INTRODUCTION · THE HOUSE · THE GROUNDS · ABOUT THIS SITE
David Bryce and the Scottish Baronial Country House
David Bryce is often described as the originator of the Scottish Baronial style of building. It would be more accurate to describe him as its greatest exponent, as the style can be traced back to the eighteenth century castle style of Robert Adam, and Bryce learned much from his teacher William Burn during his apprenticeship. Bryce's Scottish Baronial buildings are collections of different architectural elements fom diverse sources mixed together in a way that can sometimes seem random, yet which when combined are unmistakeably his. Each house or project was unique, but they used elements drawn from a familiar repertoire: bartizans (square protruding towers) at the corners, crow-stepped gables, canted bays, tourelles (small round towers) and often a large unifying central tower. Many of these elements were taken from Robert Billings' Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland, published between 1845 and 1852. Bryce was not limited to this architectural style, as his fine classical commercial buildings in Edinburgh show, but it is the Scottish Baronial which he made his own and which was most imitated.
One of Bryce's favourite earlier motifs was based on this bartizan at Pinkie Castle, from Billings' Antiquities
Bryce was born in Edinburgh in 1803. His father was an architect and builder, and gave David his first training. On the death of his elder brother, who was a clerk to William Burn, David took his place aged twenty-two. Burn's architectural practice was responsible for many grand country houses, and Bryce took well to this style and mode of work, leading to over fifteen years of collaberation to his rise from clerk to partner. In 1841 Burn left for London, and their partnership was formally disolved in 1845. Prior to that, their styles of building had diverged, with Bryce's baronial being more solid. Over the next thirty-five years Bryce was responsible for over 100 country houses, but as nearly all were in Scotland, he has not gained the recognition of some of his contemporaries in England. His practice trained many architects now famous in their own right. Bryce died in 1876 aged 73, and it is likely that he would have been knighted the following year had he lived.
To say that Craigends was one of Bryce's finest houses requires some justification if it is to be taken seriously. It reflected the mature Bryce style (he was by then fifty-four), and was a rare combination of a commission which allowed him to start from scratch and which required no curtailment of design for budgetary reasons. Even many significant Bryce houses, such as Balfour Castle, were extensions of existing buildings, and it was usual for some features to be reduced or omitted to keep a project within cost. Indeed at Craigends Bryce had the luxury of refining the design over a period of time including during construction, which because of its increased expense to the customer only happened a few times in his career. The initial watercolours of the proposal were made in 1857, and the architect's stone on the house gives a date of 1859 for completion.
Bryce's proposal for Craigends' entrance gable (left, © RCAHMS), which was executed with minor alterations to the corbelling, was clearly influenced by Fyvie Castle, as engraved in Billings (right)
Bryce's country houses were not just innovative on the outside. Inside their plan was suited to the new living arrangements of the Victorians, based on ideas Bryce had picked up from Burn. The family rooms were kept separate from the servants' quarters, and the guests had their own suites. The bustle of the entrance was kept some distance from the peace of the principal rooms, and these distinct parts were brought together with elegant corridors and staircases on a grand scale. All these features reflected the change in r�le that the country house had undergone by the Victorian era.
The original country house was defensive in style, a stronghold for the local landowner. There were a huge number of such houses across Britain - within a mile of Craigends can still be found Houston House and Barochan House, both large country houses. By the nineteenth century, the risk of an armed attack from your neighbour was significantly reduced, fortunes were being made, and the ideal thing to do with your money was to turn the family home into a more pleasant and impressive place. People who had made their fortunes rather than inheriting them also wanted to build their own country houses, and Scotland was the fashionable place to do it. The public imagination had been fired by Walter Scott's romantic highland imagery, and Queen Victoria's love of Balmoral encouraged this ideal.
With labour still relatively cheap, vast numbers of country houses were extended or demolished and rebuilt from scratch. Once one had been modernised, all neighbouring houses felt obliged to follow suit. Houston House, for example, was redeveloped soon after Craigends, but this was not a success and it was not until it was again rebuilt under David Thomson in 1892 that it took on its present form, with the obvious Baronial influence.
Bryce's own houses were not limited to that one style. Many extended buildings, such as Ackergil Tower or Blair Castle, found inspiration in the style of the original houses. Other houses were equally well executed in different styles, such as the Tudor Revival Whitehill House.
The heyday of such houses drew to a close between the first and second world wars. Large houses needed a large staff to keep them running, and labour costs started to rise as people decided to abandon traditional careers in favour of better pay in the city. Ancestral fortunes do not last for ever, and the introduction of inheritance tax combined with general increases in taxation made that pinch felt by even the wealthiest families. Craigends' fate is indicatative of the shift in British society in the twentieth century, as ownership of the land has passed from the few to the many.
Craigends is perhaps a worst case scenario, and a lesson still to be learned in some quarters. While some houses have been deemed impractical and demolished partly or completely by "developers", many others have found new ways of surviving. Opening to the public is a common way of raising funds (or sometimes a condition of receiving grants), either privately or as part of an organisation such as the National Trust for Scotland. Other country houses have found new r�les as hotels, corporate headquarters or even film sets. James Rhind's extravagent Ardverikie, for example, substituted for Balmoral in the film "Mrs Brown", and is currently on BBC TV as Glenbogle in "Monarch of the Glen". Thankfully many fine Scottish country houses by Bryce and others still survive, and it is by visiting and appreciating them that we can help ensure their continued survival.
All content © 2002 Alastair Disley. No part of this site may be reproduced without prior permission.