In 1556 Saddell was transferred to James Macdonald, who had been busy annoying the English army in Ireland. In retaliation the Earl of Sussex mounted a raid on Kintyre in 1558, during which he burned and sacked the Castle, which he described as "a fayre pyle and a stronge". The Castle seems to have been left as a ruin for the next hundred years, even after it was granted to Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyll, in 1607. Then in 1650 the Earl, in turn, granted Saddell to William Ralston of that Ilk, a fugitive from religious persecution in the Lowlands, on condition that he made it habitable within two years, which he did. William Ralston soon moved elsewhere, and by the end of the 17th century the estate had been granted to a junior branch of the Campbell family, who became known as the Campbells of Glensaddell.
During the 18th century the Campbells tried to make the Castle more comfortable, but must have felt they were fighting a losing battle, because in about 1774 Colonel Donald Campbell (1726-84) decided to build a new and more convenient home, which he called Saddell House. Colonel Campbell had served in India with distinction but was wounded in 1771 and it seems likely that a reward from the Nawab of Arcot provided the funds to build Saddell House. The Colonel’s new house was Classical in style and is typical of the country seats built by the merchants and military men returning after a successful career overseas during this time of prosperity in Scotland.
With three storeys, generously proportioned rooms across four floors and large windows, Saddell House was in marked contrast to the castle, with its small, defensive windows and turnpike stairs. The house commands perhaps the best position right at the centre of the bay and was carefully aligned to look out both across the Kilbrannan Sound onto the Ailsa Craig and back up Saddell Glen. A natural change in level allowed the house to be entered at piano nobile level on the landward side, while originally also affording the basement rooms views across the beach. The house was always approached along a carriageway over the bridge across the burn, but its original front entrance was centrally positioned through a portico beneath the pediment. An early drawing shows two small pavilions flanking the house but we have found no physical evidence of these. Sometime in the first half of the 19th century, the sunken area was created all around the house, and then in the later Victorian period, the Classical symmetry of a central entrance was sacrificed for a roomy, two storey porch block, added to the western end.
In 1899, however, there was a disastrous fire. This was during the tenure of Colonel Macleod, great-great-nephew of the builder of Saddell House and who had also just refurbished Saddell Castle. The house was let at the time to an English shooting party and while they were out a fire in the kitchen chimney is thought to have spread to joists in a lumber room. The house was gutted, only walls and porch block remaining. This led to extensive refurbishment, so that internally today the house presents more of a late Victorian than Georgian appearance. A complete set of servants’ rooms remains on the basement floor, including a game room and kitchen with range - this floor was left relatively undamaged by the fire.
On the ground floor, the butler’s pantry on the ground floor has survived with all its Edwardian fittings, and on each landing is a maid’s cupboard with sturdy shelves for bedlinen and a sink, all providing a fascinating record of existence in such country seats. The reception rooms and bedrooms are all large, some with bay windows looking out across the shore.
In 1937 the Saddell Estate was bought by Colonel and Mrs Moreton. During the war, when (the then) Captain Moreton was recalled to active service, Saddell House became home to children evacuated from Glasgow as well as to the Moreton’s own children. The boys slept in the attic and the girls on the first floor and though these were tense days, it seems many happy memories were generated.
The Landmark Trust’s involvement with the estate and buildings at Saddell Bay on Kintyre dates back to 1975. The estate and its buildings were purchased from Colonel and Mrs Moreton to enable them to survive and Mrs Moreton was given a life tenancy of Saddell House, which came to an end in 1998.