“It was impossible to save when nobody had heard of Bonomi.”
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 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.
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.
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
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.
A country house built from wealth accumulated through the proceeds of slavery. It was never restored after fire destroyed it a century ago, reduced to rubble more than a decade later.
One hundred years ago, fire had broken out at Orbiston House in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire, occupied by Mr James Steel. The south wing of the mansion was practically destroyed, as had parts of the roof in the main house. The Bellshill and Larkhall divisions of the County Fire Brigade had rushed to the scene, but were hampered by the lack of water pressure, the supply having to be pumped from South Calder Water, some distance away.
It was thought that the fire had started in a defective chimney and spread at an alarming rate along the roof. Several rooms, along with their contents, were destroyed before the fire reached the main building. The damage was estimated to be several thousand pounds.
The fire was the end of Orbiston House, eventually reduced to rubble more than a decade later. It was a sad end to a fine house, one of the most prosperous of them all, built on the profits of slavery.
Gilbert Douglas (1749-1807) had acquired much wealth from being the owner of the Mount Pleasant sugar plantation and the Fairfield cotton estate in St. Vincent. In 1794, he married Cecilia Douglas (1772-1862), the only surviving daughter of John Douglas, a Glasgow linen merchant. Gilbert purchased land at Douglas Park in 1800, and a year later, a further 225-acres, known as Bogs, on the banks of South Calder Water, from General John Hamilton.
Gilbert immediately commissioned Robert Burn, father of architect William Burn, to build a ‘modern’ mansion on the site of Old Orbiston House. This was called Douglas Park and was to be the centrepiece for his Douglas Park and Bogs estate. (There are papers available suggesting that the design had been conceived as early as 1795).
Gilbert Douglas died in 1807, leaving his widow one-third of his estate and life tenancy at Douglas Park and Bogs. Unfortunately, he also left debts of £7,700, eventually cleared by Cecilia Douglas from her own personal fortune. The Scottish estate and the West Indian plantations were put in trust, his widow the principal trustee.
Cecilia Douglas turned out to be a formidable businesswoman.
She had watched with irritating fascination a frivolous scheme that had taken place nearby. In 1825, Archibald James Hamilton, the son of General John Hamilton, had gone into partnership with Abram Combe to form an experimental socialist co-operative movement. Combe had bought land off General Hamilton for £20,000, and between them, spent another £40,000 to create a self-sufficient community. Under the banner “Liberty, Security and Knowledge” they established this ‘New Babylon” with accommodation built around a school, theatre, foundry, forge, printing press and a small factory. It ended in failure. Combe died in 1827, the project burdened with debt, local antagonism (no doubt from Cecilia) and the inability to be self-sufficient at all.
In 1830, Cecilia Douglas paid £15,000 to the creditors of the co-operative and added the remaining 291 acres of the Orbiston estate to her own, the enlarged estate now known as the Orbiston estate.
She died in 1862, a wealthy woman of 90-years-old, her estate valued at £40,365. Cecilia’s income had derived from tenant farmers and the slave economy in St. Vincent. Even the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 had increased her fortune, obtaining compensation of £3,013 (about £3 million today) for the 231 slaves on the Mount Pleasant estate. In addition, she held stocks and bonds in banking, railway, navigation, gas and insurance companies – all contributing a handsome dividend. In 1861 she became the sole survivor of the subscribers to the Glasgow Tontine, and inherited the Tontine buildings on Trongate. This had been established in 1781 to build “a public coffee-house with suitable accommodation for brokers, and rooms for tobacco and sugar samples.” The building was sold by her trustees in 1864 for £17,000.
In her will, her collection of paintings, sculptures and artefacts collected during an extended stay in Italy in 1822-23, was to be left to “some public institution in Scotland.” This valuable assemblage containing Gabnelli’s “View of the Roman Forum” and Camuccini’s “The Death of Caesar” was bequeathed to Glasgow Corporation, known as “The Douglas Collection”, and now forming part of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum’s collected works. In 2012, it was questioned whether it was appropriate to display works of art acquired through wealth accumulated through the proceeds of slavery.
Orbiston was inherited by Robert Douglas, a grand-nephew of Gilbert Douglas. He died in 1866 and left half of the Orbiston estate to a relative, John Culcairn Munro, and the other half to his son, Robert Lushington Douglas, who died unmarried in 1888.
The house was leased from 1865 onwards and proved attractive to the Victorian iron and coal magnates in the area.
William Neilson (1810-1882) lived here from 1875. He had founded the Mossend Ironworks in 1840 which grew into the Mossend Iron and Steel Company, one of the largest iron producers in Scotland, and was owner of several coal works on the estates at Carnbroe and Orbiston.
Neilson died in 1882 and the tenancy was taken over by James Addie, a partner in Robert Addie and Sons of the Langloan Ironworks in Coatbridge and the Viewpark Colliery. He left Orbiston in 1896.
It was assumed by William Neilson’s son, Colonel James Neilson (1838-1903), managing director of the Summerlee and Mossend Iron and Steel Company, as well as a director of various railway companies. He died at Orbiston House in 1903.
It lay empty for a long period before being occupied by James Steel about 1914. It was during his tenancy that Orbiston House suffered the disastrous fire of February 1919, which left the left wing of the house destroyed.
The house was owned by the trustees of Lushington Douglas who chose not to restore the house, instead leaving it in the care of Mr and Mrs Drydale, before eventually being demolished in early 1931.
In the 1920s, several acres of land were sold to Bellshill Golf Club, adding to their existing nine-holes.
The site of Orbiston House now sits within Strathclyde Country Park.
Note: Gilbert Douglas was not the only Glaswegian profiting from Caribbean slave colonies in the early 1800s. Scotland itself benefited disproportionately from slavery compensation – Scots made up 10% of the British population, but 15% of the slave owners who got payments, with Glasgow getting much of the cash. The early 1800s have been called Glasgow’s “Golden Age of Sugar.”
One hundred years ago, this week. A large part of Dalchenna House, two miles from Inverary, was destroyed by fire.
The greater part of Dalchenna House was destroyed by fire on the night of 30 January 1919. The house was built in 1891 as a hunting lodge and residence for the Sheriff-Substitute of Argyll, and the late Duke of Argyll had made it his residence while in Inverary.
John Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll (1845-1914) had several costly additions made to the mansion in 1908-09, which eventually “assumed the appearance of a castle.”
This mansion occupied a beautiful position on the west shore of Loch Fyne, and commanded one of the finest views of the picturesque district. Since 1903, the Duke of Argyll had resided at the house for weeks at a stretch.
After his death, the entail on Dalchenna House was conferred to his wife, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, Duchess of Argyll (1848-1939), the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who, according to the Pall Mall Gazette, had a great affection for the beauty of the surroundings and often stayed here.
At the time of the fire, the house was being occupied by members of the Women’s Land Army, who were engaged in woodcutting in the neighbourhood. The previous autumn, Princess Louise had visited the house and removed several valuable pieces of furniture.
The house was restored and occupied by tenants, but suffered a further fire, although less serious, in 1928.
In 1930, after being diagnosed with a chronic duodenal ulcer, the author A. J. Cronin was told he must take six months complete rest in the country on a milk diet. At Dalchenna House, he was finally able to indulge his lifelong desire to write a novel, ‘Hatter’s Castle’.
During World War 2, Dalchenna was requisitioned by the Admiralty but, according to Historic Environment Scotland, the house has since been demolished. Its location was probably north-east, but close to the surviving Dalchenna Farm.