Dunira by Comrie in Perthshire, Scotland.

The local history of Dunira by Edward Rushworth.

Duneira ca. 1800.

The title of this nice little print is "Duneira [sic] - London Published March 1801 [or possibly 07] by W. Miller, Old Bond Street" and the bottom left of the picture is marked "Williams.del" and the bottom right "Merigot sculp.". The paper on which it is printed is watermarked "Turkey Mill 1824". It shows the farmstead of "Bridgend" which is now called "Kindrochet", to the west of Dunira on the banks of the river Earn with Dundurn mountain and St Fillan's Hill (the ancient Dundurn Pictish Fort) in the background. Around 1800 "Bridgend" formed part of the Dunira Estate, so the title is evidently of the general location and not the particular farm, but it would have been typical of the farmsteads in this locality.

The original Dunira farmstead must have been somewhere near where "The Square" is now at the heart of Dunira. A substantial house was indicated here in Timothy Pont's Map ca 1590. The estate belonged to the Comrie family from 1297 to 1653, and then the Drummond family. It was purchased by Henry Dundas (Member of Parliament for Edinburgh) in 1784 from James Drummond VII, along with neighbouring estates totalling 20,000 acres. It was to be a country retreat from his home at Melville Castle near Edinburgh; he also had a townhouse in Edinburgh which is now the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland. The following extract from a map by Stobie in 1783 gives an indication of the initial Dunira, then spelt Duniera and pronounced Dun-ear-a. Some locals still use the old pronunciation although now it is generally pronounced Dun-eye-ra. The original pronunciation is said to be the same as that of the Gaelic words Dun-iar-a, which means "the fort at the west water".

Map of Dunira 1783

The scenery here to-day has changed but little from then when it was described by Sarah Murray in "Beauties of Scotland" in 1799, as follows:

" I came to the most singular spot, I believe, in the world; singular to a degree, by nature, and made beautiful by a little assistance from art. The old name of Movey (which, I was told, signifies the mouth of hell); now it is called Deneira [sic] , and is in the possession of the minister, Mr Dundas, in whose hands it has been only about fourteen years. The house he built; it is modern, and extremely comfortable; it is whitened over, and erected on a very small plain, in the shape of a large round table, encircled by mountains and masses of rocks, jumbled together in a very picturesque manner; they are of all forms and dimensions, and mostly covered with wood. The round space on which the house stands is perfectly level, and is a grass-plat of rye and clover, neatly kept. The road to and from this insulated habitation, sweeps round the fairy lawn to the right and left, and is quickly lost to sight, entering into the labyrinths of rocks, leading to the high road. A shallow burn [evidently the Boltachan burn] bounds the lawn to the west, issuing from a very steep, thick wooded, narrow glen; and this burn at about a mile above the house rushes through branches of trees, over broken rocks of considerable height, forming a picturesque fall. The rustic bridge, and the walks to and from this fall, are very judiciously executed [unfortunately these are lost in decay to-day] . With some fatigue I continued the walk, from the fall of the burn to the top of the mountain, whence I had a view of the lake [presumably Loch Earn] , and the majestic mountains surrounding it. It was like coming up out of one world, to peep down into another on the contrary side of the mountain. The way back to the green round table is winding, with heath in full bloom, beautiful and fragrant; others shaded by vast plantations that have flourished amazingly, forming a delightful shade and through the branches of the trees are heard, unseen, the murmurs of the falling rills. To see all the beauties of Deneira [sic] , requires far more time than I had to spare; I did, however, see sufficient to make a very long lasting impression on my mind, particularly of its singular situation."

Henry Dundas became a most powerful parliamentarian holding numerous Offices of State, being dubbed "the uncrowned King of Scotland". In 1775 he was appointed Lord Advocate and in 1791 he became Secretary of State for the Home Department during the French Revolution. On Christmas Eve 1802 he was created First Viscount Melville and Baron of Dunira, but in 1806 he was impeached and charged with corruption. He relinquished all public offices, but on his acquittal he was reinstated to the Privy Council. Dunira House was reconstructed and doubled in size between 1803 and 1809 at a cost of 11,802. Viscount Melville died at Dunira on 29 December 1811 aged 69, and a granite obelisk was erected to his memory on Dunmore Hill to the east of the estate.

The estate was sold by Lord Melville's son in 1824 to Sir Robert Dundas of Beechwood. He had the walled garden built in 1826 with the West Lodge added in 1827, and these survive today. However, the site of Dunira House was alongside the Boltachan burn which caused constant flooding. Sir Robert died in 1835 to be succeeded by his son, Sir David. The gardener's cottage was built next to the walled garden in 1845; this is where we lived for 25 years until 2008 when we moved to Edinburgh. It has hardly changed externally and is a grade B listed building of special architectural and historical interest.

Dunira 1846

This extract from the Dunira Estate plans of 1846 shows the location of the old Dunira House to the south of the walled garden with the gardener's cottage to the east and the Boltachan burn to the west, i.e. to the left. Two nice pencil sketches of the house were made by Gladys Graham Murray in 1853 and these can be seen in the A K Bell Library (Local Studies Section) at Perth under reference "Oversize L 741". The library also holds copies of the entire plans of the estate (including Comrie) in 1846 by courtesy of the present owner of the estate (Mr G Gordon) to whom I am greatly indebted for permission to copy them.

Due to the repeated flooding of Dunira House, Sir David ordered its demolition and replacement on higher ground even though the Boltachan burn had been diverted and separated from the Allt Eas an Aoin burn prior to 1846. Presumably the Boltachan burn must previously have flowed on the north side of Target wood to join the Allt Eas an Aoin burn. The new Dunira House was built in 1852 a half mile to the east of the old house, and it was extended in 1864, with extensive policies (landscaped gardens) and a Pinetum by 1870. It is interesting to note that in 1883 it is recorded that there were three Wellingtonia gigantea the largest reaching a height of 36 feet 6 inches; it must be this one which is now just over 100 feet in height alongside the estate roadway. Sir David was succeeded by his son Sir Sidney James Dundas in 1877 when the estate was about 5,600 acres in size. A row of worker's cottages and new east steading ("Garrichrew" farmstead) were added in 1862 and 1879 respectively. Sir Sidney died in 1904 and was succeeded by his brothers Charles (until 1908) and George. The following extract from the Ordnance Survey map revised in 1896 shows the main part of Dunira as it was then.

Map of Dunira 1896

The estate was bought in 1919 by the father of Mr William Gilchrist Macbeth as his son's wedding present. He must have immediately had the northern remains of the original house site re-developed for estate worker's quarters which is now known as "The Square" as this bears the date 1919 above its entrance archway together with a coat of arms . He also commissioned terraced gardens around the new Dunira house which were two years in the making (1920-22). These were illustrated and described in an article in "Country Life", 21st March 1931 (pps. 379-382), but they are all now derelict. He had inherited a fortune from his father who built ships on the Clyde during the First World War. In the period of mass unemployment in the late 1920's he had a trainload of unemployed Glasgow ship workers discharged every day at the Dunira railway station to transform the run down Dunira Estate. One of the tasks they performed was the planting of the beech hedge on either side of the main road which is such a feature even now. He had a 9 hole golf course, a putting green, and a cricket pitch made, and even employed a full time Cricket Coach (a Yorkshire man at that!). An attempt to sell the estate of nearly 7,000 acres was made in 1937 but abandoned presumably due to the outbreak of war.

Photo of Dunira House

This photograph, taken from an old postcard, shows the magnificent Dunira House which was a military convalescent hospital during the Second World War. It was destroyed by fire in 1948, apart from the east side of the house and its offices which were demolished about 2005. After Mr Macbeth's death in October 1948, 10 months after the fire, the estate was sold in 1950 to Mr L W Arnott of Harworth-on-Tees, Darlington. It then passed in 1952 to Mrs Dorothy Arnott (later to her daughter Mrs Daphne Scott-Harden) and others who commenced selling parts of the estate into various private ownerships.

Today there are just over 30 privately owned separate residences on the estate. "The Square" comprises several houses and flats and externally must look much the same now as when rebuilt in 1919. There are other old estate houses and some new ones. However, the main part of the estate comprises farmland and forestry, which after various changes in ownership and separate sales of forestry, was sold in 2007 and again in 2009. Dunira estate to-day is owned by the Enggaard family of Denmark - see Dunira estate. The cottages and farmstead built in the late 1800's were rebuilt, probably about 1963 I think to form the present Whitehouse of Dunira and Dunira Home Farm with two cottages.

The Dundas family of Dunira have a private burial ground on the estate containing 12 graves and memorials, the last burial being that of Sir Robert Dundas (1881-1981). The small walled graveyard is surrounded by yew trees on the edge of the forest to the west of Dunira. Four baronets of the Dundas family are buried in the cemetery. Among the females are Adele Blanche Dundas b 1902 d 1974 and her infant sister Lucy Catherine Dundas b 1884 d 1885 (She died on a ship on its way to India). They were the daughters of Matilda Louisa Mary Dundas b 1859 d 1945. There are also grave stones bearing the names of Dorothea Emily Victoria Wiseman, Lady Dundas, b 1887 d 1963 and Catherine Margaret Whyte Melville, Lady Dundas b 1820 d 1856. Another stone bears the name of Georgiana Catherine Dundas b 1843 d 1854. It would seem that the cemetery was only used from about 1820.

The estate remains a place of outstanding natural beauty and tranquillity.

To see a map showing the location and names of the various residences at Dunira at present please click here .

Some References.

"The Dundas Despotism" by Michael Fry 1992.
National Library of Scotland: SW Sheet Map 91/90, Perth & Clackmannan, 1783, by Stobie.
"The Landscape Garden in Scotland 1735-1835" by A A Tait, Edinburgh University Press, 1980.
Extract from "Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland" Dunira visit on 22 April 1886
"The Gaelic Topography of Scotland" by James A Robertson, 1869 page 312.
"Beauties of Scotland", 1799, by Sarah Murray, at page 41.
"Woods, Forests, and Estates of Perthshire ......." by Thomas Hunter, 1883.

Links to other sites of interest

Dunira on Wikipedia - History of Dunira estate .
Dunira estate - Dunira estate to-day is owned by the Enggaard family of Denmark.
Dunira Crags - Rock Climbing.
Lost Gardens - this is the Channel 4 TV book published in 2000 and available from Amazon Books through this link. It has an excellent chapter about the Dunira gardens with super photographs.
The Melville Papers at the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester.
The Melville Papers in the Library of the University of Western Australia.

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Updated September 2011 .