Friday, 5 March 2021

In Country Life

This time a “Balintore Castle” snapshot from 26th January 1989: a Country Life article on 12 Scottish houses at risk. The significance of an article in this prestigious magazine should not be underestimated particularly in pre-Web days. It is a definite “call to arms” for Scotland very much in the way the referenced exhibition at the V&A “The Destruction of the Country House” was for England 15 years earlier.

I had only planned to include the section on Balintore, but instead I have included details of all 12, not just to keep the article complete but to indicate the augustness of the company kept by Ms. Balintore. I will give you an update on the buildings I know about to indicate the winners and losers in the intervening 32 years. You will not be surprised that most of these are losers (6 losers vs. 2 winners). I have not included Balintore in this reckoning as I do not wish to tempt providence.

Mr. F. Godley is given as the owner of Balintore. This name is new to me, so bingo: another link in that ownership chain. I believe quite a number of the details in the history of the building are not quite correct, but these are understandable mistakes, so I will not start nit-picking. :-) After all, readers will surely have picked up the definitive version of events from this blog.

The photograph in the Country Life shows the castle still with its urns, blinds and kitchen wing finial, though of course there is no indication how long before the article the photo was taken. The front of the castle sports pheasant rearing cages.

I have appended the OCR-ed text of this article at the end of this blog entry for your convenience, though the scans are sufficiently high resolution, on clicking, to read comfortably.

The Winners

Auchinleck House

This is near where I grew up and is now in the safe and capable arms of the Landmark Trust. A friend of mine had a very happy time working there!

Ballochmyle House

The main house, once vacated, is now being used for accommodation, while the surrounding hospital has been demolished with the site being redeveloped as housing. I visited the hospital when I was small as my granny died here. :-( I looked at Ballochmyle as a restoration candidate, and don’t think my rejection was influenced by this sad connection.

The Losers

Mavisbank House

This William Adam cause célèbre famously came second in BBC2’s 2003 “Restoration” series, so missed being restored by the skin of its teeth. The Landmark Trust have recently said they would restore the house, with Historic Scotland doing the gardens, but I don’t know the current status given the pandemic so have kept this as a “loser” for now.

Poltalloch House

I have visited twice. A vast and stunning edifice by the architect of Balintore. The scale and level of dereliction do not bode well for a restoration

Dunalaister House

One of my most embarrassing visits (a tale for another time!). The quality of the stonework is next to none, but a daunting restoration.

Crawford Priory

One of my favourite buildings. I spotted three phases of gothic revival building work during my visit - every phase a gem! Still disintegrating.

Cambusnethan House

There is an active “friends of” society, but no light at the end of the tunnel.

Dalquharran Castle

Still a perfect shell of a building, and still crying out for a restoration. Technically, it is not a difficult restoration, which makes the tragedy even greater.

pp100-103 COUNTRY L I F E JANUARY 26, 1989



AUCHINLECK HOUSE, near Ayrshire (left), was built in 1759–61 for the father of Dr Johnson's friend James Boswell, Lord Auchinleck, and remained in the family until it was sold two and a half years ago to the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust. By this time it had developed extensive dry rot and was well on the way to becoming a ruin, but the trust has now spent some £200,000 on repairing and releading the roof, and will shortly begin work on the interior. The superb masonry survives in virtually perfect condition—thanks to the pure unpolluted air of the west coast.

The final use is yet to be decided. As any kind of public use would require a major endowment it is most likely that it will be offered for sale when restoration is complete in two years' time. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

MAVISBANK, Midlothian, is architecturally, one of the most delightful early Georgian houses in Britain-aptly compared to a Baroque doll's house. After years of decay, encouraged by coal-mining subsidence, emergency repairs have been carried out, and the shell stabilised (see COUNTRY LIFE, August 20, 1987). The work has been done by the Lothian Building Preservation Trust, with grants from the Secretary of State for Scotland. Detailed costings by the trust for restoring Mavisbank as one house, or three (making the wings self-contained), put the likely cost at £2 million-£2.5 million.

The house was built in 1723-27 by William Adam for Sir John Clerk. As 1989 is the tercentenary of Adam's birth, it is to be hoped that the Secretary of State for Scotland will proceed quickly with compulsory purchase. (Photograph: Jonathan M. Gibson.)

COCHNO HOUSE, Clydebank, is a very smart but simple mid-Georgian house of seven bays, with a three-bay central pediment and a handsome external staircase. It was probably designed by John Adam.

It is now owned by Glasgow University, which was refused listed building consent to demolish. The house is in partial use by the university veterinary department, and their refusal to sell may be explained by the fact that the Home Office veterinary licence is very precious to the university.

However, there is now a possibility that the department will be merged with that of Edinburgh University and the house may come onto the market. It has good original 1760s interiors, with early-19th-century alterations and embellishments. (Photograph: Glasgow Herald.)

BALLOCHMYLE HOUSE, Ayrshire, is a classic case of institutional use proving the undoing of a fine house. The original house, built by John Adam in about 1760 for Allan Whitefoord, was remodelled and absorbed in the present handsome red sandstone Jacobean mansion by Hew Montgomerie Wardrop in 1887. The entrance front has a fine, Renaissance-style, two-storey porch and bell-capped octagonal corner turrets.

It is now engulfed in a hospital which has repeatedly sought to demolish the house (which has been empty since 1968), and has turned down potential buyers because it wished to retain exclusive use of the access. No thought has been given to the future of the house as the hospital has expanded, and for this reason it must be kept wind- and water-tight until the Health Board is able to dispose of it on reasonable terms. (Photograph: Glasgow Herald.)

Fifteen years after the seminal exhibition, “The Destruction of the Country House”, few major houses remain at risk in England. In Scotland the situation is very different. There are still many derelict and decaying houses that deserve to be saved.

STRATHLEVEN HOUSE, Dunbarton, Strathclyde right), was taken on by the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust at the same time as it acquired Auchinleck. This important 1690s house stands on the edge of a substantial industrial estate, which has ruled out many potential uses, but the trust believes it has a future as either a management training centre or prestige company headquarters. A funding package is now being prepared in association with the Scottish Development Agency and the Historic Buildings Council. Behind the house a 10acre site is available for associated development.

The house has extensive dry rot, but the very fine late-17th-century woodwork-notably a staircase and a large panelled room with Corinthian columns—is safely in store. The building is very much in the style of Sir William Bruce. (Photograph: Frank Melvin.)

POLTALLOCH, Argyllshire, was built in about 1850-52 for Neill Malcolm by William Burn, the most prolific of Victorian country-house architects both north and south of the Border. The style is a delicately ornate Jacobethan, comparable to Burn's Revesby Hall in Lincolnshire, and with deliciously elaborate carved stone crestings to the bay windows. The house stands in an exceptionally beautiful situation and was reputed to have been one of Burn's most expensive houses. It was unroofed some years ago and survives as a stable—but delisted—shell. This could be reconstructed internally. Poltalloch is said to have been the last house in Scotland to lose its roof under the old rating system, whereby rates were payable as long as the roof remained. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

MINTO HOUSE, Roxburghshire, following war-time requisitioning, was leased by the Elliots of Minto to a private school, but when this closed in the late 1960s no purchaser could be found. Permission to demolish was granted in 1973, but instead the lead was taken from the roof, and internal fittings removed, leaving Minto as a shell. The original house was built by William Adam for Sir Gilbert Elliot, Lord Minto, in about 1738–43; the unusual V-plan may be the result of incorporating an earlier building. The house was later remodelled for the 1st Earl of Minto by Archibald Elliot, one of the leading Edinburgh architects of the time. From 1894 to 1906 further work was carried out by Robert Lorimer, who designed some new interiors, a well-equipped service wing and a delightful terrace garden. (Photograph: Hugh Ross.)

BALDOVAN HOUSE, Angus, is a mid-18th-century house that stands three miles to the north of Dundee, close to recent development on the edge of the city, but still secluded in its own little stretch of parkland.

Dating from the mid 18th century, it has a front attributed to Sir Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum and numerous country houses, including Lowther Castle, Westmorland, and Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire. It was the family home of the Scrimgeours. The house has been on the market for some time without success, but is a good candidate for conversion as flats, or possibly as a small hotel.

Vandals have done a certain amount of damage, but most of the fittings remain inside, with some good ceilings. The adjacent stables were built for Sir John Ogilvy, Bt, in 1832 by David McKenzie. (Photograph: Marcus Dean.)

DUNALASTAIR, Perthshire (right), is an impressive but forlorn house, and the latest solution suggested is that it should be sold for reconstruction in Japan, following the attempt to sell Milton Lockhart in Lanarkshire.

Set amid spectacular mountainous scenery, Dunalastair is a richly ornate example of Scottish Baronial, with magnificent views in every direction from the garden terrace. Its setting was enhanced by ornamental planting by the Jacobite poet-chieftain of the clan Donnachie, Alexander Robertson. It is sheltered from the north by Ben a Chuallaich and looks straight along Schiehallion.

The house is built of whinstone with Dunmoor freestone facings. It was formed around the core of an earlier house for General Sir John Macdonald by the Perth firm of Andrew Heiton and Son. The interiors, only fragments of which remain, were in a restrained Classical style.

The house was requisitioned during the Second World War and subsequently used as a school for Polish refugees. Latterly it has been left empty and allowed to deteriorate. It is now windowless, and will soon be a roofless shell. (Photograph: Hugh Ross.)

CAMBUSNETHAN HOUSE, Wishaw, Lanarkshire, is a Gothic revival house built in 1816-19 for Robert Lockhart by James Gillespie Graham, then Scotland's leading designer of picturesque castellated mansions. It stands in a prominent position on the north side of the Clyde, with a commanding view across the flood plain and river beyond. Unoccupied since 1983, the house has been burnt and badly vandalised, but planning permission has recently been given to a local builder to finance restoration as 12 flats, by the construction of 24 flats in two blocks below the house. Conditions are to be attached to ensure the house receives a completion certificate before the flats are begun. The stables are now in separate ownership. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

AUCHINBOTHIE, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, is one of the biggest houses in the swish railway suburb of Kilmacolm, west of Glasgow. It dates from 1898, and was designed by William Leiper, the architect of the local church, who is better known for his houses in Helensburgh. It is built in the characteristic FrancoScottish style of the period—asymmetrical, white harled and with a circular tower.

Auchinbothie has been empty for about eight years. Plans to convert it into a country club did not proceed, and planning permission has been granted for converting the house into six flats, with further new flats in the spacious grounds. The condition of the house is now causing concern. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

CRAWFORD PRIORY, Fife, is a tragic case of an attractive house left to decay, though not yet beyond redemption. It was begun in 1758 as a modest villa by the 21st Earl of Crawford and extended in 1809 by David Hamilton for Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford. She changed her architect two years later, employing James Gillespie Graham to complete the house. In 1871 the 6th Earl of Glasgow employed William Little to remodel the east front in suitably ecclesiastical style, adding a service wing with a tall tower at the back. The interior is now derelict and more and more of the original detail-stained glass, plasterwork and panelling-disappears each year, but the house could still be rebuilt internally. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

BALINTORE CASTLE, Angus (left), is situated on a remote Angus grouse moor, and is a late and splendidly exuberant composition by William Burn, dating from the last decade of his prolific life. Towers and turrets proliferate with a balustrade viewing platform on the main tower. Inside, the Great Hall has a glazed gallery giving access to the main bedrooms. The house originally had only one bathroom, but has Burn's usual elaborate and efficiently planned offices and service quarters.

He received the commission from David Lyon, MP, who had inherited a fortune made through the East India Company.

Shortly after the house was completed in 1865, the 7,000-acre estate was taken over by Major William Lyon, who lived there until the end of the century.

The estate was subsequently acquired by Lady Lyell, but was latterly only used during the shooting season, and was finally abandoned in the 1960s following a major outbreak of dry rot. Thieves stripped the lead and stole many of the fittings, and Lord Lyell sold the castle and garden for a nominal sum to Mr F. Godley for restoration. Work has not yet begun. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

DALQUHARRAN CASTLE, Ayrshire, is a spectacular Robert Adam castle that was unroofed in 1968, and though the interiors have largely vanished, the masonry shell remains remarkably intact. Adam's house, built in 1790 for Thomas Kennedy, was enlarged by massive wings in 1881, built in matching style by Walker and Son of Belgravia. The original intention had been to rehabilitate the old castle of Dalquharran.

Suggestions have been made at various times that the house should be reduced to its original size, but it is the wings which give the composition its memorable and imposing silhouette. Now that the interior detail has sadly been lost, internal reconstruction becomes a simpler proposition. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

CALLENDER PARK, Falkirk, Stirlingshire, stands, protected by a large wire fence, in the public park to the south of Falkirk, but the district council have yet to decide on a use for it. The basic form of the house is 17th-century, incorporating earlier elements, but it was spectacularly transformed by Maitland Wardrop in the 19th century into a François Premier style château. There are some important 18th-century interiors and a marvellous library by David Hamilton. The Baroque painted ceiling above the staircase the only one of its kind in Scotland-has flaked away while the house has been empty, but generally the house is in a reasonable structural state. (Photograph: Marcus Dean.)

SKELBO CASTLE, Sutherland, is a very important group representing all stages of castle development in northern Scotland. A stone tower, probably of about 1300, stands on an earlier earthwork motte. Below is a large, two-storey hall house of the bastle type common on the Anglo-Scottish border, but without parallel so far north. This probably dates from about 1600, and was built as a defensible farmhouse, with provision for a bier in the vaulted cellars. There were two separate first-floor entrances, suggesting it was two units, perhaps for two brothers. The house was still in family use when Pennant came in the 1760s, but later became a bothy. It is now largely roofless, and the east gable has recently fallen down. (Photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.)

The author would like to thank Hugh Ross, Marcus Dean and Mary Miers for their help with this article.


  1. I have been, from far, far away, monitoring MAVISBANK for several decades.

    And have been crossing my fingers all that time.