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Issue 58 - Sumptuous Residence

Scotland Magazine Issue 58
August 2011


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Sumptuous Residence

Charles Douglas looks at this magnificent house near Haddington in East Lothian.

Only a handful of historic houses and castles in Scotland can boast that they are still occupied by the descendants of the families who originally built them. One such mansion is Colstoun House, near Haddington in East Lothian, a 30 minute drive from Scotland’s Capital.

Perched on a high bank overlooking the Colstoun Water, the house is situated within a 2,000 acre mix of agricultural land and parkland. A dwelling house called Cumber Colstoun was first recorded here in 1270, although there was almost certainly an earlier laird’s castle on the site, a small square tower with a turret. The walls on the east side of the current building are some 5.2 metres thick, and under the basement is a pit prison known as the Laird’s Pit.

It was in the vanguard of the Norman Conquest of England that the Le Brun family first arrived in Scotland from France via Cumberland to offer their services to the Scottish King Malcolm III. Descent from the Capetian Dynasty naturally guaranteed them favour at the Royal Court, and thereafter, having established themselves in Haddingtonshire (as East Lothian was previously known) various Brouns were witnesses to Royal Charters throughout the 12th and 13th centuries.

It was to be three significant marriages that marked out the fortunes and misfortunes of the Brouns of Cumber Colstoun. The first union took place around the year 1270 when Sir David Broun of Colstoun was betrothed to Marion, daughter of the neighbouring landowner Hugh Gifford who, for his expertise in necromancy and the Black Arts, became known as the Wizard of Yester.

As the bridal party proceeded towards the church for the ceremony, Gifford stopped under a pear tree to pick a fruit. Handing it to his daughter, he told her that he could not afford to give her a dowry but so long as the pear was kept safe, so long would prosper the owners of Colstoun.

The moral is never to make fun of such sentiments. In 1692, Sir George, second baronet of Colstoun, married Lady Elizabeth Mackenzie who, when she was shown the legendary fruit, bit into it.

Regardless of superstition, the repercussions were catastrophic.

Sir George, a gambler, incurred devastating debts forcing him to sell the estate to his younger brother Robert, a member of the Scottish Parliament. On the night of 3rd May 1703, Robert was returning from a late sitting in Edinburgh accompanied by his wife, two sons and two daughters The Colstoun Water was in full spate and when the coach driver missed the ford, Robert and his two sons were thrown into the water and drowned.

His wife and two daughters were only saved by the trapped air in their crinoline dresses, which turned them into floating boats.

After such a tragic incident, it comes as no surprise to learn that the pear has since been lovingly preserved and to this day is kept in a silver box under safe lock and key, remaining the cherished symbol and insignia of the Brouns of Colstoun.

The third important family alliance occurred in 1805, when Christian, only daughter and heiress of Charles Broun, married the ninth Earl of Dalhousie. Their son James succeeded his father as the tenth Earl and having served as Governor- General of India from 1847 until 1856, was created Marquis of Dalhousie. It was to his daughter, Lady Susan Broun Ramsay, that Colstoun passed, and when she died in 1898, the estate was inherited by her great-niece Edith, wife of Sir Humphrey Lindsay, and grandmother of the present Laird, Ludovic Broun-Lindsay.

Gigantic elephant tusks still flank the entry staircase at Colstoun, a reminder of the family’s past colonial associations.

However, the bulk of the house as seen today dates from previous centuries, with embellishments being added as the family prospered. For example, Patrick Broun of Colstoun was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia in 1686, a title which could only be passed on to his male heirs. On his death with only a daughter, therefore, this title went to the Thorniedykes branch of the Broun family who later emigrated to New South Wales; George Broun, grandson of the drowned Robert Broun, became a Lord of Session, taking the judicial title of Lord Colstoun; Much of the south wing of Colstoun therefore dates from 1700s; the upper story was raised in the latter half of the same century, and a north wing added in 1875 with its subsequent ornamentation created by Sir Henry Lorimer. Then in 1907, the house was gutted by fire.

It was a major catastrophe, but mercifully most of the contents were saved. The architects Dick, Peddie and McKay were called in to repair the fabric and return the building to its 1903 appearance while adding on the existing porch and dormers. Of necessity, the interior was almost completely replaced, and the door plaque inserted at this time reads: “From sorrow and fire and all evil things that be, salve benedicte. JGAB SFG”.

Colstoun’s next catharsis came in the early 1990s.

when it was decided to remove the northern Victorian wing to create a more manageable size of family home.

Generations come and go and for Ludovic Broun-Lindsay the challenge has been to find a role for Colstoun in the 21st century without compromising its use as a much loved family home.

Fortuitously, he was able to recruit his nephew Freddy MacNamara as his managing director and employ the instinctive creative flair of Cameron Sinclair-Parry who, over the past year, has transformed the interiors, bringing a spectacular lease of life to a thousand years of history.

A red carpet now sweeps along the corridors which stretch from one side of the house to the other; the adjoining rooms with their expansive views over parkland and the Colstoun Water have been uncompromisingly reinstated in their original pastel shades. Throughout, the colour schemes are warm and welcoming while family portraits, several by Alan Ramsay, adorn the walls beneath intricate cornice work. Carefully selected pieces of fine period furniture create a subtle sense of timeless elegance.

To the rear of the house, a gravel walkway is being reinstated with heather beds and a terrace for enjoying the views, while through wrought iron gates that feature the Colstoun Pear logo, a capacious walled garden is in the process of being re-planted, the intention being to return the estate to self-sufficiency in vegetables and flowers.

Cameron is determined to create an adjacent herb garden. The stable block is also being refurbished to house a cookery school, with other outhouses being made suitable for workshops and private parties. Colstoun has already been used for a fashion photo shoot and as a film location.

Nevertheless, Freddy is anxious to emphasise that Colstoun remains very much a stylish family home which just happens to be available for corporate and private events, weddings and receptions. He says that it is therefore most definitely not a hotel, as such.

Clients must stipulate their individual requirements. A full letting provides eight double bedrooms, four with four poster beds, the use of specified public rooms and facilities, including the grounds. Extra sleeping accommodation is available in the adjacent cottages.

This is the genuine Scottish country house experience with optional sporting facilities such as stalking, pheasant shooting and trout fishing, not to mention Colstoun’s close proximity to East Lothian’s 22 golf courses.

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