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Issue 59 - Leuchie House - Finding its Place

Scotland Magazine Issue 59
October 2011


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Leuchie House - Finding its Place

Charles Douglas visits Leuchie House, near North Berwick in East Lothian

It was to catch up with Nick Walker, a journalist friend from London, that I found myself at Grade A-Listed Leuchie House, the ancestral home of the Dalrymples of North Berwick. A rising star in the firmament of national newspapers, Nick was struck down by multiple sclerosis at a young age but resilient and brave in the face of adversity I found him enjoying a week’s holiday at Leuchie, which some years ago was transformed into a respite care home.

As followers of this Scotland Magazine series on Scottish castles and mansions will be well aware, the upkeep of these great historic houses creates a constant headache for their owners, and in an age of down-sizing and convenience living. There could be no finer rational than for such a place to be put to such a useful purpose. The Dalrymple family continue to occupy a smaller property located on the estate, and it is now more than 25 years since the big house was made over to the Sisters of the Order of Servites to become a Richard Cave Multiple Sclerosis Holiday Home.

In that period it brought great joy to countless sufferers of this cruel and debilitating disease, but in 2009 the MS Society of Great Britain announced that they could no longer sustain the funding. That was when the “Save Leuchie” campaign was launched, culminating in 12,000 signatures and a Charitable Trust being formed under the directorship of Mairi O’Keefe, with local businessman Sir David Tweedie as Chairman. Since April, funds of more than £380,000 have been either pledged or donated, but there is a long way to go before reaching the £1million target which includes a £100,000 restoration project.

Meanwhile, Leuchie House continues as a restful and caring retreat for those with MS, Motor Neurone disease, Huntingtons, Parkinsons, and long-term stroke victims.

It was Sir Walter Scott who observed that the family of Dalrymple had, within two centuries, produced ‘ as many men of talent, civil and military, political and professional eminence, as any house in Scotland.’ Emerging from Dunure, in Ayrshire, in the 14th century, James Dalrymple, a Lord of Session with the judicial title of Lord Stair, was created a baronet in 1644, and later Viscount Stair.

It was his son John, the notorious Master of Stair, who issued the letters of “Fire and Sword” which brought about the Massacre of Glencoe.

Exonerated of all blame for this appalling incident, however, he was later created first Earl of Stair by Queen Anne.

In truth, there was undoubtedly a bit of an incestuous power-broking cartel in place behind the scenes. John’s seven brothers included Sir James, first baronet of Cranston; Sir David, first baronet of Hailes, and Sir Hew, Lord President of the Court of Session, who, in 1692 purchased the North Berwick estate, which incidentally included the off-shore Bass Rock. As might have been expected, he adopted the judicial title of Lord North Berwick.

An old house previously owned by the neighbouring Johnstone of Elphinstone family had stood at Leuchie prior to Lord North Berwick’s acquisition, but it was his grandson, another Sir Hew, who created the house that we see today, with its three bay windows. The original mansion consisted of a main block of four rooms on the ground floor, a drawing room and one smaller room, with a kitchen wing and offices. The rebuilding was completed in 1785 when the large drawing room was finely decorated in keeping with the pretensions of the age.

The exquisite 18th century decoration with its ornamented door cases, fanlights and delicate plaster medallions survives unaltered. The second baronet’s other great achievement was to lay out the grounds within an outlook of spectacular woodland, offering privacy and fine vistas from the house.

On his death, the Leuchie estate passed to his son, yet another Sir Hew, who four years later inherited the Bargany estate in Ayrshire from his uncle, John Hamilton. Henceforth the family surname became Hamilton-Dalrymple. His eldest son married the daughter of the great Scottish naval hero, the first Viscount Camperdown, and although by then making use of Bargany as his principal residence in Scotland, it was he who commissioned John Claudius Loudon to introduce landscape improvements. In the Red Book that he compiled on the estate, Loudon describes Leuchie as “ a good house, surrounded by an extensive suite of enclosures, sub-divided by straight lines, or strips, or double rows of trees in the ancient style; the object being to continue the general effect of a park as to wood and pasture, with the utilities and convenience of enclosure.” With the death of the fourth baronet in 1834, however, the properties were individually allocated to his son and daughter, creating the two ongoing strands of the original family: the Hamilton- Dalrymples of the east coast and the Dalrymple-Hamiltons of the west coast.

When the sixth baronet, also Sir Hew, inherited Leuchie House during the Victorian era, he added on various extensions, but when the tenth baronet came into his inheritance in the 1960s, practicalities needed to prevail and a more manageable property designed by the Edinburgh architect Law & Dunbar Nasmith was built to accommodate the Hamilton-Dalrymple family in the walled garden.

The future of Leuchie House has therefore been assured as a national resource with a strong community focus, and it can be visited at any time.

However, it costs £1.2million per annum to operate and is therefore entirely dependant upon the kindness and goodwill of the general public, Scotland’s funding bodies, and the determination and dedication of its remarkable staff.

This is therefore not just another splendid stately home resonating within the sweep of Scotland’s turbulent history; Leuchie House has found its purpose in the third millennium, and it is one for which all of us in Scotland should be profoundly grateful.

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