A Georgian treatment of a former tower house
The main front of Gargunnock House, when approached through the park, looks regular, classical and serenely late Georgian. But this façade of 1794 is only skin deep, imposing order on additions to an old tower, made then and in the previous two centuries. It still forms the core of the house, whose large and elegant dining room and drawing room create a perfect venue for a large gathering. The old tower dictates that the main rooms are on the first floor, above the traditional vaulted basement.
A house visited by Chopin?
Unquestionably the finest room is the drawing room; it contains a piano (now ornamental) on which, just possibly, Frédéric Chopin once played. Gargunnock was bought in 1835 by Charles Stirling, a Glasgow merchant and son of an old Perthshire family. His sister, Jane, was Chopin’s pupil and friend. She brought him to Scotland in 1848, taking him to stay with her sisters and cousins and family tradition is firm that he also came to Gargunnock. The late Miss Viola Stirling was the last of her family. She left Gargunnock to trustees on whose behalf we now let it for holidays. Staying here feels rather as if the family has gone away for a while. They have taken their personal things with them, but the furniture remains, the flower garden is cared for, the park is grazed and the estate maintained in orderly fashion. There is fine country in all directions, and Stirling is nearby, but most of all you can enjoy living briefly in this graceful and pleasantly old-fashioned country house at the foot of the Gargunnock Hills.
‘What a fantastic house . . . we still can’t figure out what the curly-horned beasts in the dining room are.’
‘The highlights were eating on the great table, walking to the waterfall and the hills.’
From the logbook
An impressive architectural conjuring trick
Gargunnock, like many Scottish houses, started life as a tower house in the 16th century. Over the next two hundred years wings were added and the rooms inside were remodelled in line with evolving tastes and patterns of life. In a final and impressive architectural conjuring trick, the last wing to be built, in 1794, was merged with its 17th century companion behind a tidy Georgian front. Visitors glimpsing it across the park from the south would be lulled into thinking it an apparently modern house. Only when they came closer did tell-tale turrets and crowstepped gables give the game away.
Charles Stirling, the fifth son of an old and distinguished family and who had prospered as a merchant in Glasgow, bought the remodelled Gargunnock in 1835. His great-granddaughter, Miss Viola Stirling, was the last of the family to own and run the estate. On her death in 1989 she left Gargunnock to trustees, with the hope that it could be 'preserved and administered so as to exemplify and perpetuate the tradition of Scottish country life.' In particular she suggested the house might be used as a base for 'quiet perambulation and contemplation,' its grounds and garden being 'attractive at all times of the year to those in search of peace and quiet.'
Finding a user to satisfy these wishes was no easy matter, especially if the family furniture and paintings were to remain. The trustees sought advice from a variety of sources but no solution offered itself. Then in the autumn of 1993 the trustees of the Landmark Trust visited Scotland. At the suggestion of the architect James Simpson they made a detour from their planned itinerary to look at Gargunnock House. Was there a possibility of Landmark finding a use for it?
Not normally within Landmark's range
Such large buildings are not normally within Landmark's range however worthwhile and in need of help they might be. Yet, with its unspoiled surroundings and its atmosphere of a much-used and loved country house from which the owners have briefly departed, it was a place which would give people a great deal of pleasure if they could stay in it. Landmark could not afford to take the building on itself but suggested instead that it might help the Gargunnock trustees carry out such work as was needed and then let it on their behalf.
If the system worked, everybody gained and if it did not then the house would be in better shape for a new tenant. To do the work as economically as possible, Landmark employed a team of men who lived and worked on site, supervised by an architect/clerk of works, Andrew Thomas. The work began in August 1994 and was completed in March 1995.