May 2024
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Teatime at Miss Cranston’s Willow Tearooms in Glasgow

The Willow Tea Room Sauchiehall Street © 2007 Scotiana

Hi everybody ! Try to imagine we’re all sitting on a Mackintosh chair round a Mackintosh table, in the very special atmosphere of the Willow Tearooms in Glasgow, chatting about everything Scotland, our favourite subject !

Jane Haining

To begin with, have you read our friends’ second Letter from Scotland? This time, Iain and Margaret have told us a very moving story. I must confess I didn’t know anything about Jane Haining before reading this marvellous page about her. What I will retain about this remarkable Scotswoman, who lost her life protecting the school-girls she was in charge of in a Hungarian school, during WWII, is not only her intelligence and courage but the very kindness with which she has always acted from beginning to end.

Her story has now entered world history and her name has been inscribed, with so many others, on the walls of impressive Holocaust memorials but, under the talented pen of Iain, Jane keeps a human dimension. She becomes so lively that we feel as if we knew her, following the young woman along her short life, from her native Dumfriesshire to Glasgow and Budapest. We lose trace of her in the deadly mist of Auschwitz but a picture, a poem on a stone, a written page will speak of Jane forever.

Iain told us he had found a little book about Jane Haining which he used to write his post. He recently mentioned something which may well interests some readers. I quote him :  “did you wonder that Jane should have a step-sister alive in 1997? It comes about in this way….  Jane’s father remarried in 1925 (when he was about 55). Just six months or so later, he died. But in November of that same year, a child was born to his new wife.. .. a girl, Agnes.. .. known as ‘Nan’.. .. who was to become Mrs O’Brien. I wonder whether she’s still alive.. .. she’d be almost 85?”

The Sauchiehall Street Willow Tearooms Wikipedia

The Sauchiehall Street Willow Tearooms - Wikipedia

But now, back to the Willow Tearooms where we are supposed to be sipping our tea, nibbling delicious Scottish scones. I’ve nearly forgotten that, in spite of the magical decor and the very tempting menu card. Jane, who “used to bring each week a bag of cream buns for her pupils”, would certainly have liked to be here with her girls!

Quite astonishing the modern look of this tearoom! It has been renovated in its original “Modern’ Style” which, as the name doesn’t indicate, dates back to the end of the 19th century.  What we have here is a marvellous example of what we call in France “Art Nouveau” . It’s simply beautiful. No wonder! It is the result of a unique collaboration between two very talented persons : Kate Cranston and Charles Rennie Mackintosh…

Charles Rennie Mackintosh - Wikipedia

Catherine Cranston - Wikipedia

Kate Cranston was born in Glasgow in 1849. Her social and family background partly explain why she has become a successful entrepreneurial lady. Her father, a baker and pastry cooker, had bought a hotel situated in Glasgow city centre. After some renovations he finally renamed it “Cranston’s Hotel and Dining Rooms” offering his customers no less than : “Convenient Coffee room and detached Smoking Rooms on Ground Floor, commodious Commercial Room and Parlour, comfortable Bed-rooms and Baths, etc. Coffee always ready. Cigars, wines, spirits, ales, Newspapers, Time-Tables, Writing Materials. Superior and varied Bill of Fare at the usual moderate charges.”

Catherine’s brother, a tea-dealer, had already opened several tea shops offering sandwiches to their customers when Catherine Cranston, launched herself in the business, carrying it a step further. With the opening of her ‘art tea-rooms”, Miss Cranston was the first to offer men and women a beautiful and cheerful place to meet in a city where industrialization was making life of people more and more difficult and grim. By the way, these tea-rooms proved to be a good alternative to pubs in times when alcoholism was widely spread and quite destructive…

Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery : Mackintosh Tearoom - Glasgow © 2007 Scotiana

Kate Cranston successively and very successfully opened four tearooms :

1878 : The Crown Luncheon Room in Argyle Street
1886 : Ingram Street Tearoom
1896 : Buchanan Street Tearooms
1903 : The Sauchiehall Willow Tearooms.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh had been born in Glasgow in 1868 and when Kate Cranston first commissioned him to design the wall murals of her Buchanan Tearooms he was only 28. This was the beginning of a long partnership between them. The Willow Tearooms opened at 217 Sauchiehall in October 1903. For the first time, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was given the opportunity to fully express his art, designing not only the interior fittings, but also the exterior and internal layout of the building. The Willow Tearooms quicky became a favorite meeting place in Glasgow.

The Willow Tearooms - Mackintosh 1903 - Wikipedia

The Willow Tearooms - Mackintosh Room de Luxe - Wikipedia

The location selected by Miss Cranston for the new tearooms was a four-storey former warehouse building on a narrow infill urban site on the south side of Sauchiehall Street. The name “Sauchiehall” is derived from “saugh”, the Scots word for a willow tree, and “haugh”, meadow. This provided the starting point for Mackintosh and MacDonald’s ideas for the design theme.

The decoration of the different rooms was themed: light for feminine, dark for masculine. The ladies’ tea room at the front was white, silver, and rose; the general lunch room at the back was panelled in oak and grey canvas, and the top-lit tea gallery above was pink, white, and grey. In addition to designing the internal architectural alterations and a new external facade, in collaboration with his wife Margaret, Mackintosh designed almost every other aspect of the tearooms, including the interior design, furniture, cutlery, menus, and even the waitress uniforms. Willow was the basis for the name of the tearooms, but it also formed an integral part of the decorative motifs employed in the interior design, and much of the timberwork used in the building fabric and furniture. (Wikipedia)

On entering the Willow Tearooms, though they have been renovated a number of times since their first opening, in 1903, we immediately feel the peculiar atmosphere Charles Rennie Mackintosh had wanted to create for Kate Cranston. Clear and sober lines – nice colours – beautiful geometrical and floral motifs – a feminine touch – what a feast !

The art of Mackintosh is omnipresent in Glasgow and our enthusiasm never failed when visiting other places or admiring objects he or his talented wife, Margaret MacDonald, had designed.

Time to share another cup of tea !

The Willow Tearooms - ©unresttwothree - Flickr

Chin Chin !

A bientôt. Mairiuna

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