posted 08-29-2007 06:57 AM
Dumfries House is saved:
Charles saves Dumfries House at 11th hour
By Auslan Cramb
Last Updated: 6:00pm BST 28/06/2007
One of Britain's most remarkable stately homes, and best kept heritage secrets, was saved for the nation yesterday by an 11th hour intervention from the Prince of Wales.
Dumfries House, a Palladian mansion with a "jaw dropping" collection of 18th century furniture, was due to be put on the market on Tuesday, and its contents were to be auctioned next month.
But a group brought together by the Prince has at the last minute secured the property for £45 million in a move described as "one of the great heritage saves of modern times".
It will be purchased by an independent charity, The Art Fund, before being handed over to a trust that will for the first time open the notoriously secret property to the public.
David Barrie, the director of the charity, said the Prince had "descended from the clouds" two weeks ago when it looked like the attempt to retain the home and its rare contents was doomed.
A range of charities and heritage bodies contributed £25 million to the rescue package, but the sale was secured with a £ 20 million cheque from the Prince's Charities Foundation. The sum covers the purchase of the house, its Rococo furniture and 2,000 acres of land near Cumnock, Ayrshire, as well as the creation of the trust that will run it as a visitor attraction.
The contents of the Adam-designed home, which has been described as an 18th century time capsule, include one of the greatest collections of Thomas Chippendale furniture, which was attracting huge interest from potential buyers around the world.
The 21-bedroom property - with seven bedrooms for servants - was put on the market by the former Formula 1 racing driver Johnny Bute, who has been described as Britain's most reluctant aristocrat.
He prefers not to use his title, the 7th Marquis of Bute, and won the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1988 while competing as Johnny Dumfries.
One of Scotland's richest men, Lord Bute said the sale was necessary in order to "restructure family finances" and devolve assets to the next generation. His ancestral home is Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute and he said Dumfries House - which was the home of his grandmother, Eileen, Dowager Marchioness of Bute, until her death in 1993 - was "not considered central to Bute family heritage". Its value lies in the fact that the building itself and its contents have been kept unchanged for 250 years. The furniture was commissioned for the rooms, and the collection is in perfect condition.
Lord Bute welcomed the deal and the formation of the trust that will run it - the Great Steward's Dumfries House Trust - and praised the Prince for his intervention.
Mark Leishman, the Prince's deputy private secretary, said Prince Charles was "very relieved" that the house has been saved, and grateful to all those who have worked on the deal.
He added: "The Prince was aware of the story of the house over the recent years and was determined to do something to save it for the nation, first of all because of its historic significance and extraordinary contents. Almost as important is the fact that the house and its contents will become a driver for the economic regeneration of this part of south-west Scotland."
Mr Barrie said the group that concluded the deal was responsible for "one of the most amazing heritage saves in living memory".
He added: "It is the most astonishing jewel casket, a 1750s Adam house that has hardly ever been lived in with a completely intact suite of furniture including this incredible group of early Chippendale furniture as well as wonderful work by his contemparies in Edinburgh.
"It has always been an astonishing secret because although it has been sitting there for 250 years it is effectively unknown to the general public.
"Entering the house is like stepping back in time, it is like a lightning flash illuminating all that the very best taste and money could buy during the period of the Scottish Enlightenment.
"But the public have never seen it, even furniture experts have never been in it, and people's jaws will drop when they walk through its doors next year.
"Last Thursday we were left with just the weekend to conclude the extremely complex negotiations and we have been working day and night to make it happen at the 11th hour and the 59th minute and the 59th second."
The house - which was to be sold by Savills, and the furniture, which was to be auctioned by Christie's - were commissioned by the 5th Earl of Dumfries in the 1750s and its contents have barely changed since an 1803 inventory.
They include Axminster carpets, George II steel fireplace furniture and eight George II four-poster beds.
A Chippendale rosewood breakfront bookcase, which cost £47 in 1759, was expected to fetch between £2 million and £4 million at auction. The property was designed by the Adam brothers, John, Robert and James, and in addition to the Chippendale pieces, it contains work by three Edinburgh furniture makers, William Mathie, Alexander Peter and Francis Brodie.
The £25 million contribution came from The Monument Trust (£9 million), The National Heritage Memorial Fund (£7 million), The Scottish Executive (£5 million), The Art Fund (£2.25 million), The Garfield Weston Foundation (£1 million); Sir Siegmund Warburg's Voluntary Settlement (£250,000), and the Dunard Fund (£125,000).
Marcus Binney, president of SAVE Britain's Heritage, which launched the campaign, said the dispersal of one of the finest collections of great furniture in the UK had been averted at the last moment thanks to the Prince.
Alex Salmond, the First Minister, said he was delighted at the outcome of the bid, and hoped the project could boost tourism in that part of Scotland.
He added: "The house and its exquisite furniture collection are internationally acclaimed, a world-class product of the Scottish Enlightenment. I want them to become a showcase for a newly confident Scotland."