More than 2,000 items head to auction following 'clear out' of Highland castle

An aristocrat is hoping for much ‘cash in the attic’ after embarking on a major clearout of his Highland pile.

More than 2,000 individual items will go up for sale at Bonhams auction in April after the attics and cellars of Dunrobin Castle in Sutherland were opened up for the first time in many years.

Items were retrieved from attic spaces where servants once slept and from rooms that had long been ignored.

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The 25th Earl of Sutherland prompted the auction after inheriting Dunrobin following the death of his mother, Elizabeth, in 2019.

From kitchen and domestic items - such as porcelain footbaths and chamber pots – to marble busts, weaponry and a collection of portraiture, the finds reflect the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ way of life at the imposing castle which overlooks the Dornoch Firth.

Charlie Thomas, Director of House Sales, Private & Iconic Collections at Bonhams, said: “There are 420 lots in total but many of them include multiple pieces. Some of the dinner services are vast and include hundreds of pieces.

"This sale is so interesting. It is a snapshot of a history that disappeared a lifetime ago. These items are surplus to modern day Dunrobin, which is now of course open to the public. Many of the items going for sale are from the 19th Century when the castle would have been very different, when it was used basically for entertaining, for grand sporting parties and the like. They come from a world which no one could really imagine now.”

Mr Thomas said the sale has come about after the Earl decided it was “time for a clearout”.

Dunrobin Castle in Sutherland. More than 2,000 items from the attics and cellars will go under the hammer in April. PIC: M.KRIENKE

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He added: "The attics are where all the servants bedrooms were. You have got these bedrooms in the eaves and it is literally just room after room.

"When you have got floors of a castle which are just lying empty, there is no pressure to throw things out. One room was full of chamber pots.

"The cellars were also stuffed to the gunnels – everything from vintage skis to a room full of marble busts. It was a huge privilege to go in there and you just didn’t know what you were going to find.”

One of the emptied maid's rooms at Dunrobin, where many of the treasures were found. PIC: Bonhams.

Dunrobin Castle was lavishly remodelled in the 1840s to emulate the Château de Chenonceau in the central Loire valley.

The revamp channelled the wealth of George Leveson-Gower and Elizabeth Sutherland , the 1st Duke and Duchess of Sutherland, who became known for their role in the Highland Clearances.

It is said the “most notorious” removals took place on their estate, where between 1801 and 1827, the factors removed between 6,000 and 10,000 people from the inner parishes to new coastal settlements, according to historian Sir Tom Devine.

Among the lots to go to Bonhams are a portrait of the Duke of Brunswick by the Dutch Golden Age portraitist Jan van Ravesteyn, which is expected to sell for between £8,000 and £12,000 and a pair of Scottish all-metal flintlock belt pistols made by Alexander Campbell of Doune, which have a guide price of between £8,000 ad £10,000.

The sale includes 420 lots, which include many items of pewter and silverware that were used in service at the castle. PIC: Bonhams

Meanwhile, a collection of pewter sugar moulds are expected to go for between £80 and £120.

The sale will be previewed in London and at Bonhams, Queen Street, Edinburgh from April 13 until sale day on April 20.

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Many of the rooms at Dunrobin had not been opened for years with one found to be full of marble busts. PIC: Bonhams.
Weaponry, incuding pistols and swords, were among the finds made. PIC: Bonhams.