Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Parliamentary, my Dear Balintore?

There was a very good chance that Balintore Castle would have looked nothing like it does today, because the first architect employed was Sir Charles Barry. Barry famously worked with August Welby Pugin to design the present Houses of Parliament. I have been trying to hunt down Barry's plans for Balintore, because the prospect of a debating chamber instead of a dining room, and a members' lobby instead of a library is quite a charming one. :-)

 Sir Charles Barry (23rd May 1795 - 12th May 1860)

The following article appeared in the Aberdeen Journal on Wednesday, September 29th 1858:

    BALLINTORE  ESTATE,Sir   Charles   Barry, the eminent
architect  of  the Parliamentary buildings, visited Ballintore,
near  Kirriemuir,  on  Friday  last.  This fine Highland estate
was  purchased  some  time  ago  by David Lyon, Esq., Lon-
don.  Since  he  became  proprietor, vast sums have been ex-
pended   on   building,   making  roads,  and  other  improve-
ments;  and  the  proprietor  is  now  about  to  erect a family
mansion,  of  extensive  size,  to  be  richly embellished. It is
said the design and plans have been prepared by Sir Charles,
in  connection  with  which  his  visit  to  the  district was oc-
casioned,   in  order  to  superintend  the  staking  out  of  the 
ground  plan  of  the building, which will cover an area of 75
feet  square.  The  front  building  will  be  40  feet in height,
with   lofty  towers  at  each  angle,  finished  in  true  castel-
lated   style.  Specimens of  stone, square and polished, from
various   queries  in  the  country,  have  been   forwarded  to
London,   to  enable  the  architect  to  determine  from  what
quarry   the  hewn  work  will  be  taken.  From  the  quantity
required  (upwards  of  700  tons),  it will take a sum not less
than  from  £10,000  to  £12,000  to  erect and finish this fine
building,  which  will  far  surpass any mansion of its kind on
the Braes of Angus. The site selected is a very fine one.

Here is the scan of the journal page containing the article:

scan of Aberdeen Journal 29th September 1858

There are two obvious questions posed by the article:
  1. Why did architect William Burn take over?
  2. How long did the castle take to build?
Change of Architect

Barry died on the 12th May 1860, and suffered bouts of illness from 1837 onwards. One of the most severe bouts was in 1858, the date of this article. It is an easy conclusion that Barry gave up on the commission due to ill health, and that William Burn with his established reputation took over. The description of Barry's building, in its essential details, tallies with what Balintore is like today and the article implies David Lyon was happy with the plans, because the building was staked out.

So rather than any artistic differences between client and architect, it sounds like Burn simply took over where Barry left off, probably using the same dimensions and ground plan. However, how this volume was filled-in eventually was very much in the Burn style.


Dr. Paul Bradley, who did his Ph.D. on William Burn has supplied the following update, in response to the earlier version of this blog article, which supports my theory:
"When it comes to Barry - he and Burn were friends, and I expect ill health meant he simply advised his client to contact the Stratton Street office. My feeling has always been that Burn (due to his own ill health) worked on this commission closely with his nephew MacVicar Anderson. "

Timescale of Build

I have often been asked how long the building took to build. My reply is "I don't know.". Dr. Paul Bradley says there are no written records for the construction of Balintore, unlike other Burn buildings.

wooden plaque dated Nov 28th 1860 was left in the sawdust insulation of the water tank at the top of the Great Tower by the castle carpenters. There are date stones of 1860 on the castle's west and south elevations. I am guessing this is the nominal finishing date, but the date on the plaque is at the end of the year so I am presuming finishing-off continued into at least 1861. It is notable the gate lodges were not present even as late as 1862.

However, this article dated Sept 29th 1858, before construction had started, suggests the build was essentially complete within 2 years, with the Great Tower certainly designed and raised within this period.


I found this 2 year period hard to believe, but friends have been informing me of the surprising speed of Victorian country house building. James Hollis who is working on the restoration of Burn's Revesby Abbey in Lincolnshire reports:

"Revesby’s plans are dated 1843 and all of the finished dates around the house state 1845 so we’ve been thinking ours was built in two years as well which is unbelievable."

I should point out Revesby Abbey is around 5 times the size of Balintore!

Barry & Pugin

One of the great debates in architecture is the balance of works at the Palace of Westminster between Barry and Pugin. Pugin, I should say, is a great hero of mine, and I also love the work of his fellow maverick neo-gothic architect William Burges.

The received wisdom when I was growing up was that Barry was the architect of the Palace of Westminster. Pugin assisted Barry and designed the interior. However, the current view as far as my understanding goes is that Barry and Pugin should be given joint credit.


  1. 75 feet square is a square with sides of 75 feet. unlike 75 square feet, whose sides will be 9 feet ish.

    1. Thanks for this correction! I will amend the article accordingly. One is so used to buildings been given as areas! I have also found out that Barry and Burn were friends, so it is likely the commission moved sideways very easily. I have much to update. :-)

  2. Used the Bank of England's inflation calculators. In days prices the building would have cost £1,251,978.02 to £1,502,373.63in 2019

    I suspect I have made this point before but it is still worth dwelling upon.

    1. Many thanks! In fact I reckon Balintore would cost ~£50,000,000 to build nowadays, because of the stonemasonry and carpentry skills, etc required. Specialised labour costs have ramped ahead of pure financial inflation. It was only when I started comparing costs then and now, that I realised it depends very much on what you are talking about.

      This is part of what saving Balintore is about i.e. preserving this "latent value" rather than just letting it fall apart to nothing.

  3. How did you find this article

    1. A local historian friend sent it to me recently. I vaguely recall finding it myself many years back when I had access to a newspaper database, but I was overwhelmed with the amount of material.

      However, now was the right time to see it as I know now it is a key piece in the timescale jigsaw.