The Scottish islands of Rum, Eigg, Canna and Muck are collectively known as the Small Isles. A landmark book by the archaeologist Professor John Hunter is shining new light on the archipelago, taking in 10,000-year-old human settlements established for trading ‘magical’ bloodstone, to the murders of early Christian pilgrims, the social and economic devastation of the Clearances and the construction of elite Victorian sporting retreats. The following extract is from the section on Rum.
In 1888 John Bullough, an extremely wealthy Lancastrian textile machinery manufacturer, bought the island, which he had rented for a number of years from a Campbell owner. He died three years later, bequeathing Rum to his eldest son George, who built the present Kinloch Castle. The life of the Bullough family, with its relatively humble origins in Accrington, its marriages, divorces, intrigues, world travel and general ostentation has been well researched, and Rum is pivotal to much of its story. George appears to have been uncomfortable with the title of his new inheritance: he was known as ‘Rum’ in the highland tradition of ownership and, believing that he would become ridiculed, attempted to change it to ‘Rhum’ – a resurrection of a perceived former Gaelic name for the island, but one of dubious linguistic correctness. George’s efforts were only partly successful – the new name appears to have been used sporadically, causing confusion to some writers and cartographers ever since. A cursory view of the references at the end of this volume show how the variation has unfortunately persisted. The Laird of Muck had similar issues with his own title, but was less successful in resolving them.
The architects commissioned to build the castle, the firm Leeming and Leeming, had already won the Glasgow Municipal Buildings Competition in 1881 and had also designed the extension to the Admiralty on Horse Guards Parade in London. The castle was completed in 1897. The new building was on a par with Mar Lodge, the Earl of Fife’s shooting lodge in Aberdeenshire, but took the form of an extensive regency villa with baronial overtones built using Arran sandstone and with elaborate crenellations. It lacked perhaps the ‘taste and judgement’ of Kinloch House, the castle’s predecessor, and has been described, not entirely unfairly, as ‘being reminiscent of a metropolitan railway station’ in view of its imposing covered walkway, with proportions that were ‘self-consciously awkward’. In short, few people find it aesthetically stimulating. Its situation, among earlier plantations, was convenient and sheltered rather than romantic, hemmed in by mountains and moorland on the landward sides. There appears to be a sharp difference between a landscape of ‘wild forests’ alluded to in the Statistical Account and the seemingly treeless environment inherited by MacLean one century later when the creation of plantations was implemented. The newly designed landscape featured an octagonal gazebo overlooking the harbour as part of the crenellated outer wall as well as a service infrastructure including small dwellings, extensive steading and stables, a dairy, kennels, icehouse, and a garden nursery which has the appearance of a Nissen hut. The castle’s maintenance was heavily labour intensive. Archie Cameron, who was a boy at the time, records a permanent outdoor staff of 40 – 50 on the island, plus about another 30 during the ‘season’. The two populations, the islanders and the castle staff, were socially separate.
Kinloch Castle was designed as one of the ultimate shooting lodges in Scotland and furnished with commensurate opulence. The ground plan was of paramount importance, providing a large living hall from which separate male and female domains radiated. It was built for a wealthy bachelor in his late twenties (and of playboy inclination) and for partying; prominence was given to the male spheres of a galleried living hall, dining room, smoking room and, of course, billiard room. There were also two gun rooms and a business room. The ladies were confined to a drawing room, boudoir and morning room leading into a conservatory. The building was very efficiently planned around a central service courtyard with the service accommodation at the north-west corner. Much of the furniture was supplied by Shoolbred & Co., a London firm, of which the partner Walter Shoolbred was a sailing and shooting friend of the owner. In keeping with the social needs of himself and his guests, George Bullough incorporated the most modern of Edwardian technologies. He was one of the first in Scotland to use electricity; he installed central heating, an internal telephone system, a novel ‘Orchestrion’ (a type of electric organ), and the latest in decorated toilet and bathroom wares.
George Bullough’s mode of transport was the vast Clyde-built steamer, the Rhouma, which was said to be the length of the castle itself, in which his guests were transported to and from the island via a smaller tender which berthed at the stone-built pier still visible today. He was knighted in 1901 for having it fitted out as a hospital ship during the Boer War and, now with title as well as wealth, became extremely eligible, marrying into society through Monica de la Pasture (formerly Mrs Monica Charrington – by a previous marriage – of the brewing family) two years later. His marriage and the subsequent introduction of a female presence in the Castle impacted on the partial redesign of the layout. In 1906 Leeming and Leeming were recommissioned and prepared plans for an extension to the castle, providing two new suites of bedroom and dressing room, with servants’ rooms above, on the west side above the courtyard entrance. This relatively modest addition was combined with an extensive programme of redecoration doubtless under the influence and guidance of Lady Monica herself: the drawing room and boudoir were joined together; the dark Jacobean panelling was painted white; new Adam-style fireplaces were installed, and loose covers were used to disguise the wooden furniture. The morning room became Lady Monica’s sitting room (or the Napoleon Room on the basis of her unconfirmed connection to Napoleon’s sister) and was furnished with French neo-classical furniture. The ballroom appears also to have been ‘feminised’ at this time.
When first built the principal bedroom suite appears to have been above the dining room in this bachelor house, and this is the only suite with direct access to the service wing. Lady Monica, however, chose the south-east corner for her suite. The new principal bedroom suite was created by combining two bedrooms and an adjoining bathroom. New Adam-style fireplaces were installed. The two new bedroom suites, now known as the oak rooms, were decorated with ‘antique’ salvaged panelling, some of which is said to have come from Wandsworth Palace.
Although architecturally hardly of the first flight, the great glory and unique feature of Kinloch is the survival of its original contents. Although many items have been moved internally, the lavish contents remained largely complete when Lady Monica passed Rum to the Nature Conservancy Council (now Scottish Natural Heritage) in 1957. Sir George died playing golf in France in 1939 and her visits to the castle were sporadic thereafter. She also presented a small number of items to the National Museums Scotland including a set of 17th century Brussels tapestries, a Japanese bronze of a cockerel and chickens, a four-poster bed said to belong to Marie Antoinette (which had to be burnt because of woodworm) and a magnificent ivory eagle.
The Small Isles is published by Historic Environment Scotland, priced at £25.00 and is available from all major book stockists.
John Hunter OBE is Emeritus Professor of Ancient History and Archaeology at the University of Birmingham and Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. For decades he has undertaken extensive survey work across Scotland, with a particular focus on the Northern and Western Isles.