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Hill House in a cage

Updated: Dec 12, 2023




From Appletree Cottage (Luxury Self Catering for eight people in Croftamie, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park) to Helensburgh is an easy drive of about 30 minutes travelling via Balloch, Arden and Glen Fruin. (A811, A82 then A818)

From Appletree Cottage (Luxury Self Catering for eight people in Croftamie, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park) to Helensburgh is an easy drive of about 30 minutes travelling via Balloch, Arden and Glen Fruin. (A811, A82 then A818)

As you enter Helensburgh town on the A818 and you see the River Clyde at the bottom of the hill, look out for brown signs to Hill House which is off to the right.

Having parked (parking is easy either in the street outside Hill House or the car park just above) we walked through the gates into reception desk. ​

The reception desk is situated in a well-stocked shop of Rennie Mackintosh literature and souvenirs. One item of note was the limited-edition Lego model of Hill House – for £120.

Entry to Hill House is free to National Trust members. Non-members pay £12.50 per adult but there are child, senior citizen and family concessions available as well as others.

More information can be found here: https://www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/the-hill-house


A brief history of Hill House

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, now perhaps Scotland’s most well-known architect, was commissioned to design Hill House by Walter Blackie of the famous Black publishing company.

​Built between 1902-1904 it is lauded to be Mackintosh’s best work second only to his Glasgow Art School building which was recently and catastrophically destroyed by a second devastating fire.

​As well as designing the building Mackintosh was also charged with designing the interior décor and furnishings, most of which remain in situ with some artefacts undergoing painstaking restoration.

In 1982 the house was donated to the National Trust for Scotland, the body now responsible for the safety and upkeep of the property.


Mrs Mackintosh collaborated

Charles and Margaret Mackintosh worked as a close team and it is often difficult if not impossible to attribute interior artefacts to either one or the other. Margaret's name is often forgotten, largely due to the protocol existing around the early and indeed later twentieth century. Her contribution to the finished projects is however considerable.


Construction Techniques and Decay

​Unfortunately, some of the new construction techniques and materials used at the time of construction led to decay many years on. For example, the use of Portland cement render applied to stone surfaces resulted in cracking of the outer layer and water penetration on a fairly major scale. Further leakage problems have arisen around the windows and chimneys as Mackintosh preferred not to make use of chimney caps or weather proof window surrounds as they did not fit with his aesthetic design.

​As the building deteriorated further something had to be done. The decision was taken to encase the entire structure within a steel cage to protect it from the elements so that major repair work could be undertaken without fear of the sometimes severe west of Scotland weather causing damage to the fabric of the building. The cost of the steel box and the new shop and cafe was £4.5 million. It was estimated that the box would need to be in place for 10-12 years.

The box, now fully completed is itself a stunning structure. It incorporates walkways at high level so it is now possible to walk above the roof of the house, thus allowing visitors to view construction details which up until now only the roofers and birds could appreciate!

​More views of the exterior of the house later...


Inside Hill House

We decided to explore the interior of the house first so we left the shop (which is a new and possibly temporary structure) and made our way across to the main entrance of Hill House.

Through the front door we were greeted by a grand hallway panelled in dark wood. A feint smell of damp could be discerned reminding us of the enormity of the restoration work which was to be undertaken.

Through the front door we were greeted by a grand hallway panelled in dark wood. A feint smell of damp could be discerned reminding us of the enormity of the restoration work which was to be undertaken.

​Almost all the furnishings and décor in the house are entirely original. Many have been restored and some are awaiting restoration.

Of particular interest to us were the lamp shades in the downstairs hallway. These are made of coloured glass have discs (also of coloured glass) which when powered by the air rising from the heat of the lightbulb revolve. The revolving discs cast magical moving reflections of light upon the surfaces of the hall.

​Hugely inventive.

Not sure if they work with modern low heat bulbs.



The downstairs rooms

​On the right the first room is the study. Lined with books, many of them publications of the former owner's company, this snug room has uninterrupted views across the Clyde.

Second on the right is the spacious living room, with furniture, decoration, windows and window seat by Mackintosh and his wife.

As far as we could see the only thing not designed by the pair was the baby grand piano.

From the drawing room a door leads to the handsome wood panelled dining room.

Everything down to the last detail was designed by the pair and Mackintosh even prescribed what colours of cut flowers should adorn the dining room table!

From the dining room a passage leads through to the servants quarters, kitchen, wash house, scullery, etc., where there is another souvenir shop.

Although these servants working areas would have been out of view from any visitors, even things like the storage cupboards in the pantry and in the former kitchen boast the Mackintosh’s distinctive design.


Upstairs in Hill House

A short journey up the stairs took us to the first floor.

This is where the family slept. The parents at one end of the house and the children at the other.

A couple of the bedrooms await restoration but the master bedroom and the dressing room annex (where the Blackie children slept when they were ill) are fully restored.

In the dressing room is one of the few pieces of furniture not designed by Mackintosh - a Kilmarnock chest. However, he did design the surround and cupboards for this item

Across the corridor from the Master Bedroom is the bathroom with its now antiquated fittings. These would have been state of the art at the time of construction and fortunately appear to have remained unaltered since.

​In one of the second-floor rooms there are models of Hill House and photographs of it during construction as well as plans for the buildings and furnishings. All very interesting!

​The top floor of the building (which we didn't visit as it is out of bounds to visitors) was leased to the Landmark Trust in 1978. This body ran it as a holiday let until the National Trust for Scotland took it over in 2011. We understand it can still be booked for holiday rental and can accommodate six persons. Although obviously not as comfortable and luxurious as Appletree Cottage Croftamie, in the famous Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park! (www.lomondappletree.co.uk)


Hill House exterior

The new protective box structure when viewed from within is both functional and elegant. The walkways and boundaries of the box have been set far enough back from the perimeter of the house to enable decent views of the building can be appreciated.

After walking around the garden and terrace immediately surrounding the house (but within the cage) we took the stairs up to the café (there is also a lift) which is above the shop, to be greeted with a slightly surreal image of tables and chairs neatly set out adjacent to the upper floors of the house.

Taking the walk way around the front of the house we were able to inspect construction and design at close quarters.

The walkway over the top of the house was particularly interesting. There are informative plaques throughout and good strong bannisters for those with susceptible to feelings of vertigo.

Going outside the Box

Outside the steel box we explored the gardens and greenhouse which are well worth a look, with their commanding views to the South across the River Clyde.

We also inspected the chainmail surround close up. ​Outside the gardens and the greenhouse are worth a look, as are the great open views across the Clyde.

​Some of the grounds to the north were undergoing renovation but the rest were in prime condition

After a great day out, it was time to get back into the car and return to Appletree Luxury Self Catering Cottage, Croftamie. (www.lomondappletree.co.uk)

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