A famous Glasgow tearoom has been saved from closure after being bought by the National Trust for Scotland

Mackintosh at the Willow, in Sauchiehall Street, has been made a heritage property by the conservation charity after difficult trading conditions threatened the historic business' survival. 

The intervention, made at the Willow Tea Rooms' request, has secured the "important and original" architecture work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and saved a number of jobs. 

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 Herald: Mackintosh at the Willow in Glasgows Sauchiehall StreetMackintosh at the Willow in Glasgows Sauchiehall Street (Image: Gibson Digital / National Trust for Scotland)

The National Trust used £1.75 million of its reserves and acquisition funds to secure the property, with additional help from 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.  

Mr Long said: "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.

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“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."

Mr Long said future prospects for Mackintosh at the Willow are "genuinely exciting" alongside plans to restore Sauchiehall Street into a cultural corridor linking world-class institutions and venues. 

The Herald: Mackintosh at the Willow in 1905Mackintosh at the Willow in 1905 (Image: The Hunterian, Uni of Glasgow 2014)

The Herald: Mackintosh at the Willow after its restorationMackintosh at the Willow after its restoration (Image: Gibson Digital / National Trust for Scotland)

Mackintosh at the Willow dates back to 1903 and was purchased, saved and restored by Celia Sinclair Thornqvist MBE and The Willow Tea Rooms Trust between 2014 and 2018.

It 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 Catherine  Cranston.

The tea rooms are cited worldwide in architectural histories as one of Glasgow’s most important contributions towards modernism and they were highly influential in Europe and elsewhere.

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Ms Sinclair Thornqvist said: “From the beginning, it was our aim to restore and conserve this last remaining and most beautiful example of Mackintosh’s masterful designs for tea rooms to the highest possible standards.

“Through this new partnership, I am delighted and relieved that a way has been found to sustain this global icon in Glasgow and Scotland, so that it can continue to be protected and shared."

The Herald: Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street in 1910Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street in 1910 (Image: Dr Chris Jones Collection)

Although the tea rooms attracted more than 230,000 visitors in 2023, 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. 

Ms Sinclair Thornqvist said: "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.

"We wanted to ensure that Mackintosh at the Willow would be in the hands of people who shared our ethos and passion for the heritage this place represents – and that is why we are so glad that we have been able to come to this arrangement with the National Trust for Scotland.”

Eilish McGuinness, chief executive of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “We are delighted that the Mackintosh Tea Rooms will become a permanent part of the National Trust for Scotland collection, ensuring that this unique part of Scotland’s heritage is protected and cared for into the future."

Mackintosh at the Willow will formally become one of the National Trust for Scotland’s properties with effect from January 19.