When I was a Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Strathclyde, I developed a Design Unit which was intended to introduce students as physically as well as mentally as possible to the existing architectural stock. This meant that literally taking them out into the countryside and making them examine and feel wonderful examples of Scottish architecture, to the extent that they became known as ‘Bob’s wall huggers’. But interestingly enough, these are the students who twenty years on from retiral are still sending messages or even calling at the Mill to say that they have in many cases had a wonderful career by following the principles they were taught in many different continents and countries!
Among the buildings we visited, was Blair House at Dalry. In my mind, this is one of the most beautiful buildings in Scotland, and was at the time owned by Colonel Michael Borwick and his wife Veronica. Something like thirty students arrived at the gates, dismounted from the coach and proceeded to walk towards the house, where the Colonel was waiting for us. It was an incredibly hot and sunny day, and by the time we had walked the half mile to the house, most of the students (the males anyway!), were stripped to the waist. The Colonel took one look at them and said ‘do you think you are bloody aboriginals? This is my home, get yourselves properly dressed‘, and then went on to allow us to enter the house, and see and touch the 13th, 17th, 18th and 19th Century fabrics and spaces, to the extent that a slightly uncommitted group of teenagers left wrapped in the magic of this wonderful house.
Many years later with permission, I took a group of foreign historians to see the house. The little coach stopped in the courtyard and they got out, and one lady turned, looked at the mansion house and burst into tears. And I have to say, that in a long career I have never seen that happen anywhere else, except that I did the same at the Alhambra and my wife did the same in the Renoir Gallery at the Musée d’Orsay.
I am telling these stories now, because the Borwick family sold the house and its contents a few years ago, and the local newspapers have just announced that it has just been sold again by the then purchasers to the Hunter Foundation. And in a nicely worded statement, he has pledged to keep protect and enhance this quite enchanted place.