Discover the delights of Dumfries House in Cumnock
Motorhome, camping and caravan insurance customers heading north of the border should take a trip into Ayrshire to uncover ‘one of heritage’s best kept secrets’.
Dumfries House in Cumnock in East Ayrshire, hit the headlines in 2007 when HRH Prince Charles dramatically stepped in at the eleventh hour and ‘saved it for the nation’.
The stunning 18th century Adam designed mansion house had been largely untouched for over 250 years. Its relative anonymity is astounding considering the considerable influence its owners have had upon the industrial and architectural history of the British Isles.
Originally built between 1754 and 1759 by William Dalrymple-Crichton, the 5th Earl of Dumfries, it was lavishly decorated with the finest artwork and furniture in the hope that it might help him attract a suitable wife.
The contents included 50 pieces by Thomas Chippendale, one of the first Axminster carpets ever produced plus pieces by Scotland’s finest cabinetmakers William Mathie, Frances Brodie and Alexander Peter.
In his role as The Great Steward of Scotland, the Prince led a consortium of heritage organisations, charities and private benefactors to purchase the house, its contents and 4,000 acres of adjoining parkland at a total cost of £45 million.
Restoration and Regeneration
Considerable investment has since been made to restore the property, rejuvenate the estate and, as a consequence, regenerate the Ayrshire area.
Heritage led projects include apprenticeships in animal husbandry, stone masonry and sustainable organic farming. A coach house café has opened for visitors, a tree-planting scheme is underway and a 900-acre commercial farm is run in association with Morrisons.
Land will be bequeathed to the local community for use as allotments and there are plans for a hotel, which will complement the property’s business potential as a wedding and corporate events venue.
Planning permission has also been granted for 600 homes in a mixed–use ‘eco-village’ called Knockroon which will replicate the approach taken for Poundbury.
The Dumfries estate is a highlight of any caravanning, camping or motorhoming holiday. The House includes newly restored bedrooms, dining rooms and drawing rooms all luxuriously decorated with the original furnishings.
A love message etched with a diamond ring into one of the windows, a hidden door behind a tapestry and a foul smelling house ghost; these are just some of the delightful details that reveal the intimate stories of life within the beautiful Palladian mansion house.
William Dalrymple-Crichton commissioned brothers Robert and John Adam to design Dumfries House as a replacement for the outdated family home occupying the same estate.
It was the first major new commission the brothers had taken since inheriting the business and the design is largely attributed to Robert, the younger brother, who oversaw construction until leaving for his Grand Tour of Italy. Whilst away, he continued to send designs home for the business to implement.
William enjoyed an illustrious military career, but his family life was not so joyous. In 1744, his only child died aged ten followed by his wife Anne. In a bid to attract a new wife to produce an heir, he filled the home with the finest furnishings he could find. He married Anne Duff in 1762 but they had no children.
In 1768 on William’s death the estate and title passed to his nephew, Patrick McDouall-Crichton who lived there with his wife Margaret, daughter Elizabeth and ward Flora, Countess of Loudon.
Elizabeth married the eldest son of the 1st Marquess of Bute and had two sons. Both Elizabeth and her husband died young, leaving the sons’ upbringing to their grandparents at Dumfries. The eldest, John, inherited his grandfather’s title in 1803. At the age of 20 his paternal grandfather died leaving him the title the 2nd Marquess of Bute and the family seat, Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute, which became his main residence.
Dumfries House was left behind but not forgotten.
An 18th Century Time Capsule’
Experts attribute the remarkable preservation of Dumfries to the fact that during its 250-year lifetime it was loved, maintained and modernised but very rarely lived in.
John Crichton-Stuart, the 2nd Marquess of Bute, was regarded as a forward thinking industrialist and is credited with building Cardiff Docks; his statue occupies Callaghan Square.
The 3rd Marquess, John Patrick, followed his father and continued to develop Cardiff but his main interests lay in art, architecture and religion. He formed a partnership with leading architect William Burges and recreated Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch as Victorian Gothic masterpieces. His sensational conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1868 is said to have inspired Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Lothair.
In 1877 Mount Stuart, burnt down and John Patrick spent more time at Dumfries House. He instigated several modifications including the addition of two new wings by leading Scottish arts and crafts architect Robert Weir Schultz. John described Dumfries as the ‘homeliest’ of all his houses.
The 4th Marquess took over in 1900 and continued the modifications installing electricity and replacing wooden floors with concrete. In 1942 the army requisitioned the house and built a camp called Pennyland Barracks in the grounds. It housed and trained members of the allied forces and became a prisoner of war camp in 1943 and later a Polish Repatriation Centre in 1947.
The 5th Marquess succeeded his father in 1947. Until the army arrived, he had spent much of the 1930’s at Dumfries with his wife Lady Eileen Bute. Lady Eileen returned in the mid fifties following her husband’s death and, with friends, formed a social club, known locally as the ‘Ayrshire Widows’.
She died in 1993 closely followed by her son leaving the estate and title to the 7th Marquess, the F1 racing driver and Le Mans 24hr champion ‘John Bute’. Despite attempts to secure patronage from leading heritage trusts, double death duties and the increasing conservation costs of both Dumfries House and Mount Stuart led to Bute instructing Savills to sell the house and Christie’s it’s contents.
Saved by a Prince
The sale prompted heritage and art bodies to attempt to save Dumfries but with little success. Prince Charles, moved by the impassioned plea of a local resident and author, intervened arranging a £20 million loan secured against the Princes Charities Foundation.
In addition to the House, the Dumfries estate offers over 2,000 acres in which to walk. Highlights include the Adam Bridge, the Old Water-Powered Saw Mill, the Temple Gate House and the Walled Garden.
Dumfries House and Estate is easily accessible from a number of campsites, visit the Welcome to Scotland website for details.
For more information and opening times visit the Dumfries House website. (http://www.dumfries-house.org.uk/)