The country houses of the gentry and aristocracy, and their associated designed landscapes, profoundly influenced the economy and environment of post-medieval Perth and Kinross. Almost all of the surviving great houses from the post-medieval period are listed buildings and hence enjoy a degree of protection not always afforded to less high-status structures. However, the extent of research that has been undertaken into these properties varies considerably.
The Historic Environment Record notes 197 country houses in Perth and Kinross. Many of these sites have experienced successive phases of development, which can at times create challenges for researchers. The post-medieval period saw major changes to the plan, construction and style of elite residences. In the early 1600s tower houses were still the commonest form of elite home in Perth and Kinross, and 62 late medieval and post-medieval tower houses are listed in the region’s Historic Environment Record. However, by the late 17th century a more ‘classical’ aesthetic was becoming increasingly popular. Kinross House (MPK3039), which was built in the 1680s, was one of the earliest examples of the new classical style in the region. Indeed, by the 18th century Kinross House was praised as ‘the first good house of regular architecture in North Britain’ (Pennant 1772). Broadly classical designs held sway until the 19th century when there was a conscious revival of elements of the traditional vernacular with the construction of so-called ‘Scottish baronial’ houses.
Most of the post-medieval country houses in Perth and Kinross have had limited physical investigation. This is partly because a large proportion of these sites are still used as residences or hotels. Some of the region’s privately owned properties also function as heritage attractions, as is the case with Scone Palace (MPK5473), but many are not open to the public. Conservation and building work provides opportunities for the physical investigation of properties which are usually occupied. For example, a degree of study of Kinross House was undertaken when it was converted from a family home into a hotel in the early 2010s (Uglow et al 2012). However, landowners and heritage professionals could have greater dialogue about what forms of investigation might take place outwith the brief window posed by major construction work. More use could also be made of the extensive textual and visual documentation held in public archives and family collections. Elite houses in the post-medieval period often produced large quantities of financial records, correspondence and plans, the majority of which remain largely unstudied. Significant and underutilised collections of estate papers from the region are held in Perth and Kinross Archive, the National Records of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland.
Recent decades have seen the subdivision of some country houses, such as Arthurstone House (MPK6809), into smaller apartments, often bringing about significant changes to interior features. In this context it should perhaps be noted the value of recording, and where possible preserving, both grand reception rooms and less high-status spaces such as service quarters. There are also a number of post-medieval country houses in Perth and Kinross which have been wholly or partially demolished, sometimes to be replaced by newer residences near the same site. At least 50 demolished country houses have been identified in the old county of Perthshire (Robertson and Robertson 2017). A few properties have undergone repeated demolition and rebuilding, such as Dupplin Castle (MPK1876). It was destroyed during conflict in the 1460s, almost entirely remodelled in the 1680s, destroyed by fire in the 1820s, damaged by another fire in the 1920s and was demolished again in the 1960s. Finally, a smaller country house was built on the same site in the 1970s.
Study of the partial remains of the region’s demolished great houses, and their surroundings, has been limited. Many of the earlier examples of these lost residences are recorded on the maps of Timothy Pont and Joan Blaeu and greater documentary and physical study of these sites would be desirable. In particular, more attention should be paid to the residences of minor lairds. The excavation of a small 17th-century laird’s house at Blarmore / Carwhin (MPK9440) demonstrated the considerable insights that physical investigation of less high-profile gentleman’s residences can bring (Atkinson 2016, 109–26). Currently, 13 sites in the region are categorised as laird’s houses in the Historic Environment Record. This is almost certainly an under-estimate of the number of buildings of this type which formerly existed.
Traditionally, popular and scholarly attention tended to focus on the architecture and furnishings of the great houses themselves. However, the late 20th century saw an increasing interest in the landscapes which surrounded them, which– triggered the creation of what is now the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes maintained by Historic Environment Scotland (HES). No fewer than 41 sites in Perth and Kinross are registered in the inventory, most of which are post-medieval in date. Perhaps the most significant of these designed landscapes is the garden and park at Drummond Castle (MPK5822; GDL00144; LB19883), near Crieff. Gardens were recorded at Drummond Castle in the medieval period, but most of what we see today was created in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. It includes what HES describes as ‘the best example of formal terraced gardens in Scotland’ (Brown 2012, 191; Historic Environment Scotland 1987). However, the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes only records the most ‘significant’ sites and as a result tends to focus on the grandest properties. There are in Perth and Kinross numerous smaller gardens and parks associated with lairdly residences which have received only the most cursory study and have negligible legal protection. Greater research into more modest designed landscapes should be a priority. Specific landscape elements, and their relationship to estate management and functioning, need more assessment and analysis. For example, analysis of the ice houses of the Invermay, Dupplin Castle and Monzie Castle estates highlighted their essential role in facilitating a reliable food supply to a large household (Cox 2004). Other less obvious landscape features may have also played important practical roles.
Even more so than houses, successive generations tend to redesign their gardens and evidence of earlier garden features can often be discerned in the midst of later landscaping schemes. For instance, partially demolished 17th-century terraces are evident in the later lawns at Monzie Castle (MPK846) (Brown 2012, 166). Much more extensive recording and physical study of such features is required, especially since gardens are often continually redesigned. Very few post-medieval gardens in Perth and Kinross have seen archaeological excavation. An exception to this pattern is Kinross House beside Loch Leven, where a walled garden a little distance from the house was excavated around the start of this century (Cox 2002). A helpful overview of the cartographic and written evidence for the most notable Scottish lost gardens has recently been provided by the work of Brown (2012). However, there is a need for more in-person survey work, which will ideally bring a greater understanding of the dating, evolution and use of many of these past designed landscapes.