Saturday, 30 November 2013

Worcester Lodge, Royal Wessex Yeomanry Ride

Can Worcester Lodge ever looked as ravishing as it did this morning ? William Kent's masterpiece of 1746, a gate, an eye catcher, a banqueting house and a pavilion from which to watch the hunting unfold. It is such an exciting building, a feast for the eyes that lifts the heart just to look at it.

This morning Worcester lodge was again the backdrop to another notable date in the local calender, the Royal Wessex Yeomanry Ride, a race for dare devil members of the army  around some of the fine Beaufort Saturday country.  After two stiff walls near the start, the first of them a big drop over the lane, they went left over the line of hedges around the famous little hunt covert with the best name, The Diddle.

After the race the Duke of Beaufort's Hunt met at 11.00, fifteen minutes later than  usual. When hounds moved off it was with these hounds customary languor, very elegant indeed. There is all the time in the world to enjoy the moment.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Craigievar Castle

Built for display and not for defense Craigievar Castle is the finest tower house in Scotland. The most spectacular example of the late Jacobean style, this is Scotland's  most distinctive contribution to European architecture. An edifice of pink granite and French chateau- inspired turrets and parapets, the tall, thin elevation and fairytale silhouette put up express the Forbes's nobility and ancient lineage.

Craigievar came to the Forbes family in 1610 when the unfinished building was sold  to William, the second son of the  of the neighboring Forbes of Corse. 'Danzig' Willie as he was known spared nothing in his search for the best craftsmen and the finest materials. Perhaps because he knew he would not, as a second son, inherit the family home, he was determined to make the house he built even finer. He had made his fortune importing timber from Danzig to treeless Scotland.

In those days timber was an expensive commodity, even if you did import it herself. While the oak of the floorboards and paneling in the great hall came locally from Drum  everywhere else  Memel pine from the Baltic was used. The great cost of timber in Scotland at the time was one of the reasons that Scottish castles of the period are so tall and thin. They could economize on expensive joists, roof timbers and flooring. The contemporary sprawling Tudor mansions of England used far more timber.

One area where Willie most certainly did not scrimp was the plaster work which is one of the glories of Craigievar. The ornate moulded ceilings are extraordinary and not just in the great hall but in all the rooms of the house while the Scottish royal arms above the fireplace in the great hall are magnificent and spectacular.

The box bath

In 1630 the Forbes Baronetcy was created in the Baronetcy of Novia Scotia  for William Forbes. The 5th Baronet married the eldest daughter of Hugh Semphill, 12th Lord Semphill. Their grandson the 8th Baronet succeeded as  17th Lord Semphill in 1884. The titles remained united until the death of the 19th Lord Semphill and 10th Baronet in 1965. This was when Craigievar passed into the hands of the National Trust for Scotland.

Great controversy followed as Lord Semphill only had female children, the barony and the baronetcy had to be separated. He was succeeded in the barony by his daughter, while the baronetcy had to pass to his closest male relative. His younger sister Betty, Elizabeth Forbes-Semphill had successfully petitioned the High Court in 1952 to be recognized as a male, and had changed his name to Euan Forbes-Semphill. As a result after a two year legal dispute he was recognized as the 11th Baronet, Sir Euan Forbes- Semphill. Sir Euan was a G.P. and a farmer who always wore a kilt.On Sir Euan's death in 1991, the baronetcy passed to the cousin who had challenged the succession.

Monday, 25 November 2013

House of Falkland

When the Bruce family bought Falkland estate in 1820 the big house was called Nuthill. However when Onesipherous Tyndall-Bruce married wealthy heiress Margaret, he celebrated by building  a new house at a cost of £30 000. They employed architect William Burn (1789-1870) who demolished Nuthill and used the stone to build the new house, the House of Falkland between 1838 and 1844.

In 1890 the House of Falkland was bought by one of the richest men of his age, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, third Marquess of Bute (1847-1900). He engaged Robert Weir Schultz to redesign the interior in the Art and Crafts style, with the result that the House of Falkland was what he considered to be his most luxurious house. With a fortune constantly replenished derived by Welsh coal  and his docks at Cardiff,  he was able to indulge his passion for owning and building houses (Cardiff Castle, Castel Coch, Mount Stuart, Dumfries House among them)

 The owner of the Falkland estate, the former royal hunting ground of the Stewart monarchs, was also Hereditary Keeper of the Royal Palace of Falkland. Left a partial ruin after the visit of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Bute set about restoring the Palace with his customary enthusiasm and eye for meticulous detail. Lord Bute had bought the 5,500 acre Falkland estate for his second son Lord Ninian Critchon- Stuart, who was killed in the First World War. He was succeeded by his baby son Michael, who made Falkland Palace the family home and in 1984 let the House of Falkland as a school. The present Hereditary Keeper is his son Ninian Crichton-Stuart who lives with his family in the Palace.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

House of Falkland, Stables

The first thing that John Bruce did after he bought the Falkland estate in 1820 was to build himself  new stables. In the traditional courtyard plan, with a clock tower over the entrance  they are the work of architect John Swinton and were completed in 1823. The stalls are the last word in equine luxury,  finest wrought iron fittings, beautifully cobbled floors, finished with  porcelain tiles. No longer used for keeping horses the quality of the equine accommodation is acknowledged and conserved by the current occupants of the building, the Falkland Heritage Trust.

Friday, 22 November 2013

House of Falkland, East Lodge

The East Lodge is the gate lodge  to the House of Falkland, Fife. The lodge is believed to have been built by architect William Burn c.1844. It is a good example of the  Tudor style, with a steep pitched roof and tall chimneys. Ornate barge-boards decorate the porches and the gable ends. A small burn has been dammed to create a  picturesque pond behind the lodge. The House of Falkland can be glimpsed in the distance, through the trees in the policy park, the old royal hunting ground. The gate piers are decorated with stone acorn finials, symbols both of wisdom and good fortune.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Castle Fraser (2)

Castle Fraser is one of the last and certainly one of the greatest Scottish tower -houses. But compared with the exuberance of the turrets and towers of its' elevations which are Castle Fraser's chief glory, the interior is rather a disappointment. The lower and older parts of the building (late sixteenth century) are medieval in character and show the builder's reluctance to break with the past. There is even a small room concealed in the groin of the great halls's vaulting , reached only through a trapdoor in the floor of the laird's bedroom above, which enabled him to hear every word spoken in the window seat of the hall. There is none of the splendid plaster-work and paneling found at nearby and contemporary Craigievar. Presumably there never had been, otherwise the tower's later inhabitants would surely have preserved it as lovingly as they had the exterior.

The last of the male Frasers who had built the house, Charles Fraser was killed fighting for Charles Edward Stuart at Culloden and the property passed to his maiden sister, Elysa Fraser who held it until 1814. It was she and her immediate successors who reconfigured and redecorated the upper stories to make the house more habitable.

 The Worked Room is named after the eighteenth century needlework bed hangings, curtains and seat furniture said to have been made by Elyza Fraser and her companion Mary Bristow. The door frame is seventeenth century.

 The National Trust for Scotland decorated the tower rooms of the fifth and sixth floors as a tribute to Major and Mrs Smiley who donated Castle Fraser to the Trust in 1976. Lavinia Smiley was the grandaughter of  Viscount Cowdray who had bought Castle Fraser in 1921 for her father the Hon. Clive Pearson.

One of the turret rooms has a collection of  hunting trophies and a  macabre collection the of pet dogs that had belonged to Colonel Frederick Mackenzie Fraser.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Elgin Place Congregational Church, Glasgow

Elgin Place Congregational Church was a well known landmark in the centre of Glasgow until sadly it was demolished in 2004 after a fire. Built by architect John Burnet in 1856, on the corner of Pitt Street and Bath Street, it took its place among the Glasgow's great buildings. I loved especially that the great columns were left blackened with soot. Glasgow was the Second City of Empire after all, so there was an awful lot of soot. Being black made the building look even more dramatic and fitting for its final role, as the venue for the infamous Cardinal Follies.

Sunday, 17 November 2013


Jon Pope's controversial production of the Scottish play at the Citizen's Theatre in 1989 was designed by Stewart Laing and set in a post nuclear world of ventilation shafts and gas masks. But this did not deter the traditional curse which struck again when the elderly photographer fell through a trap door in cloud of dry ice. Off he went to A&E,bruised but no broken bones, leaving me with the 'lucky' break.