Scottish Daily Mail

The original love island

Jacuzzis, exotic animals, kilted workers and racy chorus girls, Kinloch Castle’s debauched parties scandalise­d Edwardian society ....

- by Emma Cowing

THE band struck up a waltz as a glittering crowd of Edwardian socialites filtered into the grand ballroom. As the champagne flowed, guests mingled among the potted palms and luxurious, gold silk sofas.

High above, specially designed lights twinkled on the ceiling, giving those below the impression they were under the stars. Yet little could be further from the truth.

This ballroom had been specially designed so nobody on the windswept Hebridean island that lay beyond its guarded walls could see in. A silk screen was discreetly erected across the balcony to stop musicians seeing the antics below. Even the serving hatch was designed so curious butlers could not take a peep.

In the centre of it all, enjoying the attention being lavished on her by several dashing gentlemen, was Lady Monica Bullough, perhaps the most beguiling woman ever to lay claim to a Scottish island.

The story of the Isle of Rum is as shocking as it is secretive.

For 69 years, this far-flung corner of the Inner Hebrides was known as the Forbidden Island, a place of lust and intrigue where members of the aristocrac­y and even a king indulged their private pleasures, far from the prying eyes of the world.

In those halcyon days before the First World War, Kinloch Castle, the island’s dazzling centrepiec­e, was a pleasure palace, hung with rich silks and exotic animal skins, equipped with ‘Jacuzzis’ and a state-of-the-art electric light system.

In the grounds, tropical peaches and figs grew in elegant glasshouse­s, while hummingbir­ds flew free and a menagerie of turtles and alligators roamed the colonnades.

Discreet male staff were required to wear special kilts at all times – rumoured to have been designed to show off their physiques – and chorus girls were brought in from London by train to Oban before taking a chartered boat to the island, in order to ‘entertain’.

On the bedpost of one particular­ly well appointed bedroom are the outline of bite marks, said to have been made by Lady Monica herself. No wonder some have gone so far as to describe Kinloch as a ‘royal brothel’.

In fact, Rum was the private kingdom of Sir George Bullough and his wife Lady Monica. Sir George, the tall, handsome heir to a Yorkshire industrial fortune and something of a cad, ran the island as his own personal – and highly secretive – fiefdom.

So much so, uninvited guests approachin­g the island by boat were usually shot at by vigilant watchmen.

FOR those who make the 80-minute ferry crossing from Mallaig today, a tour of Kinloch Castle can be had for £9 – yet it sits in a sad state of repair. Conservati­onists say woodworm and dry rot have spread through the building. The once rich silk curtains and drapes are worn and faded, rain blows in the windows and its red sandstone walls are riddled with damp.

It will take many millions to restore it to its former glory. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which owns the A-listed building, has warned it could be bulldozed unless £20million is raised. A group of islanders wants the castle’s assets transferre­d into their ownership so they can take over the running of Kinloch and implement a £6.9million restoratio­n plan. But yesterday, SNH knocked back the proposal, throwing Kinloch’s future once more into doubt.

There is much about this beautiful piece of late Victorian architectu­re worth saving for the nation. Kinloch’s royal connection­s stretch back to its earliest days, when an embarrasse­d King Edward VII was forced to call on the services of his old friend, Bullough, to get him out of a sticky situation.

The future Sir George had gained a reputation in society circles at a young age. At only 19 years old he had been dispatched on a world tour by his father John, a Victorian industrial­ist who made his money manufactur­ing cotton machinery and had bought Rum as a place to hunt.

While the tour was supposed to enable him to see the world and mature in a manner befitting a privileged young Victorian, the alternativ­e, and far racier, story is that he was packed off after he became a little too well acquainted with his own stepmother.

Whatever the truth, upon returning to Britain following his father’s death in 1891, George inherited the Isle of Rum, as well as his considerab­le wealth.

He wasted no time in throwing himself into society circles, becoming chummy with the wayward Prince of Wales – later Edward VII – and earning himself a reputation as something of a playboy between stints as a cavalry officer.

He also set about transformi­ng Rum and in 1897 ordered the constructi­on of the grand Kinloch Castle, to replace an existing hunting lodge.

When Sir George married in 1903, his choice of bride raised eyebrows. Monique Lily de la Pasture, 34, was French, divorced and a mother of one.

An ambitious and aristocrat­ic beauty who was a keen hunter, she had already been cited in the divorce papers of Earl Cowley and his wife while still married to brewing heir Nicholas Charringto­n, with whom she had a daughter.

Rumours over the reason for the pair’s unlikely marriage swirled through society circles. Far from a love match, theirs was believed to be a marriage of convenienc­e.

When they met, Monique had allegedly been carrying on an affair with the King. In order to save the King’s blushes, Bullough stepped into the fray and it was he, rather than Edward VII, who was cited in her divorce papers from Charringto­n.

It is even said that Bullough’s knighthood, which he received in 1901, was not for his services during the Boer War but for his service to the King, in taking the fall on behalf of him and his errant mistress.

The wedding took place in 1903 in the magnificen­t Kinloch Castle, which Bullough had completed the

previous year. Its constructi­on was like nothing ever seen before in the Hebrides.

The castle’s distinctiv­e red sandstone was shipped from Dumfriessh­ire and hundreds of expert craftsmen and stonemason­s were brought from Lancashire to complete the work. Legend has it that Sir George demanded the workmen were clad in kilts of Rum tweed – and paid them extra for the privilege.

SIR George had visions of Kinloch replicatin­g the size of his outrageous­ly decadent 221ft steam yacht Rhouma – but the builders claimed they could only stretch the building to 150ft.

Yet it was still inordinate­ly long and grand, boasting a colonnaded veranda along three sides roofed with glass, as well as a large conservato­ry. Glasshouse­s filled with exotic plants and fruits were diligently maintained, while trout ponds were guarded day and night to ward off ducks.

There were tennis courts, squash courts and a nine-hole golf course.

When an alligator escaped from the glasshouse, Sir George promptly shot it.

The Bulloughs generally used the castle during the summer in the hunting season. Guests flooded in from London, eager to luxuriate in the indulgence­s of this remote paradise.

It is said that Sir George and Lady Monica would arrive at separate times – and with separate guests.

Lady Monica had developed a reputation within London society circles as a wild, sensuous woman with a coterie of lovers – and as part of the couple’s unusual marriage ‘deal’, she was given free rein to entertain multiple partners at Kinloch when Sir George was not in residence.

There are claims that some of the parties Sir George hosted were strictly all-male affairs, perhaps evidence that his procliviti­es swung in another direction.

Most scandalous of all maybe, it is said that when Kinloch was finally sold, a sado-masochism cage was found in the castle’s cellar.

Certainly, King Edward is said to have visited several times – and, the story goes, if he did not arrive with a female companion, then one would be provided for him. His former lover, Lady Monica, is also said to have entertaine­d him.

Meanwhile, Gaiety Girls were brought in from the London musical theatres to help enliven proceeding­s. Some say even prostitute­s came to the castle.

In Sir George’s library, albums of Victorian pornograph­y were found. On the old Steinway piano in the Grand Hall, scratches on the lid which were made by some particular­ly vigorous dancing in high heels can still be seen.

The castle boasted much up-tothe-minute technology of the day, including one of the first telephones. There was even an orchestrio­n, a fiendish contraptio­n the size of a large barrel organ that could mechanical­ly produce the effect of a 40-piece orchestra using a pneumatic motor. It belted out music hall numbers of the day, as well as rousing pieces by Wagner.

The billiards room, meanwhile, possessed Scotland’s first air conditioni­ng system, installed to remove cigar smoke.

In the Grand Hall were rows of stags’ heads, heavy wood panelling and rich silk wall hangings.

There were magnificen­t lacquered Japanese cabinets and an enormous bronze sculpture of an eagle eating a monkey (now in the National Museum of Scotland), a gift from the Emperor of Japan, who was a personal friend of Sir George.

Then there was the lion skin. Still there today, it is particular­ly notable because of a painting that hung on Lady Monica’s bedroom door, featuring her nude, sipping from a cup and lying on the skin. Even the bite marks were made on a particular­ly fine four-poster bed. Her bedroom was the only one with an en suite, which also contained a ‘Jacuzzi’.

But the outbreak of war in 1914 put an end to the parties at Kinloch. Sir George was given a desk role with the Scottish Horse Imperial Yeomanry – and of the 40 groundsmen at the castle sent to fight, only two came home.

In 1919, the castle was put on a care and maintenanc­e basis and Sir George spent much of his time at Down House, his country home in Gloucester­shire. Lady Monica preferred London.

According to the late Magnus Magnusson, who wrote a history of Rum: ‘Bereft of regular occupation and care, the dream castle at Kinloch began its slow decline.

The heating in the palm houses failed and the hummingbir­ds died. The fountain ran dry, the lawns grew unkempt.’

Sir George died in 1939 while golfing in France. Lady Monica made her last visit to Rum in the 1950s. In 1957, she sold the island, the castle and its contents to the Nature Conservanc­y Council.

All she kept was the mausoleum where her father-in-law and her husband were buried.

In 2016, SNH committed to spending more than £100,000 on emergency repairs within the next year – but it was nowhere near enough.

Over the years, many would-be benefactor­s have tried to help. One was Prince Charles, who backed a restoratio­n package that entailed a £6million plan by the Phoenix Trust to turn the castle into luxury flats.

The necessary cash never materialis­ed, however, and the plan eventually faded.

In 2003, the castle was featured on BBC2 series Restoratio­n, in which members of the public voted for their favourite dilapidate­d building to be restored – but failed to win the grand prize.

ITS future hangs in the balance once again, now that the island group’s £6.9million plan to restore the castle to its former glory has been rejected by the SNH board. But the islanders have vowed to fight on to save the historic home.

To wander the corridors of Kinloch Castle today is to step back in time.

In one room, an early dentist’s surgery, complete with a dentist’s chair and a range of terrifying implements, sits abandoned.

In the minstrels’ gallery, discarded musical instrument­s lie in a corner, as if they are awaiting their owners’ return.

When Lady Monica died in 1967 at the age of 98, she too was laid to rest in the grand, wind-blown mausoleum.

As her pleasure palace continues to rot, one can only hope the money can be raised to rescue the remnants of her lavish and luxuriant life.

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Pleasure palace: Kinloch Castle boasted lavish interiors, above
Privileged life: Sir George and Lady Monica Bullough in 1936 Pleasure palace: Kinloch Castle boasted lavish interiors, above

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