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The Durdin Robertsons + Huntington Castle Clonegal Carlow

Carlow Sweet Chariot

Huntington Castle Peacocks © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Every view of this multifaceted castle unveils a different vein. The gunpowder grey entrance front: rectilinear massing and rhythmic rows of windows. The steel grey driveway elevation: 12th century abbey ruins and pointy dormers between turrets. The bleached white courtyard: a picturesque jumble of crow stepped gables and battlemented bow windows. The sunburnt terracotta garden front: pillared arches and stygian loggias swinging low under cantilevered boxy glasshouses. Ever since 1826, when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce fixed the image of his family courtyard in Gras on a bitumen glass plate, architecture and photography have been fond bedfellows. This is despite one being about static volumes and the other decisive moments. Yet is even Huntington Castle beyond expression in a hackneyed Hockney Polaroid collage, provenance and ambiance rarely surviving the transition from three dimensions to two? Ancestors of the Durdin Robertsons include Lord Rosse founder of the Hellfire Club, flame haired Grace O’Malley Pirate Queen of Connaught and, a little further back, Noah’s niece Mrs Benson. Notable visitors darkening its doors over the years have included WB Yeats, Mick Jagger, Hugh Grant and Lavender’s Blue. But even more notably, the Durdin Robertsons are still very much in residence.

Huntington Castle Pig © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The same cannot be said, it seems, for just about every other country house in Ireland. Heritage is crumbling. No one’s picnicking, foreign or indigenous, in this land. One person who knows all too well is chartered building surveyor and architectural historian Frank Keohane. He’s been tasked with compiling Buildings of Ireland Four Cork, the Irish version of a Pevsner Guide. “I’ve a sneaking suspicion that more books are sold on ruins than intact country houses,” Frank ruminates. “Take the semi derelict Loftus Hall which is really exposed near a cliff on the Wexford coast. The owner does ghost tours – ‘the devil’ comes for dinner, and so on. But you need to be practical, ok? Ruins may photograph well but sooner or later if left they disappear. I hope it’s a section in Loftus Hall’s history and not the final chapter.”

Huntington Castle Walk © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Frank records, “Out of the 545 entries in Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland, 18 have been ‘restored’. But I use the term loosely. Dunboy Castle, immortalised by Daphne du Maurier in Hungry Hill, was to be converted into a six star hotel. Horrific extensions were added though! Lough Eske would have collapsed if it hadn’t been rebuilt and converted into a hotel but it’s a bit trim and prim for me. Kilronan Castle has been loosely restored with an extension in a pseudo style of what I don’t know. The shell of Killeen Castle has been restored but lies empty surrounded by a golf course. Dromore Castle, of international importance, still in ruins. Bellamont Forest, Carriglas, Hazelwood, Whitfield Court, contents of Bantry House… all at risk. At least at Killua Castle the family have started by restoring and moving into the wing.” He highlights that Monkstown Castle has fortunately been saved by Cork County Council.

Huntington Castle Woodlands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Huntington Castle is now home to Alexander Durdin Robertson, his artist wife Clare and their sons Herbert, Edmonde and Caspar, following a sojourn near Northcote Road in London. Alex’s mother lives in the coachman’s cottage in the courtyard. Built as a garrison in the 1620s and extended right up to the 1920s, it was converted to a home in 1673 by the first and last Lord Esmonde, passing by marriage into the descendants of the current incumbents. Restored 17th century terraced formal Italian gardens, rectangles of lawn and a circular pond, darkly orchidaceous in the majestic last December, wrap around the castle like ghostly folds of a billowing crinoline dress. A 600 year old silent avenue of tall French lime trees connects the castle to Clonegal. The village guards a pass through the Blackstairs Mountains where Counties Carlow, Wexford and Wicklow collide. “Mandoran,” as Lady Olivia Robertson would say. “County Westcommon,” as Molly Keane would call it. Clonegal is cute as a cupcake – a river runs through it – with pretty Georgian terraces. The only discordant note is a smattering of uPVC framed windows, the plastic scourge of heritage.

Huntington Castle Vista © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Alex’s great grandfather was the last architect to alter the building, making minor changes and erecting concrete framed greenhouses in the kitchen garden. Manning Robertson was not just a mere architect but an influential town planner and writer. He produced plans for Dublin, Dun Laoghaire, Cork and Limerick, introducing the concept of welfare homes, when the profession was in its infancy. The journey from modern to modernism to modernity had begun. Town planning mightn’t be the sexiest of subjects but his seminal 1924 book Everyday Architecture, as well as being aeons ahead of its time, is a riot, full of titillating tips and illuminating ruminations. “Unfortunately uneducated taste is nearly always bad.” Or, “The glazing of a well proportioned window is divided into vertical panes; one horizontal window might be tolerated in a village, just as no village is complete without its idiot, but the whimsical should never usurp the place of the normal.” Unexpected chapter headings shout “Slippery Jane”, “On Lies and Evasions” and “Smoke, Filth, and Fog”.

Huntington Castle Bridge © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Manning’s daughter Olivia inherited his talent for writing and published five books. Field of the Stranger, a highly original read, won the London Book Society Choice award in 1948. Another polymath, an explorer of psychic areas, a landed cosmonaut, she illustrated her novel with her own wildly witty black ink drawings. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh out loud at priceless passages such as Olivia’s description of the antics of a fortune teller, “She’s great at it – once she told Margaret how she saw a bright change coming, and Margaret got the job in Dublin in no time after.” Another literary gem worthy of Hunderby is the incident of the wart. “I knew a young chap – he was a footman at Mount Charles – and he had a wart, and he was ashamed to hand round the plates on account of his wart. I was always warning him not to meddle with it, but he cut it, and what happened but he got the jaw-lock and died in a fearful manner, twisted and turned like a shrimp, with his heels touching his head.” Arch humour continues with chat over afternoon tea about the perils of mixing tipples with talent. “’Why,’ declared Miss Pringle, ‘I have lived for many years in Booterstown, Dublin, and everybody knows that Dublin is swarming with writers and artists, most of them geniuses and all drinking themselves to death. I am told one cannot enter a public house without falling over them. Or them falling over you more likely.’” Strangers misbehaving.

Huntington Castle Donegall Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The hilarity of an amateurs’ night out is accurately documented in a calamitous village play scene: “Amidst an excited murmuring, the curtain jerked spasmodically and slid up on the left side; our expectation was increased by a glimpse of a posed female chorus in plumed bonnets, violet velvet capes and white Empire gowns. The curtain fell. There was another jerk, and this time the right hand curtain jumped up coquettishly, only to sag back to its comrade… As if to show that they had only been joking, the curtains suddenly fled dramatically apart…” Her tragicomedy reaches a crescendo when the chorus starts belting out The Charladies’ Ball in “nightmarish counterpoint”. Who will survive?

Huntington Castle Bust © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Olivia fretted in her prizewinning novel about the disappearance of country houses: “I was afraid that Mount Granite might fall a prey to house demolishers, who were exploiting the temporary shortage of materials by buying up eyesores, gaping roofless to the weather. I had seen so many wreckages of architecture, besides rare specimen trees felled and sold for firewood, that I was fearful such a fate might befall the Wilderness.” Three decades later John Cornforth would worry in Country Life, “A policy for historic houses seems to be much harder to work out in Ireland than in England for historical as well as economic reasons, and places of the importance of Castletown, County Kildare, and Malahide Castle, County Dublin, have only survived through lucky last ditch operations, organised in the first case by Mr Desmond Guinness and the Irish Georgian Society, and in the second by Dublin Tourism in conjunction with the National Gallery and Dublin County Council.” As Frank Keohane observes, hotelisation was nearly as great a threat as demolition during the crazy boom years. One word: Carton. Two words: Farnham House. Saved, but at what a cost. Love | Hate. Such Ballyhoo. Wish they were Luton Hoo. Anyhoo. It can be done and undone. Three syllables. Ballyfin.

Huntington Castle Taxidermy © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s all about Huntington this wintry weekend. First sight of the castle is a romantic fairy tale come true. A mosaic of yellow squares (in 1888 the house was the first in Ireland to have electricity installed) flickers through a veil beyond the Pale of leafless spidery trees entwined with Celtic mist and mysticism. It’s crowned by jagged toothed battlements (spaces for fairies) silhouetted against the melancholic velvety sky. Country Life, Tatler and Vogue are stacked up in coffee table-demolishing piles. Huntington is so photogenic it could easily be the cover boy of all three. A pair of peacocks, two pigs, two cats (Nutmeg and Spook), two lurchers (Country Life’s “guilty pleasure”) and three dachshunds (but no partridge in a pear tree) greet strangers. There are flowers on the first floor and soldiers in the attic. Only the latter are dead, strangers in the night. “I believe time is spiral,” confides Alex. “It’s linked to quantum mechanics. When apparitions appear they’re like jumbled video clips out of sequence.” He leads ghost tours at Halloween and the house and gardens are open to the public most of the year round. The castle must pay for its keep (pun). “We’ve developed bed and breakfast around this tourism. These houses drink money. It costs €25 an hour to heat Huntington. We’re not suitable for weddings and turning the house into a venue would destroy the fabric.”

Huntington Castle Dining Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Twin gilt mirrors in the drawing room frame back-to-front latticework, crewelwork, fretwork, trestlework, needlework and a piece a’ work. Reflections in the glass; reflections of the past. “The Aubusson tapestries are incredibly all done by hand,” relates Alex. “They’re a real show of wealth, of opulence. The arrow slit window cut into one of the tapestries is a retained feature of the original castle.” It’s Friday night. Time for dinner. Outdoors, the gardens slowly disappear into the tender coming night. Whatsoever things are lovely, think on these things. The dining room is dim with haunted shadow, walls fading through a glass darkly to trompe l’oeil in a mirage of Bedouin tent hangings and a fanfare of fanlights. Centuries of ancestors in oil paintings watch the strangers in the room, forever a room of their own:

Huntington Castle Dining Room Detail © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Huntington Castle Posset © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Barbara for one has never left Huntington. Dinner by candlelight is served. Winter salad with goat’s cheese and soda bread, beetroot aplenty, for starter. Salmon steak, creamed Wexford potatoes and seasonal vegetables with dill mayonnaise is the main event, a rhapsody to the countryside. “We use eggs from our own hens,” notes Alex. Pudding is elderflower posset (raspberries on top; Florentine to the side) just as good as Culpeper’s in Spitalfields lemon variety. Which is very good indeed. Both times it’s a work of quaffable art.

Huntington Castle Sitting Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

And so to bed. Leaving behind the dying embers of the day, the journey, as rambling as this article, takes sighing twists and tiring turns along narrow wainscot lined passages and staircases heavily hung with armoury and taxidermy and history. “That snouty crocodile,” points Alex, “was shot by Great Aunt Nora.” The naming of bedrooms is a rather charming country house tradition. In clockwise order, the principal bedrooms at the recently sold Drenagh, a Sir Charles Lanyon special marooned in the mosses of Limavady, are Orange Room, Monroe Room, Bow Room, Blue Room, Balcony Room, South Room, Green Room, Rose Room, Yew Room, Chinese Room, McQuillan Room, McDonnel Room and Clock Room. At Huntington, in any (very) old order, the principal bedrooms are similarly named after colours and features: Blue Room, Green Room, Yellow Room, White Room, Red Room Mount and Leinster Room. As Ned Lutyens once remarked, “I am most excited about towels.” He’d love the bathrooms here. They’re the first resort, the last word, something to blog home about, fit for the life of Tony O’Reilly. Elizabethan style plasterwork ain’t the norm for an en suite. Yep. It is here. Slumber in a four poster bed comes swiftly. But the solemn blackness of the night is rudely interrupted by bloodcurdling screeching. Yikes! Is it a banshee?

Manning Robertson @ Huntington Castle © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s Sunday morning. “That noise you heard the first night is an owl’s mating call,” Alex confirms. Phew. The agony (of leaving Huntington) and the eggs to see (for breakfast). But London’s calling, a city full of strangers. Contemporary Indian architect Charles Correa considers, “Film is very close to architecture. Both are dealing with the way light falls on an object and defines it but the difference is time. A director can create huge shifts in emotion with a jump-cut or an edit but architecture cannot move, so an architect can’t produce those sudden shifts. On the other hand, that stillness is also a magnificent property.” Nowhere is as magnificently still as the otherworldliness of Huntington Castle. Rooms and gardens and gardens in rooms and rooms in gardens have evolved at an imperceptible pace over half a millennium. That wonderfully liveable layering of history inherent in homes such as architectural supremo Fergus Flynn-Rogers’ Omra Park, clinging unselfconsciously to the crooked coastline of Omeath, is apparent upon first entering the house. The unmistakable patina of age, authenticity whatever that is, once lost when the marquee of contents is auctioned and the green neon ‘Fire Exit’ sign flashes above the entrance door, is impossible to replicate. A proper ancestral pile. A gothic pastoral ideal. A place of Arcadian awakening. Not too trim and prim. Frank Keohane would approve. So very Northanger Abbey. So very Castle Rackrent. So very Fern Hill. So very Danielstown. So very Elgin Lodge. So very Huntington Castle. Whisper it. So very.

Alexander Durdin Robertson © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

Architects Architecture Country Houses

Auchinleck House Ayrshire + The Landmark Trust

Landmark Ruling

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The story of the present building, the spirit of the age, begins with Lord Auchinleck, father of James Boswell, the celebrated blogger diarist and biographer of Samuel Johnson. Lord Auchinleck, aka Laird No.8, received his non hereditary title in recognition of his appointment as a judge in the High Court of Scotland. This uplift in social status required an upgrade of house on the family estate he used as a retreat when the Edinburgh courts were in recess. The current building is the third house to be constructed on the estate which was granted to Auchinleck’s forbearers in the 14th century.

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His choice of the neoclassical style originated from a deep seated love of the classics rather than merely following voguish architectural whims. He regularly identified with the writings of Horace. A frequent Horatian theme is the pleasure of fulfilling life in one’s own, usually rural, locale. The epigram presiding over the entrance front pediment encapsulates this approach to living: “Quod petis, hic est; est ulubris animus is te non deficit aequus.” Or, “What you seek is here in this remote place if you can only keep a steady disposition.”

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The emblems carved on the pediment represent aspects of the cultivated mind, all of which could be expected to find expression in a house evoking an aesthete’s villa. Music, martial arts, scales of justice, a sceptre of authority and the serpent entwined staff of Aesculapius the healer are all represented. They are grouped round the central motif, a hooded falcon from the Boswell family crest.

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The Duchess of Northumberland sniffily dismissed the decoration of the pediment in her 1780 diary as “terribly loaded with Ornaments of Trumpets and Maces and the Deuce knows what”. As for the house itself, she found it to be “but a middling house, but justly it is a romantick spot”. Phew.

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Until recently the architects were assumed to be the Adam brothers. They designed the contemporaneous neighbouring Dumfries House. Lord Auchinleck records a jaunt to the Earl of Dumfries at Leifnorris in a letter of 1753 “where politicks and house building made the subject of conversation at a plentiful dinner”. An investigation of the Boswell Papers at Yale Manuscript Library suggested Auchinleck House was most likely designed by the Edinburgh based square-wright John Johnston with a heavy helping hand from the good Lord himself.

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Johnston was a protégé of Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, author of The Country Seat and instrumental in promoting the ethos of the villa in Scotland. It’s a triumph of balance, symmetry and proportion. Whether the product of one or more minds, an intelligence and creativity of the highest order is apparent. Estate manager James Bruce wrote to Boswell in 1758,

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“The building is going on: tho’ slowly by reason of few hands, the reason of which was, before a full determination was fixed on, masons was all taken up as a vast worke is carrying on in this country by these great Naboos.”

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Another account from this period reported that Lord Auchinleck built his house “so slowly and prudently, that he himself hardly felt the expense”. The General Ledger of the Bank of Scotland reveals that Lord Auchinleck took out Bonds of Credit for £500 and £1,000 between 1759 and 1762. Expenditure on the estate peaked between 1758 and 1760. Window tax for 31 openings was first paid on the house in 1760. Daylight robbery! Boswell’s son was more than happy with his new home, writing on 30 March 1767 to his friend William Temple,

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“This is a superb place: we have the noblest natural beauties and my father has made most extensive improvements. We took 10 miles out upon our dominions. We have an excellent new house. I am now writing in a library forty foot long. Come to us, my dearest friend.”

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Estate journals confirm that the four pavilions flanking the house were not added until 1773 although they always seem to have been intended. The pavilions contrast with the main block in material and style. The idiosyncratic sexiness of their silhouette, as distinctive as a Philip Treacy hat, suggests a fondness for the Vanbrugh school of drama. Boswell refers to the finished pavilions in his August 1775 journal as “newly whitened”. This would have disguised the variation between their rosy sandstone and the gentler grey limestone of the main block. In authentic Palladian style, the pavilions weren’t just decorative additions but were utilised as estate outbuildings.

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Lord Auchinleck lived in splendid isolation to the ripe old age of 75, becoming increasingly cantankerous and garrulous. Not so Horatian after all. James Boswell was 41 when as Laird No.9 he inherited the estate in 1782. He made no changes to the house, presumably too busy writing and getting sozzled. Boswell did though progress his father’s planting scheme. Auchinleck House continued down the Boswell line in the 19th century with no subsequent descendents bothering to alter it. One exception was a family member who took with gusto to tarting up the dining room as a parlour, patterning the room to within a square inch of its life.

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The house passed by marriage to the Talbot family who packed their suitcases for Malahide Castle in 1905. They dispersed its contents and in the 1920s the house was sold to a distant branch of the family named Douglas-Bothwell. It fell into sober decline for the rest of the 20th century until in 1986 the owner, another James Boswell, sold the house with 14 hectares to the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust. The Trust made the house watertight but struggled to find a role for it in the face of development proposals for the rest of the site. In 1999 the freehold was transferred to the Landmark Trust. And so began the Landmark Trust’s largest restoration to date. Raise your glasses!

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Lavender’s Blue wish to thank the Landmark Trust for their extensive research which we have shamelessly ploughed, plundered, pillaged and plagiarised our way through while adding a pinch of personal panache.

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Peasant Shoot

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Lights, cameras, action! Lavender’s Blue stayed at Auchinleck House this summer for an exclusive photo shoot. Taxi at dawn across the capital (not that we’re tired of London), Virgin train to Carlisle, two hour drive through lashing rain to Eden Lake Auchinleck village, 10 minute detour getting lost on the estate… and we still managed to arrive just in time to experience a glorious Scottish sunset.

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First glimpse of the house is the beguiling west elevation across a meadow. A haha conceals the raised basement from this perspective. Sweep round the driveway, past the long east elevation, and entry is via a porch to the side at basement level. Side on, the house resembles a Georgian three storey townhouse. A corridor bisects the floorplan of both the basement and bedroom floor like arteries running through the heart of the building.

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The former kitchen is now a table tennis room with stone vaults ideal for whacking the ball off. A dumb waiter to one side of the hearth is a reminder of the room’s original use. Stone steps from the corridor wind up past a bathroom, with a window immodestly level with the front driveway, to the dramatic full height staircase towering up to an elaborate plasterwork ceiling. This space is not huge by country house standards, especially considering it contains the only staircase for use by master and servant alike. In fact although large by modern standards, Auchinleck House exudes a charming air of compact intimacy.

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The staircase hall leads directly into the squarish entrance hall, beautifully lit by the glazed front door. This space occupies the central bay of the piano nobile along the east front. A panelled breakfast room with a fireplace tipsily set at a 45 degree angle continues the east front enfilade culminating in the grand dining room. This room was designed to impress. The smaller proportions of the breakfast room, which in effect is an ante room, give way to a space spreading across the full width of the house with windows on three sides. Its higher ceiling is accommodated by shrinking the floor to ceiling height of the bedrooms above, meaning their sashes skim the floor like crinoline skirts.

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Auchinleck’s acme; Beethoven’s 9th in architectural form.

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The flow of connecting spaces continues with another door towards the back of the house leading from the dining room into the relocated kitchen. The enfilade along the west front mirrors that of the east. The veiny marble fireplace in the kitchen looks like carved blue cheese. Another door leads back into the entrance hall. The third room off the entrance hall is the principle bedroom with a magnificent four poster bed. This room leads into a single bedroom and the final room along the west front is a corner bathroom.

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In a circular fashion, the single bedroom also opens into a panelled morning room and then back into the staircase hall. This layout is a late example of the Grand Apartment with Parade Planning circulation from one room to another, flowing from public to private quarters.

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Five bedrooms open off the first floor corridor. En suites have been carved out of dressing rooms and the thickness of the walls cleverly accommodates alcoves, cupboards, blind doorways and even a couple of small stone basins. Steps at one end of the corridor ascend to the two bedroom suites over the dining rooms. Their lower ceilings lend them a cottagey feel.

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The impressive crimson painted library fills the full length of the four bay breakfront on the west elevation, with views onto the meadow far below, the countryside reaching out to infinity beyond. In 18th century Scotland the first floor was the approved location for a gentleman’s library. Little wonder.

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Lavender’s Blue are the latest in a long line of noble notable visitors to the estate. In January 2012, Owen Patterson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and his wife Rose Ridley, daughter of the 4th Viscount Ridley, stayed at Auchinleck House. Everybody’s changeling.

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In Good Spirits

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Extract from James Boswell’s merry Book of Company at Auchinleck 1782 to 1795 edited by Viscountess Eccles and Gordon Turnbull.

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“When Boswell succeeded his father as laird of Auchinleck in 1782, he became a person of significance in Ayrshire society and he resolved to fill his position with dignity and sobriety. His journals for earlier years are full of references to what has been aptly described as ‘deep drinking, appalling hangovers, profound repentance… and deep drinking’ but now, as he told Johnson: ‘It was my determination that I should maintain the decorum of the representative of Auchinleck and I am doing so.’ He had drunk little since his bout of influenza earlier in the year and the record in the Book of Company shows that, for the first few months of his lairdship, consumption of wines and other liquors at Auchinleck was indeed quite moderate. Thus, when Sir John Whitefoord came to dinner on 12 October 1782, only a single bottle of claret was drunk, and Boswell recorded in his journal:

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‘I had almost broke through my sober scheme of life, as we were tête-à-tête and it was the first time he had been in my house since my succession. But I checked myself. Indeed my wish to drink with him was not from love of wine and intoxication, as has frequently been the case with me, but from a desire to be cordial. He excused me, and drank claret easily while I took wine and water.’

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The ‘sober scheme of life’ did not last for long. By the end of the year, Boswell’s good spirits were beginning to crumble and his moderation lapsed. On 3 January 1783, he visited Eglinton where he enjoyed some old Malaga, ‘and finding I really had liberty to drink as I pleased, my heart dilated and I drank two bottles, all but three glasses.’ The next morning he noted: ‘awaked very ill, and was somewhat vexed that I had not been able to maintain my sobriety even at Eglinton.’

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After this, Boswell did not return to Auchinleck until August 1783. There, during the ensuing three months, as the ‘Book of Company’ shows, he entertained numerous guests who were treated to generous, indeed at times extraordinary quantities of liquor. He wrote in his journal:

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‘A great variety of other company was at Auchinleck. I felt the entertaining of them in general was a laborious and anxious task. I several times drank too much wine, and suffered severe distress after it. I was quite averse to writing. I was exact only in keeping my Book of Company and Liquors, in which I marked with more regularity than I supposed possible for me all the company with us at dinner in one column, and all night in another, with the different liquors drank each day in separate columns.’

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Over many years, Boswell had reacted to his own concern about excessive drinking by noting how much he drank and its effect on him. This may have been one of his reasons for combining the record of his guests at Auchinleck with a detailed arithmetical account of every bottle of wine or other liquor consumed. It was as much a discipline aimed at keeping his drinking under control as an aid to the efficient management of his cellar. But the discipline, though it may have served to focus Boswell’s attention on his own over-indulgence, did not prevent it. The statistics speak for themselves: on 16 October 1783, with six guests for dinner and overnight, the consumption totalled 19 bottles (seven bottles and two Scotch pints of claret [equivalent to 11 bottles], three bottles of port, one of Lisbon, two of Madeira, one of mountain, and one of rum); and the following day, 17 October, with seven guests, the tally came to 20 bottles (11 equivalent bottles of claret, three of port, two of Lisbon, one of Madeira, and three of rum). Amazingly, Boswell escaped his usual hangover and was able to write: ‘I drank a great deal of wine without feeling any bad effect. While I kept the highest pitch of jollity, I at the same time maintained the peculiar decorum of the family of Auchinleck.’

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The record of liquors begins tidily enough in September 1782, with consumption neatly recorded in 10 separate columns headed: Port, Lisbon, Sherry, Madeira, Mountain, Sitgis, Gin, Brandy, Rum. Of these, Lisbon, mountain and Sitgis are virtually unknown to modern wine drinkers […]. Although Boswell kept whisky at Auchinleck, it does not appear in the Book of Company, for it was not at that time a drink for the gentry nor one which they would normally have offered to their guests.44 Auchinleck House Landmark Trust copyright


The record is kept reasonably well and conscientiously until the end of 1783, although Boswell’s arithmetic in summing his columns is sometimes wrong. Not surprisingly, he was taking arithmetic lessons from Alexander Millar, his domestic chaplain and his son’s tutor. However, his arithmetic is not always as bad as may at first appear. A Scotch pint of claret was roughly equivalent to three imperial pints. Boswell thus counts a pint as though it were two bottles in totalling his columns. Other letters of symbols appear on the record which cannot be confidently explained. These take the form of H, J (or possibly I), and a symbol that looks like a narrow upright oval. The H is marked against certain bottles of claret consumed in September and October 1783; and the other letters or symbols appear against certain bottles of both claret and port consumed during the same period. in a modern wine list, H often signifies half a bottle, but half-bottles were not normally supplied by wine merchants at that time. Furthermore, if Boswell counted a Scotch pint as two bottles in summing his columns, one would have expected him to count two bottles marked H as one, if indeed they had been half-bottles. This does not occur. Perhaps H indicates claret supplied by John Hamilton, of Bogle & Hamilton, Glasgow, one of his regular wine merchants; perhaps it identifies the storage location from which it was taken – for example the hall cupboard (which according to a list of Liquors at Auchinleck of 1794, was used for the storage of wines). One can speculate similarly about the other markings, but it is impossible to reach any firm conclusion as to what they signify.

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After 1783, the record of consumption begins to deteriorate. Boswell gives up adding columns and ceases to carry forward the totals from page to page. After January 1785, he abandons the record for the remainder of the year. The columns are still marked, but they are left blank and unheaded. A scrappy and incomplete record resumes in 1786, with the column headings reduced in number, no totals, and consumption frequently is abandoned altogether until 1793, apart from a few entries in April, May, and July 1789. The record begins again on 2 March 1793 with only three columns, headed Port, Mountain and Punch, to which Boswell later adds columns for Sherry, Claret, and Rum. The record finally peters out for good in August 1794.

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That same month, on 22 August 1794, Boswell wrote out a list of Liquors at Auchinleck. This is interesting because it shows how meagre the stocks were at that date. Apart from a reasonable supply of mountain (i.e. some Malaga) and some Madeira, there were only a few bottles of drinkable claret and some oddments. There were a dozen bottles of whisky dating back to 1783 which Boswell kept in his counting room (presumably for his estate employees and probably seldom resorted to). It is odd that such a modest quantity of liquors could not all have been accommodated in the cellar as such, but bottles appear to have been stored in presses or cupboards all over the house: in the family bedroom, in the dressing room, in the hall, and in the counting room.

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It is clear that when Boswell compiled his list of Liquors at Auchinleck, the cellar was in a badly depleted state and quite inadequate for a substantial country house where guests were to be entertained. But when Boswell returned to Auchinleck from London on 1 July 1794, it was with a firm resolve to be sober, and this would not have been helped by replenishing his stock of wines. On 14 July he wrote to his son Jamie:

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‘I have not drunk half a bottle of wine any day since I came here, some days not more than two glasses, some none at all. This moderation I am convinced has produced a calmness in my blood and spirits very different from the effects of too free living in the metropolis.’’’

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