Katie Grant: Lanrick’s passing

IT IS with no disrespect that I say one of the principal aims of the Scottish Civic Trust, "the elimination of ugliness", has been achieved this week with the destruction of Lanrick Castle.

Now I am not a natural vandal. Indeed, having been brought up in a large, ugly house myself, I am very sympathetic to their cause. But to survive, large, ugly houses need to be lived in and loved. If this cannot be, they should be pulled down. Preservation orders cannot be slapped on to buildings just because they have turrets and have been there a long time. Scotland is already lousy with mock-baronial fake castles. What special claim had Lanrick to public money?

And what a load of hypocrites Mr Dickson’s critics are. For had Mr Dickson made a fortune, moved in as laird and lived a life of cultured or sporting leisure, he would not have been lauded as a saviour of Scotland’s built heritage. Rather, he would have been routinely castigated and insulted by our new rulers as being a "toff" whose ancestors must have played a discreditable part in the Highland Clearances (boo, hiss). The castle would have been talked of as "fabulously wealthy Mr Dickson’s multi-million-pound luxury home, renovated in 1840 on the proceeds of the opium trade", a place from which Mr Dickson enjoyed himself "exploiting" the local population. In these days of inverted snobbery, better to be a vandal.

Not that I am advocating wholesale destruction of unloved buildings. There is a genuine need for organisations with preservation as one of their aims. However preservation must be treated with care. It is easy to be sentimental, much more difficult to address the practicalities of rotten timbers and collapsing ceilings. To qualify as worthy of preservation, particularly if public money is to be spent, buildings must be more than mausoleums. But even finding new roles has its dangers. Turning houses into, say, remand centres, such as happened to Shandon House, Dunbartonshire may preserve the bricks and mortar but the building’s integrity is destroyed. By saving Lanrick from that kind of fate, Mr Dickson is, in my book, a hero.

The Scottish Civic Trust, which works closely with Historic Scotland, does a good job. Through busying itself not only in conservation but also in contemporary architecture and planning, it can certainly claim to be an effective vehicle through which ordinary people can have some input into the environment. Open Doors Day, which, once a year, opens up many unseen buildings to public view and the Buildings at Risk register, built up since 1990, are valuable contributions to Scotland’s heritage industry.

However, the SCT must now come to the defence of Mr Dickson. He may well have violated the letter of the law by not seeking listed building consent before knocking Lanrick down. But who can blame him? Money does not grow on trees. Groaning turrets thrashed by gales and wind wait not for the tortuous deliberations of Stirling Council. Small boys attracted to crumbling walls and shaking battlements care nothing for ‘danger’ signs or security fences. Their parents mutter a few warnings but really just wait to sue.

Let the heritage boffins weep no crocodile tears over Lanrick. The castle was monstrous and ugly. The public would rightly have been outraged if millions of pounds were wasted propping it up. Scotland is not diminished by Lanrick’s passing and that, therefore, should be the end of that.