with an arrow (I can only guess that these belong to Artemis, goddess of hunting). A cloud of smoke adds to the mystery of this collection of items.

A quiver and a kite
Perhaps the clue is that Zeus, king of the Greek gods, and the god of thunder and the skies, stands in the middle here, ready to cast down a bolt of lightening, science explaining the mythology.

In the lower half of the panel the god Hephaestus stands at his anvil, below a volcano, with his other symbols, his hammer and tongs, in his hands. Hephaestus was the god of blacksmiths and metalworkers, forges, fire and volcanoes, artisans, stone masons and sculptors. Hephaestus epitomises George Sarton's life work, trying to combine the humanities and sciences. By creating a history of science he wanted to create a "new humanism". He felt that without science the humanities are incomplete, and without the arts, history, philosophy, religion that a life of science was empty. He looked for this in the world of ancient Greece, of Homer and in the medieval Arab world. Like Kennington he traveled around the Middle East as part of his work, learning Arabic as he sought to read original manuscripts of the Arab scholars.

Lower part of The Progress of Science
Carpenters' tools, farming implements, gears, chains and pulleys lie between the figures and below it all a boat that looks suspiciously like Noah's ark, floats on a sea filled with a whale and a shoal of fish. Other scientific instruments such as protractors, possibly an Archimedes screw, and a governor mechanism are dotted about. 

Also several words are seen. "PROGRESS", "PER MARE, PER TERRAS" (by land and sea - motto of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland), "SCIENTIA ET INGENIO" (motto of the Society of Civil Engineers), "DISCE DOCE" (learn, teach- motto of the Institution of Electrical Engineers). These mottoes hint that some of the symbols in the sculpture may be nods to the emblems of engineering societies - the swan way in fact be the crane from the Civil Engineers crest, the caduceus of Hermes, his staff, is found in the crest of the Electrical Engineers, as is the winged horse.

The one mystery that did have me scratching my head was the man on the left, standing atop some steps, his calipers measuring an orb of some description. Out of keeping with everyone else depicted he is in Arabic robes, a ghutrah or keffiyeh on his head, and a beard and moustache similar to those Kennington has drawn in his pictures for T.E. Lawrence's book, such as the portrait of Auda Abu Tayi above. This figure is the only one taken from history, and the only scientist depicted in the sculpture. 

The solitary scientist in the sculpture


Arabic scientist, but which one?
Again I have gone back to the writings of George Sarton to find out, as I suspect that Kennington found a lot to agree with in Sarton's book An Introduction to the History of Science. Over several volumes he had taken this from the time of Homer up to the 14th century by the time of his death in 1956. Like Kennington he traveled extensively in the Middle East in the 1920s as he investigated the area where many of our modern scientific ideas originated. As Professor Jim Al-Khalili points out in his book "Pathfinders. The Golden Age of Arabic Science" for 700 years the language of science was Arabic. Their scholars began translating the works of the Ancient Greek scientists and thinkers such as Euclid, Aristotle, Archimedes, and Ptolemy in the mid-8th century. They examined and improved some of these ideas with the technologies available in their time. 

The vocabulary of these ancient scientists survives in our English words, such as alkali, azimuth, alcohol, algebra, elixir, nadir, zenith, and alchemy. Ptolemy, the Greek mathematician and astronomer, wrote his Almagest, his theory on the movements and sizes of the planets and the sun. He laid out his ideas on celestial motions, his solar and lunar theories and catalogues the stars. His Almagest was translated into Arabic (and we still know it from its Arabic naming, 'The Great Book') and in the 9th century the caliph of Baghdad, Al-Ma'mun, commissioned a huge observatory to be built in Baghdad to allow his scientists to check Ptolemy's observations. With the necessary state funding behind them, a team of astronomers, mathematicians and geographers. They improved upon Ptolemy's observations and drew up charts of planetary motions and made more accurate estimates of the Earth's circumference. They also placed the Sun at the centre of the planets, with the Earth and other planets revolving around it. More accurate calculations of the Earth's circumference were made by Al-Biruni, using algebra to look to the distant horizon from the base and summit of a mountain. Born in Khiva in modern Uzbekistan, he was Persian, and wrote on physics, mathematics, anthropology, religious history, astronomy, and came up with te idea of dividing the hour into 60 minutes and seconds. His calculations on the circumference of the Earth are merely 1% out from modern measurements. Of the three giants of medieval science who all lived in the same era, Ibn al-Haytham who developed new theories of optics, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), the father of early modern medicine and al-Biruni, it is the latter who we see depicted by Eric Kennington with his calipers out, measuring the size of the Earth. In a book I suspect Kennington was reading due to their shared interest in the Middle East, George Sarton says in his Introduction to the History of Modern Science, the first half of the eleventh century was "the Age of al-Biruni".

We have here our scientist, al-Biruni, possibly

I think that this sculpture by Eric Kennington, his last work before his death, combines many elements of his life's work, his ideas and experiences. As a churchwarden in Checkendon, Oxfordshire he was a religious man and bible references can be seen in his work. He served as a war artist in both world wars and elements from that can be seen also, particularly his World War II experiences with the RAF. Parts of the sculpture try to connect the humanities and science, with classical references and the Greek god of sculptors prominently displayed. This is a theory explored by George Sarton, whose books were in circulation in the 1950s when the sculpture was conceived, developing a history of science, a similar task to that which Kennington was set. And finally we have the sole scientist portrayed in the piece being not a graduate of the Glasgow faculty of Engineering, nor a Copernicus, Einstein or Galileo but a man who would be little known to Westerners who had not spent time in the Middle East, or delved deep into the history of the Islamic world.

This therefore is my hypothesis of the motifs and characters portrayed on the sculpture of the Engineering building of the the University of Glasgow, based on my own observations and the limited evidence I have been able to find. I particularly must cite Roy MacKenzie's excellent book "Public Sculpture of Glasgow" (2002), which my mum picked up in a Brighton bookshop for £1. As with any scientific hypothesis please feel free to correct my mistakes with your own insights. 

I will leave the last words to al-Biruni, as he shakes his fist at those who would hide their own ignorance by mocking science and scientists, perhaps saying such things as "Britain has had enough of experts."
"The extremist among them would stamp the science as atheistic, and would proclaim that they lead people astray in order to make ignoramuses, like him, hate the sciences. For this will help him conceal his ignorance, and to open the door for the complete destruction of science and scientists."