With nineveh and tyre: both the wealth of vanished Scottish houses and the heroic documenting of them by the National Monuments Record of Scotland are celebrated in this absorbing book of photographs.
IAN GOW Aurum, 40 [pounds sterling]
This is the most recent in the Aurum series devoted to photographs of country houses. Unlike Giles Worsley's England's Lost Houses (2002) and the other volumes in the series, it is not entirely composed of Country Life photographs, but also draws heavily on the holdings of the National Monuments Records of Scotland. This gives it a different focus, and in some ways it is as much the story of the heroic early days of the NMRS, and its photography of threatened buildings, as it is about country houses themselves. The introduction is largely a history of the NMRS in the 1950s and 60s under the direction of the late Colin McWilliam and Kitty Cruft (still happily with us). It captures the scholarship and slim-line flair that made the early stages of the post-war heritage movement so successful, and the way in which the NMRS became a centre of architectural history.
The reasons for using the NMRS photographs as well as those from Country Life are illustrative of architectural attitudes north of the Border. About 200 country houses have been demolished in Scotland since World War II. Many of these were 19th-century piles in the Scottish baronial style that was out of favour for much of the 20th century, and such houses were not therefore usually recorded by Country Life. When the magazine turned to Scotland, it concentrated on picturesque ancient castles and tower houses or the finest examples of Georgian architecture and largely ignored the work of James Gillespie Graham, William Burn and David Bryce, which is such an original and important aspect of Scotland's architecture. 19th-century Scottish baronial castles were seen as pretentious, sham and ugly, and therefore were overlooked and despised. It is these houses, however, that form the majority of 20th-century Scottish architectural losses, and where the NMRS records are invaluable.
The one-sided nature of the losses of Scottish houses is demonstrated by the complete absence in this book of any old tower houses. Not only were very few of these demolished in the 20th century, but many that had become ruins in earlier centuries have been re-roofed and restored as houses. Other old towers have been revived by being unpicked from sprawling later additions. As Ian Gow states, 'for the most part they have been the subject of a truly remarkable restoration programme, to an extent that there is hardly a single ruined tower-house left in the Scottish landscape other than the carefully managed ancient monuments maintained in splendid ruination by Historic Scotland.'
This book covers a wide range of Georgian and Victorian houses, recorded both in their prime and on their last legs immediately prior to (or during) demolition. Perhaps the most notable Scottish baronial loss was Panmure, seat of the Earls of Panmure, a picturesque masterpiece of 1852 by Bryce. A secondary seat for nearly a century, it was sold to pay death duties and demolished in 1955.
The demise of some of these houses seems perhaps inevitable. Among them is the central block of Gordon Castle, a vast, plain, castellated barracks last occupied by unruly troops during World War n; and also Murthley in Perthshire, where the large new house built in 1831 by Gillespie Graham for the Steuarts had never been finished and had been left as an empty shell since 1882. The family never moved out of their old tower house, immediately adjoining, and eventually blew up the new house after World War II, opening up a magnificent vista down one of the most splendid avenues in Britain.
This book is also a record of several lost masterpieces, including Amisfield in East Lothian, a superb villa by Isaac Ware designed for Francis Charteris, the greatest patron of architects in 18th-century Scotland, 'constantly testing new talent and always in search of fresh ideas'. It is sad that the principal creation of this cultivated connoisseur should have been demolished in 1925.
The coverage of Hamilton Palace alone would make this book worth buying. The largest house in Scotland, it was demolished in 1919 after coal mines and industrialisation had destroyed the estate's amenity. The major contents had already been dispersed in 1882 in a legendary sale, and now grace other collections in Britain as well as the museums of America. Hans of the palace's ground and principal floors serve as end-papers and explain how the rooms related to each other. The best-known photographs of the interior are Country Life's obituary pictures taken in 1919 of the already part-denuded rooms. These are augmented here with a series by the Glasgow photographer Thomas Annan, taken just before the 1882 sale, which record the fabulous Hamilton-Beckford treasures in situ in the astonishingly palatial rooms. Gow's description draws on 19th-century inventories of the house and amounts to a lively tour of this glorious house in its heyday. What a loss!
John Martin Robinson's most recent book is a memoir, Grass Seed in June.
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|Title Annotation:||Scotland's Lost Houses|
|Author:||Robinson, John Martin|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2007|
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