Decorators Uncover Architect's Lost Interior At Glasgow University

By David Prudames | 04 February 2005
Shows a photograph of a wall, the upper half of which is green and has flower stencilling on it, while the lower half is brown and has patterned and flower stencilling on it.

Changing Rooms! Just look at what a little decorating can uncover. Courtesy University of Glasgow.

A spot of decorating at the University of Glasgow’s 19th century Lilybank House has uncovered an interior created by one of Scotland’s most treasured architects.

Hidden beneath layers of paint, decorators discovered colourful stencilling work dating back to 1863 when Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson (1817-1875) added this extension to the house.

A team of conservation experts was quickly called in from Historic Scotland to carry out a full investigation of the discovery and begin to work out how it can be conserved.

Shows a photograph of a wall, green at the top and brown at the bottom. There are several large scars where paint has come away.

The stencilling was found in an extension created by Thomson in 1863. Courtesy University of Glasgow.

"This really is an exciting find of national importance," explained Robert Wilmot, Historic Scotland Conservation Centre Manager.

"Even though Thomson was working comparatively recently, we have very little evidence of his style of interiors. In fact, it has been said that we know more about the 2000-year-old interiors of Pompeii and Herculaneum than we do about Glasgow buildings of a century ago!"

One of Scotland's greatest architects, Alexander Thomson created some of the most unique secular and ecclesiastical buildings of the Victorian era. Blending conventional neo-classical style with Egyptian and oriental themes he produced highly original buildings, considered to be among the finest of their kind.

In 1863 he was commissioned by then owner of Lilybank House, prominent local businessman and future Lord Provost of Glasgow, John Blackie Jnr to create an extension.

Shows a close up photograph of flower stencil patterns in green.

Historic Scotland staff believe that there might be more of Thomson's decoration waiting to be found. Courtesy University of Glasgow.

As well as the stencilling work found in Thomson’s extension, Historic Scotland’s architectural paint research team has found, under numerous layers of paint, a mural frieze running along the bottom of the wall in the entrance hall.

Similar in style to another design found in the drawing room, the conservators have not ruled out finding more murals as work progresses.

The bright colours are typical of Thomson’s other work, particularly the interior at Holmwood House in Glasgow, where Historic Scotland has also uncovered examples of his original decoration.

"Although Thompson's extraordinary wall decoration at Holmwood House (1856) has now been uncovered, it’s fascinating to see, at last, one of his later domestic interiors in Glasgow's West End emerging from under layers of paint," said Dr Sally Rush, from the Department of Art History at the University of Glasgow.

Shows a close up of flower and border stencilling patterns in brown.

Thomson is famous for blending popular neo-classical design with Egyptian and oriental motifs. Courtesy University of Glasgow.

"The University of Glasgow can now include Thomson's work at Lilybank House in its collection of on-campus highly innovative 19th century interiors by the architects Charles Rennie Mackintosh, J.J. Burnet, and James Salmon and John Gaff Gillespie which underpin its importance as a centre for the teaching and research of historic interiors and the decorative arts."

The find adds more historic value to the already remarkable Lilybank House. One of Glasgow’s most celebrated buildings it is already unique as the only known example of a building added to by both of Glasgow’s most famous architects.

Dating back to 1850, the house was added to by Thomson in 1863 and again in 1895 by Honeyman and Keppie Architects, among whose staff was a certain Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

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