Brides restore romance to palace of dreams: Restored mansion gives Glasgow weddings an exotic setting, reports Oliver Gillie

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST COUPLES to be married in Glasgow's new Palace of Weddings passed in a daze through its sumptuous rooms and corridors lined with marbled pillars and gilt plasterwork. The building, once the home of one of Scotland's most successful self-made men, had fallen into decay but has found a new use in the celebration of marriage.

From the outside, 22 Park Circus looks like many other solid stone Victorian town houses, but inside it is decorated in an elaborate Italianate style which was later embellished in the manner of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It was built by Walter Macfarlane, proprietor of the Saracen Ironworks in Glasgow which sent castings all over the Empire.

The house, now discreetly converted to accommodate five or six weddings at once, was a showplace for Macfarlane's wealth. The architect, James Boucher, incorporated a great deal of ironwork from the Saracen works. A cast balustrade around the top- floor gallery is, for example, the same as one used on the veranda of the Grand Hotel, Bournemouth. Iron windows in fish-scale patterns and domed roofs incorporating stained glass are also the work of Macfarlane's factory, some resembling ironwork in the Dubar Hall, Mysore, India, others an arcade in Johannesburg.

Macfarlane conducted much of his business from the library which was originally decorated in dark masculine colours with stained woodwork. It has been adapted for larger weddings and is equipped with a sound system to play couples' music requests.

The house was built with a billiard room, Turkish bath and conservatory. These rooms, where the men of the household discreetly entertained their friends, are particularly interesting because they were extensively redecorated in the Glasgow style by Macfarlane's nephew, Walter junior, who inherited it. By then Glasgow, at the peak of its industrial success, had established its own visual style, best known to the world through Mackintosh. James Salmon junior, one of the new style's advocates, was commissioned to refurbish the house.

The former hot room of the Turkish bath was repanelled with carved wood and silk to make an intimate sitting room. Delicate wooden carvings of the face of a young girl with open mouth and wild hair along with rich marquetry figures from Shakespeare's Tempest adorn the panels.

This room will be used for the smallest weddings when the couple is attended by just two witnesses - for just pounds 67. The usual price is pounds 104.50 on weekdays or pounds 161 on Saturdays. Under Scottish law, Robert Sneddon, the registrar of marriages, can marry anyone from anywhere in the world, at 15 days' notice.

After Macfarlane junior died, the exotic decor of 22 Park Circus found a use as the Casa d'Italia, home of the city's Italian community until, in a bad state of repair, it was bought recently by Elementary Property Co. The building has been restored with the help of a grant of pounds 297,000 from Historic Scotland and began to be used for weddings last month.

(Photographs omitted)

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