Wondering where to go to get a glimpse – with a distinctive Scots accent – of that seductive Downton Abbey lifestyle? These houses were not necessarily built in the Edwardian era but they all have glorious interiors characteristic of the period, and, in some cases allow a glimpse of the servant’s quarters.
My favourite: a beautiful eighteenth century house tarted up by Sir Robert Lorimer for the Shairp family. Complete with the original kitchen, butler’s pantry and a fabulous Edwardian bathroom with sanitary fittings by Crapper, no less. The bathroom also features an interesting display of taxidermy frogs above the lavatory which is a quirky note in a house otherwise distinguished by great good taste.
This is a sleeping beauty of a house, tucked away in a suburb of Edinburgh. It’s an old Scots Tower house, extended in the nineteenth century and then restored and refurnished by a wealthy Edinburgh couple, the Reids. He had made a fortune from supplying gas fittings to the Pullman Company and railway carpets, no doubt got at a good price, are featured in the house along with their eclectic collections. The Reids were particularly kind to their household staff and it is worth trying to make a visit when the domestic offices are open.
Manderston is a bit of TV star, having featured in a living history experiment, The Edwardian Country House. It owes its present grandeur to former owner, Sir James Millar who was anxious to show he could rival his aristocratic father-in-law’s house, Kedleston, a Robert Adam masterpiece in Derbyshire. With a silver-plated staircase and a dedicated ball room, the results were opulent if a trifle on the vulgar side.
Built for the publisher Blackie and his family, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Hill House in Helensburgh represents the other end of the style spectrum. This the country house at its most advanced and artistic. As well as being uber modern it still has its roots in all those old Scottish Tower Houses.
5. Fyvie Castle
Fyvie Castle is another restoration job – bought by millionaire Andrew Forbes-Leith in 1889. He had made a fortune in the US in steel and added a tower (as you do) as well as sprucing up the interiors. The house is a tour-de-force in Scots baronial luxury and a great showcase for Forbes-Leith’s astonishing good collection of paintings.
6. Skibo Castle
Another American fortune, but this time Skibo was built from scratch by Andrew Carnegie. Skibo. Operating now as a very exculsive country house
hotel, Skibo is probably the closest one can get to experiencing the Edwardian luxury lifestyle. It’s on my to do list.
This is an entrancing Robert Lorimer house on Loch Fyne. I’ve never been but from the website it looks completely magical. Lorimer is often called the Scot’s Lutyens – and with good reason.
Next to the peerless Burrell collection, Pollock House is an eighteenth century mansion house with a fascinating servants basement to explore. You can also have your tea in the magnificent turn of the century kitchen. Sir John Maxwell inherited the house in 1888 and brought it up to scratch, including creating a magnificent billiard room – an essential spot in the Edwardian Country House.
There are also Highland Cattle in the country park which surrounds Pollock. These are not particularly Edwardian, of course, but count as an added bonus.