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A Short History of Taymouth Castle

 

 

 

Welcome to our visit to Taymouth Castle . We hope that this short informative guide to the castle will contribute to what will certainly be an enjoyable visit to one of Scotland's best-kept secrets. Dave Curley, assistant caretaker for 'he castle, will assist us in our tour. Dave was the colleague of Norrie Chalmers MBE who, until his death in May 2003, carried out his duties as caretaker with such loving devotion for the castle. Norrie had amassed a huge store of information about the castle, its former residents and visitors, and although he is no longer with us, I am certain you will enjoy listening to his many stories as narrated by Dave and myself I would like to dedicate this guide to Norrie's memory You may have unknowingly seen some of the castle already since three of its rooms were used in the film "Mrs. Brown" featuring Judi Dench and Billy Connolly; the interior of Taymouth was used to represent that of Balmoral where Queen Victoria hid herself away in mourning after the death of her husband, Prince Albert.

 

The present building of Taymouth Castle largely dates from the nineteenth century but it stands on the site of the ancient Balloch Castle, which was built in 1550 for. Sir Cohn Campbell of Glen orchy. Balloch however did not always belong to the Campbell’s; formerly, the Clan MacGregor owned the land and the chieftain’s tower stood on the wooded knoll now occupied by the Dairy. Sir Co un who had obtained a grant of these lands from the Crown expelled the MacGregors. Those member' of the Clan MacGregor who refused to swear allegiance to Sir Cohn were summarily executed at Tom-na-Croiche, 0r Gallows’s Hill very close to Kenmore Gate. Free of the presence of his rivals, Sir Cohn resolved to build a new castle and tradition says that a witch advised him to do so where he heard the 'first thrush in spring singeth"; this, as it transpired, was the meadow where the present castle is situated. Thus it was that Taymouth Castle became the principal seat of his descendants of the Clan Campbell of Breadalbane until 1922.

 

The castle built for Sir Cohn was typical of its time constructed as it was in the Z-plan, that is, a house with a hall and chamber, but that was altered through the years by each succeeding Earl. In  1716, the second Earl of Breadalbane, John, commissioned William Adam to completely remodel Taymouth. By 1733, a classical mansion house with two flanking pavillon linked to the main block by quadrant wings was completed. (See below) It was at this stage that the name of the castle changed from Balloch to Taymouth.


 

The third earl who succeeded his father in 1752, concentrated on developing the landscape around the house. He adorned the park with temples and other classical buildings that can still be seen in the estate and the surrounding areas today. In 1805, after various additions to the castle, the architects Archibald and James Elliot were commissioned to completely re-design the castle.  Most of the building was demolished and a new central tower, built in grey-green stone, was completed in 1810 and stands almost unaltered to-day. This re- modelling of Taymouth proved to be so successful that the Elliot brothers were commissioned by the then Earl of Breadalbane to design the new interiors. After some delays, work eventually began in 1809 when the gothic design of the famous plasterer Francis Bernasconi was accepted. His first commission was for the Great Staircase, but so impressed was the earl with the Italian designer’s work that his remit was soon extended to include all the Gothic works at the castle.

Further changes took place between the years of1818 and 1827. During this time a new wing, named the Atkinson wing after the architect William Atkinson, replaced one of the Adam classical wings to the east, and a few years later, the Adam west wing was adapted to include a gallery and several bedrooms with the whole building battlemented and given bartizsans at the corners.

 

The next architect on the scene was James Gillespie Graham who is regarded as one of Scotland's most highly acclaimed architects. He was brought in by the fifth earl John Campbell who was dissatisfied with the castle he inherited because it had no library to accommodate his vast collection of books. Gillespie decided to completely encase the old Adam wing and link it to the main building with a tall gothic room originally intended as a chapel but which subsequently became the Banner Hall. The library is the richest interior he created but his designs are also to be found in the Elliot main block. Frederick Crace whose work took him all over Britain and had worked with Pugin, designed the elaborately painted ceilings which were richly gilded. No doubt this extravagance was prompted by the prospect of entertaining the new young Queen Victoria who at the age of twenty-three. spent four days of her honeymoon at Taymouth with her Prince Consort

 

These years were undoubtedly the finest for Taymouth. With the death in 1862 of the second Marquess, the succession of the Scottish earldom was decided in favour of his distant cousin, John Alexander Gavin Campbell whose son, Gavin, became the seventh Earl and also the Marquess of Breadalbane but was the last of the Breadalbanes to live in Taymouth. In 1922 when he died, the title passed to his   nephew who sold the castle and its contents at public auction.



WELCOME TO TAYMOUTH CASTLE

 

 

 

On the 5th September 1842 a young lady of just twenty- three years approached the east gate of Taymouth Castle. Imagine if you can the spectacle which greeted her as her carriage approached the castle! 40,000 oil lamps illuminated the exterior of the building and on the sloping lawn, the words, "Welcome- Victoria-Albert" dazzled brightly in the autumn darkness. On through the grounds she continued to the house where pipers were playing, guns firing and a crowd cheering madly. As she entered the castle, she would have climbed the highly ornate principal stairway and cast her eyes over the intricate details of Bernasconi's plasterwork. Let us follow the route the new young Queen Victoria would have taken through the castle on this her first visit to Scotland as the new monarch of the British Isles.

 

 

The Great Staircase and Tower.

 

One would never guess entering the simply carved wooden hallway that a few more steps will take the visitor to what has been hailed as the finest Gothic Revival staircase in Scotland, some says Britain. It is 80 feet from ground floor to the top of its fanned vaulted ceiling. Now the plasterwork is marked and looking rather grey, but formerly, when it was in pristine white, this vast vertical space, top lit by the centre tower and by ornate candelabra, with the walls and niches decorated with displays of shining arms and suits of Armour, it must have presented the eye with a wonderful sight. At the top of the stairs, look for the visitors' book lying on the table; there you will see the signatures of Judi Dench and Billy Connolly.

 

The Chinese Drawing Room

 

This room, part of a suite of rooms formerly known as the Chinese rooms because of their Chinese wallpaper and silk panels, was the one which received Queen Victoria '5 greatest approbation. Here, and in the adjoining ante-room, the beautiful ceilings, painted and gilded in the style of illuminated manuscripts from the fourteenth century and which feature scenes illustrating the family history of the Breadalbanes, have been restored to their former glory. The original painting took seven years to complete. When the sunlight streams through the windows, it brings alive the warm rich lustre of the satinwood panellings. Above the fireplace, you will see the Breadalbane motto "Follow Me" in intricate carved letters. As well as gold gilding on the ceiling mouldings, some have silver ornamentation which does not tarnish. Unfortunately, no furnishings remain from this room although a buttoned silk Chesterfield chair with the stuffing protruding sits sadly in the corner.

 

Make your way now through to the Chinese ante-drawing room with its white marble fireplace. Once again, we have a beautiful parquet floor and a mirrored overmantel with fine gold leaf depicting the Breadalbane Armorial bearings

 

As you leave the ante-drawing room, you will pass through a small circular room situated in one of the turrets. Look up at the ceiling and you will see a small mirror. This room was used by the last Lady Breadalbane for gambling purposes  the story goes that she would bend down to pick something off the floor where she had another mirror hidden which would reflect her partners ' hands!

 

 

 

The Banner Hall

 

This room was designed by Gillespie to provide communication between the two parts of the house. Originally intended as a chapel it was actually used as a State dining room and given its title because hanging from the sides of the room hung silk banners. The ceiling in here is wonderful depicting 92 coats of arms of the families connected in marriage to the Breadalbanes. The Breadalbane coat of arms can be seen in each emblem and on the parquet flooring. The room is dominated by an immense stone fireplace, carved from local chlorite slate, and at either end is a stained glass window, the southern facing one with richly carved wooden screens set on either side of the window. Some of the glass in the southern window is medieval and this may have been bought from Christies auctioneers. The north facing stain glass window records the origins of the Campbell lineage. In the race for self- aggrandisement and fuelled by competition with aristocratic neighbours, the earls and later marquises of Breadalbane, all able to draw on rich resources, were able to indulge their desires for antiquarian and romantic tastes in furnishings.

 

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Thus, throughout the castle, you will see some woodcarvings and furnishings belonging to much earlier periods than the castle itself The Banner Hall was used for a grand ball during Victoria’s visit and four

gentlemen dancing reels entertained her. In the film, "Mrs Brown’, you can see the Banner Hall which was used as a sumptuous setting for a ball which took place at Balm oral, Very occasionally, this hall has been used for local wedding celebrations and the recently married bride and groom can take to the very same floor where Victoria, as a new bride, led the dancers.

 

 

 

The Gallery

 

 

Leaving the Banner Hall one enters the gallery passing three figures carved from wood and said to have been brought from an Italian monastery.  They represent Reformers in purgatory and date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the library gallery, you will see tall display cabinets now screened with the Campbell tartan. In former times, these cabinets would have been used to display some of the fine porcelain and silverware belonging to the family. On the wall to the right are photographs of the last Marquis to inhabit the castle and also one of his wife, Lady Alma. Along at the end of the room there is a large sideboard with mirror above. The doors of this cabinet are particularly finely carved, however open the doors and look at the carvings on the inside of the doors. You will see that these carvings are much less skilled than those on the outside, the reason for this being that these doors would have been carved by apprentices who were allowed to practise their skills, but not where they would have been seen!

 

 

 

The Library

 

 

This room was also used for the film, "Mrs Brown", although this library is actually finer than the one in Balmoral. This room shows off the work of Gillespie at its very best. The carving was carried out by a firm called "Trotters" from Edinburgh, and the dark brown of the wood lends a brilliant intensity to the proliferation of gilding. This ceiling alone is insured for a few million pounds. The influence of Pugin who designed the House of Lords can be felt in this room which housed a very valuable library. Screening the window is a richly carved door that can be opened out to reveal a double mirror. Lady Breadalbane is reputed to have sat here facing west but able to see any visitors arriving from the east gate to the castle entrance. A door in imitation of a bookcase opens out of the library through to the apartments occupied by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert during their visit in 1842.

 

 

 

The Royal Bedroom and Dressing Room

 

 

These rooms are relatively small and modest compared with the ostentatious grandeur of the other state apartments. Obviously when hung with rich tapestries and fires burning in the grates of the white marble fireplaces, the interior of the rooms would have been more fitting to such royal personages. Dominating the room was the royal bed designed in the French style with twisted panels intricately carved and surmounted by a coronet on each, and covered with white satin drapery trimmed in lace and gold bullion fringes and tassels. On the ceiling in the bedroom, you will see the date of Victoria's wedding and coats of arms of her husband’s family, and in chalk on the hearth of the fireplace, the words "Saxe-Coburg". There is a story to this and Norrie used to narrate with glee the history lesson he received here from "Charles", which is how he used to address our future King.

 

In the dressing room, which was originally hung in green silk damask, look carefully at the woodcarvings on the doors. They depict the nativity and the visit of the wise men to the baby Jesus. In the corner of the room, is a built-in dressing~ case made in satinwood which would have been used for small items of clothing or jewelry.

The Baron's Hall

 

 

The design in this grand hall is Bernasconi's at his most elaborate. The ceiling is formed into three bays of intricate vaulting which extend to form recesses at each end of the room; from the middle of each bay, an oil Gothic lantern hangs. The fireplace which has remained unaltered is an adaptation of a funerary monument fit to grace the most aristocratic of graves! The room is lit by a painted glass window with figures representing the early lairds of Glenorchy showing their descent from Duncan Campbell, Knight of Loch Awe, the common ancestor of the great houses of Argyll and Breadalbane.

 

Around the walls is an elaborate wooden dado which dads the lower walls and consists mainly of late German medieval carvings complemented by some contemporary work incorporating the 'B' cipher and heraldic figures of the Breadalbane family including flamingos, eagles, stags and boars' heads.  Three large carved oak Gothic buffets, lined in crimson velvet, and a sideboard used to stand against the west wall but now, the only piece of furniture remaining is the table.  However, it is not hard to imagine the wonderful sight it must have been to see this magnificent oak table set with shining crystal and china, and lit by many candelabra placed along its length.

 

The Breakfast Room

 

This is the last room on the visit and was designed in the 1870 -5 by an Edinburgh firm, Peddle and Kinnear. It features some wonderful wood carvings (look for the oak leaves and tiny acorns which adorn the top of the dado right round the room). At one end is a handsome buffet with integral mirror and flanked by the figures of William Wallace a-id Queen Margaret. At one side of the buffet is a panel which can be removed remind us to tell you yet another of Norrie's tales here, one in which he took particular personal pleasure! At the windows are some wooden shutters dating from the German Reformation period.

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On the death of the seventh Earl Gavin Campbell the title passed to a nephew who decided to sell the castle and its contents, and so in 1922, over a period of seven days, at public auction, the castle was sold and its contents dispersed worldwide. In 1929; it opened as a hotel after having "modern refinements added at a cost of nearly Ł100,000!" During the Second World Wan, the castle was requisitioned by the government, and used as a hospital and convalescence centre for Polish soldiers injured in the war. That is the reason for the many Polish names to be found in the Aberfeldy area as many of the patients remained and married in Scotland. The castle fulfilled another role in 1950 when it became the headquarters for Civil Defence Training in Scotland. Near the river at the back of the castle, you can see some of the sheds and barrack-type buildings which were constructed in this period. After Civil Defence left, the castle was used for a few years as an International school but unfortunately, this venture did not prove successful and the school closed in the 1970-5. It has remained unoccupied since then, maintained by Norrie for over 25 years.

 

Every so often, rumours circulate that a buyer has been found, and at the moment things look quite hopeful that the castle may be converted into a "7" star hotel but nothing is definite as yet. It would be marvellous if Taymouth could at long last be rescued and restored to its former glory, but until that time, it continues to sit, rather forlornly, awaiting its future, a very different place indeed from the majestic sight which greeted Queen Victoria in 1842. She enjoyed herself so much then with her hospitable hosts, the Marquis and Marchioness of Breadalbane, that she wished to postpone her departure, but her duty called and she soon found herself en route to Castle Drummond,  near Crieff Her leave-taking was as grand as her arrival at Taymouth. On a barge specially built for the occasion, Victoria embarked at the bridge of Kenmore with five other barges in attendance. Out Onto the Loch they glided accompanied by a band playing the national Anthem and the singing of thousands of spectators. It was twenty-four years before she was to see Taymouth again whilst travelling in the area. The intervening years had wrought many changes; both Albert, her husband, and the Marquis and his wife had died, and the succession to the estates was in dispute. On this second visit, the castle was uninhabited, and Victoria was admitted by the gardener's wife to the grounds above the castle. There she looked down upon Taymouth and gazed "not without deep emotion, 0n the scene of our reception not to be equalled for grandeur and poetic effect. Albert and I were only twenty-three, young and happy."

 

Like the passing of the British empire, the glory days for Taymouth are definitely over, but perhaps, sometime in the not too distant future, another role may be found for this stately building, surely one of Scotland's best kept secrets!

(This guide was researched and written by Helen Mclnnes, Reception,)