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Issue 21 - Treasure trove

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 21
July 2005


This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Treasure trove

Charles Douglas visits Dalmeny House near South Queensferry

Some may consider it an unlikely surname for Scotland, but the family name of Primrose originates from the lands of Primrose in Dunfermline, in the Kingdom of Fife, occurring first in a mid-12th century charter.

An early ancestor was Jonne Prymros, a stone mason, who in 1387 was contracted to work on St Giles’s Parish Church in Edinburgh.

Although early records indicate that the family was based in and around Culross, they appear to have risen to prominence in the 17th century, when Gilbert Primrose became Dean of Windsor in 1628, and James Primrose, Clerk to the Privy Council under James VI and I.

James was succeeded by his son Archibald who fought on the Royalist side during the Civil War. As a result, his estates were confiscated by the Cromwellian Government, but his unswerving service to the exiled Stuart kings earned him a knighthood at the Restoration and he was appointed Lord Clerk Register of Scotland.

In 1662, he purchased the Barony of Barnbougle and Dalmeny, and moved his family into the 13th century tower house which stands to this day on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, some two miles (three km) east of South Queensferry, and six miles (10 km) north west of central Edinburgh.

In the next generation, Archibald’s youngest son, also Archibald, fought with the Imperial Army in Hungary during the reign of James VII and II. In 1700 he was raised to the British peerage as Viscount Rosebery, a title he took from Rosebery Topping, a hill near his wife’s estate in Yorkshire. In 1703, he was created Earl of Rosebery in Queen Anne’s Coronation Honours.

As the family prospered, so their domestic aspirations expanded and, in 1817, the English architect William Wilkins was commissioned by the 4th Earl to begin work on the creation of Dalmeny House, just to the south of Barnbougle Castle. It was the first Tudor-revival house to be built in Scotland and features octagonal towers, mullion and transom windows and carved chimney-pots.

Inside, the architect adopted the regency fashion of the time, but the hammer-beamed hall, stainedglass windows and fan-vaulted corridors are distinctly Gothic.

The 5th Earl succeeded to his title on the death of his grandfather in 1868 and despite enjoying a warm friendship with Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the British Conservative Party, supported the British Liberal Party.

Having served in various ministerial posts under the British Prime Minister W.E. Gladstone, he himself became Prime Minister in 1894. With his marriage to Hannah, daughter of Baron Meyer de Rothschild, he and his wife divided their time between their Scottish and English houses – Dalmeny in Midlothian and Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire.

The fabric of Dalmeny House was damaged by a fire during World War II, but was rapidly and sympathetically restored to its current splendour.

With the death of the 6th Earl in 1974, many of the treasures of the Rothschild Collection were brought from Mentmore to Dalmeny which was opened to the public in 1979.

It remains, nevertheless, very much the home of the 7th Earl and Countess of Rosebery who are usually in residence throughout the year.

On arrival, visitors are greeted outside by a splendid bronze horse , a portrait of King Tom, the foundation stallion of the Mentmore Stud. The 5th Earl was a great racing enthusiast and his horses won the Derby, the 1000 guineas, the Oaks and the St Leger all in one year, 1871.

Racing ran in the family blood, and the 6th Earl was equally successful with his horses winning 700 races.

A portrait of Sir Archibald Primrose, who originally bought the Barnbougle and Dalmeny estates, hangs in the hallway. In addition, there is a particularly fine painting of the 5th Earl.

The marble bust is by the sculptor Boehm and is of the British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, who sat for it while writing speeches for the celebrated Midlothian Campaign which returned him to power in 1879.

Also on display are five delightful tapestries depicting Spanish childhood scenes. These were designed by Francisco Goya to decorate Spanish Royal palaces.

The Library is regularly used by the family when entertaining, as well as by corporate and visitor groups. In this room, in 1946, the concept of the Edinburgh International Festival was conceived, the 6th Earl having been appointed chairman of the newly formed Scottish Tourist Board. In the drawing room can be seen part of the magnificent collection of French furniture brought here from Mentmore Towers.

The room is arranged to show the changes in style from the baroque splendour of Louis XIV, through the Rococo exuberance of Louise XV to the severe neo-classical grandeur of Louis XVI, cut short by the French Revolution of 1789.

In the dining room hang portraits of famous political figures, William Pitt and Henry Dundas, literary personalities such as Dr Samuel Johnson and Edward Gibbon, and naval heroes such as Admiral Rodney and Lord Nelson.

Probably the most impressive personality content of the house, however, is to be found in the Napoleon Room which features the most comprehensive collection of Napoleonic memorabilia to be seen outside of France. The multi-talented 5th Earl was fascinated by the Emperor, and wrote his biography.

The collection includes many portraits, his throne as First Consul, his shaving stand from the Palais de Compiegne, his desk and chair when in exile on the island of St Helena, and the pillow upon which his head rested after his death.

No visit to Dalmeny is complete without a stroll in the extensive parkland with its fine vistas over the Firth of Forth. Dalmeny House and grounds are available to groups who wish to organise a wide variety of events. A barbecue site and facilities is situated on the shore close to Barnbougle Castle.

Dalmeny Estate,
South Queensferry,
West Lothian,
EH30 9TQ
Tel: +44 (0) 131 331 1888
Fax: +44 (0) 131 331 1788
Opening Times: 1st July- 28 Aug: Sunday, Monday,Tuesday: 14:00-17:30.

Adult £4.00 ; Senior £3.50 ; Child Aged 10 + £2.00.

Groups must be pre-booked with administrator.