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Glasserton House, Dumfries and Galloway: designs for a house for Keith Stewart, 1787, executed in part (10)

The Honourable Keith Stewart (c.1739-1795) was the fourth son of Alexander Stewart, sixth Earl of Galloway, formerly Lord Garlies (c.1694-1773). He sat as M.P. for Wigtown in 1762 and Wigtownshire in 1768 and was appointed Receiver-General of the land tax in Scotland in the same year. He also had a prominent career in the Navy, serving under Admiral Keppel in 1778 and Admiral Parker in 1781, and commanded the squadron at the relief of Gibraltar in 1782 with Lord Howe. He was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1790 and Vice Admiral in 1794. He died at Glasserton House in 1795, aged 56.

It is not clear how old the earliest rendition of Glasserton House was. It had become the seat of Lord Galloway, 5th Earl, James Stewart (d.1746) but in c.1734, the house caught fire and was left in a poor state. Lord Galloway decided to build a new house at Glasserton, contracting ‘a sort of Mason, no better than a barrow man, to build him a summer house’ (Macaulay, 1987). This ‘barrow man’ may have been the architect John Baxter (d. c.1770), who was often regarded as no more than a builder by Lord Galloway’s brother-in-law, Sir John Clerk of Penicuik. There is correspondence relating to the construction of Glasserton House in the Clerk Penicuik muniments, at the National Archives Scotland. Further correspondence suggests that the architect John Douglas may have also been involved in the rebuilding of the house.

It has been claimed that the house was formerly known as 'Galloway House' and was renamed in 1763 when Keith Stewart acquired the barony of Glasserton (Rowan, 1985). However, further research has shown that Galloway House was its own property built in Ponton, at the same time as Glasserton House for Lord Galloway’s eldest son, Alexander Stewart, Lord Garlies (later 6th Earl of Galloway) to the designs of John Douglas and John Baxter.

Correspondence relating to Glasserton House in 1738 describes the property as a ‘summer house’, 39 feet by 16 feet with a vaulted ground floor and an upper storey divided into two rooms and two closets. Both Lord Galloway and his son Lord Garlies were struggling to fund their respective housing projects and entered into debt in the process.

Lord Galloway died in 1746 and it is not clear what state he had left Glasserton House in or what changes were made when inherited by Keith Stewart in 1763. A letter of 1778 from James McWilliam to John Agnes refers to Stewart having made some attempt to alter the house, this being an improvement on a previous scheme. It is not clear what these alterations involved or why Stewart later asked the Adam office to make designs for additions to the house in 1787.

The proposed Adam office designs included a three-storey house over a basement with a central north bow, projecting south ends, and a service wing to the east. There is no north elevation drawing. There are additional small-scale drawings depicting the principal elevation and the basement and ground floors. The layout of the previous house is not completely clear in the Adam office plans, though the coloured wash might suggest proposed additions, indicating that the north half of the house (with a central bow) was existing and the south half, including the eastern kitchen range, were proposed (SM Adam volume 45/68-69). This is supported by the change in floor levels shown in the north-south section (SM Adam volume 45/66).

An engraving of the property was included in John Neale’s Views of the Seats of Noblemen… (1829) which shows that certain elements of the Adam office design had been omitted. The earth on the south front rose over the ground floor, making the proposed first floor the entrance. The entrance portico – if built – was replaced with a large nineteenth-century porch with the flanking niches replaced by arched windows. The upper levels of the central bay comprised three simple square-headed windows rather than the Diocletian windows proposed in the Adam office designs. The additions were executed in harled brick with red sandstone margins and quoining had also been added to the outer bay corners. It is not clear if the basement, or other parts of the interior were constructed as designed. The house was later given a new north front in granite. The house was demolished in c.1950-4.

Literature: J. P. Neale, Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, among other titles, 2nd series, Vol. V, 1829; A.T. Bolton, The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Volume II, Index, 1922, p. 15; A. Rowan, Designs for castles and country houses by Robert & James Adam, 1985, pp. 56-57; H. Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, 2008, pp. 109-110; J. Macaulay, The Classical County House in Scotland 1660-1800, 1987, pp. 100-103; National Archives of Scotland: GD138/3/16/1, GD18/5426/1, GD18/5426/6; D. King, The Complete Works of Robert & James Adam and Unbuilt Adam, Volume 1, 2001, pp. 106, 136; Historic Environment Scotland, ‘Glasserton House’ Canmore, online, [accessed 06 January 2023]

With thanks to the Arts Society Fund and the Art Fund’s Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant which enabled archival visits in Edinburgh to support research for this scheme; and thanks to Joe Rock for providing his current research on this building.

Louisa Catt, 2023
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