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.
An alert member of staff (who should get a especially generous Christmas bonus this year) saved Floors Castle near Kelso from a potentially devastating fire. The largest private house in Scotland was designed by William Adam in the 17th century and then ‘gothicised’ in the 19th century with the addition of many pinnacles.
Smoke from the fire in the private living area of the Duke of Roxburghe, who wasn’t in residence at the time, was spotted and the fire brigade called. They made their way through the thick smoke and extinguished the blaze which had started in a freezer and had spread to the lath and plaster wall. Luckily damage was limited to one room with minor smoke damage to a few surrounding ones.
Fire has been a constant danger to country houses with many over the years being reduced to a smoking ruin within hours. Fire is the most devasting way to lose a house as usually the historic and beautiful contents are destroyed as well. Thankfully in this case disaster was averted but it again shows the value of having staff in residence who are able to take swift action.