Prince steps in with £20m to save Scottish furniture treasure hoard

Key quote

"The house and its exquisite furniture are a world-class product of the Scottish Enlightenment. I want them to be a showcase for a newly confident Scotland; and a catalyst for increased tourism and imaginative regeneration." - ALEX SALMOND

Story in full THE FIGHT to save an 18th-century stately home and turn it into a leading Scottish tourist attraction reached an extraordinary climax yesterday, as the Prince of Wales brokered a 45 million deal to save Dumfries House from the auction block.

The East Ayrshire mansion holds a time-capsule collection of original Chippendale and Scottish furnishings, commissioned when the house was built in 1759. But they faced being scattered worldwide in an auction on 13 July.

The Christie's auction was cancelled yesterday as it emerged Prince Charles guaranteed a 20 million loan for his Charities Foundation to help buy the house and contents. His last-minute move brought more cautious donors, including the Scottish Executive, on board.

Two months ago, a last-minute appeal was launched to raise 25 million to buy Dumfries House and establish a trust to open it to the public. It banked 7 million in pledges but momentum was running out, and the likely cost of the furniture alone was put at 30 million. "Dumfries House has been saved against the toughest of deadlines by the decisive intervention of the Prince of Wales," said Marcus Binney, president of the SAVE Britain's Heritage group.

The purchase of Dumfries House, with its 2,000 acres, could bring an attraction to match nearby Culzean Castle to deprived East Ayrshire, it is hoped. The current owner is the Marquess of Bute, Johnny Dumfries, whose family acquired it by marriage in the 19th century.

With a 2,000-acre estate, it was designed by the Adam brothers and is famous for the intact Chippendale furnishings bought when the house was built, along with work by three top Edinburgh furniture makers, William Mathie, Alexander Peter and Francis Brodie.

The 45 million package announced yesterday includes 9 million from the Sainsbury family's Monument Trust, 7 million from the UK's National Heritage Memorial Fund, 2.25 million from the Art Fund charity, and 1.5 million from other charities including the Edinburgh-based Dunard Fund. Another 5 million came from the Scottish Executive.

The Executive had said it could not afford to help pay for Dumfries House, and questioned a business plan to buy it drawn up by SAVE. Officials feared they would be drawn into an open-ended commitment. But the Prince of Wales intervention brought the NHMF and the Executive round.

The First Minister, Alex Salmond, said yesterday: "When His Royal Highness told me of his plans I was determined to do what we could to help. The house and its exquisite furniture are a world-class product of the Scottish Enlightenment. I want them to be a showcase for a newly confident Scotland; and a catalyst for increased tourism and imaginative regeneration."

Dumfries, whose chief home is at Mount Stuart on Bute, said he was selling the house to "restructure family finances and to devolve modern assets to the next generation of my family".

There were delighted reactions across the spectrum yesterday. The Labour MSP, Cathy Jamieson, had campaigned on the issue. She said: "The opportunities Dumfries House offers for the Cumnock area are significant in terms of regeneration, jobs, the local economy and bringing more tourists into the area."

The Conservative culture spokesman, Jamie McGrigor MSP, said: "The furniture collection, built specially for the house, is one of the very finest in Europe."

• The Prince is also aiming to establish a "Scottish Poundbury" outside Cumnock, it emerged. His representatives have negotiated to buy 71 acres for a housing development by the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment.

It would aim to provide model housing that reflects his belief in conservative, local architecture and conservation, like 14-year-old Poundbury in Dorset.

Memories of Pitchford Hall led to royal rescue of stately home

PRINCE Charles has never visited Dumfries House, according to his aides. But as he rode to the rescue of the Scottish stately home and its rare furniture collection this week, the name of Pitchford Hall may have been fresh in his memory.

In 1992, the Elizabethan timber-framed house, with its paintings and antiques amassed over centuries, was being auctioned off. Conservation groups were desperate to stop it, but an unsympathetic Conservative government stood aside, and the Prince of Wales was devastated.

He called a conference at Sandringham to try to stop such a loss ever happening again.

Three weeks ago, Prince Charles was at Holyrood Palace for a meeting of Scottish heritage chiefs, as patron of the National Trust of Scotland. This time alarm bells were ringing over Dumfries House. It was a story the Prince already knew; the trust had tried to buy the house in 2004.

Like Pitchford Hall, one of the chief attractions of Dumfries House is its original condition: furnishings were commissioned when it was built in 1759, by Thomas Chippendale and three top Edinburgh cabinetmakers.

The Marquess of Bute, Johnny Dumfries, the former Formula 1 racing driver, had announced his intention to sell three years ago. Efforts to find a single buyer failed, as did the early National Trust bid.

In late April, with an auction date at Christie's in July, the SAVE Britain's Heritage organisation unveiled ambitious plans to buy the house and set it up as a self- financing trust. It would see the main rooms open to the public, with accommodation in the building's wings, stables, coach houses and gate lodges. SAVE set its goal at raising 25 million to buy the house. It had helped save Tyntesfield in Somerset, bought for 24 million, and well-connected backers included James Knox, director of the Art Newspaper.

Within a month, SAVE had helped bring 7 million to the table, including a record pledge from the Art Fund. But there, momentum seemed to stop.

The new SNP rulers at the Scottish Executive said publicly they could not afford to chip in. Privately, executive officials said SAVE's proposals were not financially viable.

The prince, said Knox, "had been following it from the word go. His concerns really grew when it was announced Dumfries House was going on the market". It was this month that his plans moved up a gear - making him a heritage funder of last resort beyond the Scottish or UK governments.

One driving force was "the fact the property represents such an incredibly important part of Scotland's story", according to one aide. But his ambitions were wider, aiming for economic regeneration in the area.

That led to the notion of a "Scottish Poundbury" - with the prince's representatives negotiating with Johnny Dumfries to buy an extra 71 acres outside Cumnock.

Fourteen years ago, the prince established Poundbury on the outskirts of Dorchester.

His conservative views on architecture produced a community of traditional homes he hoped had a sense of pride and proportion. Now he is planning to do much the same in East Ayrshire.

In the juggling act of fund-raising, the news that the prince was on board opened doors. The First Minister Alex Salmond, who met Prince Charles recently, praised "the Duke of Rothesay's excellent initiative".

James Knox said he was stunned ten days ago by emerging news of the plans for a 20 million royal loan. "I couldn't allow myself to believe it until it actually happened," he said.

One final signal of how much this venture means comes in the new name for the trust running the house: The Great Steward's Dumfries Trust, using the prince's official title of Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.


DUMFRIES House is a "complete and undisturbed work" of the Adam brothers, John, Robert and James.

The house contains, intact, the first important commission of Thomas Chippendale, the world's most famous furniture maker.

One giltwood breakfront bookcase alone is valued at 200,000 to 400,000.

But more evocative for Scots may be the work of the best Scottish furniture makers commissioned by the 4th Earl of Dumfries as he built the house in 1759.

The collection includes mirrors by William Mathie.

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