Toothy’s Travels – Ayrshire: Dumfries House

About ten days ago, my mum and I took advantage of Scotland’s surprise three-day summer (that’s right, at the end of September – about flipping time…) and decided to go visit Dumfries House, a stately home in East Ayrshire (in Scotland).  If you watched Britain’s Hidden Heritage on the BBC in August, you may remember Dumfries House, which was featured in the first episode and has recently opened to the public.  If you had more interesting things to do than me didn’t catch it, chances are that you’ve never heard of this treasure-trove of a house.

The house was built in the 1750s for the 5th Earl of Dumfries, and is quite unique in that it was the first and only full house designed by the architect Robert Adams before he went on his Grand Tour of Europe (I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about architecture, but apparently a lot of architecture fans get rather excited about that).  The house was lavishly furnished to make it a family home, with many examples of the Thomas Chippendale’s earlier work as well as many examples of the distinguished Scottish cabinet makers Francis Brodie (father of the infamous Deacon Brodie), Alexander Peter and William Mathie.  Towards the end of the  19th century, two wings were added onto the house to increase the surface area.  The Victorian wings were designed by Robert Weir Schultz and, aside from a slight difference in the colour of the stone, are remarkably well integrated.

Through marriage, Dumfries House and its associated titles were joined with those of the 2nd Marquess of Bute.  Consequently, the family moved into their grander Bute properties, and Dumfries House was used as a stopping-off point as they travelled between their larger estates in Scotland and Wales.  When the family were not using the house, it was looked after by three live-in servants and since the family only stayed for brief visits, the furniture remained in excellent condition and did not require replacing.  The resulting time capsule-like nature of Dumfries House is one of the reasons that HRH Prince Charles helped to save the house at the last minute from being sold and its contents auctioned off.  HRH believes that the value of the house lies in the unique fact that almost all of its original furniture and decorations remain, complete with proofs of purchase in most cases.  Much of the furniture has now been renovated, such as the most important piece of Chippendale in the house, the ‘rosewood’ breakfront bookcase (seen against the wall in the photo of the Blue Drawing Room above) which I believe was valued by Christie’s at around £4 million.  Ya, £4 million.  Oh my god, £4 million?!  No biggie.

Another of the house’s great treasures can be found in the specially-built Tapestry Room in the west Victorian wing.  This room was specially built to house four magnificent tapestries gifted by Louis XIV from the Gobelins Manufactory (famous for their stunning tapestries) dating back to the early 1700s.  The wonderful thing about this room is that the tapestries are displayed in all their glory in full daylight because all the windows are fitted with UV filters to prevent the tapestries from fading further.  How amazing is that?!  Whilst much of the original furniture has remained the same, during the Victorian times, the white ceiling plasterwork was painted over, and some rooms have been left painted and some have been returned to the original all-white Georgian style – I found it really interesting to compare the two styles, and must admit that I distinctly prefer the all-white plasterwork.  I did, however, really like the Pewter Corridor in the west Victorian wing, as shown below, probably because the paintwork isn’t at all in-your-face.

There are, of course, many more exciting and interesting things to see in Dumfries House, and as the renovation work continues, more wonderful treasures should go on display.  I found the visit absolutely fascinating, and our tour guide was incredibly informative – in fact, I’m awed at how knowledgeable she was!  What was great about the house is that it really is somewhere that you can imagine living.  Assuming you like the rococo style of course, which I rather do (so uhm, if they need anybody to live there…).  Prince Charles also has plans to create specialised artisan training workshops on the grounds to create jobs for young people and also provide the skill set required for the upkeep of the house and its contents, which I think is a great way to involve the local community.

Dumfries House is near the village of Cumnock in East Ayrshire, so if would make a great day trip from Glasgow or Edinburgh, and I would definitely say that it’s worth a visit!  The house can only be visited by guided tour, which must be booked in advance (see here for details), but the grounds can be explored at your leisure (though I’d recommend wellies or hiking boots if you want to venture into the woods!) – maps of the grounds are available if you ask.

Although I took all the outdoor photos, photography is not permitted within the house, so all the indoor shots in this post are from the website.

Enjoy the rest of your day!

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