Last weekend was Midlothian's Doors Open Day, and we availed ourselves of the opportunity to see Arniston House for free. This estate has been home to the Dundases of Arniston since 1571, although in those days a tower house stood on the site. The current house was started in 1726 by William Adam and is one of the earliest houses in the classical style in Scotland.
Waiting to Visit Arniston House:
We were taken inside by the owner of the house and her daughter, then given a tour that was all the better for our guides being the descendants of the original builders of the house: the pictures on the wall were not some remote historical figures, but their great grandparents.
Arniston is small compared to the likes of Culzean, but is perfectly formed, with the most beautiful, shimmering hand-painted Chinese wallpaper in the dining room. The Dundases were big in law, and as such were intimitely involved with running Scotland in the absence of a Parliament from 1707. The most famous of the clan was Henry Dundas, elevated to Viscount Melville in 1802. Like many during the Enlightenment, he was a colourful character, as James Boswell's diaries show:
“I went to Parliament House a little after nine. I found the Solicitor, who had been with us last night and drank heartily, standing in the outer hall looking very ill. He told me he was not able to stay, so he went home. He had struggled to attend to his business, but it would not do. Peter Murray told me he had seen him this morning come out of a dram shop in the Back Stairs, in all his formalities of large wig and cravat. He had been trying to settle his stomach. In some countries such an officer of the Crown as Solicitor General being seen in such a state would be thought shocking. Such are our manners in Scotland that it is nothing at all.”Henry Dundas was entrusted by various Prime Ministers, including Pitt the Younger and Lord North, to deliver a solid block of Scottish MPs loyal to the government, and was given carte blanche to hand out sinecures, pensions, and public positions to ensure these votes. If you wanted to get ahead towards the turn of the 19th century in Scotland, you had to go and see Dundas: 'The Despot Dundas' he was called by some, as well as 'King Henry IX'! He became influential in Westminster as well as Scotland, running the Admiralty during the wars with Napoleon as well as the India Office. He obstructed the speedy abolishment of slavery on the grounds of the commercial damage it would do to plantation owners; on the other hand, he advanced the careers of many Scots through positions in the East India Company, and tried to overturn legal bars in public life to Catholics.
The day ended with a stroll in the gardens down to the stream and the site of the Arniston Stones, but that is the subject for another post...
Arniston from the rear:
Such are the free enjoyments from Doors Open Day! Glasgow's Doors Open Day is 17-18 September, Edinburgh's the week after (I can particularly recommend the Traquair Centre and the Signet Library). Wherever you are in Scotland there is somewhere open. Take advantage of Doors Open Day if you can!