Charlotte Rostek, the curator of Dumfries House, gave a fascinating and informative talk to the North Bute Literary Society on this beautiful Palladian house near Cumnock.
She sketched in the House’s history from its being built for William Dalrymple Crichton, the 5th Earl of Dumfries, in 1754 – 59, to its being sold by the 5th Marquis of Bute in 2007 because of earlier crippling double death duties.
When the 5th Earl commissioned the house to be designed by Robert Adam and furnished by Thomas Chippendale it was a time of post Jacobite increasing prosperity, and fortified tower houses were no longer a requirement of the gentry. The sumptuous and elegant Dumfries House became a parading ground, to show off wealth and position. Charlotte explained that the Earl was desperate for an heir and hoped his grand property would help in attracting a suitable wife.
The ploy worked and the Earl married but sadly remained childless at his death, and Dumfries House passed to his nephew. The property in effect became one of a number of homes of the Bute family, much loved but never again permanently occupied. Charlotte explained that this meant it was maintained and kept in readiness but never refurbished – a ‘sleeping beauty’, for over 200 years waiting to be reawakened.
When the Marquis of Bute had to sell Dumfries House in 2007 there were real fears that the incomparable collection of Chippendale furniture would be scattered around the world. Local and national fundraising efforts were faltering when at the last minute Prince Charles stepped in and personally borrowed £20 million to help purchase the House and its almost priceless contents.
A charity was formed – the Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust – and Charlotte was appointed curator. She went on to describe the ensuing seven years crammed with exciting plans and projects to make Dumfries House and estate a world class visitor attraction whilst retaining its roots in the local community. The visitor facilities have improved immeasurably since the portacabin ticket office of the first year.
Now that the future of the House and its iconic Chippendale collection has somewhat stabilized, many other uses and activities have been implemented or planned. Charlotte enthusiastically described semi derelict buildings being given a new lease of life to provide accommodation (B & B, bunkhouse for youth organisations), education ( a cook school and hospitality training), and traditional skills workspace (joinery and studios).
The three aspects of this story, the building of Dumfries House, its dramatic last minute rescue, and the vision for the future, could each be described as a Bold Undertaking. Many members left the meeting planning to visit Dumfries House after Charlotte’s passionate talk.
The society will welcome another lady speaker on February 4 when Eleanor McKay will present Pictures from the Past (MacGrory collection 1890 – 1910).