NEW MURTHLY CASTLE

A mansion that was only a shell, but would soon be no more

Murthly Castle -The Sphere - 12 Feb 1919 - BNA (1)
The stones of New Murthly Castle were used by the Hydro-Electric Board to help in building twenty-nine traditional-type four and five bedroomed houses at Tarbet (under the Loch Sloy scheme) and thirty-five houses at Pitlochry (under the Tummel-Garry Scheme). Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

In February 1949, The Sphere published photographs of New Murthly Castle, at Dunkeld, in Perthshire, where demolition work was in progress. The stonework, amounting to 200,000 tons, was to be used to build workers’ houses near the new hydro-electric dam at Pitlochry, six miles away, and at Loch Sloy.

The castle, which was never completed, was begun in 1827 by Sir John Archibald Drummond Stewart, 6th Baronet (1794-1838), Laird of Murthly, and was said to be the outcome of his rivalry with John Campbell, 1st Marquess of Breadalbane (1762-1834) who had also started to rebuild Taymouth Castle in grandiose fashion.

Sir John called his residence New Murthly Castle and engaged John Gillespie Graham, said to be the most expensive architect in the country. When Sir John died during the progress of the work, Murthly was left just as it was, a magnificent empty shell.

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Experts bored into the ashlar with pneumatic drills, then strung charges of gelignite together with lengths of detonator cord.

Charlie Brand, an expert from ICI Nobel, who worked at the world’s largest dynamite works at Ardeer in Ayrshire, supervised the work. ‘The four flanking towers were pulled off their footings using a hawser attached to a huge Caterpillar tractor, then the central block was blown up by ICI’s men, using four tons of gelignite’.

Several hundred spectators turned up to watch.

John Stirling Maxwell, the founder of the National Trust for Scotland, said in 1937, that: “This unfinished house, for dignity, proportion and beauty stood quite alone in its day and is still without rival.” 

But these were the days before conservation. The National Trust for Scotland’s founding aim was to protect wild places from development, rather than to save buildings, and New Murthly Castle was lost.

Murthly Castle -The Sphere - 12 Feb 1919 - BNA (3)
The walls of New Murthly Castle crumble: One of the wings falling after the detonation of 900 lbs of explosive. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Murthly Castle -The Sphere - 12 Feb 1919 - BNA (2)
After the dust had settled: Part of one wing of New Murthly Castle lies on the ground and a gaping hole is revealed. The castle had stood unfinished and untenanted since 1827. Ammunition was stored here between 1939 and 1945. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

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