BY CHARLES EVANS
Holmwood House is the finest and most elaborate residential villa designed by the Scottish architect Alexander “Greek” Thomson. It is also rare in retaining much of its original interior decor, and being open to the public. The villa is located at Cathcart in the southern suburbs of Glasgow.
Holmwood is considered to be immensely influential by several architectural historians, because the design as published in Villa and Cottage Architecture: select examples of country and suburban residence recently erected in 1868 may have influenced Frank Lloyd Wright and other proto-modernist architects.
Holmwood was constructed for James Couper, a paper manufacturer in 1857-1858. Couper owned the Millholm paper mill in the valley of the White Water of Cart immediately below the villa. The principal rooms of Holmwood were orientated towards the view of Cathcart Castle (demolished in 1980).
The polychromatic decoration was designed by Thomson and executed by Campbell Tait Bowie. The most notable survival is in the dining room which has a frieze of panels enlarged from John Flaxman’s illustrations of Homer’s Iliad. The sculpture on the hall chimneypiece was by George Mossman.
Holmwood was altered in the 1920s by the owner, James Gray. After World War II it was purchased by a local vet, James McElhone and his family, wife Betty and children: Rosemary, James, Helen and Paul. Holmwood was then sold to the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions who obliterated much of the original decoration with plain paint. The gardener’s cottage was demolished in the 1970s; the grounds and those of an adjacent villa were used for a Catholic primary school.
The nuns put the property on the market in the early 1990s, and there was a danger that the grounds would be developed for housing, destroying the setting of the villa. Following an appeal, Holmwood was acquired by the National Trust for Scotland in 1994 with the support of £1.5million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. It was restored by Page\Park Architects in 1997-1998. Their work included undoing the 1920s alterations and rebuilding the connecting wall.