Why Charles Rennie Mackintosh's legacy is grander than designing the Glasgow School of Art

The Mackintosh Building at the Glasgow School of Art. Image: John A.S./Wikimedia Commons.

To many in Scotland, the life of Charles Rennie Mackintosh amounted to little more than attending an art school, designing a modernised Glasgow School of Art, having it named in his honour, and before dying designing a few tea rooms and art traps in Glasgow.

But this limited understanding does a disservice to one of Scotland's most influential, innovative and enigmatic sons. Mackintosh was one of four students who helped usher in an era of bold artistic flair, a legacy that inspired “The Glasgow Style” – an entirely new art movement, and a movement that still inspires worldwide to this very day.

Art lovers from across the world continue to arrive in Glasgow paying homage to Mackintosh’s timeless legacy, from The Lighthouse in Mitchell Lane, to House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park. The depth of Mackintosh’s portfolio even extends far beyond the walls of Glasgow. It was no secret that Mackintosh and a lot of his contemporaries derived inspiration from Japanese culture of the time (Japonisme). Today he has a strong reputation in the Asian country, and it’s said that the Hida Takayama Museum of Art in Japan, boasts the largest collection of Mackintosh’s work outside the UK.

Little is known of Mackintosh during his time outside or prior to the School of Art. No journals or diaries have ever been discovered which outline his thoughts as a student, or even what his ambitions for the future might have been. What is known during his time is that he met his future wife Margaret McDonald, and along with her sister Frances and Mackintosh’s close friend Herbert MacNair, they became known as “The Four”, or more disparagingly “The Spook School”. Together they forever changed the face of art in Scotland.

It’s thought that Mackintosh as a child suffered from regular bouts of ill health, and as a result developed a keen sense of drawing and an affinity for nature. His family home in Parson Street in the Townhead area of the city looked onto Glasgow’s Necropolis, which one could surmise as being one of the founding influences of his gothic laced inspiration.

It could only be a sense of heightened irony that Mackintosh’s first commissioned piece was to design the tombstone of Glasgow’s recently deceased chief constable. It remains standing in the Necropolis to this day.

It was his time at the School of Art that helped cement Mackintosh’s beliefs regarding architectural process, embracing the concept that the entire structure from shell to interior to wall fittings was the work of art. The technique is one reason his work has an heir of timeless quality.

His individual style is another. In 1890 and on the back of his burgeoning talent and reputation as an architect and interior designer, Mackintosh was awarded the Alexander Thomson Travelling Studentship. (Thompson is another architectural icon that Glasgow under-appreciates even to this current day.)

This provided Mackintosh with the opportunity to travel extensively throughout Europe, absorbing and sketching his experiences – to use, one presumes, as inspiration during the creative process of his many future projects.

In 1900, thanks to his time spent travelling, Mackintosh designed and unveiled art work in Vienna (Warndofer Music Salon). He followed this up by displaying art exhibitions in Turin, Moscow and Berlin, offering Mackintosh a level of adulation that far exceeded any he had received in Glasgow.

It’s hard to confirm some of the more spectacular rumours that surrounded the iconic architectural icons, such was the aura of Mackintosh and his wife Margaret McDonald; but according to legend, during their time in Vienna, the duo were carried aloft along the street, above the heads of worshipping crowds, such was the brilliance of their exhibition at the Vienna Secession Exhibition in 1900.

Forever tasting greater success beyond Scotland’s borders, Mackintosh and his wife Margaret – considered his creative equal if not a greater talent – left Glasgow for Sussex seeking grander acclaim. The outbreak of war in 1914 caused problems, however, due to the German and Austrian friends he had collected on his travels. He pleaded his innocence, but matters grew worse when the military raided his home and discovered letters address to German and Austrian addresses. Apparently unable to decipher his Glaswegian accent, he was thrown in jail.

After being released, Mackintosh sought new beginnings. In 1915 the couple effectively fled to London, and began pitching for projects. Although never reaching the same levels of excellence, his time and work in London is still heralded as genius. A plaque commemorating his incredible achievements and talent is located in Chelsea’s Glebe Place.

Leaving London for France in 1924, Mackintosh turned his back on architecture and spent the last four years of his life devoted to painting in watercolour.

Returning from his time in France in 1928, aged 60, Scotland’s greatest architect died penniless in London, succumbing to cancer of the tongue.

Mackintosh’s exhibitions are regularly showcased across the world, from New York to Moscow, his architectural creations are considered some of the greatest ever conceived during the Art Nouveau movement. His influences stretched far beyond the borders of Glasgow and Scotland, and if anything he was defiant in his determination to enlighten the reserved artistic minds of the stubborn Scottish elite.

It’s only through the prism of time that someone such as Mackintosh could be truly appreciated. How many individuals have been inspired by his unique beautifully constructed designs? Have sat and continue to marvel at his architecture worldwide? How many people in the last 80 years have passed through the doors of the Glasgow School of Art, using Mackintosh as inspiration, and aspired onto greatness?

Mackintosh is quoted to have said during his lecture on Seemliness in Glasgow 1902.

“Art is the Flower. Life is the Green Leaf. Let every artist strive to make his flower a beautiful living thing, something that will convince the world that there may be, there are, things more precious more beautiful more lasting than life itself.”

A never more fitting quote for a remarkable man, with an incredible legacy.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh the man, the myth, the Mackintosh.



Transport for London’s fare zones secretly go up to 15

Some of these stations are in zones 10 to 12. Ooooh. Image: TfL.

The British capital, as every true-blooded Londoner knows, is divided into six concentric zones, from zone 1 in the centre to zone 6 in the green belt-hugging outer suburbs.

These are officially fare zones, which Transport for London (TfL) uses to determine the cost of your tube or rail journey. Unofficially, though, they’ve sort of become more than that, and like postcodes double as a sort of status symbol, a marker of how London-y a district actually is.

If you’re the sort of Londoner who’s also interested in transport nerdery, or who has spent any time studying the tube map, you’ll probably know that there are three more zones on the fringes of the capital. These, numbered 7 to 9, are used to set and collect fares at non-London stations where the Oyster card still works. But they differ from the first six, in that they aren’t concentric rings, but random patches, reflecting not distance from London but pre-existing and faintly arbitrary fares. Thus it is that at some points (on the Overground to Cheshunt, say) trains leaving zone 6 will visit zone 7. But at others they jump to 8 (on the train to Dartford) or 9 (on TfL rail to Brentwood), or skip them altogether.

Anyway: it turns out that, although they’re keeping it fairly quiet, the zones don’t stop at 9 either. They go all the way up to 15.

So I learned this week from the hero who runs the South East Rail Group Twitter feed, when they (well, let’s be honest: he) tweeted me this:

The choice of numbers is quite odd in its way. Purfleet, a small Thames-side village in Essex, is not only barely a mile from the London border, it’s actually inside the M25. Yet it’s all the way out in the notional zone 10. What gives?

TfL’s Ticketing + Revenue Update is a surprisingly jazzy internal newsletter about, well, you can probably guess. The September/October 2018 edition, published on WhatDoTheyKnow.com following a freedom of information request, contains a helpful explanation of what’s going on. The expansion of the Oyster card system

“has seen [Pay As You Go fare] acceptance extended to Grays, Hertford East, Shenfield, Dartford and Swanley. These expansions have been identified by additional zones mainly for PAYG caping and charging purposes.

“Although these additional zones appear on our staff PAYG map, they are no generally advertised to customers, as there is the risk of potentially confusing users or leading them to think that these ones function in exactly the same way as Zones 1-6.”

Fair enough: maps should make life less, not more, confusing, so labelling Shenfield et al. as “special fares apply” rather than zone whatever makes some sense. But why don’t these outer zone fares work the same way as the proper London ones?

“One of the reasons that the fare structure becomes much more complicated when you travel to stations beyond the Zone 6 boundary is that the various Train Operating Companies (TOCs) are responsible for setting the fares to and from their stations outside London. This means that they do not have to follow the standard TfL zonal fares and can mean that stations that are notionally indicated as being in the same fare zone for capping purposes may actually have very different charges for journeys to/from London."

In other words, these fares have been designed to fit in with pre-existing TOC charges. Greater Anglia would get a bit miffed if TfL unilaterally decided that Shenfield was zone 8, thus costing the TOC a whole pile of revenue. So it gets a higher, largely notional fare zone to reflect fares. It’s a mess. No wonder TfL doesn't tell us about them.

These “ghost zones”, as the South East Rail Group terms them, will actually be extending yet further. Zone 15 is reserved for some of the western-most Elizabeth line stations out to Reading, when that finally joins the system. Although whether the residents of zone 12 will one day follow in the venerable London tradition of looking down on the residents of zones 13-15 remains to be seen.

Jonn Elledge was the founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.