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THE
MINTO HOUSE
DEBACLE
Late in August, Minto House, Roxburghshire, was spot-listed category A; within a week two- thirds of it was demolished. In this article Dennis Rodwell outlines the background and reflects upon the unprecedented events which surrounded the conservation scandal of 1992.

If you wanted to make fools of successive Secretaries of State (in this case, for Scotland), to drive a coach and four through the legislation to protect our listed heritage, and to destroy one of the nation’s great houses, how would you go about it?
This is a cautionary tale; hopefully the effects of its telling will go some way to avoid its repetition. Much of what follows is presented here in abbreviated form and without any, or only understated, comment. If certain aspects strain readers’ credulity then, yes, you will have understood correctly.

POTTED HISTORY
This reads like an inventory of Scottish architectural history: 16th century tower encased by William Adam house (1738-43), enveloped by Archibald Elliott (1809-14), altered by ‘William Playfair (1837), enlarged with a service wing by Robert Lorimer, who also laid out the stonework terraces to the formal garden (1894-1906). All set in very private and idyllic parkiand.
The V-shaped plan of the house is (was!) highly distinctive, the elevations disappointingly bland, but the sequence of internal spaces through the point of the V quite stunning. The history has never been properly researched; the house has long been underrated.
The house has been owned, almost continuously over several centuries, by the Elliott family: the first Earl of Minto was Governor-General (1806-13) and the fourth was Viceroy (1905-10) of India; the present and sixth Earl has been Convenor (Chairman) of Borders Regional Council (which is both the planning and building control authority) since 1990.
DIARY OF EVENTS
Post Second World War: Following requisitioning, the house was leased in 1952 to Craigmount Girl’s School. In 1962, the lease (at £250 a year) became a purchase (at £20,000). The school closed in 1966:
liquidation.
14 April 1972: The present Earl, then Viscount Melgund, outbid (E15,000) a restoring purchaser (L13,000) under the Scottish blind auction system.
22 June 1972: Lord Melgund applied for listed building consent to demolish (Minto House was listed category B).
July 1972: Resigned representations from the Scottish Civic Trust and the Scottish Georgian Society, followed by determined ones from the outbid restorer. He was Mr Robin Jell, who had successfully pioneered country house restorations in Scotland (Seminal work: 15th century and later Saltoun Hall, East Lothian, converted to separate houses 1970-72). His schemes were always undertaken without any grant aid.
Late July to September 1972: The amenity bodies reversed their acquiescence, and an increasingly forceful correspondence developed concerning Mr Jell’s reiterated offer to buy. He upped his bid twice, effectively out-matching what Lord Melgund had paid.
11 September 1972: Six-page letter of personal pleadings from Lord Melgund to the Roxburgh County Planning Officer. Mr Jell’s advice to me, September 1992: “It is clear that he bought the house back fully determined to demolish it”.
24 October 1972: Listed building consent to demolish granted. The County Clerk’s covering letter stated: “the County Council came to their decision in the light of the information put before them by the County Planning Officer and by Viscount Melgund as to the impracticality of restoring the property. I would stress that they would of course give favourable consent to a restoration scheme if this were to be possible”. The application was not called in
The coffer domed stairhall circa 1950. Copyright The
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historic
Monuments of Scotland.
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