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"LARGIE

"
by J. R. Maxwell-MacDonald - 'Kintyre Mag', Web Edition 1, January 1997

The first, and only, connection of Largie Estate with genuine archaeology was the finding of a
very early stone axe head at Ballure in, I think, 1909. It is now in the Campbeltown Museum.
The history of Largie, and of the family of MacDonald of Largie, is an integral part of the
history of Scotland and of the peninsula of Kintyre.

The estate is said to have been given by The Lord of the Isles, who was also Earl of Ross, to
Ranald Bane, grandson of John, Lord of The Isles, who married Margaret, daughter of Robert II
of Scotland, ( grandson of Robert the Bruce ). It was given to Ranald Bane for his services at
the battle of Inverlochy in 1431 and the family thereafter, came to be known as Clan
Ranaldbane.

This battle should not be confused with the much more famous battle at the same place, in
Montrose's campaign against the Covenanters, in 1645. The first battle of Inverlochy was
fought between the Earls of Ross and Mar, who were cousins and perpetually at war with one
another.

Ranald Bane's father, John More, known as Tanister, because he had succeeded through
tanistry, an old Scots law which enabled a son, or daughter, who was not the eldest, to
succeed, was murdered at Ard Dhu in Islay, by one James Campbell. Very likely Regent Albany,
father of the Earl of Mar, was behind this murder and this, quite probably, was the real reason
for the first battle of Inverlochy.

John More had married Marjory Bisset, heiress of the Earls of Antrim, which is the reason why
the family is connected with Antrim, rather than with Skye, or Glencoe.

The tenth Laird, Angus, was a follower of Montrose and Charles I and consequently, the estate
was forfeited and given to Campbell of Inverawe. At The Restoration, in 1660, the family
regained possession of the estate.

The next, and perhaps most interesting connection with history, is with Flora MacDonald, the
rescuer of Prince Charlie in 1746. A daughter of Largie married the Rev. Angus MacDonald,
Minister of Gigha and Cara, who also served for a time in Killean parish, in the church, now
ruined, at Killean and where there are some interesting stone carvings.

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The Rev. Angus moved to South Uist, where his daughter met and married Ranald MacDonald
of Milton. They had two sons, the younger of whom was accidentally shot on Cara and a
daughter, Flora. Her adventures with the Prince are too well known for inclusion in this article !
She visited her cousins at Largie, more than once and when she took sail finally for America, it
was in a ship which sailed from Campbeltown.

Meantime, John, 14th of Largie, had attempted to join the Prince. He only got as far as
Clachan, where he called on the Minister. The latter brewed punch, and unfortunately, or
perhaps fortunately, upset the kettle over Largie's foot, which prevented any further attempt
by Largie to join 'The Forty-Five'.

THE VICTORIAN LARGIE CASTLE
by Michael Davis, Local Studies Librarian, Argyll & Bute Council
'The Kintyre Magazine', No 40, Autumn 1996 and 'The Kintyre Mag', Web Edition 28, April
1999

In the Autunm 1994 issue of the Kintyre Magazine, the Editor made reference to Largie Castle,
an illustration of which appeared on the front cover. He speculated that "it would be in this
house that Flora MacDonald spent a holiday before the 'Forty-Five'." The purpose of this article
is not to churlishly correct a rare slip but to explain an entirely understandable assumption.
Despite its appearance of hoary antiquity, Largie Castle was only built between 1857 - 1859
and had only been in existence a mere hundred years when it was pulled down in 1958.
Indeed, it is even possible that our Editor was deliberately misled by the architect and client of
this baronial pile !

"Cuthbert Bede", the author of Glencreggan, for all his other idiosyncracies, gives a
straightforward account of Largie Castle and of its architectural style, as he saw it in 1861 :
"The old castle of Largie was merely a fortified house, strong but plain in character and of
small size; and the little that remains of it forms a portion of a farmhouse. The modern Largie
Castle is of recent erection and is a fair specimen of the nineteenth century reproductions of
those baronial edfices erected in Scotland in the early part of the seventeenth century,
wherein the characteristics of a French style predominated. Within, the Castle is arranged and
fitted up in accordance with the comforts and luxuries of modern life.

Indeed, examination of the surviving plans of Largie suggests that any intermediate mansion
the Macdonalds of Largie may have possessed between occupying the old and new castles

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does not appear to have been incorporated. Bede, to judge by the mention he gives the
owners and by his printing of a colour plate of Largie (of which he was probably the artist), was
both familiar with the place and impressed by it.

Largie, then, was not a "real" castle, but in fact belongs to the much maligned and oft ridiculed
Scots Baronial Revival. However, most criticism of Victorian Scots Baronial hinged upon the
fact that it too little resembled the original castles of Scotland. Largie, on the other hand, far
from being a bombastic exercise in imaginative romantic brutalism, was in fact an
astonishingly accurate - almost "authentic" - recreation of the original castle style; so much so
that the great Scottish 16th and 17th century chateaux of Aberdeenshire spring to mind. This
said, Largie was not simply a reproduction of any single building.

How does one explain this "antiquarian" approach ? There is, firstly, a simple architectural
answer: it was perhaps inevitable that, having made increasing reference to the past in their
country houses in Scottish style, some Scottish architect should take the task almost literally
and, eschewing bay windows and contemporary concerns with convenient planning, produce a
vertically-stacked, harled and apparently small-windowed "castle" worthy of the name.

Precisely how Largie Castle managed its disguise is discovered from the plans. Arranging a
functioning Victorian mansion so that it took on the generally one-room deep layout of an old
L-plan tower house was not easy. It could only be managed (very discreetly) by adding a lower
range incorporating the dining room, and by resorting to the medievalising device of actually
having a spiral staircase as the principal staircase and the principal circulating space of the
house.

But one looks in vain for the traditional positioning of the entrance doorway in the staircase
tower, protectively sheltered by the wings of the L-plan. Although the approaching visitor
gained a stunning impression of the castle as it was depicted by Cuthbert Bede, his carriage
would actually have swung round to the rear of the house where were located not only the
main entrance, but an unusual covered carriageway (similar in essence to that at Kilmory
Castle) together with further servicing accommodation. Presumably, by controlling the
approach in this manner, difference in scale between the old castle style and the more
monumental Victorian building would not have been so evident.

The castle's externally convincing appearance was made possible by the publication, in 1845 -
1852, of Robert W. Billings' Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland. Between this
time and the designing of Largie some five years later, there would have been ample
opportunity to digest the stylistic potential offered by the dramatic plates of this five-volume
publication. Thus, although Largie resembled no single old castle, its turrets with their little
oculi resemble those of Castle Fraser, to name but one obvious borrowing which went to make
up this subtle composite of history and informed recreation.

However, it has to be said that architectural explanations of motive and means are not
sufficient wholly to explain the genesis of this house, for what Largie did not offer is perhaps
as significant as its romantic play with history. In its approach to planning, Largie's design
showed scant regard for the concern of the age with convenience. At this particular period,
Scottish architects were considered to have mastered the problem of the plan. William Burn,
foremost among Scottish architects of the mid-19th century, had become arguabiy the most
exclusive and sought-after designer of country houses in Britain as a whole, and his elaborate
plans catered for the convenience of their owners, their guests and their servants so that no
unwished for crossing of paths, no intrusion, no over-bearing, might be possible.

Burn's Poltalloch in Mid-Argyll, designed in the later 1840s, was an example on the grand scale
of planning placed in the service of lifestyle. From the moment the Malcolms of Poltalloch

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arose and passed through the various rooms of their private wing, the requirements of their
daily routine, their needs, and those of their servants were thought out with meticulous care.

Even lesser houses designed by Burn, his pupils and his rivals offered concern for such matters
on a more domestic scale. Kilellan House, near Campbeltown, though perhaps not designed
until the 1870s, would have been a typical local example.

What then led the Macdonalds of Largie to build themselves a house which displayed Scottish
antiquarian zeal to the extent that normal standards of convenience were ignored ? Although
the entrance arrangements were convenient and sensible (if unusual), the interior had to
ingeniously cram the main circulation/segregation space of the house into the vertical cylinder
of the staircase, with apparently curious results: one tradition claims that a later lady of the
house enjoyed the perennial discomfort of having her morning progress hindered by heated
discussions on the staircase between her husband and his gamekeeper !

Similarly, bay windows were swapped in favour of smaller sash windows in two or more walls
of the public rooms, sacrificing panoramic views for the multi-source lighting associated with
old Scottish tower-houses.

"Cuthbert Bede" supplies a clue to help solve this puzzle. The laird of Largie, he tells us, was
not a Macdonald at all, but the second son of the first Earl Ducie. Marrying Mary Jane
Macdonald Lockhart, "he assumed her name." But he did not assume the Lockhart, element,
merely the Macdonald part, so that he became the Hon. Augustus H. Macdonald Moreton. One
may safely say that he valued his connection with a line which traced its descent from
Somerled. Just as the Royal Family thrilled to life in the Highlands, Macdonald Moreton, though
an M. P. for the county of Gloucester, was sufficiently enthused by the West Highland ethos to
build not a romantic mansion so much as something close to the ancestral castle which the
ancient name of the Macdonalds of Largie would seem to have demanded. Perhaps the death
of Mary Jane Macdonald Lockhart in 1851 removed any restraining feminine influence in the
design of a house which was probably intended for residence during only part of the year, and
for entertaining visiting sportsmen friends. As a mere shooting lodge, Largie would have
seemed luxurious, and its unusual features less troublesome.

Lastly, the building of Largie fits within a wider - though not much wider - social context which
was particularly evident in Argyll. Beginning with John Campbell of Kilberry's rebuilding of
Kilberry Castle in the 1840's, a number of Argyll lairds of ancient name ventured into strongly
antiquarian design for their mansions. Although smaller than Largie, Kilberry Castle was
massed to view as a tall L-plan tower-house from the approach, with the principal (spiral) stair
in a round tower in the re-entrant angle of the plan. In the footsteps of the Campbells of
Kilberry, the Campbells of Dunmore (c. 1850) built tower-houses as the core of their mansions.
Interestingly, the architect for Inverawe and for Largie was someone within Charles Wilson's
office, if not Wilson himself, and Inverawe's dramatic new tower (now cut-down) cuhninated in
square, gabled turrets like those on the low wing at Largie. The very same hand went on to
design the tall tower added to Benmore House in Cowal in the 1860's. Yet, outwith Argyll, even
Wilson and his assistants provided more standard fare at Shandon House or even Thornliebank
House. The taste seemed restricted to West Highland lairds, though one ought also to mention
Spencer Boyd's reconstruction of Penkill in Ayrshire which also grouped around a spiral stair.

At the end of all this, we can see why it was so easy to mistake Largie Castle for something
much older. But was Largie actually intended to deceive ? There is no clear answer to this,
though Bede made no bones about the house being "of recent erection." He also paraphrased
Billings' introduction to The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland by assuming
that the style was influenced by French architecture. Did Augustus Macdonald Moreton
perhaps own a set of Billings drawings which enthused him to build as he did ? Or did Wilson,

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his architect, do the research in answer to his client's demand for authenticity ? Wilson
certainly knew Billings' drawings: his Rutherglen Town Hall is based on a Billings plate of partof
Fyvie Castle !

We may never know if Largie was intended to deceive, but it is enough simply to conclude that
it was intended to carry conviction. Of all Wilson's three antiquarian houses, it was easily the
best and, in terms of convincing composition, outclassed even Patrick Allen-Fraser's stylish
dilettante borrowings from Billings at Hospitalfield near Arbroath. Even if the original interior
decoration of Large remains a mystery, it is fair to add that in the loss of Largie, Kintyre has
lost a stunning and architecturally important, even unique building.

. . . and, of Largie's 'Temple'
One frequently asked question about Largie concerns its 'Temple', located on a small but
prominent hillock, the top of which is now cultivated into a flower garden.

Though, according to one of Largie's proprietors, the late C MacDonald Morton of Largie, it
was an ancient tumulus, with artificially scarped sides and referred to locally as 'The Temple'
from at least 1869 onwards, the mound has been so altered by landscape gardening that it is
impossible to say whether or not any prehistoric monument ever existed.

Nothing certain about these matters, it might be suggested that 'The Temple' came by its
name simply because of the massive stone gateway at the entrance to the garden.

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