Mackintosh at the Willow to become part of National Trust for Scotland's heritage portfolio

11 January 2024
Celia Sinclair Thornquist MBE Founder and Past Chair and of the Willow Tea Rooms Trust with National Trust for Scotland Chief Executive Philip Long OBE. Copyright Mark F Gibson
The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) today joined The Willow Tea Rooms Trust to announce that Mackintosh at the Willow, in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, is to become part of the NTS’s portfolio of heritage properties, preserving many jobs.

The Trust’s intervention, made at The Willow Tea Rooms Trust’s request, following difficult trading conditions which threatened the future of Mackintosh at the Willow, has secured this original work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. 

Enabled by support from its members and donors, the National Trust for Scotland is using £1.75 million of its reserves and acquisition funds to secure the property, with 'vital additional help' given by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF), Glasgow City Council, Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE and her husband, Rolf Thornqvist.  As a result, the property will continue trading as normal. with many jobs preserved.

The story of Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow, which dates to 1903 and was purchased, saved and restored by Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE and The Willow Tea Rooms Trust between 2014 and 2018, is the last remaining original of the several tea rooms designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, working with his wife Margaret Macdonald, for pioneering Glasgow entrepreneur Miss Catherine ‘Kate’ Cranston.

Ladies' Room, Dekorative Kunst, 8, 1905, p. 269, copyright The Hunterian, Uni of Glasgow 2014

Supported by The Heritage Fund, and others including Scottish Enterprise and Glasgow City Heritage Trust, the restoration resulted in a noted heritage attractions in the city, restoring and recreating  interior designs and a frontage that pay testament to the vision of Mackintosh and Macdonald. 

The early 20th-century patrons of the tea rooms had never seen anything like these designs before and they quickly became a popular setting in which to socialise, particularly for women seeking a safe space for refreshments and conversation. The tea rooms are cited worldwide in architectural histories as one of Glasgow’s most important contributions towards modernism and they were, alongside Mackintosh and Macdonald’s other works, highly influential in Europe and elsewhere from the moment of their opening.

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Difficult trading conditions

Although the tea rooms have in the last year attracted over 230,000 visitors, the cumulative impacts of the disruption caused to Sauchiehall Street by the second fire at the Glasgow School of Art and the COVID pandemic had adversely affected the tea rooms’ income, despite the underlying business model being sound.  As a consequence, given the importance of the site to Scotland’s national heritage, the National Trust for Scotland was approached last year to consider options that would ensure the tea room’s long-term security and sustainability.

The current site. Copyright Mark F Gibson

International renown

Phil Long OBE, the National Trust for Scotland’s Chief Executive, said: “Mackintosh is one of the greatest architects of the 20th-century, respected internationally for his breathtaking and innovative design. People from around the world travel to Scotland to see his and his wife Margaret Macdonald’s brilliant work together.  As the custodians of one of Mackintosh’s other rare masterpieces, the Hill House (on which Macdonald also collaborated), we see the acquisition of Mackintosh at the Willow as a perfect fit.

“The brilliant restoration by The Willow Tea Rooms Trust with the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund and many others gifted back to the nation an exceptional example of architectural heritage that we are proud to bring into our care. 

“Despite difficulties that were outwith the control of The Willow Tea Rooms Trustees and the management team, the work they have done with their staff in welcoming visitors, running community learning and outreach and in providing an exceptional heritage experience is exemplary – and we are certain we can build on their achievements to ensure the long-term sustainability and survival of this wonderful place on behalf of Glasgow and Scotland.

“I want to pay tribute to the foresight of our own Board Members for their support of our partnership with The Willow Tea Rooms Trustees, which has averted the risk of potential closure and safeguarded this vitally important place for the future, and also to our members and supporters whose generosity over the years has given us the financial means to acquire, secure and protect Mackintosh at the Willow alongside all of the other historic and natural treasures we care for on behalf of the people of Scotland.

“The prospects for Mackintosh at the Willow, and for the City of Glasgow, are genuinely exciting: through the work of Glasgow City Council and the Lottery-funded Heritage Places scheme, redevelopment is underway, with ambitions to return Sauchiehall Street to a cultural corridor better linking together such surrounding world-class institutions and venues as The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, and the Theatre Royal. We are looking forward to the National Trust for Scotland playing a part in this transformation through our new responsibility for Mackintosh at the Willow.

“I’m sure the members of the National Trust for Scotland, especially those living in Glasgow and the West of Scotland, will welcome this addition to our portfolio and the opportunity it gives them to enjoy the excellent tours and exhibition on offer, not to mention the mouth-watering offers within the tea rooms.

“We’re welcoming the existing workforce into the National Trust for Scotland family: the insight and expertise they have will be a great benefit to us and will be instrumental in ensuring that Mackintosh at the Willow continues to welcome visitors.

“I particularly want to thank The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Trustees of The Willow Tea Rooms Trust, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Architectural Heritage Fund, and Glasgow City Council. as well as many other individuals and supporters, for their very welcome encouragement and help in bringing about today’s announcement.”

Find out more about Mackintosh at the Willow on their website.