Campaigns: Dumfries House (May 2007)

SAVE Dumfries House for Scottish and World Heritage

'An extraordinarily intact and beautiful Adam house with one of the most complete collections of Chippendale and Scottish furniture in the world, set within a designed landscape of 2070 acres'

Dumfries House

Completed in 1758 for the 5th Earl of Dumfries by Robert and John Adam

SAVE has launched a bid to forestall the imminent break-up of one of Britain’s greatest treasure houses, Dumfries House in Ayrshire, a Palladian masterpiece by the Adam family containing the finest surviving collection of Chippendale rococo and the finest and best documented collection of furniture by the pre-eminent 18th century Scottish cabinet makers in existence.


SAVE believes that Dumfries House offers a unique opportunity to boost the economy of the local town of Cumnock and indeed the whole East Ayrshire District through a major increase in tourism and employment. This will be achieved not only by visitors to the house, gardens and estate which have never before been open to the public but by a whole range of events as well as educational courses. Activities envisaged include outward bound courses, environmental projects, walking and bird watching, set within the historic landscape, ranger-led walks and lowland games.

SAVE’s President Marcus Binney says "Dumfries House is an almost miraculous survival – a complete and undisturbed work of John and Robert Adam shortly after the death of their father William, exquisitely built, perfectly symmetrical in plan, with ornamental plasterwork of great delicacy and fine marble fireplaces. It contains, intact, Chippendale’s first important commission – consisting of an extensive set of mahogany chairs, sofas, giltwood overmantels, girandoles and pier glasses, exotically crested rococo four poster beds, as well as towels rails, chamber pot cupboards and trays – the full range of kit that could be bought or commissioned from England’s most famous cabinet maker. There are great collections of Chippendale furniture at Nostell and Harewood but the Dumfries House furniture dates from Chippendale’s early 'Director' period – the designs which became famous all over the western world".


Following the failure of the National Trust for Scotland to reach agreement with John Bute on acquisition of the house, collection and estate, SAVE has prepared an alternative plan for vesting Dumfries House in an independent charitable trust which will preserve Dumfries House intact and open both house and estate to the public.

The SAVE strategy is based on advice from Kit Martin, who has rescued 10 major country houses in Britain, including four in Scotland, and a report by Mark Gibson, a surveyor who has restored and revived the 3,000 acre Craigengillan estate in Ayrshire.

The SAVE plan is that Dumfries House should earn its keep not only through visitors to the house and park but through holiday lets of buildings on the estate, including parts of the house not open to the public, the Home Farm, the laundry, stables and coach house and the four handsome gate lodges. This accommodation would also be available for educational purposes, such as the groups which in recent years have run furniture history courses at Dumfries House.

The proposal is receiving strong support in Ayrshire, as the estate lies near Cumnock in a deprived coal mining area badly in need of regeneration. However, because Dumfries House is so little known, the national outcry that would usually accompany the break up of such an outstanding house has been muted.

To implement the proposal SAVE is seeking to raise £25m to cover acquisition of the house estate and contents – approximately £6m for the house and estate, £15m for the contents and £4m for repairs, arrangements for public opening and endowment. The National Heritage Memorial Fund, which has previously helped to preserve a series of great houses for the nation, including Fyvie, Paxton, Thirlestane and Newhailes in Scotland, and more recently Tyntesfield in Somerset, is appraised of the importance of Dumfries House, having considered an earlier approach from the National Trust for Scotland. SAVE is seeking a sum of £10-12m from the NHMF with the remainder to come from private trusts and benefactors.

SAVE argues that if the Christies sale of contents proceeds in July museums will seek large grants to purchase major items. As in the tragic break-up of Mentmore Towers in 1977, public bodies will spend as much on saving a series of choice items at auction (and through stops on export) as was need to save the house intact.

Following Kit Martin’s proposals the principal rooms on the first floor would be open to the public with their original furniture, as well as at least one of the bedrooms above. The remaining second floor bedrooms would be available as accommodation for visitors, on the model of the Eisenhower Apartment at Culzean Castle. The Tapestry Room and Dining room would be available for corporate and private functions. A tea room and shop would be established on the ground floor with four self-contained apartments in the ground floor of the house and the wings.

Income from visitors and rents is forecast by Mr Gibson at £238,000 covering annual expenditure of £230,000. Income would be boosted from other sources such as a Rural Stewardship Scheme, an Organic Aid Scheme, A Scottish Forestry Grant a scheme and Land Management Contracts.


SAVE's Secretary Adam Wilkinson says "We are heartened by the strong groundswell of local opinion in favour of saving Dumfries House, which is of such sublime quality that it can be a magnet for the whole region placing Cumnock on the world map in heritage terms".

Marcus Binney says "Like other houses which have been saved from break-up in recent years Dumfries House is a secret house unknown to the world, never open to the public and virtually never photographed. But this is part of its attraction and romance. The opportunity to buy an 18th century Adam masterpiece with Chippendale furniture of this quality will never be repeated. We appeal to everyone who cares about the beauty and history of Britain to join the campaign to save this masterpiece intact".

Eminent Scottish architectural historian Professor David Walker says "Dumfries House is the most important classical house built in Scotland in the mid 18th century. It is not a solution to just buy a few representative pieces for the Museum of Scotland or the Victorian & Albert Museum and allow the remainder to be dispersed. The ensemble at Dumfries House is of international rather than UK importance".

The SAVE report has been made possible by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust and a financial contribution from the Georgian Group

For a full copy of the Dumfries House Action Plan and report commissioned by SAVE Britain’s Heritage or indeed for any other information on this important campaign, please contact the SAVE office.

Tel: 020 7253 3500

SAVE Britain’s Heritage
70 Cowcross Street

Email: SAVE Britain's Heritage