Monday, 29 July 2013

Carmichael House and Garden

Carmichael House is an elegant and unusual mansion  house, built in 1734 on the site of an old tower house destroyed by Oliver Cromwell. It is unique in Scotland and consists of three separate but related structures; a central tower flanked by two almost identical, inward facing pavilions, of two stories and an attic,with  gables in the Dutch style and a pediment ornamented with urns.

The origin of this unusual design is said to be simply a failure to realise the original conception. Presumably the family got used to living in a house which required a coach to be in a permanent state of readiness, in the event of bad weather. Later a corridor was added linking the two wings; it must have made a great difference to the way of life at Carmichael House.

The architect is unknown. It could have been one of the Adam brothers as they were related to the Carmichael family by marriage. Or it could have been the work of John Carmichael himself; a cultured and sophisticated man, with a wide range of personal interests. He was an agricultural improver of conviction; he granted his tenants leases of 57 years to encourage them to make  improvements. He mounted great tree planting expeditions and seed he brought back from Russia is believed to have been used at the estate.

Portrait of John Carmichael, third Earl of Hyndford by John Richardson the Elder.
(National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh)

 At the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession Hyndford was sent by George 11 as an envoy extraordinary, and plenipotentiary, to mediate between Frederick 11 of Prussia and Maria Theresa of Austria, in the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Breslau. From 1744 to 1749 he was ambassador to Russia. For his service he was duly rewarded; a Knight of the Thistle, a Privy Councillor and Lord of the Bedchamber.

The house faces  South East at the foot of Carmichael Hill. In front of it Hyndford created a magnificent formal garden, on an epic scale. His design stretched across the valley of the Cleuch Burn with Kirkhill to the left and the prominent Tinto in the distance.

In front of the house were terraces with steps down to a central path that led straight to the ornamental canal or Curling Pond. On either side of the path were plantations with walks laid out in the 'wilderness' fashion. In front of the canal is an elegant stone well head that is however, thought to be early 19th Century.

At the far end of the Curling Pond is a semi-circular amphitheater of three steps and beyond it an avenue that led to the skyline. In the fields on either side   five small circular clumps were planted in a quincunx pattern. It is remarkable that so much of this 18th Century garden survives. Even in its present state the Curling Pond has to be one of the most magnificently sited sporting arenas in Scotland.

The last member of the family to live at Carmichael House was Sir Windham Carmichael-Ansthruther, 25th Baron of Carmichael who lived there until the Second World War. In 1952 he removed the roof to reduce his tax bill and held a demolition sale when all the doors, windows, fireplaces and furnishings were sold, leaving only the walls standing and the urns on the pediment.

The Carmichael's heraldic stone horse and all the beautiful carved stone urns  that once lined the terraces were removed to West Mains.

The old house was surrounded with a commercial pine plantation. Those trees have now reached maturity and the house is hidden by the trees.