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9 Sept 2020

The Hill House: the bathroom

The shower at the Hill House
One of the more unusual objects in the Hill House collection is the shower. Yes, you read that correctly – visitors are often quite startled to see a shower in a house of this age, and by how it looks!

The water comes out of a contemporary-looking ‘rainfall’ shower head above, as well as from the perforations along the rails. There are four taps, one of which says ‘needles’.

We understood that the shower and bath were made by Shanks & Co of Barrhead. However, on further investigation, and with validation from members of the Blackie family, we now think that they were co-designed by Shanks & Co AND Mackintosh!

Another unique feature of the bathroom is the very large towel rail, which is original to the house and would have been centrally heated by coal fires.

John Shanks (1826–95) set up business in Barrhead, Glasgow in 1853. He was extremely inventive with experimental designs for water closets, as a direct result of the cholera epidemics which hit the city in the preceding years. In an interesting link with the Hill House, John Blackie, Walter Blackie’s uncle, was largely responsible for the Glasgow City Improvement Act of 1866. This Act helped to improve the quality of life in the poorer areas of Glasgow and he was also involved in the piping of clean water from Loch Katrine to the city.

From the Inventory and Valuation Document of 1934, the bathroom also had a ‘white-enamelled personal weighing machine with metal weights’, as well as a ‘copper electric hot-water kettle with flex and plug’. Sadly, both of these items are no longer in the house.

Interestingly, when the house was finished in 1904 there was no electricity, which did not come to Helensburgh until 1926. So when you visit the Hill House, try to imagine a world of atmospheric gas mantles, coal fires and oil lamps. Just as well the Blackie family had a range of staff to keep an eye on these, as they would certainly not passed today’s Health & Safety measures!

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