The country house of the super-rich that is now slipping away

Dramatic new images show the extent of decay at a former country house that was once hailed as one of the most outstanding in the country.

Cambusnethan Priory, near Wishaw,  is in a critical condition. PIC: Kevin Rooney.
Cambusnethan Priory, near Wishaw, is in a critical condition. PIC: Kevin Rooney.

The aerial shots of Cambusnethan Priory near Wishaw show the fragile state of the Grade-A listed property, once an opulent expression of riches of an aristocratic family and then the home of a super-rich Glasgow industrialist.

Without a permanent resident for more than 40 years, the building has slipped into critical condition and longstanding plans by its current owner to develop the pile have never fully materialised given planning issues.

Graham Smith, chairman of Friends of Cumbusnethan Priory, which was formed in 2014, said time was running out for the property.

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    An 1830 etching of Cambusnethan Priory, which was created by James Gillespie Graham, one of the most sought after architects of his day . PIC: Creative Commons.

    He said: “The current status of the building is that, where it is good, it is good. Where it is bad, it is rotten.

    "It’s holding its own in places. Round the top edges it is drying out but there are trees and weeds growing into the masonry and splitting the stone apart.

    "Some of the outer stone is eroding just from rain water. Basically, the building is running out of time.”

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    Aerial footage clearly shows the decay of the Grade A listed building, with weeds and trees now forcing apart masonry . PIC:Kevin Rooney.

    The group’s ultimate vision is to take over ownership of Cambusnethan Priory and create a community country park and visitor centre, with the restored pile to serve as a venue for various events, such as weddings.

    Mr Smith said the group was motivated by civic pride, with a wide range of skills among its members, from stonemasonry and landscaping to accounting and legal matters.

    One of the key priorities of the group is to keep the grounds smart and maintained in order to deter vandals, fly-tippers and drinkers looking for cover.

    He said lockdown had actually opened up the property once again given people were visiting the grounds to exercise and spend time outdoors.

    Several attempts to develop the building over the past 40 years have failed to get off the ground due to planning issues. PIC: Kevin Rooney.

    Mr Smith added: “Certainly lockdown has worked in our favour quite a bit. Because a member of our team was down there cutting the grass and keeping it tidy, people were going down and taking their exercise there. It has brought it back as a community space and has attracted more and more people. People that live close-by, who didn’t think this was a place they could go, turn up and think it is lovely.”

    Cambusnethan Priory was built in 1819 for the Lockhart of Castlehill family, a powerful line of baronets with links to Robert the Bruce. It was later taken over by Sir John Craig, who brought a new breed of money to the house after making his fortune in Glasgow’s steel trade as chairman of Colvilles Ltd.

    It was designed by James Gillespie Graham, perhaps the most in-demand country house architect in Scotland at the time, who created a Neo-Gothic fantasy in deepest North Lanarkshire.

    After the death of Sir John in the late 1950s, the house struggled to find a buyer and was saved from demolition in the late 1960s when it was purchased by Bearsden man Ron Wilson.

    Mr Wilson put on mock medieval banquets at Cumbusnethan in the 1970s with the popular nights featuring jousting, gallows and stocks and roast meats served by “wenches” , according to newspaper reports of the day. A plan to sell it to a hotel group later fell through.

    Mr Wilson was the last occupant of the house with it bought over by William Welsh by 1986. A number of schemes, including a plan to covert the house into flats and building new homes in the grounds, have met numerous hurdles within the planning process.

    Mr Smith said the real risk was now that the house’s four-storey Octagonal Tower would collapse in time and push the property beyond the point of survival.

    He added: “The majority of the house is still standing. It still has a chance – for now.”

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