ROSNEATH CASTLE

“It was impossible to save when nobody had heard of Bonomi.” 

Rosneath Castle. Oblique aerial photograph taken from facing north. Image: Canmore.

In 1961, Kitty Cruft, the leading officer of the Scottish National Buildings Record, visited Rosneath Castle to record its last dying days. Shortly afterwards, an unsafe ruin, this grand old country house, a ghost of its past, was blown up with 200 LBs of gelignite. There wasn’t much enthusiasm to save Rosneath, as Cruft said at the time, “It was impossible to save when nobody had heard of Bonomi.” And so Rosneath Castle (or House) became another casualty of post-war severity when nobody seemed to want a crumbling old mansion.

The entrance front of Rosneath with Bonomi’s five-columned porte cochere. Photographed by Kitty Cruft before its demolition in 1961. Image: Canmore.

The story behind Rosneath Castle is sad, considering that this had belonged to the Dukes of Argyll, although only ever playing second-string to their seat at Inveraray. It was situated on the southern extremity of the Rosneath peninsula jutting out into the Firth of Clyde.

Rosneath Castle was built between 1803 and 1805 replacing an earlier castle, an ancient stronghold of the Argylls, that had burnt down in May 1802. Considering its replacement, the Duke of Argyll was persuaded by his son, the Marquess of Lorne, resident at Rosneath, to rebuild the mansion on a fresh site, taking advantage of the picturesque views.

A view down the central corridor, lit by a circular-headed window at each side. Image: Canmore.

The Italian architect, Joseph Bonomi, was selected to realise artist Alexander Nasmyth’s idealistic oil painting and watercolour interpretation of what the new house should look like. Nasmyth had already been the inspiration behind a circular court of farm offices with Gothic crenelated turrets surrounding a high tower with fretwork parapet.

Bonomi died in 1808 and his design proved too expensive to be completed in its entirety. In 1806, the Marquess had succeeded his father and became the 6th Duke of Argyll, diverting his attentions to Inveraray. However, the house later attracted Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s daughter, who married the Marquess of Lorne in 1871. Lord Lorne succeeded his father as 9th Duke of Argyll in 1900, but died in 1914, and Rosneath became the Princess’s Dower House during her long widowhood, offering it to convalescing officers during World War One.

View of the rear facade with pilaster stumps of the unbuilt circular portico. Image: Canmore.

The Princess and the 9th Duke were childless, and he was succeeded by their nephew, the 10th Duke. Her death in 1939 prompted the sale of Rosneath’s contents, held on the premises, by Dowells of Edinburgh, between 7 and 11 October 1940.

Soon afterwards the 10th Duke attempted to sell Rosneath, but wartime events had the upper hand. During the Second World War it was used as an American Navy base and, in 1942, this was where Churchill, Eisenhower and Montgomery planned Operation Torch, the successful invasion of French North Africa. Outside its walls amphibious units were trained in preparation for the D-Day landings.

View through the screen separating the entrance hall from the transverse corridor. Image: Canmore.

Rosneath almost certainly became another one of those ‘casualties of war’ from which it never recovered. Afterwards it was unoccupied and in 1949, shortly after the closure of the naval base, there was another unsuccessful attempt to sell the house and woodland. The grounds became a caravan park with plans to use the mansion’s redundant rooms as support facilities. These never materialised and the mansion became the domain of children keen to explore the empty cavernous rooms.

Rosneath Castle suffered a fire, but its future had already been determined. It was gutted and demolished in breath-taking style in 1961.

Another view down the central corridor. Image: Canmore.
Details of the disintegrating plasterwork, exposed to the elements, of one of the pair of apses in the library. Image: Canmore.

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