The Prince to the res­cue

Dum­fries House was derelict, its con­tents head­ing to Lon­don to be sold at auc­tion, when the Prince of Wales charged in, dra­mat­i­cally sav­ing the house and its an­tiques, and re­gen­er­at­ing a for­got­ten cor­ner of Ayr­shire into the bar­gain. Han­nah Fur­ness gets a

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Bigger Picture -

In April 2007, one of Bri­tain’s most sig­nif­i­cant coun­try piles, Dum­fries House – a Pal­la­dian man­sion de­signed by the Adam broth­ers for the 5th Earl of Dum­fries, with a col­lec­tion of fur­ni­ture cre­ated es­pe­cially for it – was to be sold off pri­vately, and its con­tents dis­persed.

The house and its 2,000 acres in Ayr­shire were put on the mar­ket by its then owner, the 7th Mar­quess of Bute – the For­mula 1 rac­ing driver Johnny Dum­fries – after an ini­tial ap­proach to the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land came to noth­ing.

It was re­garded as a tragedy by those who know and care about Scot­land’s great houses. Two months be­fore the prop­erty was due to be sold, James Knox, a con­ser­va­tion­ist and Ayr­shire lo­cal, made a mov­ing ap­peal at the Prince of Wales’s con­ser­va­tion con­fer­ence in Holy­rood. Af­ter­wards, the Prince is said to have asked him, ‘How do we save this house?’ Hav­ing never laid eyes on it he set to work, and led a suc­cess­ful £45 mil­lion bid (in­clud­ing a £20 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion from the Prince’s Char­i­ties Foun­da­tion) to save Dum­fries House for the na­tion. Alex Sal­mond, then First Min­is­ter of Scot­land, de­scribed it as ‘the last-minute save of the cen­tury’. Just as the Chip­pen­dale chairs were hurtling down the mo­tor­way to Lon­don, the lorry driver got the call to pull over, turn around and head straight back to Ayr­shire with his pre­cious cargo.

‘When I learnt about the sale of Dum­fries House, I knew that some­thing had to be done to pre­vent this price­less trea­sure – and its re­mark­able col­lec­tion of orig­i­nal Chip­pen­dale fur­ni­ture – be­ing lost for ever,’ the Prince of Wales says. ‘I was very aware that the house was sit­u­ated in a com­mu­nity which had strug­gled a great deal in the wake of the clo­sure of the coal-min­ing in­dus­try, with many fam­i­lies ex­pe­ri­enc­ing three gen­er­a­tions of un­em­ploy­ment.

‘In sav­ing Dum­fries House, I hoped to cre­ate a cat­a­lyst for a model of her­itage-led re­gen­er­a­tion which would grad­u­ally ex­tend far be­yond the bound­aries of the es­tate and ben­e­fit the wider com­mu­nity in East Ayr­shire.’

Dum­fries House and its sur­round­ings have re­cov­ered – and then some. It is the pri­mary head­quar­ters for the Prince’s new net­work of char­i­ties, The Prince’s Foun­da­tion, a mi­cro­cosm through which his decades of cam­paign work can be un­der­stood. Ap­proach­ing his 70th birth­day, this au­tumn he in­vited a small group of press to Dum­fries to see the re­sults of many years of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and hard work; it is a true labour of love.

Lis­ten­ing to his staff tell its story with en­thu­si­asm – 80 per cent of the 230 em­ploy­ees live within 10 miles of the house and many walk to work – it’s easy to see just how Dum­fries has been re­vived. But the prop­erty, dubbed a ‘sleep­ing beauty’, was lit­tle known be­fore 2007. New heat­ing, plumb­ing and wiring were needed, car­pets and cur­tains had to be re­paired or re­placed, and fur­ni­ture was care­fully con­served.

After re­ports emerged that the Prince’s in­vest­ment was in neg­a­tive eq­uity, crit­ics leapt on the chance to call it an ‘al­ba­tross’ around his neck. Was it his great­est folly, they won­dered aloud.

The Duchess of Corn­wall, with tongue only slightly in cheek, re­cently ad­mit­ted she had avoided the house for years after her hus­band’s last-minute tri­umph, hav­ing felt an eerie pres­ence that ‘lit­er­ally froze’ her. ‘There was def­i­nitely a ghost,’ she said. ‘With­out a shadow of a doubt. I re­mem­ber the first time I walked up the steps, got into the hall and I thought, I can’t go any fur­ther… I re­mem­ber leav­ing and think­ing, I don’t want to come back here again, and I didn’t for a few years.’

But on the sub­ject of Dum­fries House – as in a long list of things, from cli­mate change to the per­ils of plas­tics – the Prince has been proved right. The at­mos­phere has changed dra­mat­i­cally since the re­fur­bish­ment and the Duchess, who has joined the Prince to­day, is of­ten on hand now, giv­ing the hos­pi­tal­ity of the fu­ture king a down-to-earth feel, en­ter­tain­ing guests from per­sonal friends and would-be char­ity donors to celebri­ties.

The Prince, who vis­its Dum­fries about six times a year and has his own pri­vate room in the house, is a fa­mil­iar sight on the es­tate. He is fond of strik­ing up con­ver­sa­tions with dog walk­ers, tak­ing the op­por­tu­nity to po­litely grill them about any changes they would like to see, and can be found greet­ing any­one sit­ting un­der the newly built shel­ters with a cheery ‘I’m so pleased to see some­one us­ing it’.

He is very keen for lo­cals to use the es­tate as if it were their own; fam­i­lies are en­cour­aged to pic­nic in the gar­den and take part in the many events, which have in­cluded a book fes­ti­val stocked with fa­mous faces from Dame Judi Dench to Judy Murray, and a dog show. And the un­usual pol­icy of open gates, even when the Prince is in res­i­dence – as well as no en­trance or park­ing fees – ap­pears to have paid un­ex­pected div­i­dends.

One mem­ber of staff re­lays how after a small win­dow was bro­ken re­cently, the com­mu­nity be­came so in­censed by the cheek of the van­dal­ism that they solved the crime them­selves. Any­one who spots any­thing wrong is en­cour­aged to call Gor­don Neil, deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Prince’s Foun­da­tion, who is based at the house, di­rectly.

The foun­da­tion is headed up by Ken­neth

‘I knew that some­thing had to be done to pre­vent this price­less trea­sure be­ing lost for ever’

Dun­smuir, a miner’s son who grew up in nearby Auchin­leck, and Michael Fawcett, the Prince’s right-hand man and for­mer valet. It seems a small but happy ship, con­duct­ing reg­u­lar tours to bring the es­tate to life un­der the Prince’s mantra that ‘see­ing is be­liev­ing’, in line with his wish that the guides act like hosts and the vis­i­tors feel like guests. Though of­ten de­scribed as a time cap­sule, Dum­fries has the un­mis­tak­able air of a liv­ing, breath­ing home.

More than a decade after the restora­tion project be­gan, the essence of the prop­erty re­mains much as it has been for 250 years, from Re­nais­sance paint­ings by Ja­copo Bas­sano to 18th-cen­tury Flem­ish ta­pes­tries. As you walk into the en­trance hall, you no­tice how the lay­ers of gild­ing added over the years have been stripped back to leave the stone and dark grey that vis­i­tors would have seen in the 1700s. And sev­eral rooms shine with Mu­rano-glass chan­de­liers – one spec­i­men was found in pieces in the base­ment in 2007, sent away to be cleaned and now hangs in glory in the Pink Din­ing Room.

The star piece in Lord Dum­fries’ Study is a 1759 ma­hogany Chip­pen­dale writ­ing desk. To­day the house boasts 10 per cent of all the Chip­pen­dale fur­ni­ture in the world, from a lock­able wooden tea caddy to a one-of-a-kind book­case bought for £47 and now val­ued at about £20 mil­lion. The four-poster Chip­pen­dale bed, said to be by far the most ex­pen­sive piece com­mis­sioned by the 5th Earl, still stands in the Fam­ily Bed­room, but has been re-dressed in blue silk hang­ings after spe­cial­ists found 18th-cen­tury in­voices de­tail­ing the orig­i­nal colour.

Ob­jects are con­stantly be­ing re­stored and an­tiques added, bought ju­di­ciously on the ad­vice of an­tique dealer and dec­o­ra­tor Piers von Westen­holz, who has led the in­te­rior de­sign of the house. A few years ago, a num­ber of grand­fa­ther clocks col­lected by the Prince’s grand­mother, the late Queen Eliz­a­beth the Queen Mother, were in­stalled to give the house a ‘heart­beat’.

Around the es­tate, the finger­prints of the Prince can be seen in ev­ery cor­ner. The es­tate colour – a bright paint of ‘fire­cracker red’ – was his choice, and his per­sonal taste is re­flected in the myr­iad build­ings in the grounds.

In many cases, ac­cord­ing to Dun­smuir, they were sketched on scraps of pa­per by the Prince as the ideas came to him. ‘He’s got an in­cred­i­ble eye,’ Dun­smuir says. One build­ing, the Belvedere, a small sum­mer house sit­u­ated in the walled gar­den, fea­tures both dragon gar­goyles and dis­tinc­tive win­dows in­spired by Islamic art, one of the Prince’s pas­sions. The walled gar­den it­self, named after his mother, has been trans­formed from a ‘derelict dump­ing site’ un­der the eye of gar­den de­signer Michael Innes. Now, neat raised beds in a Union flag de­sign burst with flowers and fresh veg­eta­bles, in­tended to en­cour­age lo­cal chil­dren to learn more about where their food comes from. In the gar­den’s project room, red wellies tiny enough to fit a three-year-old are matched by brightly coloured tools.

A 500-tree, 10-acre ar­bore­tum has been planted, and a se­ries of bridges take guests on me­an­der­ing walks through the grounds – the Prince hopes to cre­ate a haven for his beloved red squir­rels (he is pa­tron of the Red Squir­rel Sur-

In many cases, build­ings in the grounds were sketched on scraps of pa­per by the Prince as the ideas came to him

vi­val Trust) with raised walk­ways for the pub­lic to view them.

Else­where, dot­ted around the es­tate, are build­ings ded­i­cated to the Prince’s key pro­jects. An old sawmill has be­come the Kuany­shev Tra­di­tional Skills & Craft Cen­tre, of­fer­ing a five-week course in ‘sus­tain­able build­ing’, and teach­ing stone­ma­sonry, dry stone walling and ru­ral wood­craft. An­other mill has been trans­formed into the LVMH Tex­tile Train­ing Cen­tre, where young adults are taught sewing, pat­tern draft­ing and fab­ric skills. And in the con­verted Ge­or­gian laun­dry is an out­post of the Royal Draw­ing School. Not that the lessons are con­fined to build­ings. Around the grounds, trainee car­pen­ters,

stone­ma­sons and crafts­men are of­fered the chance to de­sign and build ev­ery­thing from seats to fol­lies, with the back­ing of the Prince (or ‘The Boss’, as staff call him).

It isn’t just the es­tate that’s changed, as Gor­don Neil ex­plains: ‘It started off purely as the restora­tion of the house but then it was the rip­ple ef­fect. Once the house was opened and gen­er­at­ing a small in­come, it al­lowed us to look at the rest of the es­tate.

‘In my time here I’ve seen a mas­sive dif­fer­ence in the area. I’ve seen the im­pact it’s had in terms of em­ploy­ment. The sup­ply chain we use is all lo­cal: lo­cal butch­ers, build­ing con­trac­tors, wed­ding pho­tog­ra­phers. It’s not all about her­itage and ar­chi­tec­ture, it’s about events and a restau­rant and the café.’

‘I came to re­pair a pane of glass and never re­ally left,’ says Dar­ren John­stone, a 33-year-old joiner, of Dum­fries House. ‘It’s not just em­ploy­ment, it’s giv­ing peo­ple some­where to go. It’s such a beau­ti­ful place. It’s a hub for peo­ple now; it gave the area a proper wee lift.’

It’s a sunny day when we visit, and dur­ing our tour of shame­lessly cute rare-breed piglets, ducks and sheep in be­spoke low-walled pens, the Prince, in a light tweed jacket and cords, can be spied across the yard quizzing farm­ers on the day’s work. Later, in the Fam­ily Par­lour, where we are en­cour­aged to perch on the Chip­pen­dale chairs (not quite as re­lax­ing as it sounds when you re­mem­ber the Christie’s valu­a­tion of six fig­ures per chair), the Prince re­turns to be joined by the Duchess of Corn­wall for tea, Duchy Orig­i­nals bis­cuits, and con­ver­sa­tion about both the house and his loom­ing land­mark birth­day.

The num­ber of events mark­ing the oc­ca­sion (in­clud­ing a gar­den party, a Royal Va­ri­ety-style night of com­edy and magic, a gala con­cert, a Royal Col­lec­tion art ex­hi­bi­tion and a Buck­ing­ham Palace din­ner thrown by the Queen) may be mak­ing him blush. In ad­di­tion, the mile­stone seems to have prompted staff to con­sider how his char­i­ties will one day go on with­out him, when time and the nat­u­ral or­der of things re­quire him to be­come king.

The an­swer lies in two um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tions: The Prince’s Foun­da­tion, which over­sees pro­jects re­lat­ing to con­ser­va­tion, her­itage and the built en­vi­ron­ment un­der the rubric ‘re­spect­ing the past, build­ing the fu­ture’, and the now The Pink Din­ing Room, which fea­tures an elab­o­rate Mu­rano-glass chan­de­lier. The silk-cov­ered cen­tre­piece of the Fam­ily Bed­room; the Fam­ily Par­lour in­ter­na­tional Prince’s Trust Group. The foun­da­tion’s work is based largely at Dum­fries House, which is in­creas­ingly treated by con­ser­va­tion­ists as an ex­am­ple of how seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble pro­jects are in­deed pos­si­ble.

Later that day, after a black-tie din­ner of gar­den-pea and broad-bean risotto, salmon couli­b­iac and ap­ple par­fait, guests are in­vited to the Ta­pes­try Room, where the whisky is passed around, the bag­pipers play, and the night ends with a ren­di­tion of Bridge Over Trou­bled Wa­ter on the pi­ano.

From the Prince’s per­spec­tive, host­ing vis­i­tors can work mir­a­cles: the ab­stract ideas re­lated to re­gen­er­a­tion and tra­di­tional skills about which he speaks so of­ten fi­nally make sense to out­siders. For him, the con­ser­va­tion of the house and reimag­in­ing of its grounds are a source of both joy and pride. But it is be­ing able to make a real dif­fer­ence in a com­mu­nity that has ‘suf­fered dread­fully in the past’ that re­ally mat­ters to him – in East Ayr­shire he is now the sec­ond largest em­ployer after the coun­cil.

‘There is still much more to do – from en­abling peo­ple to change the way they live for a health­ier way of life, to cham­pi­oning the need for sus­tain­ably planned and well-built com­mu­ni­ties, to pro­mot­ing skills train­ing and vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion of all kinds,’ he says, re­flect­ing on his work so far.

‘I hope that my foun­da­tion is able to grow and ex­pand its ac­tiv­i­ties so that we can reach more peo­ple and ben­e­fit more com­mu­ni­ties through­out the coun­try.’

In­deed, there seems to be no let-up in the stream of ideas pour­ing into Dum­fries House via the Prince, with friends re­fer­ring fondly to his lack of any ‘mid­dle gear’. A lux­ury wed­ding venue and a hol­i­day lodge in the grounds are al­ready up and run­ning, and next up is ‘7 for 70’, seven new con­ser­va­tion pro­jects that will see once-im­por­tant build­ings re­stored us­ing tra­di­tonal skills – fol­low­ing the blue­print of Dum­fries. The foun­da­tion has an­nounced four of the sites: a cen­tre for the High­land Games, a 12th-cen­tury Welsh abbey, a Grade Ii-listed drap­ers’ hall in Coven­try, and Hills­bor­ough Cas­tle in North­ern Ire­land.

‘Be­ing able to make a dif­fer­ence in some way to peo­ple’s lives, op­por­tu­ni­ties or en­vi­ron­ment is pre­cisely what in­spires my en­thu­si­asm,’ the Prince ex­plains.

On his 70th birth­day, the staff at Dum­fries House will no doubt raise a glass. But not too many. As the Prince says, there is still much more to do.

‘Be­ing able to make a dif­fer­ence to peo­ple’s lives, op­por­tu­ni­ties or en­vi­ron­ment in­spires my en­thu­si­asm’

Clock­wise from left The Ta­pes­try Room fea­tures 18th-cen­tury Flem­ish works; the Blue Draw­ing Room; the Prince of Wales at Dum­fries House last month.

Above right Dum­fries House’s im­pos­ing ex­te­rior. Be­low, from left The Pewter Cor­ri­dor; Christie’s tags on the Chip­pen­dale book­case in the Blue Draw­ing Room

Above, from left The Wood­land Gar­den is one of many across the es­tate; one of the two lochans ad­ja­cent to the ar­bore­tum. Be­low A Wedg­wood vase sits above the fire­place in Lord Dum­fries’ Study

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