One alternative to demolition for a country house whose time as a home had come to an end was conversion to offices. Many houses were thus saved from the wreckers pickaxe although some conversions were more sensitive than others, with some unfortunate houses being reduced to shells with the historic interiors severely compromised. Some were very successful such as Donington Hall (headquarters to BMI), Mamhead House (formerly HQ to a local construction firm but well looked after and now back as a home) and Gaddesden Place (now home to a software company).
One such house which was converted in 1955 and in need of a sympathetic new owner is the grade-A listed Cumbernauld House in North Lanarkshire, currently for sale at offers over £1m. Built for the Earl of Wigton in 1731, the house was designed by William Adam (1689-1748), one of the leading architects of his day, and includes some of his typical flourishes such as arched windows, channelled masonry and carved tympana. Although the Adam interiors were lost in a serious 1877, the reconstructed interior is still noteworthy. Currently empty, this house deserves a new lease of life and would make a suitable and impressive headquarters – although part of me does faintly hope that someone might want to take on the challenge of turning it back into a home.
Sometimes houses suffer in so many ways and yet, despite their eventual condition, it’s still possible to imagine them being restored to something approaching their former glory. Caldwell House near Paisley in Scotland is definitely one that would require a purchaser with deep pockets and a slightly cavalier approach to budgeting – but they would be rescuing a classic house by the famous Scottish architect Robert Adam.
In 1773, Baron Mure of Caldwell commissioned Adam to design a grand home for him. For Adam it was to be the last of the ‘castle’ houses he designed, a style he’d started with at Ugbrooke House in Devon (1760s) and Mellerstain House in Berwickshire (1770).
It remained the family home of the Mures until 1909. In the 1920s the House was sold to Glasgow Corporation and became a hospital for mentally handicapped children. The institutional changes were severe and included the removal of the main staircase to accomodate a lift shaft and the addition of numerous poor-quality outbuildings. After the hospital closed in 1985 the usual pattern of neglect and vandalism set in, with a major fire in 1995 resulting in serious damage to the interiors and the loss of the roof. In spite of being a Grade A listed building, it is now empty and has sadly been neglected and allowed to decay and has been on the Scottish Civic Trust’s Buildings at Risk register for some years.
As this shocking set of photos show, the house is now in a terrible condition. However, the shell still evocative and it’s rural location would ensure privacy and so ought not to be written off yet. Perhaps the family motto of the Mures – “Duris Non Frangar”, which means, “not to be broken by adversity” – would be an appropriate one to bear in mind when taking on this monumental restoration.