May 1, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2014 issue
A prince to the rescue
Words: Jim Dunn
Britain’s Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, is a much maligned gentleman, especially among his country’s tabloid media. There’s hardly been a week in recent years when he hasn’t awakened to some, on the whole, nonsense having been written about him.
It’s slightly unfashionable to say anything positive about the Heir to the British Throne these days in the UK… But it is getting better. I am, however, one of the many who prefer to concentrate on the man away from the tabloid image. A man of vision, on the environment and architecture and a man of sensitivity as his extensive Charity works show. He has raised millions for young people, helping them gain entry into the business world.
A great deal of this work has gone unreported.
The Princes’ Charities, 20 in all, 18 of which he has personally founded, raise more than £100 million sterling annually. At the Duchy of Cornwall his team have even produced a range of extremely popular foodstuffs from marmalade to Christmas Puddings all sold in aid of his Charities. In fact, there’s not much the Prince’s Charities won’t sell you, all for a good cause.
That’s one of the reasons why I was anxious to see the magnificent Robert Adam designed sleeping beauty (he was only 26 at the time) Dumfries House in Ayrshire, Scotland. I had heard that The Prince had almost single-handedly spearheaded a nail-biting, last minute rescue plan to buy and restore the House by (most likely) picking up the telephone to his unrivalled contacts worldwide and raising the money.
Robert Adam created, and the Prince has rescued one of the most important Houses in Great Britain. The principal rooms with their rococo plasterwork are of exceptional quality and craftsmanship as I saw on a recent private tour and as you can now see from these photographs supplied courtesy of The Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust. The Great Steward is one of the many titles Prince Charles has while in Scotland.
October, a wonderful month in Scotland when the rain is at its most minimal, temperatures are mild and the midges have flown or are hibernating, a group of friends and I pick an area of Scotland, hire a car and tootle around. It’s invariably an opportunity to eat some very good food cooked by exciting new chefs in beautiful and comfortable country hotels with roaring fires in the Drawing Room when necessary – and that is often. After all, whoever said you go to Scotland for a tan?
One year our perambulations might take us to the dramatic West Coast with scenery of unrivalled beauty or, as was the case this year, a jaunt around the Borders and Ayrshire; then a lengthy dash of many miles by car up to the very North West of Scotland to Sutherland which is perhaps one of the most dramatic counties and one I hadn’t visited previously.
On the way we stopped off at the charming and professionally run Roxburgh Hotel near Kelso. Here we stayed in considerable splendour in four-poster rooms with open fires and a few steps away downstairs from an excellent restaurant. As a young PR man I remember handling the opening of this hotel from our offices in London for the owners The Duke and Duchess of Roxburgh who live nearby in the magnificent Floors castle.... also not to be missed.
Skibbo Castle, near Inverness, once the home of the great philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, was another stopping off point - this time for lunch on the way North. An enterprising group of wealthy investors have bought the estate and literally spent a fortune on restoring the grounds and interiors. You can now buy membership at vast expense but your reward will be an unforgettable stay in the magnificent Main House or on the estate with its golf course, indoor pool and spa. In fact, everything your regular millionaire would require.
However, I digress. Let us turn our attention once again to Dumfries House. It was saved amidst unrivalled drama and suspense, complete with its original 18th century Chippendale furniture, just a few hours before the sale of the House and contents in 2007.
The furniture was on its way by pantechnicon down the M6 motorway to the London saleroom when the driver got the call to turn back as the money, around £45 million, had been raised and guaranteed by the enthusiastic team headed by Prince Charles, to save the House.
Following the death of John, the 6th Marquess of Bute, a leading figure in the history of Scottish preservation, his heir, the racing driver Johnny Dumfries focused his attention on the family’s main Scottish seat, Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute in the West of Scotland but soon realised that one of the Houses had to go. He then tried to interest a number of organisations in taking on the run-down and almost abandoned Dumfries House and grounds.
When it was announced that the House would be sold a number of people and organisations campaigned to save it and raised some money but the breakthrough came when the Prince of Wales indicated his strong desire to help find a solution.
He believed strongly that unless someone was prepared to take a risk, this wonderful House and its contents would be lost to the nation. He has done so, in borrowing £20m for the House and contents and the restoration in addition to money already raised, not only because of the cultural importance of Dumfries House but also because he is confident that ownership for the public benefit will help the regeneration of an area of Scotland which has languished in an economic slump for some time.
Highlight of the purchase and a great investment for the future was the inclusion of the original Thomas Chippendale furniture commissioned by the 5th Earl of Dumfries. A number of other important pieces of furniture by Scottish cabinet-makers were also included.
Today, Dumfries House is fully restored and hosts a cooking school, a gardening school, an engineering school, an arboretum, a stonemason’s yard, and new houses made of local oak. The estate employs about 80 people and is now an increasingly popular tourist attraction in that area of Scotland.