Afternoon tea with Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Inspired by Jennifer Thomson’s card in my last post, I whisked my delightful assistant down to Glasgow a couple of days ago, to take tea in the famous Willow Tearooms.

Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Willow Tearooms opened for business, at 217 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, in October 1903.

The name ‘Sauchiehall’ is derived from two Scots words: ‘saugh’ being a willow tree and ‘haugh’ meaning meadow, so presumably at some point in the distant past Sauchiehall Street was a willow meadow. It doesn’t look much like a willow meadow these days:

No willows to be seen

The Willow Tearooms consisted of two areas: the tea gallery and the Room de Luxe. We were seated in the gallery, which had a spacious, airy feel to it, overlooking the jewellery and gift shop below:

By the time we reached the tearoom it was after 2.30pm and we hadn’t had any lunch. We had, I’m relieved to say, had large and exquisite scones earlier in the day, but by this time I was ready for a good scoff of some tasty treats.

Afternoon tea, despite the name, was being served all day and we both decided it was just the thing for us.

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, a traditional afternoon tea generally consists of small sandwiches, small scones, small biscuits and small cakes served on a tiered stand. There can be any combination of these delicacies, and this was what we got at the Willow Tearooms:

On the ground floor, so to speak, were the sandwiches. We were each supplied with 4 of these dainty little nibbles. I asked for a vegetarian selection and my favourite sandwich consisted of strong cheddar cheese with tomato on soft seeded brown bread:

Being ravenous at the time, I fairly wolfed my sandwiches, washed down with a truly superb pot of tea. There was an excellent selection of teas to choose from and we both had the Willow Tea Room special, a lovely blend of Ceylon and Assam teas. It was a beautiful dark golden colour and had a wonderfully rich, full flavour.

Back at the tiered stand, the first floor provided scones with jam and cream, but it was what was on the top floor that took my attention after the sandwiches.

When we had initially placed our order, we had been asked to each pick a cake of our choice from the chiller cabinet:

I was quite tempted by a pecan covered item, but I thought it might be a bit too solid after the sandwiches:

After some deliberation, I opted for meringues sandwiched together with cream while my lovely assistant chose an individual lemon meringue pie. Two little pieces of shortbread accompanied the cakes:

I got into a right old mess with my meringue:

But fortunately I had been thoughtfully provided with an attractive Art Deco napkin:

After the meringue I really had no interest in my scone. I took a nibble of it but I’m afraid I’d been spoiled with a superior scone earlier in the day, so I left it at that and instead slooshed down another cup of marvellous tea.

On the way back to the car (driving in the centre of Glasgow and trying to find somewhere to park is much like attempting this madness in any other city) we walked down the very busy Buchanan Street.

I was born and brought up in the city of Edinburgh, but having lived out of a city for some years now I found being back amongst thronging crowds a little overwhelming. I was surprised by the number of people walking around the city centre on a Thursday afternoon in March:

Buchanan Street has some interesting architecture, and the entrance to the Princes Square shopping mall is particularly eye-catching. This 19th Century building has been covered with flowing decorative metalwork, which includes a quite spectacular peacock with his tail feathers fanned out, elegantly surveying the street below from his lofty perch:

Near the car park I saw these two fellows, somewhat burdened by a terrific weight on their shoulders. I don’t know what the building is but walking past it made my neck ache:

Before going to the Willow Tearooms my delightful assistant and I had enjoyed a stroll around Glasgow Botanic Gardens. After seeing those poor chaps above I feel the need of something restful to end this post with, so here are a few snaps from the Botanics. I was especially interested in this notice:

The botanic gardens were free to get into and, quite unusually, there was no charge for the glasshouses either. My lovely assistant was very taken with this flower, from the Shrimp Plant, which does indeed bear some resemblance to a shrimp:

There was a pond in the glasshouse that had some fish in it:

I liked the little succulents floating on top of the pond. They looked so perky and healthy:

As did this beautiful vibrant pink plant:

So that was our jaunt to Glasgow, a mixture of plants, crowds, interesting buildings, tea and tasty morsels.

When I lived in Edinburgh I enjoyed the bustle, the wide variety of human life swarming the streets, the noise, the buzz and the excitement. These days, although I quite like visiting cities, I always feel a huge surge of relief to escape back into the countryside.

Thank you Glasgow, for an interesting visit, but hello beautiful Perthshire, I’m glad to be back:


70 thoughts on “Afternoon tea with Charles Rennie Mackintosh

  1. I completely agree – wonderful to enjoy the bustle of a city now and again, and partake of their unique offerings, but always a relief to get back to the peace, quiet and open spaces. Looks like a very delicious and fun trip, however!

  2. Very interesting – I’ve heard of the Willow Tearoom but never been there. In fact, we don’t know Glasgow at all well. The food looks lovely! Beautiful pics once again. I share your relief on returning to the countryside after any city visit – I don’t know how people live there.

    • Thanks Jo, I’d forgotten just how busy it could be, it felt very confusing to be amongst all the busyness again. I don’t know Glasgow that well either and it was my first visit to the famous Willow Tearooms, but now that I’ve been I’ve fulfilled an ambition.

  3. Those meringues with cream look absolutely delicious… would love to dive in. I enjoy your blog immensely. And your trip to Edinburgh reminded me of the one trip we took there about 10 years ago…busy, bustling and exciting. Great food too.

  4. That was fairly exciting! I have portraits of my grandmother and her siblings taken in Sauchiehall c. 1900. She grew up in Coatbridge. I daresay, things are a bit different now!

    • How interesting, I wonder if she ever visited the Willow Tearooms? Sauchiehall Street must have looked quite different then, it’s a pedestrian precinct now. Do you think they were on a big day out to Glasgow when they had the photos taken?

    • I was trying to gloss over that. They were very chewy, and I had to leave most of the chewy bits because they stuck to my teeth. The crispy bits on the outside were very good though, I think the meringues had perhaps been sitting there for a day or two.

  5. Hi,
    What a delightful place to have tea, and the sandwiches looked fantastic.

    I also admired the architecture in your photos, the building look magnificent they way they are done, and a beautiful walk in the gardens, what a great day out, very nice.

    • Thank you Mags! I really enjoyed the sandwiches and Glasgow has some wonderful buildings. It’s very different in character from Edinburgh but very much worth a wander round. The botanic gardens were lovely, a real haven in the city.

  6. Licking my lips over that meringue… I love how your glasshouses are filled with the flowers and plants that grow out in my garden. 😀
    I have a friend in the Orkneys just now who is making me dream of Scotland. It’s shifting higher up my list of places to go every day!
    Beautiful pictures, Lorna.

    • I know, I think about that when I go into these places now – that I’m taking photos of plants that are commonplace to you! Thank you for kind comment, I haven’t been to the Orkneys but I would love to go one day. The place is stuffed full of history and looks beautiful. What’s your friend doing up there? It’s an unusual place to be. I’m glad to hear you’re slowly being lured over here!

  7. I love the Willow Tea Rooms. I had a very nice afternoon tea there a few years ago with my mother and daughter, so your post brought back happy memories. Thanks also for the beautiful photos of the Botanics – and of Perthshire. I look forward to your review of the Botanics tea room in the fullness of time!

    • Thanks Christine, when you were there did you sit in the Room de Luxe? I was hoping we’d be put in there because their website says if you phone and book a table you automatically go in there, but it didn’t happen to us. The other bit was very nice too, mind you. I was very excited to see that poster about a forthcoming tearoom in the botanics!

  8. Good post, Ive been to Glasgow more times than I know and have not taken afternoon tea there…
    Your post has spurned me on to do this on my next trip, cant wait!
    Andy O.

  9. The Willow Tearooms looks like a place I must visit as soon as possible. I think CRM was the greatest British designer of the 20th century. I’ve got a couple of prints of his Walberswick flower paintings on my wall.

    I’d be in heaven eating those cakes in that room! Lovely post.

    • Thank you Finn, I didn’t even know about his flower paintings until you mentioned them. I had a quick Google and now I see what you mean, very nice. I think you would like to visit the Willow Tearooms and perhaps also the House for an Art Lover which was designed by CRM too. I was keen to go on the Glasgow School of Art tour, which is all about the great man, but my mum fancied the Botanics and I’m glad we went there.

      • I think I’d like to visit there too. But if the weather was as it is right now I can see why the Botanical Gardens prevailed.

        Interestingly there is a house in my home town, 78 Derngate, Northampton which I used to pass frequently as a kid and never realiksed what was inside. It was owned by W.J. Basset Lowke, a wealthy factory owner and he commissioned CRM to fit out the interior. It has survived and been turned into a museum. You can see it here:

        • He must have had a bob or two to get CRM to fit out his house! I don’t seem to have the correct software to view the website but I’ll certainly try to have a look if I can, thanks for the link.

  10. You have created yet another post that is informative, enjoyable, and easy-on-the-eyes! Well done. And it causes me to wonder, are there any other openings for the position of “delightful assistant”? I would happily apply. 🙂

  11. I have always been a lover of the architecture of Charles Rennie Macintosh and it has been one of my dreams to visit the tearooms. Maybe this time I will be lucky, although like you I am not at all keen on the traffic in the city. That is the downside to getting to the tearoom but by the sounds of your post it is well worth the effort.

    • I can understand that, and I won’t pretend it isn’t a bit of a nightmare, but if you were to park somewhere outside the city centre and get the subway or a bus in I think it would be less hassle. The good thing is that once you get there the tearooms are a peaceful haven from the rush outside.

  12. Glorious! ;^) And what a surprise to see the photo of the tearoom in Glasgow which matches almost identically with one that my niece just took when she was there recently! ;^) I wonder if you were there on the same day…. hmmmm.

  13. This is a post that is ‘right up my street’ so to say! Love the photographs and the narrative and I have taken tea in the Willow Tearooms often! I just love it and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, as you already know! We bought two three foot long, opposite facing ‘Glasgow Rose’ stained glass and leaded mirrors there at great expense (not the ‘tacky’ type) which take pride of place down either side of our fireplace in our lounge!



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