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Culzean Castle, Ayrshire: designs for additions to a castle-style building and its stables and walled gardens, along with a home farm, viaduct, and interior decoration and furniture for David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassilis, c.1776-87, executed in part (57)

David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassilis (1727-1792) was a patron of architecture and major landowner across Scotland and England. He was the eighteenth child and third surviving son of Sir John Kennedy of Culzean, 2nd Baronet, and Jean Douglas. He studied at the University of Glasgow before qualifying as an advocate in 1752, and later becoming a public examinator for the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh. He returned to Ayrshire in 1762 when his brother, Thomas Kennedy, 9th Earl of Cassilis, purchased the estate of Newark Castle for him.

He was elected MP for Ayrshire in 1768, and a Scottish representative peer in 1776 which he held until 1790. Politically, he was directed by the Earl of Loudoun and James Stuart Mackenzie but he appears to have never spoken in the House of Commons. On a personal level, he was convivial, described as ‘a good, honest, merry fellow indeed’ by his friend James Boswell, but ‘one so totally incapable of the business of legislation’. In 1775, he succeeded his brother as Earl of Cassilis and endeavoured to turn Culzean Castle into an impressive home to the designs of Robert Adam, incurring an enormous amount of debt. He died in December 1792, before the castle was completed, and was buried in the collegiate Church of Maybole, Ayrshire.

Culzean Castle is situated on a rocky cliff facing onto the Firth of Clyde. It appears to have been first mentioned in the fifteenth century, as ‘Coif Castle’ or the ‘House of Cove’ in reference to the caves below the clifftop estate. The fortified tower house appears to date from the late sixteenth century when the estate was given to Sir Thomas Kennedy by his brother, the 4th Earl of Cassilis. Over time, the estate became more familial than defensive, with terraces and pleasure gardens and became known as ‘Cullean Castle’ before taking on its present name ‘Culzean Castle’ in the nineteenth century.

In 1744, Sir John Kennedy of Culzean, 3rd Bart, died and the Culzean estate passed on to his brother Sir Thomas Kennedy. Sir Thomas Kennedy also inherited the title 9th Earl of Cassilis in 1762, after the death of his cousin John, 8th Earl of Cassilis in 1759, following a lawsuit in the House of Lords judged by Lord Mansfield. Culzean at this time comprised an L-shaped tower house with some outbuildings and offices. Sir Thomas immediately set to making improvements to the estate, inserting a new dining room on the ground floor to face onto the garden terraces, with a smaller dining room to the rear, and building stables with a central, pedimented tower gate (later altered by Adam) in c.1750-53. In 1766-7, he rebuilt the roofs and turrets of the tower house so that he could raise the height and remodel the top floor, and added a two-storey, seven-bay office block to the north side of the house, facing the Firth, containing estate offices and a billiard room. All of these are shown in Robert Adam’s sketch of the existing site in c.1776 (SM Adam volume 21/6), and in an etching by John Clerk of Eldin.

Sir Thomas had also forged a link with the Adam office, asking James Adam to make a design for a small villa (this is in James Adam’s sketchbook at Penicuik House), which was not executed, but Moss suggests it was for a winter retreat in Maybole rather than Culzean. Sanderson suggests that he had approached Robert and James for a scheme to transform the Castle in the early 1770s but that it was set aside when he died in 1775, however, there is no known evidence to support this. David inherited the estate from his brother and within a year employed Adam to make designs for alterations to the existing house.

Robert Adam’s sketch of the existing site appears to have been the first drawing that he produced for Culzean. He wrote in 1776 to Sir Rowland Winn of Nostell, that he was to visit ‘the Earl of Cassilis who has an old Castle that he wishes to have my advice about.’ Adam’s work at Culzean extended beyond the house, to include offices, stables, walls, and viaducts, over a sixteen-year period. His work on the house can be separated into two distinct phases.

The first phase began in 1777, when Adam made a design for a new castle complex (these Adam office designs are in the National Trust for Scotland’s collection and there is a south elevation in the RIBA Collection). The topography of the site was extremely limited, and Adam could only extend the castle to the east and west sides of the existing L-shaped tower house and within the constraints of the existing offices. He first built a new kitchen wing, to the northeast of the house, with an east-end bow. He then turned the tower house into a rectangular castle-style house with corner turrets and an additional lower storey, facing onto the garden front with an entrance at the east end.

The principal rooms were shared across the ground and first floors. Adam converted the existing dining room, facing onto the garden terrace, into a grand eating room with apsidal ends. Between 1778 and 1782, the Adam office made a series of designs for the interiors of the principal rooms of the new house, most of which have survived and are in the Soane Collection. In 1779, Adam also replaced the existing laundry tower at the northwest end of the offices with a circular brewhouse with a conical roof, flanked by adjoining bedchamber wings and a bath house.

During this time, the tower gate belonging to the stables was heightened and crenelated, the existing retaining walls and terraces were embellished and crenelated, and the walled garden was moved to its present site. It is also suggested by King and Beazley, that in 1777, a new farm was also designed and constructed by Adam, however, Moss gives a date of 1788, during the second phase of building work on the castle. The Home Farm was located to the northeast of the Castle and comprised a model farm of four T-shaped blocks arranged around a central square yard. The Adam office drawings for the farm are in the National Trust for Scotland’s collection, who have since renovated the buildings into a visitor centre, and this author has also discovered a preliminary design in the Soane Museum collection (SM Adam volume 1/70). King refers to the existence of two other preliminary designs, however, neither relate to this site. In 1780, Adam also made designs for a viaduct and ruined arch which were executed to a variant design.

The house and estate buildings were completed in 1782. Hugh Cairncross had been the Master of Works and his brother, William, had also helped. It was William who had taken the Adam office designs for the chimneypieces from their London office to Scotland in 1778.

The second phase began in c.1784-5, when Robert Adam made designs for a north extension to the completed Castle. This included the removal of Sir Thomas Kennedy’s offices that had previously been retained. Adam initially proposed to add a new two-storey range of offices, with a central rotunda offering panoramic views out to the Firth (SM Adam volume 37/8-9). The proposed north extension adjoined the existing kitchen and brew house at each end. The connection to the existing house, however, was not so well-designed, with a large lightwell on one side.

Harris, amongst others, has suggested that this must have been a sticking point for David. These designs were not executed, and instead Adam made more proposals in 1787, removing the existing staircases at the north end of the house and replacing them with a grand circular staircase, which would become one of Adam’s most famous masterpieces. He proposed an entirely new north front, creating a more uniform elevation, with the initial idea of the rotunda retained. This provided a far more attractive, albeit expensive, solution for David and work soon began in 1788. There are ceiling plans for the saloon at the RIBA and within the National Trust for Scotland’s collection.

The works, however, were not completed before the deaths of Robert Adam and David Kennedy in 1792. The estate was inherited by Kennedy’s cousin, Captain Archibald Kennedy, 11th Earl of Cassilis. Archibald died in 1794 and the estate passed to his son Archibald, 12th Earl of Cassilis, later 1st Marquess of Ailsa. It was under the management of the 12th Earl and his wife that the Castle was completed, with the help of Hugh Cairncross. Adam had proposed a new library in the north extension, with the intention to convert the existing one into a study, however, this was never carried out and the library remained on the ground floor of the existing Castle. The proposed library was instead built by the Marquess as a grand bedroom, named the ‘Royal Suite’ as the Marquess had close connections with William IV (Harris, p. 327).

The completed Castle and its grounds were documented in panoramas by the famous Scottish landscape painter, Alexander Nasmyth. The parkland was continually developed, and additional garden buildings were added in the Gothic style, some by the architect Robert Lugar.

In 1877, the Edinburgh-based architectural firm, Wardrop and Reid were hired to make alterations and additions to the existing Castle. A new porch, drawing office and model room were added to the east front, and a new west nursery wing incorporated the existing brew house range. The hall and buffet room were converted into one large entrance hall, the library and dressing room were converted into one large dining room and the eating room was converted into a library/sitting-room. The interior design was carried out in a ‘neo-Adam style’ including a papier-mâché ceiling for the new dining room by Jackson & Sons of London, based on Adam’s design for the music room at 20 St James’s Square. Parts of Adam’s interiors were relocated to other rooms, or reproduced.

The Castle remained under the ownership of the Marquesses of Ailsa until 1945 when the estate was given to the National Trust for Scotland and remains under their custodianship. As part of this, a flat was created on the second floor for General Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the Second World War, as an offering of thanks.

A. Bolton, ‘Culzean Castle – I’, Country Life, 4 September 1915, pp. 328-335; A. Bolton, ‘Culzean Castle – II’, Country Life, 11 September 1915, pp. 360-367; A.T. Bolton, The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, pp. 236-277, Index, pp. 8-9; National Trust of Scotland, Culzean Guidebook, 1968; 1978; 2005; A. Tait, Robert Adam and Scotland, The Picturesque Drawings, 1972, pp. 11-12; E. Beazley, ‘The Culzean Park Centre: a New Use for Robert Adam’s Home Farm’, The National Trust Year Book 1976-77, pp. 1-11; A. Rowan, Designs for Castles and Country Villas by Robert and James Adam, 1985, pp. 128-130; M. Sanderson, Robert Adam in Ayrshire, 1993, pp. 18-24; A. Tait, Robert Adam, The Creative Mind: from the sketch to the finished drawing, 1996, pp. 17, 30; S. Astley, Robert Adam’s Castles, 2000, pp. 20, 29-32; D. King, The Complete Works of Robert & James Adam and Unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume 1, pp. 7-8, 14-16, 18, 22, 28, 156, 162, 165-8, 330-334, 405; Volume 2, p. 8; E. Harris, The Genuis of Robert Adam, His Interiors, 2001, pp. 317-333; M. Moss, The ‘Magnificent Castle’ of Culzean and the Kennedy Family, 2002; E. Harris, The Country Houses of Robert Adam, From the Archives of Country Life, 2007, pp. 128-133; N. Haynes, ‘Whimsical but Magnificent – Robert Adam’s Ruined Arch and Viaduct at Culzean Castle, Ayrshire’, in Essays in Scots and English Architectural History, (eds.) D. Jones & S. McKinstry, 2009, pp. 23-46; J. Musson, ‘Romantic Genius’, Country Life, 19 August 2015 pp. 94-98; D. King, Adam Ceilings: A Geometric Study, 2020, pp. 41-42, 128-32; B. Riley, The Bridges of Robert Adam, A Fanciful and Picturesque Tour, 2022, pp. 94-105; M. Moss, ‘Kennedy, David, tenth earl of Cassilis (1727–1792)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online, 2008, [accessed 23 January 2024]; E. Lady Haden-Guest, ‘Kennedy, David (c.1730-92), of Newark, Ayr’, The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, online, [accessed 23 January 2024]

Louisa Catt, 2024
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