Charles Rennie Mackintosh cabinet
The upright cabinet formerly in Catherine Cranston’s home in Glasgow that sold for £11,000 at Willingham Auctions.

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The oak upright cabinet was made for Catherine Cranston (1849-1934), who owned a chain of shops in Glasgow and did much to help develop the model for late 19th and early 20th century tea rooms.

A number of her premises were designed or decorated by Mackintosh, including ‘Miss Cranston’s’ tea rooms at Ingram Street, the Willow Tea Rooms and the Dutch Kitchen at Argyle Street. For her premises on Buchanan Street, he completed a set of wall murals consisting of stencilled friezes that depict elongated female figures.

“In no other town can you see in a place of refreshment such ingenious and beautiful decorations,” one contemporary commentator wrote of the tea shop. “It has caused the Glasgow man of the better sort to coin a new adjective denoting the height of beauty… 'It’s quite Kate Cranston-ish!’”

Catherine Cranston

Catherine Cranston, who owned a chain of Glasgow tea rooms which were designed and decorated in collaboration with Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Hous’hill commission

Mackintosh also redecorated and designed new furniture for the mansion Hous’hill in Nitshill where she lived with her husband John Cochrane. The cabinet offered at the Cambridge saleroom on August 11 was originally one of a pair from the ‘Blue Bedroom’ of their home.

Cranston left Hous’hill in 1919, leaving the furniture inside, and it eventually passed to Edward Arthur Gamble before it was then auctioned in 1933.

The cabinet was found in a house 10 miles from the Willingham Auctions saleroom and was consigned with no reserve.

Offered without a formal estimate (although pre-sale hopes were in excess of £6000), the fact that it was not in its original state no doubt limited its value. It was missing its original stained glass and mother of pearl inset and also had a damaged handle.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh poster

A Charles Rennie Mackintosh poster for Miss Cranston’s Tearooms from c.1897.

Tea rooms are believed to have first emerged in the 1830s but rose in number during the late Victorian period as an alternative to the pub during the temperance movement.