Catastrophe! Little known, but one of the architect Robert Adam’s earliest works with its original 18th century furniture, decorations and paintings almost complete, including the largest set of authenticated early Chippendale furniture in the world, the house and its contents were to be sold. With the catalogues published and bidders from around the world preparing to compete against each other at the auction of the contents by Christie’s only days away in 2007, the house, the estate and its contents were saved by the last minute intervention by HRH Prince Charles who himself provided funding in addition to support provided by a number of public bodies, charities and private benefactors, thus preventing the house being potentially sold to an overseas absent owner and the contents scattered across the world.
The Scottish architect Robert Adam was only 26 years old when he was commissioned by the 5th Earl of Dumfries to design his new country retreat in Cumnock in Ayrshire to reflect his status and position as a Knight of the Thistle. Financial economy was a matter of concern when it came to the house, which was reduced in height by a floor from the original proposals, but not when it came to the furnishings which the Earl purchased direct from the workshops of Thomas Chippendale and from top carpenters in Edinburgh, with the bills still existing in the estate archives.
Mindful of the cost of maintaining such a house, which had seen the loss of Hamilton Palace an hour’s drive away in the 1920′s, and the fact that Cumnock was a pretty deprived area, it was determined that this should not just be the preservation of a fine historic property, important as that was, but that it should be a sustainable project with benefits for the local community, including employment in the house and the estate including a model farm, crafts and skills training, education and new housing, which also brought funding to help sustain the project.
Ten years later and it has been a great success. This hidden treasure, which is surprisingly only an hour’s drive from Glasgow, is now safe and secure for future generations, aiding the economic regeneration of this part of Ayrshire while work continues to conserve and add features to the estate.
In the south of Glasgow the National Trust for Scotland has been bringing new audiences into a house designed by Robert’s father, William Adam. Pollock House in Glasgow was home of the Stirling Maxwell family and, while the main rooms retain their historic furnishings and art collections rich in Spanish works including Goya and El Greco, with conservation work in progress, new galleries have been created on the first floor to bring contemporary exhibitions to the House and thus enhance its role in the 21st century, something Sir John Stirling Maxwell would thoroughly have approved of as a founding father of the Scottish National Trust. Currently there is an excellent exhibition of work by the photographer Harry Benson who was born in Knightswood in Glasgow but spent much of his life recording political and other events in the USA.