Restoration drama – An Irishwoman’s Diary about Prince Charles and the saving of Dumfries House

‘Three huge Pantechnicons already with the furniture in them were going down to London. They were literally stopped on the motorway at one o’clock in the morning and turned round.” So goes the description by Prince Charles of the saving of one of Britain’s most important Palladian mansions and its contents.

Dumfries House, in Ayrshire, which was built in the 1750s by the fifth Earl of Dumfries, William Crichton-Dalrymple, had been put on the market by the seventh Marquis of Bute, unable to afford the upkeep of the mansion and its 2,000 acres. The furniture, with many pieces by Thomas Chippendale, was expected to fetch millions at Christie’s. A Chippendale rosewood bookcase alone was valued at £2 million to €4 million. It is thought that 10 per cent of all Chippendales are in the house.

Heritage attraction

The Prince of Wales, known as the Earl of Rothesay in Scotland, managed to put together a consortium to find £45 million to purchase the estate in its entirety at the last minute, a far cry from the £7,979 paid to the Adam Brothers in 1759. Dumfries House is now owned by a charitable trust, the Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust, which maintains it as a heritage attraction.

So how do you make an estate of this size and importance pay for itself? Nine years on and Dumfries is a thriving venture with many strings to its bow. The main house with its two grand wings is a showcase of Chippendale furniture, antiques, rugs and art, much of it unchanged in hundreds of years. The public can take guided tours of the house.


The six-bedroom Dumfries House Lodge was renovated and provides accommodation for events and weddings. In the courtyard, 22 luxury suites and two cottages provide paid guest accommodation.

Various sponsor arrangements have help turn the estate into a training ground for local people. For a period of five years, the supermarket chain Morrisons funded the restoration of the meat and dairy farm attached to the estate, for research and education into sustainable farming methods.

The former coach house and stable block have been renovated to be used as a catering facility, sponsored by Belling, as a hospitality training centre to deliver practical front- and back-of-house training. It has a teaching kitchen and commercial kitchen with a fully functioning restaurant.

Partnerships with organisations such as Scottish Power, UTC Aerospace and electronics company Selex-ES run programmes to help schools deliver Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education to students.

The engineering workshop has developed an outdoor play park for children around the natural elements of earth, water, fire and air. Children can use the free multisensory facility set into the woodlands. It is also open to schools and youth groups.

In the renovated water-powered sawmill, traditional building skills are taught. Stone masonry, dry-stone walling and rural woodcraft courses run alongside training in plastering, painting, plumbing, electrical work and brickwork. A lot of the training and skill courses are aimed at young people from 16 to 25 to open up employment opportunities.

The walled garden, once one of the largest in Europe, is being restored and used as a training opportunity for young gardeners. There is also an artist’s retreat, with courses by the Royal Drawing Society and an outdoor activity centre. An eco-village, Knockroon, is being built to create a sustainable mixed-use development of homes, shops and workplaces.

Local community

The intention of the trust is for the estate to become a self-sufficient enterprise and in the process revitalise the local community, which had been hard hit by the closing of the mines. Tourism is already bringing people to the area to see and stay on the estate, explore the grounds and walk in the arboretum. Dumfries is in Ayrshire, an area not very well known to visitors, though only an hour away from Glasgow.

This year the big campaign of Visit Scotland is a social movement to ignite the power of a nation behind tourism. People are being encouraged to get out and about the country and take pictures and share them on social media using the hashtag #ScotSpirit.

Check out to see some of the fantastic photographs of scenery and wildlife. Scotland is also marking this year as the year of innovation, architecture and design, a nationwide celebration of the built environment.