Friday, 15 January 2021

Balintore Estate Roup 1855

This blog entry features an invaluable document from the archives, which helps to pin down the construction window for Balintore Castle and the ownership timeline for the Balintore Estate. Many thanks to polymath (incorporating Glen Isla amateur local historian) Kevin Greig for sending me the scan.

The scan of the front page of "The Montrose, Arbroath & Brechin Review, AND FORFAR AND KINCARDINESHIRE ADVERTISER" dated May 11th, 1855 features an advisement, dated 3rd May 1855, for the upcoming sale of the Balintore Estate on the 29th May 1855 by public auction at the British Hotel in Dundee.


the Royal British Hotel, Dundee

The British Hotel building still exists in Dundee at 2-4 Castle Street, classically embellished in the late 19th century, and now sadly featuring in the Scottish Buildings at Risk Register.

The text of the advert is here:

        VALUABLE HIGHLAND ESTATE IN FORFAR-           
                                SHIRE, FOR SALE.                                   
There  will  be  sold,  by  public roup, within the British Hotel,
   Dundee,  on  Tuesday,  the  29th  day  of May current, at one
   o'clock, afternoon, unless previously sold by private bargain,
THE   ESTATE  
 OF   BALINTORE   and   EASTER  COUL,
      in    the   parish   of   Lintrathen,   consisting  of  the  sunny
third  part  of  the  Town   and  Lands  of  Wester  Glenqhuarity
and   Balintore,  those  portions   of   the  Land  and  Barony  of
Eassie  called  the  third  part  of the lands of Glenqhuarity, and
of   the  third  part  of  the  Lands  of  Coul:  together  with   the
share  belonging  to  the  Estate  of the undivided Commonties;
all  as  it  belonged  to  the  late  Charles  Lyell, Esquire of Kin-
nordy.                                                                                           
    This  Estate is composed of the two Farms possessed by Mr.
James   Wilson   and  Mr.  Peter  Duncan,  with  the  Woodland
and the Hill Pasture and Hill Commonties.                                
    An  action  for  division  of  the  Commonties is in progress.
The   proper   Estate,  without  the  Commonties,  is reputed  to
extend  to  about  830  acres ; of which 367 are arable, 208 hill
pasture,   and   67  thriving  plantation.  The  Commonties   are
reputed  to  extend  to  from  4000  to 4700 acres, large portion
of which must fall to this Estate in the division.                         
    The   Water   of   Quharity   runs   through   the   Estate.  The
Loch   of  Lintrathen  is  only  about  two  miles  distant.  There
is  good  Grouse Shooting on the Hills, giving great promise of
making   a   most  desirable  station  easily  managed.  There  is
good  accommodation  for  residence  on  the  Hill in a superior
Farm  House  built  by  Mr.  Lyell  for the very object, and long
used  by  him  and  his family. For any one desiring a residence
of  a  better  kind,  there  are excellent sites giving great beauty
and great convenience for sport of all kinds.                              
    The  distance  from  the  Meigle Station of the Scottish Mid-
land  Railway  is  only  about  eight  miles, by excellent roads ;
so  the  residence  is within about fifteen hours of London. The
entry  and  payment  of  the  price  may  be arranged to suit the
purchaser.                                                                                    
    The whole Lands hold of the Crown for payment of a penny
Scots. The fee is full. The Teinds are valued and exhausted.     
    For  further  information,  application  may  be  made  to  C.
Kerr  &  Co.,  Writers in Dundee, who are in possession of the
title-deeds.                                                                                  
        Dundee, May 3, 1855.                                                        


A small glossary to help with the text above:

WORD

DEFINITION

roup

auction (Scots)

commonties

land (Scots)

teinds

tithe (Scots)

All these terms are new to me but I particularly love the word roup. Roup.com would be a good competitor to eBay. :-)

The associated scan is here:

newspaper scan from May 11th, 1855


It is hard to ascertain the actual amount of land in the Balintore Estate at the point of sale. I am not quite sure what is going on but I suspect the commonties may be the old common land that in the Victorian era was often moved into private ownership. So the Estate is anywhere from 830 acres to perhaps around 3000 acres, assuming it incorporates 50% of the commonties mentioned.

The Charles Lyell (deceased, 1767–1849) mentioned in the article is the father of Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875). The latter being the famous founding father of geology and good friend of Darwin. It gets even more confusing as Sir Charles Lyell's grandfather is also called Charles Lyell.

However, let us call Charles Lyell (1767–1849) Charlie Snr. and Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875) Charlie Jnr. At the date of the sale, Charlie Jnr. had owned the Balintore Estate for 5 years, having inherited it from his father Charlie Snr.. Perhaps, the sale allowed him to pursue or fund his academic interests?

The dates suggest that David Lyon bought the Balintore Estate from Charlie Jnr. in 1855, possibly at the public auction or possibly by prior private bargain hinted at in the article. The article mentions the building of a superior house, which suggests that David Lyon was perhaps already on the scene, as this was his exact plan. The farmhouse referred to is "Balintore House" which is a large impressive building and would be suitable for most people's needs. On the other hand the Lyell's lived at Kinnordy House and at that stage Balintore House was operating as a farm house, despite having once been a castle, so an aspiring gentleman landowner might not have stooped to occupying a farmhouse?

Perhaps, the threat of the public auction was a way to get Lyon to increase his bid for the estate? An article from 1858 detailing building plans for Balintore Castle says that Balintore Estate was purchased "some time ago" by David Lyon. This leads me to conclude there were no intermediate owners between Charlie Jnr. and David Lyon.

The spelling of Balintore is notoriously fickle. It has its modern form in this 1855 article, but is Ballintore in the 1858 article.




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.

Update: 

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.

Update: 

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.



Saturday, 9 January 2021

On Sale 1992

If you peruse the following property page from the "Aberdeen Press and Journal" dated 25 February 1992, you may spot a charming interloper. However, if you dislike challenges please scroll down as all will be revealed.


Anyhow, nestling in the centre of the bottom-left quadrant of the page is the following:


FOR SALE BY
PRIVATE
TREATY

Balintore  Castle.  Built  in
1860.  Beautifully  situated
near Glen  Isla. Substantial
building in need of internal
restoration.

Tel 024179300 or evenings
0241 77038.


Yup, in the company of humdrum domiciles, Balintore Castle was for sale. The past is certainly a different country, and property specs in the 1990's were not the cornucopia of Primelocation or Rightmove. One was largely restricted to limited details for local properties through the print media.

Tellingly, there are no details on the magnificence of Balintore. This is a developer trying to offload the castle which is, by then, in a pretty sorry state. I am unware who was selling Balintore in 1992, and don't know if anyone purchased the building at this time. If you have this information, please get in touch.






Sunday, 3 January 2021

The Moon and the Castle

Many thanks to the talented Bill Nicoll of Kirriemuir for this arresting image of Balintore Castle. A number of people shared it with me on Facebook, so it felt right to archive it in this blog. Bill had given his permission, of course, and guiltily admitted to some photo-shopping.  This is beside the point of course, Bill has captured the true spirit of the building from the romantic era

The Moon and the Castle

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.


Monday, 28 December 2020

In Memorium: Ann Hutchison

The heart-warming funeral of my relative Ann Hutchison, on the 29th April this year at Daldowie Crematorium on the outskirts of Glasgow, was led by a spiritualist minister. Why had I never twigged until that moment that Ann was a spiritualist? She had often mentioned a spiritualist healer she attended regularly. She definitely believed in angels and spirits, and early on in our friendship she had presented me with a small glass angel to watch over me. She had picked up on spirits at the castle in certain locations, by clapping and then listening for the quality of echo that came back.

I had never once put together the pieces before, just assuming that these were aspects of the very warm and spiritual human being, that Ann was. Anyhow, the eulogy filled-in much of the fascinating background information on Ann that I never knew. I had first met her later in life, and only really saw Ann on her frequent trips to Balintore Castle over the last 10 or so years. 

This is why I am writing an "in memorium" in this blog. Ann has very much been part of the restoration project, bringing endless saucepans of homemade food, duvets, heaters and anything that would make the excessively Spartan life at the castle more comfortable. Her generosity at times was overwhelming, but all I could do was say "thank you" and enjoy spending time together. She always brought enough food to feed the army of workers at the castle!


Ann Hutchison: a great friend and a valued relative

On her penultimate visit she announced "I have cancer". She had wanted to say this in person and there was no doubt she had made the trip specially.  At that moment, my universe just turned black. She was allergic to and unsuitable for most of the chemotherapy so there were very few options and prospects did not look good so I knew it was the end. Ann, as ever, was very pragmatic "It is what it is." and being so close to Ann made me wonder chillingly how I would react to receiving and giving this news myself. This was my worst moment, and her last visit to the castle was much happier.

Ann, as ever, kept the increasingly bad news to herself, despite my inquiries. Her family let me know she had been rushed into a hospice. This was during lockdown so I was unable to visit. The reality of this denial of the instinctual attending to the dying hit me hard. I understand I managed to get a message through to Ann via the staff with a phone call to the hospice, but that all my electronic communications did not make it.

After Ann's last visit to the castle, I had an eye-appointment in Glasgow to check if I was suitable for laser surgery (I wasn't). I realised it could be a last chance to see Ann if I stayed overnight with her in Kirkintilloch the night before and took the train into Glasgow. She made me a wonderful evening meal and we laughed and joked as ever. 

The trip to Glasgow proved more draining and time-consuming than I had expected. I got back to Kirkintilloch late afternoon, and did not fancy the drive back to the castle in the dark. I asked Ann if it was possible to stay another night. She made an even more wonderful evening meal, and really pushed the boat out. We had strawberries for pudding, then another pudding of ice-cream. There was also coffee and cheese. There may even have been sherry. :-) We both knew it was the "last supper". It's funny how you don't mention this, and we had an absolutely great time together. So even though I didn't manage to see Ann in the hospice, we had had the most wonderful goodbye. I set off from Kirkintilloch the following morning with my heart breaking.

I haven't mentioned how I first met Ann: the story is quite extraordinary.  I had recently bought the castle, and my parents had died around 10 years before and with both of them being only children, my pool of relatives had dropped to virtually zero. Out of the blue, I got an email from some distant relatives in Australia called Donald and Edna whom my Mum had kept in touch with. They were going to be travelling round the UK. I was heading to the castle myself during the dates of their trip, and suggested it might be fun to meet up at the castle. "Great!", they replied, "We'll bring your Scottish relative.". "What Scottish relative!?" I responded incredulously and excitedly. 

Anyhow, I met Ann for the first time on they day of their visit and we all returned to the nearby "Purgavie Farm B&B" where they were staying, for an excellent meal. I talked with Ann in front of the fire at Purgavie Farm into the night. It was clear we had a lot in common, and had both been through some difficult times in recent years. Blood is so much thicker than water, and we bonded instantly: Ann felt like family and that was a feeling I had been craving. Ann mentioned a "great aunt Priscilla" (forget the name) who way back in time had been a great "sensitive" My Mum had talked about the very same person. Both Ann and my mother believed they had inherited some of this ability, and I often wonder if some of my interest in old buildings is related. I am very aware of atmosphere, though would not ascribe anything supernatural to this ability. I wish I had written down the actual name of Priscilla, as I would love to do some genealogical research into this Richardson branch of the family. Hopefully, if Ann's family is reading this blog entry, perhaps they can supply enough details to enable the research? Ann and I share the same great-great-(great?) grandfather. Ann showed me a picture of him once - I would love a scan.

So you can imagine how much I valued Ann, a true family member I thought I would never ever have again. Ann also formed close bonds with my friends and workmen at the castle. She was well-known for telling me off for my lack of house-keeping skills, so before her visits I would be frantically scrubbing, cleaning and cooking. Of course, it was never good enough and Ann rolled up her sleeves on arrival and got stuck in.

Through Ann I have now met other family members e.g. her grandson Craig who accompanied Ann on her earlier visits to the castle. I met other members of her extended family at the funeral service and at the scattering of her ashes at Balintore Castle. It was frustrating trying to communicate with Ann's family when I first met them, as we had to restrict ourselves to the car park of the crematorium after the service with appropriate social distancing. I was heartened by Ann's wish for her ashes to be scattered at Balintore, which I found out after her death. Ann said visiting Balintore always lifted her mood, and that Balintore had a positive vibe.  On the 26th July this year, the few impromptu and fumbling words I said before Ann's ashes were scattered, included the remark that it was actually Ann who brought the magic to Balintore.

As soon as I knew about the scattering of ashes, I realised that there was a need for a memorial bench in the location, so team Balintore got stuck in.  I bought some antique bench ends off Gregor's brother. Gregor painted them brown and gold and installed new hardwood slats. I added some additional gold detailing to the paint job and organised a brass plaque. In typical Balintore fashion, the bench was completed just a couple of days before the Glasgow posse arrived for the scattering. The spot has simply the best view, and when I feel the need for some spiritual energy I sit on the bench, contemplate the view and think fondly of Ann.

plaque for Ann's memorial bench at Balintore Castle


Ann's memorial bench with plaque


guests at the scattering of Ann's ashes


I will append the text of Ann's eulogy. This was one of the best eulogies I have ever heard because it was full of feeling: beautifully balanced between that rich vein of Glaswegian humour and the solemnity of the occasion. It captured Ann's character, her spirituality and her life story. In fact, it was so good none of us felt short-changed by the service despite the covid limitations - quite the contrary - it was genuinely a life-enhancing experience.

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.


Ann Hutchison 

27/03/1948 - 20/04/2020


Ann arrives to: “Make You Feel My Love” Adele


Good afternoon and welcome everyone and to those who are watching this service online, My name is Tom Elliott and I feel both honoured and privileged that I have been asked to officiate at today’s service.


On behalf of Alan and the entire family, I would like to take this opportunity of thanking each and every one of you here today and also watching from home not just for paying your respects but also for the great support you have shown them throughout this sad time.


Obviously during this part of the service I would normally be inviting everyone to join the family after the service to bring to mind and share your memories of time spent with Ann, but sadly due to the current situation with social distancing this unfortunately can’t happen, but hopefully in the near future you can all gather and do just that.


Today we gather not to mourn a passing but to give thanks, and celebrate a life and that life of course being of Ann Hutchison.


For all those who die in the knowledge of a divine purpose are at peace. Their actions and efforts on this earth will have assured them their rightful place in the life to come. As we must all move through this experience that man calls death, we know that our divine is with us and also within us and we have nothing to fear. There will be strength and guidance waiting to comfort and sustain us through this great adventure of life beyond life. And that life is eternal. It is a very refuge in these times of trouble and need.


So, we have come together to pay tribute and also as I said to give thanks for the life of Ann.


Each of us has a different concept of God and its power. Whatever your God to be, may I ask you to join me in prayer. 


Eternal and ever-present God, in whom we live and move and have our being. We reach to you in prayer, seeking strength, help and consolation. We know you are always directing all things to the fulfilment of your purposes, that your love is manifesting through all the varied experience of our life and yet we need to seek your strength when our faith is weak because our understanding of life is still imperfect


May we come to realise, through a greater awareness of the divine spirit within each of us. That whether we live or whether we die we are your children. Help us to realise that death is the gateway to a continued life in the spirit world. We send our love to Ann and pray that your angels of light will strengthen and encourage her in her new life. We know that she will be met by those smiling faces of the family and friends who have gone before and that their reunion will be a joyous occasion. May their bonds of affection be strengthened and may their love grow even stronger.


AMEN.


Born on the 27th of March 1948 to parents John and Margaret Aitken, along with her older sister Maureen, Ann was raised in the Springburn area of Glasgow. Just a typical wee Glasgow lass and Maureen said sometimes a wee horror but a loveable one at that. Ann attended Albert Primary School followed on by Glenwood Secondary School. It was around the age of 8 the family moved over to the Castlemilk area of Glasgow, with Margaret and John out working a lot to provide for their girls. It left Maureen to look after her young sister. She tells me Ann was a daddy’s girl. When it came to doing the housework, she would disappear especially if it was her turn for the dishes, leaving them for Maureen. She got away with everything as a young yin. Both Ann and Maureen would pop round to Dad John's work which was round the corner from the house. It was here John worked as a joiner. They would pop in and John and his workmates nicknamed Ann thrupenny-face. This was down to every time she went the only thing she would say was “Can I get thruppence?”. As a name it stuck for some time. From a young age she had a fascination with planting things and Maureen recalled Ann would be out back at the Castlemilk flat almost every day doing gardening on her wee patch up the back. This is something that carried on right through her adult life. I’m sure all in attendance, at some point or another, have received a wee cutting from one of the plants in her garden.


She loved shopping: again something that remained with her. It was one weekend she just happened to get a new wee yellow Mini car as a teenage girl and both Maureen and Ann on the Saturday decided to take a wee trip into town to get some new clothes. Back in the day you would find the height of fashion in the shops on Argyle Street. They finished shopping and went back to get the car but couldn't find it. Panic set in and they walked the length and breadth of Argyle Street and adjacent side streets finally finding it not far from WhatEverys. I'm sure that shop brings back many memories for all of us of a certain age. 


Upon leaving school Ann took up a position within a bookmaker called Tote. From here she went on to work for Ashfield Motors. She was very academic which allowed her to work for various law firms, including Watermans Solicitors, McCarry's Solicitors and latterly before retirement she worked for Corries Solicitors.


She met and fell in love with a lad called Jim Hutchison. They dated for a bit and decided to get married. it was in July of 1966 that they welcomed their first and only child Alan into our world. Born in Springburn they moved as a family to Kirkintilloch. Both parents worked hard to provide for young Alan. With young Alan's cousin Jacqueline, both Ann and Maureen took turns to watch the kids whilst the other worked. Sadly, when Alan was a young teen, Ann’s marriage broke down. Jim and Ann remained amicable for the sake of young Alan. Ann continued to work hard to afford the usual things for her son. They spent a lot of time in Rothesay with Ann's parents and Alan would stay there a lot more, getting to spend time in his grandparents’ tourer. Alan loved spending so much time with his Nana and Pop. But he has fond memories of his Mum taking him on holidays to Kent and also once surprising him with a trip to France on a hovercraft. Memories that will live forever in his mind.

It was in 1984 that Ann was involved in a serious car accident which left her immobile for some time. It was left then to young Alan to act as a carer for his mum. Ann, not wanting to be a burden, pushed herself to get back up into the throws of life so it would encourage young Alan to go out and live his life.

 

Family was important to Ann, especially her grandkids. Gemma, Megan, Craig, Thomas and Bethany as well as her 3 great-grandkids Macie, Brodie and Mirren. They all played a huge part in her life and she adored them all equally as they adored her.


She taught the oldest three to swim. Craig recalled how they travelled all over the place to learn the bleeping (not the word he used!) doggy paddle, and I hear Gemma was unimpressed to hear of this as she only got as far as the Kirkie baths.

Megan and Craig recalled how they regularly got taken on caravan holidays. Again, Ann was giving the grandkids the same experiences as she gave Alan and they loved it. Even as the kids went to stay each Friday, she would make them stew and pastry, this because it was Megan's favourite and allegedly what Megan wants Megan gets due to the fact she thinks she was the favourite. Ann eventually decided to buy a bigger house so they both had a room each. She would take them all out on wee trips to different parks and even museums such as Kelvingrove, the People’s palace and also the Transport Museum. Hence the fact they all cultured … allegedly…


Ann loved her dogs especially Coco and Rex. Sadly Rex is no longer with us which devastated her but she still had her Coco. She once took Thomas and Bethany on a fundraising dog walk with both Rex and Coco. And I'm sure she will be smiling down as Thomas takes good care of her wee Coco for her.


Also for Craig she took him on a trip to the Norfolk broads and in his own words spending time on a mad boat thing. We are now led to believe he means a barge.


A young Bethany recently popped up to see her Nana. Ann happened to ask her about her schooling. Bethany excitedly told Ann that she was taking geography, and how she learned that France is in Italy. Ann being Ann decided to buy her a map. And I hear pulling this information together it has become apparent that Megan also seems to be in need of a map.


Ann was always a big kid at heart and even just a few years ago at great-granddaughter Macie's first birthday party she was the first on the bouncy castle even with her walking sticks in hand.


Talking about castles she was drawn to Balintore Castle. She loved to visit as it belongs to her cousin, and loved seeing it being restored over the years. Her last wish was for this to be her resting place. I personally have a story of Ann and Balintore which I will tell you about later.


She was a much loved Nana not only to her own but also to a few others whom she treated like they were her grandkids.

Friends remained close to Ann, she spent many happy times with both Anne and Isobel.


Isobel was recalling how each Saturday they would go for their weekly shop together, their friendship spans over 30 years. They first met when they both worked for Ashfield Motors, and struck up a great friendship and bond. Ann would go each year for Christmas dinner to both Isobel’s and her brother’s home. As a friend Isobel says she had a huge heart and was there for her through all the good times and the bad times and remained loyal. They even got the opportunity to go to a Boyzone concert last year with Ann being a huge fan. She will be missed by her friends and also her family.


I personally got to know Ann over the last few years. Like myself, Ann has a keen interest in spiritualism and she would come to all my workshops and my demonstrations as well as readings latterly. She had a huge caring heart and each time she booked on a course in the soul sanctuary she would purchase an extra space and tell me to give it to someone who couldn't afford to go. She loved buying crystals and I hear even as she was taken to hospital recently she was giving them away to the doctor and the ambulance guy in the house. Now I first heard of Balintore. One day I kept getting a pinging noise on my phone. These were PayPal payments for Balintore. I was a bit confused. I went into my account and found a payment from Balintore,  then another, then another and another. This went on for ages. She must have had more money than sense as she kept sending the same payment over and over again. She messaged me to say something was wrong with PayPal and it was then I realised it was Ann. She did get them refunded, I should add. Like for most of us, we will all still be in a state of shock that she is no longer physically here but I’m sure wherever she is, she will be smiling down knowing just how much she was loved by everyone.


Ann was a beautiful soul. She had the time of day for anyone and would give you her last. She was loved and adored and respected by all those who had the privilege of knowing her. Her smile lit up the room when she walked in and she would natter with anyone. She loved to get involved in the community, often attending wee groups to do knitting or sewing etc even stretching to yoga latterly. She will be sorely missed and leaves a gaping hole within all of our hearts and minds. She leaves a legacy of a woman who lived and loved her life, and gave her time generously to all.


As a spiritualist, I know there is no such thing as death. I understand that the possessions of the earth must remain so, but that which is spirit must return to the spirit conditions. The spirit body of Ann along with the character and personality have been freed and has been returned to such conditions. We can be assured that such transitions took place and that the loved ones already in the spirit world have gathered together to greet Ann. Think of that reunion, the bonds of love which death cannot sever and that joyous occasion in spirit. So let's just for a few moments, reflect on your own wonderful memories of Ann whilst listening to a song chosen by the family which is.


“Somewhere over The Rainbow” by Eva Cassidy


The Committal


For those who can please be upstanding, and that includes those at home attending today’s service on this live feed.


We have now come sadly to the final act of our formal parting, so let's be thankful for the life of Ann. For the love she gave, for the friendships she sustained and for the contribution to your world. All that was important to her will be respected by those who follow. All that was great about her will continue to mean so much in each of our lives. As we yield the body of Ann Hutchison to be cremated, we say farewell with immense sadness in our hearts. But may the grief you feel today be tempered by the happy wonderful memories that will comfort you not just for today but for all your days to come. 


Please be seated.


Ladies and gentlemen we leave here today in the knowledge that Ann is at peace and no doubt in the arms of all those who have gone before. Sadly through these times of lockdown and isolation, we can’t go on as a group to raise a glass and toast the life of Ann whilst sharing our own stories and memories with each other. In time this will all change and I’m sure you will all have the opportunity to celebrate together and share said stories.


We leave here today listening to another song chosen by the family and of course one of Ann's favourite groups Boyzone.



Sunday, 27 December 2020

Tyntesfield

When Tyntesfield House in Somerset, England was bought for the nation by the National Trust in 2002, not only was it is a media event I remember well, but it was the first acknowledgement by the establishment that Victorian architecture could actually be meritorious. Indeed, since then the Gothic Revival style has had, dare I say it, a small revival in popularity. "I must visit." I said to myself at the time. Cut to 2020 after the first lockdown, and I drove to see my friend Tim in nearby Bristol in the knowledge that Tyntesfield House was once again open to the public albeit in a limited way.

Yes, it really did take 18 years for me to make my first ever covid-defiant visit to Tyntesfield . Tim and I were masked and had to socially distance from the other visitors. There was a one-way system through the house and not all areas (e.g. the upstairs) were accessible. However, the experience was still an absolute thrill, and reaffirmed that I could still feel the magic even after years of grind at Balintore. The interior is unbelievable with bespoke furniture and fittings done to the highest level of craftsmanship. Everything is coordinated and everything is a work of art. The late Victorian and Edwardian eras are, in my opinion, the high watermark for interiors. 

Despite its scale Tyntesfield is not overwhelming and feels domestic, comfortable and liveable - in short the perfect home. We have guano magnate William Gibbs to thank for the house in its present form. Gibbs is no bullish nouveau riche patron. He was partly brought up in Spain, was pious, learned and the impeccable taste of Tyntesfield betrays his great love of Art.

Each fireplace at Tyntesfield is not just of a different design but of a different style. The fireplace pictured below was not the grandest, but just one that caught my eye due to its purity of design and restrained but telling use of colour. I pointed out to Tim that the body of the fireplace is English Alabaster as found in mediaeval tombs. The guide in the room who overheard our conversation confirmed that this was correct.  Alabaster was the only marble-like material available in England. Smaller marble inclusions (such as the roundels here) would have been imported from Europe. This is Victoria gothic revival at its academic best, informed by the palette of materials available in the Middle Ages


a fireplace at Tyntesfield House


Tim and I were thrown out of the library at Tyntesfield, or at least moved on as we were lingering too long. I was naturally drawn to the expansive marble fireplace there - not the one pictured above I should add.              

I found out later that apparently Gibbs asked a friend if the library fireplace was perhaps a bit too over the top. His friend replied "Yes, I am afraid that it is but it is too late now to do anything.".  :-) This is evidence of Gibbs' good taste i.e. the fact that he had these concerns, And to the modern eye, this particular debate is lost in the rich Gothic glory of the interior.

In a world over rich in online images and indeed wishing to experience the world directly, I am hesitant to take any photos. When I do, it will be what catches my eye or what is transient and only occasionally as an aide-memoire. And the range of squashes grown in the Tyntesfield walled garden did create an impressive transient spectacle.

squash at Tyntesfield House


Dan Cruickshank's insightful comment on the charms of Tyntesfield, is that they are due to the fact that Gibbs was quite simply a thoroughly nice man

On the same trip Tim took me to Piercefield House, one of his favourite buildings, immediately adjacent to Chepstow Racecourse just over the border in Wales. 


Tim at Piercefield House

Piercefield was astonishing in many ways: heavily muscled classicism overlooking an idyllic valley leading down to the Wye River  How could such a top flight building ever have become a ruin, especially next to a racecourse which attracts the richest of visitors? Tim regaled me with the recent, sadly embroiled history of Piercefield. And given the current state of the building, it is hard to see how a turnaround could happen. Tim and I discussed how someone might start, and we thought the smaller side pavilions (which provide beautifully proportioned triple height spaces) could be the way in. We both loved the side pavilions.

Tim also took me to Ashton Court on the edge of Bristol. This started life as a mediaeval manor house. The last additions were Victorian Gothic. Now the building is in a state of partial ruin. A section is used by Bristol Council, and another part houses a small restaurant used by members of the public, The buildings and grounds are much loved and visited by the denizens of Bristol, yet a lot of the building is in a perilous and vacated condition. I loved many areas of this building: the mediaeval hall (Tim gave me a puntie-up so I could look in) and I loved the Gothic Revival hall. The frontage of the building, which I know well from photographs, is an impressive and rhythmic phalanx of beige stone, However, the accommodation behind this frontage, based around a much diminished mediaeval courtyard, is much smaller than expected and surprisingly scrappy. When I say "scrappy" I mean consisting of odds and end of bits of buildings from various historic eras. In short, a charming mess. :-)

Yet again tempted by a fireplace, I could not resist taking a photo through the window of the Council offices. My apologies. In my defence, due to covid Council employees were exceeding thin on the ground.


Fireplace in Ashton Court

The range of historic buildings: Tyntesfield (pristine), Piercefield (total ruin) and Ashton Court (in-between) was a perfect sampling and helped put Balintore into a context. It is always useful to get a flash of the bigger picture when one is being ground down by the detail.

Tim is engaged in his own restoration project. Completion is expected end of January 2021. Balintore is quite envious.

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.



Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Merry Christmas 2020 !

What a year! We have all been bombarded with far too much depressing information on the pandemic, so I am determined not to add to your burden in this year's Christmas blog entry. By the way, this is the 44th blog entry of the year. This is greatest annual total so far - an unexpected side-effect of the virus. In second place is 2013 with 38 blog entries. I had hoped to push to 52 blog entries this year, but that can now be an ambition for the future.

My plan had been to return to full-time work this year after taking some time off to focus on the restoration. However, the pandemic has made us all rethink our priorities, and it seemed to be the right time to go for broke (in all senses) and really push the restoration to a stage that the building might be able to pay for its own restoration, once covid has retreated.

And ironically in the absence of much distraction, the restoration has come on in leaps and bounds, and overall I would say 2020 has been the year of greatest progress so far. At the start of the first lockdown Gregor and Greg did not come to work for a week, and it looked like the big lockdown push I had hoped for would not occur. However, they came back the second week due to boredom. Modulo the unavailability of plaster (£6 bags were going for £60 on eBay), things continued almost as normal. I had expected work would eventually grind to a halt due to the lack of building materials, but we just worked with the materials we had at the castle already, and thankfully this bridged the gap until supplies came online again. The latter was most definitely not a given.

Financing the restoration has been very much eating into the rainy day savings, so I followed the advice of some Spanish visitors earlier in the year, who suggested I start a GoFundMe page. I was also in part inspired by the wonderful "Chateau Diaries" vlog, where due to its online popularity an English lady called Stephanie has suddenly been inundated by restoration funds to continue her restoration of a French chateau. She has owned Chateau de Lalande for the same amount of time I have owned Balintore. The plan is somehow to raise the profile of the Balintore project in a similar way: somewhat of a challenge given I am pathologically publicity shy. :-)

At the moment, we are doing a lot of finishing-off work such as plastering and painting, and this always takes an absolute age - but at the end of it there will be a total of 8 finished comfortable bedrooms in the castle which is an identifiable stage to take pause and re-evaluate the situation. The bedroom pictured below was painted in a colour called "Highland Thistle" which sounded eminently suitable for the location of the castle, and looked great on a computer screen. On opening the tin a more honest name was surely "Putrid Raspberry", whereas I had been aspiring towards a "Patrician Purple". Applying the first coat, I was demoralised before I had even started as I was fully expecting to have to paint over it again in white. However, the next morning (pictured) the paint had dried to a more reasonable and bluer shade, and after consulting with friends the advice was to go forwards and apply a second coat. Thankfully, I am more than happy with the end result.

working on bedroom - walls have just had their first coat of "Highland Thistle"

The next zone for restoration is the vaulted servants' hall in the basement. This is one of my favourite rooms in the castle, and was where the servants ate, but assuredly it is a large multi-functional space that will be an asset for the building.

This year has unexpectedly seen the first wedding at Balintore. A couple from Liverpool had a big wedding planned, but with covid they wanted to get married ASAP with the smallest possible ceremony i.e. just themselves. I managed to rope in some friends to officiate, witness, cater and play the 'pipes. In the end, the event was quite magical with all the elements slotting miraculously into place. The rain only started at the end of  the outdoor ceremony. :-)  I would have thought much more of Balintore would have to be restored to host a wedding, but covid has changed expectations - sometimes delivering unexpected joys like this.

My relative Ann, who was a great friend of Balintore (many of you will have met her here) passed away this year due to cancer. I was heart-broken, but delighted that she wanted her ashes scattered at Balintore. She felt that the place has some magic and it always lifted her mood. I suspect it was her visiting that brought the magic to the place. :-) There is a video of me saying a few impromptu words before the scattering which I won't inflict on you. Her extended family came over from Glasgow - this time it didn't rain. I will be devoting a whole blog entry to Ann's memory in the new year.

We managed to fit in a single "Balintore Castle Lunar Dinner Party" between lock-downs. These monthly events started as a way to help my morale during the cold and dark of last winter. However, as an act of defiance I am determined these will become an all year round fixture.

When seeing friends is impossible, you really value those brief windows when meet-ups becomes possible. Those occasions are all the more bitter-sweet because you are fully aware the window is likely to close again. All I can say is watch out for the myriad of fun events at Balintore Castle when we get the all clear.

As a special Christmas treat, I edited down a 5 minute video of Balintore's original bath being returned to the castle this summer after around 50 years of serving as a cow trough in a local farmyard. Greg was a little concerned that the video did not always show his best angles so as a compromise I have settled for the most flattering frame-grabs. 
What is nice about the video is that it was recorded at the height of summer, and in the depth of winter this is great to look back on.

attempting to extract Balintore bath from farmyard wall

Balintore bath is freed!


strapping bath into my pick-up


bath being returned inside castle

When I was initially told about the existence of the bath, the farmer in residence was a Walter Waddle, who I first met by coincidence at the Kirriemuir tip. You cannot make these things up. :-)

Negotiations for the bath have taken around 5 years, principally due to the turn-around of factors. What spurred me on recently was my first trip to the shops after a period of lockdown. I always check on the cow trough as I drive past, but this time it was missing! A large pile of stones suggested the wall the bath was build into had been demolished, and that the bath had presumably been disposed of out of ignorance. I was distraught.

However, I had simply panicked. The pile of stones came from another demolition, and the bath was still there but hidden behind the stones. Anyhow, it made me pull my socks up and start the final push for the return of the bath. So again, the thrilling and historic return of the bath is an unforeseen benefit of covid.

Merry Christmas and, more than ever, a Happy New Year to friends of Balintore.

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.