Dumfries House is a Palladian country house in Ayrshire, Scotland. It is located within a large estate, around 2 miles west of Cumnock. Noted for being one of the few such houses with much of its original 18th-century furniture still present, including specially commissioned Thomas Chippendale pieces, the house and estate is now owned in charitable trust by The Great Steward of Scotland's Dumfries House Trust, which maintains it as a visitor attraction and hospitality and wedding venue. Both the house and the gardens are listed as significant aspects of Scottish heritage. The estate and an earlier house was originally called Lochnorris, owned by Craufords of Loudoun. The present house was built in the 1750s for William Dalrymple, 5th Earl of Dumfries, by John Adam and Robert Adam. Having been inherited by the 2nd Marquess of Bute in 1814, it remained in his family until 2007 when 7th Marquess sold it to the nation for £45 million due to the cost of upkeep. Due to its significance and the risk of the furniture collection being distributed and auctioned, after three years of uncertainty, in 2007 the estate and its entire contents was purchased for £45m for the country by a consortium headed by Charles, Prince of Wales, including a £20m loan from the Prince's charitable trust. The intention was to renovate the estate to become self-sufficient, both to preserve it and regenerate the local economy. As well as donors and sponsorship, funding is also intended to come from constructing the nearby housing development of Knockroon, a planned community along the lines of the Prince's similar venture, Poundbury in Dorset.
In the 15th century, the estate was known as Lochnorris, and belonged to the Craufords of Loudoun. The original house was closer to the coach house. In 1635 the estate was purchased from the Craufords by William Crichton, 2nd Earl of Dumfries (1598–1691). The estate, and the title, passed via his daughter to his grandson William Dalrymple-Crichton, 5th Earl of Dumfries and 4th Earl of Stair (1699–1768). He commissioned the Adam brothers to design a new house for the estate. Dumfries House was designed and built between 1754 and 1759, by John and Robert Adam, although the style of the house is more in keeping with John Adam's other work. Robert Adam oversaw construction until his departure on the "Grand Tour" of Europe. As such it represents an early independent work by the Adam Brothers, who had taken over the architecture business of their father William Adam on his death in 1748. The house is a finely proportioned, if unoriginal, Palladian design, with a three-storey central block connected to smaller pavilions by linking wings.
Knight of the Order of the Thistle (1752) and heir to his mother’s title, William Crichton-Dalrymple retired to his Ayrshire estate after resigning his commission from the army in 1743. Early mention of plans to build a new house on the estate finally came to fruition when the young Adam brothers, John, Robert and James submitted their completed drawings in 1754. After the death of his wife in 1755 the Earl furnished the house single-handedly drawing largely on the rococo style, both English and Scottish, and thereby created one of the most treasured interiors of the Scottish Enlightenment.
A year after the building of Dumfries House had begun, Lord Dumfries’ wife, Lady Anne Gordon died. Although the Earl mourned her death deeply, he did not abandon the building project, and soldiered on. Highly discerning and design conscious, he had a vision for his elegant new house and spent considerable sums on creating modern, colourful and stylish interiors. In addition to a large commission from the Scottish wrights Alexander Peter, Francis Brodie and William Mathie, the Earl hand-picked the finest furniture from Thomas Chippendale’s workshop in the heart of fashionable London. The Earl, whose first son had died at the age of ten, was loath to leave his titles and estate in the hands of strangers. He was hopeful that his beautiful new house may help attract a new lady into his life in order to finally produce the much desired heir. In June 1762 Lord Dumfries married Anne Duff, a distant cousin. In October of the same year a visitor to the house noted ‘that Colonel Montgomery expelled from Dumfries House for being behind the curtain with the new Countess’. This suggests an attractive wife, but perhaps also that the marriage was not a great success. Six years later the fifth Earl died. With there being no issue, the widow had little entitlement and remarried herself. The substantial estates were inherited by the Earl’s nephew, Patrick Macdouall, who reluctantly gave up a career in the army in order to settle at Dumfries House. With Dumfries House, Robert Adam and his two brothers John and James received their first independent commission for a complete house after the death of their father William Adam in 1748. It was Robert who would go on to be recognised as the more talented architect, and John, as the eldest of the brothers, who headed up the family business, Six years later, the contract signed and the design agreed, the foundation stone was laid on the 18th of July. With construction work well underway Robert set out on his Grand Tour of the continent a few months later, leaving John in charge of the building works. The House was completed on time and on budget in 1759.
Following the death of his uncle, 5th Earl of Dumfries, Patrick McDouall-Crichton (1726-1803) inherited the Dumfries House Estate. The new Lord Dumfries married Margaret Crawford, the daughter of Ronald Crauford of Restalrig and for the next 35 years they set up home on the Ayrshire estate. In 1771 they demolished the original house on the estate, Leifnorris House. A year later, in November 1772 the couple’s daughter Lady Elisabeth Penelope was born. Lady Elisabeth and John, Lord Mount Stuart, the eldest son of the 1st Marquess of Bute, fell in love with each other and the couple’s marriage in 1792 sealed the link between two of Scotland’s leading families – the Crichtons and the Stuarts. Their life together was tragically short-cut by Mount Stuart falling from a horse two years later, leaving his first born son and pregnant wife. Elisabeth and her two children lived with the maternal grandparents at Dumfries House. The elder of the boys, John, was to succeed his maternal grandfather as the 7th Earl of Dumfries in 1803 and his paternal grandfather as 2nd Marquess of Bute in 1814.
The estate was finally purchased as a whole after Charles, Prince of Wales heard of the campaign after the writer and campaign member James Knox made "an impassioned impromptu speech" at one of the Prince's bi-annual conservation conferences at Holyrood House in Edinburgh. On 27 June 2007, it was announced that a consortium headed by the Prince and including various heritage charities and the Scottish Government (contributing £5m) had raised £45 million to purchase the house and contents (along with its roughly 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) estate) and to endow a trust for maintaining it. The trust is called "The Great Steward of Scotland's Dumfries House Trust" — a reference to the title Great Steward of Scotland held by Charles in his role as Scottish heir apparent. A major element of the financial package was a £20m loan backed by The Prince's Charities Foundation. It was reported that the contents of the house had already been removed, and were being transported to London when the sale was agreed. The trust's intended model is to have the estate become a self-sufficient enterprise, in the process revitalising the local economy. The project was to be achieved through donation and sponsorship of various renovation projects around the estate, as well as through revenues from the construction of an 'eco-village' in the grounds, a planned community called Knockroon.
The breaking in 2008 of the global financial crisis had a major impact on the project, affecting the prospects for the Knockroon development and thus the recouping of the £20m loan. The Prince faced much media criticism for putting the Foundation's other projects at risk for what was seen as a vanity project, prompting a response in 2010 describing the risk as "manageable and fully covered." After switching to a model of private and corporate fund raising, the £20m loan was repaid by 2012, with a further £15m backing having been raised for the various renovation projects and ongoing maintenance bill for the estate. Following restoration, Dumfries House itself opened to the public for guided tours on 6 June 2008. From mid-2009, supermarket chain Morrisons began funding the restoration of the meat and dairy farm attached to the estate, both to become a research and education tool into sustainable farming methods, but also with the intention of its becoming profitable by 2014, part of the chain's vertically integrated supply chain. Renovation of the former coach house and associated stable block began in winter 2010. It reopened in 2011 as a catering facility, as both a visitor cafe and bistro dining facility. The first phase of the Knockroon village opened in May 2011. In October 2011, work started to clear the area that used to be the Walled Garden, which had fallen into disuse and become overgrown. In April 2012, the six-bedroomed luxury guest house Dumfries House Lodge opened, to provide guest accommodation for wedding parties and other events. It was created by renovating a derelict farm building on the estate. The estate's former water-powered sawmill has been renovated to full working order, and with the addition of a larger workshop building, has re-opened as the Sawmill Building Skills Centre, a traditional skills education facility.
Disabled visitors can access certain areas of Dumfries House via portable ramp and stair lift, however there is no disabled access to the Gallery on the second floor. Two wheelchairs are available for use, free of charge, though it is strongly advised that you call in advance to reserve one. Unfortunately, powered wheelchairs cannot be accommodated within the house. There are a limited number of parking spaces close to the tour entrance reserved for Blue Badge holders only. For those visitors who are hearing impaired, amplified hearing transmission is available for those in possession of a hearing aid equipped with a telephone coil (T-Switch). Please also note that children's pushchairs cannot be accommodated on the tour route. Assistance dogs are welcome. They offer guided tours daily through out the Summer season, with weekends only during the Winter season. Click here for a tour schedule.
Location : Dumfries House, Cumnock, Ayrshire, KA18 2NJ
Transport: Kilmarnock (National Rail) then taxi or bus. Bus Routes : 4, X16, X17, X76, X77 and X79 stops 1 mile away.
Opening Times : Daily 10:45 to 15:30
Tickets : Free
Tel : 01290 425959