The 500 country homes of Scotland that have disappeared

Castle Wemyss belonged to the Cunard shipping dynasty but was demolished in 1984

Castle Wemyss belonged to the Cunard shipping dynasty but was demolished in 1984

Share this article
3
Have your say

THEY were built for the great and the good - but many have vanished from the landscape altogether.

They were the trophy homes of the great and the good that were scattered across the Scottish countryside in tremendous shows of wealth.

Panmure House near Carnoustie was demolished in 1955 by army explosive experts

Panmure House near Carnoustie was demolished in 1955 by army explosive experts

Inspired by the fashionable European styles of the Georgian era or built by the Victorian merchants and industrialists in an eager show of riches, a new wave of large homes were built during the 18th and 19th Centuries driven by cheap labour and low cost materials.

But new research has suggested that at least 510 country houses in Scotland - build mainly during this period - have vanished from the Scottish landscape, with large chunks of social and architectural history taken along the way.

Dr Alastair Disley has spent the last 15 years building up his Scotland’s Lost Country Houses archive, which gives a fascinating insight into the fate of these once mighty properties.

His interest began as a boy, when he grew up in a 1970s house in the grounds of Craigends in Renfrewshire, which was then a derelict shell and is now completely demolished.

During WWII, so many houses were commandeered for use as barracks, hospitals and training centres. Many needed significant repair after the war - but there wasn’t the same cheap labour or materials.

Dr Alastair Disley

Included in the archive are properties such as Castle Wemyss at Wemyss Bay, built around 1850 for property developer Charles Wilsone Brown.

It was later sold to Sir John Burns, former chairman of Cunard Steamships, who had the property extended and grandly embellished in the Scots Baronial style.

It was to prove to be a famous getaway for the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie and popular novelist Anthony Trollope.

However, Burns’ heirs could not afford the upkeep of the property – and it was finally demolished in 1984.

Thurso Castle was demolished in 1952 but part of its shell remains

Thurso Castle was demolished in 1952 but part of its shell remains

Panmure House, near Carnoustie, is also included in the archive.

The seat of the Earl of Panmure, the family lost the rights to the property following the 1715 Jacobite Uprising.

Passed to relatives, it was again largely extended and ornately finished in the mid 1800s but slowly fell into disrepair.

Dr Disley, who lives in the Scottish Borders, said that houses deteriorated for many reasons - from changing social function to rising taxation and cost of repairs - to the devastating impact of both World Wars.

How Kimmerghame in the Scottish Borders looked before a fire in 1938. It was rebuilt in a smaller fashion.

How Kimmerghame in the Scottish Borders looked before a fire in 1938. It was rebuilt in a smaller fashion.

READ MORE - In detail: Scotland’s at risk historic buildings

He said: “During the 18th and 19th Century, there was a movement of people from the countryside into the cities as people sought to improve their lot.

“Then World War I takes out a massive chunk of the population. Having been wrenched away from the land, they come back - and things are not the same.

“There are dramatically less people available to populate and look after these houses

“Then there was the taxation of the 20th Century and a general move away from the sort of society where you want a large house in the country.

“During WWII, so many houses were commandeered for use as barracks, hospitals and training centres. Many needed significant repair after the war - but there wasn’t the same cheap labour or materials.”

Dr Disley added that, following WWII, some country houses were turned into hotels or took on new institutional uses. Some were sold off and demolished.

Demolition was sometimes seen as a “helpful” solution as materials could be recycled for new projects at a time when stone and timber, for example, were scarce, he added.

Stone from Stichill House, built for the Baidr family of coal barons during the 1860s, and Kimmerghame House – both in the Scottish Borders - was used to build Charterhall Airfield in Berwickshire, for example.

The latest version of Kimmerghame is now home to Major-General Sir John Swinton, the father of actress Tilda Swinton.

And Murthly Castle, which was ambitiously redesigned in the 19th Century but never lived in, was demolished in 1949 to provide a vast quantity of stone for Pitlochry’s hydroelectric dam.

Dr Disley said he understood why some of the houses had to go.

“I absolutely recognise that these houses could become a burden, with huge places becoming out of kilter with how we like to live. Quite a few houses weren’t completely demolished but were drastically reduced to make practical, liveable houses,” he said.

“I think that even now there are many under threat for the same kind of reasons and there is often an inertia either from the family who may be reluctant to part with their heritage, or maybe just its land, or from a {local authority with a house they no longer use.

“Also, a developer who has bought a country house, looking to make as much money as possible, may find that the economic climate has changed.

“So the house sits there, slowly deteriorating.”

Dr Disley said he believes that the buildings must be preserved where possible – partly to retain the unique materials that helped to shape Scotland.

“We have all this wonderful architecture out there that is part of Scotland as a place and part of what makes Scotland special.

“The materials these buildings are made from are also part of that place, such as Edinburgh’s buff sandstone, the red sandstones of Glasgow’s later development, Aberdeen’s light-grey granite, the dark grey stone of many Borders towns,” he said.

Dr Disley added: “One thing I dislike about much modern architecture is it is not really Scottish, it is generic, and lacks any relationship with its location

“These remaining country houses are not just functional, they have a beauty about them. They are part of creating a place to live, work and play in but they are also about creating somewhere that is uplifting.

“I would very much argue that we should be looking to preserve as many of these buildings as possible.”

Dr Disley’s next piece of work will be to examine how many villas have been lost in Scotland. They were popular during Victorian times and built for merchants and industrialists in places such as Broughty Ferry and Helensburgh so they could be close to their business interests.

Back to the top of the page