The Smoking Room
A Victorian space reimagined
In summer 2016, Bowhill’s Smoking Room opened to the public for the very first time in its 138 year old history. Once a room at the height of fashion in the 19th century, over the years it became a place for playing billiards, wrapping Christmas presents, quiet university study, and finally, a storage room for many years. The current Duke had a dream that one day it might be restored to its proper purpose and today it is this and more. Read on to learn more about this fascinating 21st century restoration project.
A brief history of smoking rooms
It is widely accepted that tobacco smoking originated in The Americas. It was not until the early 19th century that the fashion for cigars and cigarettes arrived in the UK via continental Europe.
Smoking rooms reached their height in popularity in the second half of the 19th century, the fashion boosted by the addition of one at the seaside retreat of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on the Isle of Wight in 1866.
The smoking room became part of a suite of rooms often added or altered, to which gentlemen would retreat after dinner. For Bowhill, the Smoking Room was part of a final suite of rooms added to the house which included a Billiard Room (which now displays a collection of Italian paintings) and Chapel (now used to house a collection of Monmouth-related objects). This addition connected the façade of the main house with the stables.
Reimagining Bowhill’s Smoking Room
The Smoking Room you see today has evolved from research undertaken at The University of Glasgow into the Dining, Billiard, and Smoking rooms at Bowhill. The Duke was keen to bring the room back into public circulation, as research made it clear that a smoking room was essential to any late Victorian country house.
The inventory of 1915, recorded on the death of the 6th Duke, William Henry Walter, was used as the basis for the selection of furniture and pictures, as well as providing guidance for new furnishing fabrics. It was decided, rather than to reconstruct the fabrics, which could result in a historical pastiche, that it would be more interesting to commission new designs from Timorous Besties, a Glasgow-based design practise that specialises in creating original furnishing fabrics. This enabled the Smoking Room to be re-imagined for the 21st century.
Linens and curtains
The overall ambition was to create a contemporary take on a smoking room theme, but one that is historically grounded. Digital printing technology played a great part in the bespoke textiles created for the Smoking Room. For example, one wonderful feature in the room is the sofa where the south façade of the house appears on the back, along with elements that evoke the sporting nature of the estate.
The smoking heart rug
Designed by Timorous Beasties and created in collaboration with Dovecot Tapestry Studios, Edinburgh, a stunning rug was created for the front of the fireplace. Smoke is depicted in the rug using different lengths of wool pile which add a three dimensional quality. The lightest areas of the rug have also been created using wool from sheep at the Bowhill Estate.
The pictures, ornaments and books
Based on a publication, Pictures at Bowhill from 1909, the selection of paintings in the room evoke the atmosphere of the Victorian country estate, and reflect the tastes of the 5th Duke, Walter Francis.
The inclusion of a portrait of Sir Walter Scott can be seen as evidence of the close relationship between the family and author. This painting was purchased in 1879 by Duke Walter Francis, in the sales after the death of the artist Sir Francis Grant.
The Smoking Room also houses an extraordinary collection of books including a number of rare and early editions, Victorian novels and large folios of scientific, artistic and political prints. Of particular note is the collection of late 18th and early 19th century caricatures.
Viewing and use today
Today, the Smoking Room will be used by the family and their guests for those who smoke. This is not to romanticise or encourage the practise, but to respect its origins as part of the House’s heritage and the fact that smoking remains a matter of personal choice.