For a castle that owes much to the dowry of one woman – Lady Amelia Stanley in the 18th Century – and its fortune to the hard work of generations of strong women, it’s fitting that the reopening of Blair Castle and grounds on 28th April will be led by another woman
Jenny Rowe is the production editor at Scotland magazine. She also writes regularly for BRITAIN, the official magazine of VisitBritain, and Discover Britain, and is particularly passionate about literary history, wild travel and traditional makers and craftspeople.
After months of closure, Sarah Troughton, Senior Trustee and Director of the Atholl Estates, continues a historic trend of leading ladies coming to the rescue of Blair Castle, the home of the Murray clan.
The 8th Duke of Atholl’s wife, Duchess Katharine (Kitty), for example, became Scotland’s first female in MP. Not short on courage, she travelled to Gallipoli in the First World War with her husband and tended injured troops in hospital there. Later she travelled to Spain during the Civil War to support the revolutionary troops against the fascists. At home, she immersed herself in education and health projects, supporting numerous children’s charities. By 1920, she was on 25 local committees, which led her into politics and a principled stand alongside Churchill in her condemnation fir and fear of the rise of Nazism in Germany.
Meanwhile Sarah’s great-grandmother, the Viscountess Cowdray, saved the Castle from bankruptcy in 1932. She bought the estate for the sum of its debts from the 8th Duke of Atholl, who, while a formidable soldier and noted military strategist during the First World War, was hopeless at running the estate. The stock market crash of 1929 and huge death duties left Blair Castle in a precarious state.
It took the Viscountess two years to negotiate the deal, which would mean that her granddaughter, Angela Campbell-Pearson, who was engaged to the Duke-apparent, Anthony, would have a family home. Under the terms of the purchase, the estate would be run by the Viscountess’s business advisers. Four years later, the Castle was opened to the public: the first privately owned estate to open its doors in this way.
Sarah Troughton, Director of the Atholl Estates today, reflected on her great-grandmother’s stalwart character, saying: “Annie, Viscountess Cowdray was an ambitious wife and prominent liberal. She had married into the successful Pearson family business and was very diligent about fulfilling the duties that her position in life merited. It was all about hard work. She could be very stern, but was wonderful, and by all accounts could also be tremendous fun.”
Duchess Kitty and Viscountess Cowdray had forged a path that Angela Campbell-Pearson, Sarah’s mother, would follow. The Second World War had challenged the convention for women to remain housewives and with her son, Iain, set to become the 10th Duke of Atholl, Angela took direct control of the family business. On the Atholl Estate her legacy is seen in the buildings which she worked tirelessly to restore and modernise. “In Angela, my mother, Blair Castle had a woman with a strong social conscience and a formidable head for finance,” says Sarah. “After the war, she made a huge contribution to the renovation of the estate cottages, many of which had no running water. At that time, that meant a determined pursuit of supplies, which were hard to get.”
“We can’t wait to reopen on 28th April,” Sarah continues. “Our business is all about sharing our Castle and its lovely grounds with other people and there are a lot of us on the team who have missed that opportunity to do the jobs we love.
“The months of closure because of the pandemic has also given us all time to reflect on how the Castle is set up for visitors. I’ve lived in the Castle on and off all of my life and it is important to me that it retains its authenticity. I want the visitor to see not only the Castle’s place in history, but also its role as a home, where everything in it was bought for a personal reason. I hope the Castle tour takes you into the lives of the people who lived here, including of course, the wonderful women who have helped to steer it to this point.”
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