"BILLINGS' BARONIAL AND ECCLESIASTICAL
ANTIQUITIES OF SCOTLAND" will always occupy a prominent place in the
library of every student of Architecture and Scottish History. The cost
of the original edition placed it beyond the reach of the many, but this
new issue is published by Messrs OLIVER AND BOYD at a price that will
ensure to this important work a far wider circulation than ever it had.
The buildings of Scotland first attracted
attention in the early part of the eighteenth century. Slezer's Theatrum
Scotia, published in 1718, is the earliest work of the kind, and up to
the time of the publication of Billings' work, the best of them.
Between the time of Slezer and Billings,
several other works made their appearance. Pennant, in his Tour in
Scotland, published in 1769, illustrates a good many of the buildings,
but his work is not devoted exclusively to the Architecture of Scotland.
This was followed by a work in three volumes, published by the Rev. C.
Cordiner of Banff, between 1780 and 1795, entitled Letters and
Remarkable Ruins and Romantic Prospects of North Britain. His views of
buildings are confined to those in his own district and the north of
Scotland. Two small volumes were published by Adam de Cardonnel in 1788;
and between 1789 and 1791 appeared what was then considered an important
work, in two volumes, entitled The Antiquities of Scotland, by Grose.
When these works were published
draughtmanship was at a very low ebb, so all the views given in them are
more or less inaccurate. This is a distinct loss to the student, because
many of the buildings were more entire in those (lays than they are at
present, and many of them have since disappeared. In Slezer's view of
Stirling Castle the fine group of entrance towers, one of the most
interesting specimens of Mediaeval Military Architecture in Scotland,
was entire and roofed in, as also the Great Hall of James III., since
cut up into barrack rooms, and all its interesting architecture defaced.
Much of Falkland Palace and the Abbey and Royal Palace of Dunfermline,
shown in these drawings, no longer exist. Had Slezer's draughtmanship
been equal to that of Billings', this volume would have been invaluable
to the Architectural student of to-day.
Pennant's views have some merits, but are
unreliable. It would be impossible to recognise Stirling Castle from the
view he gives of it, and as a representation of the old Gordon Castle he
gives a view of Heriot's Hospital.
Adam de Cardonnel's two small volumes, which
he says were prepared to serve as a guide-book to travellers, contain
illustrations of twenty castles and thirty churches---small etchings,
averaging in size about 3 inches by 2 inches, and all of them equally
bad and inaccurate. The views in Cordiner's volumes are no better.
In Grose's time the magnificent residence of
Chancellor Seaton was very complete, although roofless. Had his
draughtsmanship been equal to that of Billings', we would have had
handed down to us what must have been one of the finest mansions in the
A full half century elapsed before anything
was done to illustrate the Architecture of Scotland. England fared
better, and it was during this period that the works of Britton, Pugin,
Mackenzie, Le Keux, etc., were published; and it was in this school that
Billings was trained, he having been a pupil of Britton.
In 1845-52 his work, in four volumes, on The
Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland was published. The
high standard of artistic and accurate draughtsmanship, and careful
selection of examples, at once placed this work in the front rank of
Architectural publications, and from this position it has not yet been
displaced. Its publication coincided with the interest in all things
Scottish, stirred to life by the writings of Scott, and a period of
great agricultural prosperity, justifying large outlays by land-owners
in enlarging and improving existing houses, and the erection of new
This work disclosed such a wealth of native
Art hitherto practically unknown, that it came as a revelation to all,
and by common consent the style of Architecture displayed in the
buildings illustrated by Billings was adopted for the many new houses
that were erected from this time onwards.
It might have been better for the progress
of true Art if the architects of the last half of last century had
studied the buildings illustrated by Billings more scientifically, and
from a sounder standpoint. We should then have been spared the many sham
castles we see everywhere; but the public taste of the day called for
such things. It was maintained "that one of the great causes of success
in the Domestic or Baronial Architecture of Scotland was the
comprehensive study of situation, and the composition of designs to suit
these. The builders of our Scottish houses and castles worked on no
such principles. They never troubled themselves about picturesqueness or
the composition of designs to suit sites. They did what suited their
purposes and wants at the time, and the result was—as may be seen in all
the works illustrated in these volumes—buildings that show an adaptation
of means to an end, functional truth, with resulting intelligence,
expression, and picturesqueness.
To-day, happily, better principles prevail.
Buildings are no longer made to look like what they are not, but their
character is impressed on them by the various purposes that call then
into existence. Hence the great value to the Architect of the work in
these volumes is the accumulated experience of centuries of builders in
meeting all the problems that from time to time arose, and it is only by
following in their footsteps that the Architect of to-day will produce
buildings as thoroughly national in character, and representative of the
social and political state of the time, as any building illustrated in
this valuable work.
R. ROWAND ANDERSON,
16 RUTLAND SQUARE,
15th October 1901.
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