Professor fights to save historic Scottish estate

Auchincruive in Ayrshire, once the home of Richard Oswald, who led American independence talks.
Auchincruive in Ayrshire, once the home of Richard Oswald, who led American independence talks.
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A prominent Scots/American academic is campaigning to halt the sale of a historic Scottish estate once owned by a key figure in the foundation of the USA.

The distinguished scientist Norman Lewis is urging the authorities to step in to suspend the sale of Auchincruive estate in Ayrshire by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). The 117-acre estate is up for sale for more than £3 million and is being marketed as an excellent opportunity for commercial or residential development.

But Lewis, a plant scientist and professor at Washington State University, believes the estate should be restored to its former glory for the people of Scotland and America.

Lewis, who was born in Ayrshire, believes restoration would be an appropriate way to remember an 18th-century owner of the estate who played an important role in bringing the American War of Independence to an end.

Richard Oswald of Auchincruive was the chief British negotiator in the Treaty of Paris talks of 1783 which brought an end to the war and led to the UK’s special relationship with the USA.

Oswald, who is buried near the estate, worked with Benjamin Franklin and others to bring about peace.

Lewis has written to South Ayrshire Council with his demand and is also asking whether the Scottish Government can intervene to halt the sale.

Since the 1920s the land has been the base for the West of Scotland Agricultural College, later subsumed into SRUC.

The land and buildings were gifted to the college by potato farmer and crop pioneer John Hannah, who, a couple of years earlier, had bought the property from the Oswald family.

As well as a home farm and agricultural college buildings, the estate includes the folly Oswald’s Temple. Lewis believes the terms of Hannah’s gift to the agricultural college cast doubt on the legitimacy of today’s sale.

He said: “I have obtained from the Land Registry of Scotland two deeds from Major Julian Oswald and Mr John M Hannah.”

The purpose of the deeds, he added, was to support the West of Scotland Agricultural College in perpetuity.

“From these deeds, it is very unclear to me – as a prospective buyer of this property – that the land herein can actually be freely sold on the open market as it was gifted to the nation for agricultural research and education for the West of Scotland.”

A spokesperson for Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) said: “We can confirm that we are selling elements of Auchincruive estate, but we will be retaining other parts of it to continue our research, education and consultancy operations locally.”

A spokeswoman for South Ayrshire Council said: “We have received the correspondence from Mr Lewis and will respond directly; however, the council has no jurisdiction or authority over the sale of Auchincruive estate.”

The Scottish Government said it had no control over the sale.