Roof for Linlithgow Palace following Chanel visit

Linlithgow Palace as it stands today provides little shelter. Picture: Ken Whitcombe
Linlithgow Palace as it stands today provides little shelter. Picture: Ken Whitcombe
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HISTORIC Scotland has ­revealed it is considering re-roofing Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and one of the country’s most famous ruins.

The palace was built in the 15th century as a lavish ­country home for the Scottish monarchy, but it was ­destroyed when it was set on fire by ­government troops after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion and has lain unrestored ever since.

But the success of global fashion house Chanel’s Métiers d’Arts fashion show at the palace in December, during which a temporary glass roof was installed on part of the 600-year-old building, has persuaded the agency that the atmospheric palace could host other big events if the ­elements could be kept out.

Both Edinburgh and Stirling castles have become sought- after, money-spinning venues for corporate and other entertaining after expensive refurbishments in recent years.

Robert Eckhart, Historic Scotland’s business support manager, said a working group chaired by culture minister Fiona Hyslop has already been set up to consider “opportunities and develop a strategy which will unlock the potential of both the town and the palace”. Options being considered include “re-roofing the palace”.

A spokesperson added: “The Métiers d’Arts showcased Linlithgow Palace and the town to a global audience. Following on from this hugely successful event we, along with a range of organisations, have begun to assess the wider long-term strategy for Linlithgow and the palace. This will involve exploring numerous options, their viability and the possible economic, social and cultural benefits they could create.”

The agency last looked at the issue in 1996 when it commissioned a study to examine putting a roof on the palace, but the plan was rejected over concerns that re-roofing could damage the original structure and the potential loss of cultural significance.

However, the potential income – in the town of First Minister Alex Salmond’s birth – as an events venue could outweigh cultural concerns over restoring a romantic ruin.

Neil Baxter, secretary of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), welcomed the move. “There is no question that Scotland has a good number of romantic ruins that would more than satisfy any poet,” he said. “The fact is that for buildings to be truly useful and economically sustainable they should be kept in use.

“Clearly the original usage of Linlithgow Palace is no longer relevant. However, its more recent usage for events and the potential of a future where it can play a viable part in the ­local community and in drawing in tourists from much ­further afield would be very positive. Historic Scotland has a duty to ensure that the very best of Scotland’s heritage is retained and preserved and survives to tell its story, and Scotland’s story, for future ­generations. However, undertaking work which respects the original fabric yet increases the viability and usability of any building has to be a good thing.”

Architect Ben Tindall, of Benjamin Tindall Architects, which has worked on conservation projects across Scotland including Ayrshire’s Culzean Castle, Melgund Castle in Angus and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, said: “If the matter is done with greater sensitivity than has been realised in ­[other] recent projects, and with great scholarship, then the unfortunate fire which destroyed this wonderful palace might indeed be put right.

“There is a danger, however, that a lot of architects might see this as an opportunity to impose some fashionable ­solution, which would be ­regretted.”

The Chanel Métiers d’Arts show at the palace brought a host of fashionistas to the West Lothian town. During a four-hour show and meal, Karl Lagerfeld, the eccentric designer at the head of the fashion house, showcased a Scottish-inspired collection and said he had chosen the ­location for “the rough romance of this beautiful place”.

A temporary glass cube created a roof to keep out the elements during the show. Stella Tennant and Cara Delevingne were among the supermodels who hit the protected catwalk.

The palace was completed by James IV in the early 16th century. The Stewart kings and queens used it as a retreat where they could relax away from the formalities of Edinburgh and Stirling castles, and as an escape from the plague. They could feast in its Great Hall, reside in luxurious apartments, walk in the extensive garden near its loch and hunt in the surrounding parkland.

It was there that Margaret Tudor, James IV’s wife, gave birth to Prince James (later James V) in 1512 and, in 1542, Marie of Guise gave birth to Princess Mary, later Mary Queen of Scots.

However, by the late 16th century the palace was beginning to deteriorate and it fell into disrepair. Its swan song came in September 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie visited Linlithgow on his march south and, it is said, its fountain was made to flow with wine in his honour. The following year, government troops in pursuit of Jacobites set it on fire.

The remaining roofless structure, now managed by Historic Scotland, has been actively conserved since the early 19th century and is open to paying visitors as a ruin.

Twitter: @EmmaCowing