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Issue 56 - Of Noble Descent

Scotland Magazine Issue 56
April 2011


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Of Noble Descent

Charles Douglas visits Dundas Castle, South Queensferry

It was a noble Saxon descent who launched the fortunes of the Dundas family in the 12th century. Hutred (or Uthred), was a younger son of Cospatrick, prince of Northumberland and grandfather of Cospatrick, first earl of Dunbar and March. His grandsons were Serle and Robert, both signatories of the notorious Ragman Roll of 1296, and by then the family had acquired the lands of Dundas on the southern shores of the Firth of Forth.

Thereafter these Dundases rose to prominence with Serle’s son Hugh supporting William Wallace in his forays against English occupation, and Hugh’s son William, became a follower of Robert the Bruce. In the 15th century, Sir Archibald Dundas was entrusted with a series of important missions to England by James III, whose successor gifted the family the island of Inchgarvie in the Firth of Forth.

Moreover, in the 17th and 18th centuries, they became Scotland’s most influential and formidable legal family: five generations of lords Arniston, and two generations of lords presidents of the Court of Session. For the influence he exercised as a member of William Pitt the Younger’s government, Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville, was known as the “Uncrowned King of Scotland.” Throughout their long history, it seems that the lairds of Dundas consistently kept favour with their overlords, astutely changing sides when the occasion demanded. The tower house that they built at South Queensferry dates from around 1416, when the Duke of Albany was ruthlessly ruling Scotland on behalf of his elder brother Robert III. However, when James I took over the Scottish throne and disposed of his uncle Albany, the Dundases were on hand to support him, and by 1436, the year before his murder, he had licensed them to build an extension to their castle.

Today, the castellated mass that greets arrivals might mislead them as to the original Dundas Castle’s defensive origins and size. But like all great Scottish houses it is the creation of succeeding generations, each making their own individual contributions toward its bulk and appearance.

Hence, we find Walter Dundas installing a sundial and fountain on the front lawn in the 17th century with the inscription: “Sir Walter Dundas, in the year of our Lord 1623 and 61st of his own age, erected and adorned as an ornament sacred to his country and his family as also a future memorial to his posterity and an amusing recreation for his friends, this fountain in the form of a Castle and this Sun Dial with its retinue of Goddesses. All that is placed here is for pleasure and enjoyment.” A quarter of a century later, Oliver Cromwell took up residence here during his campaign to subjugate Scotland. His statue, sword in hand, stands in front of the main entrance to the old Keep, recognisable by the wart on his face.

Whether this had any direct influence on the older building being eventually pulled down is debatable but in the early 19th century, the family employed the architect William Burn to create a palatial residence befitting their status.

Unfortunately, the accumulated cost, not to mention that of landscaping the 1000 acre park, was in 1846 to oblige them to sell to James Russell, a racing enthusiast, breeder of horses, and keen supporter of the Linlithgow & Stirlingshire Hunt.

Following Russell’s death in 1899, however, the estate was purchased by Stewart Clark, great grandfather of the present owner. Stewart had derived his fortune from J & J Clark (later J&P Coates), a sewing thread business which originated in the Anchor Mills in Paisley, and for some years he had served as member of parliament for Paisley.

His son, John Stewart-Clark was created a baronet in 1918. From Sir John, the Dundas Castle estate and baronetcy passed through a further generation to the present owner, Sir Jack Stewart-Clark.

During the Second World War, the castle was garrisoned by the British Army whose duty it was to protect the nearby Forth Bridge, but after the death of Sir Jack’s mother in 1995, the former businessman, and for 20 years a British member of the European Parliament, decided to invest in a major restoration project.

It was a daunting prospect. Dry rot had run riot throughout the main castle building, and large numbers of rooms required to be stripped and treated. Electricity, banqueting and other facilities were installed and Sir Jack’s wife Lydia, a talented interior decorator, set about replacing the silks in the library, and refurbishing the living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms.

The old Keep had remained uninhabited for 300 years, requiring the parapet to be taken down with much of the stone work replaced.

With Sir Jack and Lady Stewart-Clark in residence in the south wing, and examples of contemporary art alongside family photographs in silver frames scattered throughout the rooms, Dundas Castle remains a beloved family home.

He and Lady Stewart-Clark have been married for 50 years and have one son, Alexander, four daughters and, to date, five grandchildren.

In the hallway there are two portraits of Stewart Clark, one beneath the stairway and another outside the drawing room and showing him wearing his uniform as Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Renfrewshire. Sir Jack’s grandfather Sir John Stewart-Clark’s portrait hangs to the right of the fireplace in the hall.

In the blue drawing room there is an elegant portrait by Charles Shannon of Sir Jack’s grandmother Marie, and a 1930s painting of his mother Jane. There are also two fine portraits of Sir Jack and his wife Lydia painted by Sergei Pavlenko. The little girl above the fireplace in the library is Sir Jack’s sister, Noorina, painted during the war by a Polish artist Canelba.

In the dining room over the fireplace there is a painting of Sir Jack’s grandfather playing croquet with his sisters. Throughout the rooms, there is a wonderful sense of homely opulence.

With the addition of a Pavilion sited on the east lawn, Dundas Castle is now available for exclusive hire, and has become a popular setting for weddings, conferences, business meetings, incentive travel group visits, golfing holidays, private dinner parties, launch parties and receptions. With 14 luxurious bedrooms, all with bathrooms, it also caters for residential events.

Another superb feature is the Boathouse, a one bedroom holiday cottage on the side of a wooded loch on the estate.

As a romantic hideaway, it has to be said that this takes some beating.