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Barnbougle Castle, Dalmeny, West Lothian: unexecuted designs for enlarging the house for Neil Primrose, 3rd Earl of Rosebery, 1774 (12)

Signed and dated

  • 1774


Originally a thirteenth-century defensive castle on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth built by the Norman, Mowbray family, Barnbougle was a small sixteenth-century L-shaped tower house by the time it was purchased in 1662 by Sir Archibald Primrose of Carrington, 1st Baronet, and Lord Justice - General of Scotland - the founder of the Rosebery family. Designs for alterations and enlargement of this building were not made until 1774, when Robert Adam was employed by Neil Primrose, 3rd Earl of Rosebery (1729-1814).

The 3rd Earl was the fourth son of the 2nd Earl. He had a mercantile career in London, until - following the deaths of his brothers - he succeeded his father in 1755. Following this he served in the House of Lords as a Scottish representative peer in 1768-84. In 1764 he had married Susan Ward (d 1771), the sister and heiress of Sir Randal Ward, 6th Baronet of Bixley, Norfolk, and in 1775 he married again, Mary Vincent (d 1823), the daughter of Sir Francis Vincent, 7th Baronet of Stoke D’Abernon, Surrey. Primrose family tradition links Rosebery's patronage of Adam with his courtship of Mary Vincent in 1774, the year before their marriage. According to Rowan, the extant Adam drawings for Barnbougle support the idea that these designs were made to impress Mary Vincent, being 'more for show than as the basis for a real building programme', owing to the lack of survey drawings, or plans for the upper storeys. This, however, is inconclusive as, despite its size, the Adam drawings collection at Sir John Soane's Museum is far from comprehensive.

Adam produced two close variant schemes for enlarging Barnbougle, with the older, sixteenth-century tower at the apex of a triangular plan. The first scheme is represented in six Adam drawings within the Rosebery collection, comprising two plans and four elevations, and the second scheme in the drawings collection at Sir John Soane's Museum. The design was beautifully described by Stephen Astley as having 'embodied all the essential characteristics of Adam's castle style with its triangular plan, picturesque skyline and inventive massing'. However, Adam's scheme was not executed.

Repairs were made to Barnbougle in 1789-91 by the carpenter, James Salisbury (ND), whom Adam had sent from London in 1774 to supervise the construction of the Edinburgh Register House. However, Adam is not thought to have been involved with these works. By 1814, Barnbougle was considerably dilapidated, and it was replaced as the principal Rosebery seat by Dalmeny House, built in 1814-17 on a nearby site by the 4th Earl, and to designs by William Wilkins (1778-1839). Dalmeny remains the seat of the Earls of Rosebery. The ruins of Barnbougle were accdentally partly demolished with explosives in 1829, and henceforth provided a ruinous folly. In 1881, these ruins were used as the basis for a new house in the Baronial style by the 5th Earl, to designs by James Maitland Wardrop (1823-82) and James Reid (1828-83), and this survives as part of the Dalmeny estate.

A wooden model of Adam's unexecuted scheme for Barnbougle - as shown in the extant drawings at Sir John Soane's Museum - was made in 1996 by George Rome Innes and James Wink, and exhibited at Sir John Soane's Museum in Robert Adam's castles (2000).

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 3, 86; A.A. Tait, 'Robert Adam's Picturesque architecture', Burlington Magazine, June 1981, p. 421; A. Rowan, Designs for castles and country villas by Robert Adam, 1985, pp. 15, 98-101; J. Ingamells, A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy: 1701-1800, 1997, p. 822; S. Astley, Robert Adam's castle's, 2000, p. 27; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume 2, pp. 138, 151-56, 161; C. Mosley (ed.), Burke's peerage, baronetage & knightage, 2003, p. 3398-99; 'Barnbougle Castle, City of Edinburgh', British listed buildings online

Frances Sands, 2014



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

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Contents of Barnbougle Castle, Dalmeny, West Lothian: unexecuted designs for enlarging the house for Neil Primrose, 3rd Earl of Rosebery, 1774 (12)