Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lochrosque - Part 2

Part 1 here

Looking over Achnasheen, west along Loch a' Chroisg
It's September 1914 and World War I has been underway for just a few weeks. Sir Arthur Bignold is at dinner at Lochrosque Lodge when his butler is summoned to the door. He is surprised to be confronted by an armed raiding party led by no less than the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill!

It sounds like something out of "Monarch of the Glen" but it's true. Driving past Lochrosque en route to inspect the Royal Navy base at Loch Ewe, Churchill had noticed the searchlight at the top of the tower:-

Picture by kind permission of Helen Murchison,
On arrival at Loch Ewe, he was informed of an unidentified aeroplane seen in the area (a very rare occurrence in 1914) and began to suspect the searchlight could be part of a plot to guide enemy aircraft (Zeppelins, perhaps) to the fleet in Loch Ewe. Hence the armed interruption to Sir Arthur's dinner. In fact, the searchlight was for spotting deer on the surrounding hillsides at night by the reflections of their eyes to make it the easier to hunt them the next day - unsporting, perhaps, but hardly treasonable. Unconvinced, the First Lord had the light disabled and, upon his return to London, ordered the Intelligence Services to investigate Bignold, his guests, friends and servants.

Sir Arthur Bignold died in 1918 (or 1915 in other accounts), his reputation as a patriot intact. Lochrosque Estate passed to his only child, his daughter, Mary. In 1888, whilst on holiday in Tenerife with her parents, she had met and married a local Spanish nobleman, Alberto Cologan y Cologan (the double surname betraying that both his parents were of Irish ancestry), the Marques de Torrehermosa.

At this point, the history (so far as I can discover it from online sources) becomes rather elusive but it seems from the website I got that picture of Mary Bignold from (here) that she was divorced from the Marques and had remarried by the time she inherited Lochrosque from her father. According to this website (in Spanish) about the Tenerife Irish, Torrehermosa returned to his native island but his two children with Mary - Arthur and Consuelo - remained in Britain. The former, who adopted the surname "de Cologan", eventually succeeded his father as Marques de Torrehermosa.

Meanwhile, according to the Achnasheen and Garve News and Views website (which is where I got the picture of Cabuie Lodge which originally piqued my interest in all this but which I hadn't read carefully enough when I was writing Part 1 of this article: note also the scans of the illustrated pages of the Lochrosque gamebook), it seems the western part of Lochrosque Estate, with the Lodge, was sold around 1920 to a Harley Street dentist, John MacKenzie.

He died in the 1940s following which the Lodge is said to have been sold to an American who dismantled it stone by stone and transported it to the USA. The Tenerife Irish website linked to above speaks of Lochrosque being demolished during WW2 and I must say the transporting it to be rebuilt in America has a whiff of apocryphality about it - is it not more likely it just suffered the same fate as so many similar late Victorian and Edwardian houses of simply being demolished as having become an expensive liability in changed times?

Looking east along Strath Bran - Loch a' Chroisg bottom left
In any event, Arthur de Cologan, Marques de Torrehermosa, Sir Arthur Bignold's grandson, inherited the eastern part of the estate centred on Strathbran Lodge and died in 1968. He was survived for a number of years by his widow, Irene, and I can remember in the 1980s tales of the rather eccentric and colourful "Marquesa" of Strathbran. After her death, the estate passed to cousins, the Seligman family who still own it at the present day.

Strathbran Lodge - picture credit John Allan

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Lochrosque - Part 1

Anyone who read my post about Cabuie Lodge may have noticed I didn't mention who built or owned it. That was deliberate as it would have involved a digression meriting a blog of its own. Time to rectify the omission now:-

Along with Strathbran Lodge, Cabuie was one of two "out stations" (as it were) of a 30,000 acre (12,000 hectare) sporting estate, the "headquarters" of which was Lochrosque Lodge, just west of Achnasheen on the A832 going west towards Kinlochewe and Gairloch.

Lochrosque Lodge by kind permission of Helen Murchison of Achintraid
Like Cabuie, Lochrosque Lodge doesn't exist anymore. I don't know when or in what circumstances it was demolished (except it wasn't due to flooding, as with Cabuie, because the eponymous Loch a' Chroisg the house stood beside is not a hydro reservoir). If anyone does know the facts of the demolition, do leave a comment. [EDIT - some more information on this in Part 2: link below] But what's marked on modern maps as "Lochrosque Lodge" surviving today is, in fact, just the stable block of the building pictured above. It's the smaller building on the left in the picture below:-

Lochrosque "New Lodge" was built as a replacement of an earlier house (just out of view on the right of the picture above). Known as Lochrosque "Old Lodge", it still exists and is the building in the left foreground in the picture below. (The buildings in the right foreground are, I think, the Home Farm buildings of the New Lodge (visible behind). Most of them have gone now as well.):-

You can see the development of the estate in the differences between the 1881 and 1905 editions of the Ordnance Survey 6 inch maps below:-

The Old Lodge as shown on the 1881 OS 6 inch map

The New Lodge appears to the west on the 1905 OS 6 inch map
I've known for many years that there had once been a much grander house at Lochrosque but it was only in the course of researching this blog that I realised that it was on the north side of the road. I'd always assumed it had been on the south side. But the existing buildings south of the road are, in fact, the Old Lodge plus a gate lodge and the remains of some of the home farm steadings built in association with the New Lodge on the other side of (and slightly further along) the road:-

The Old Lodge (left) with the later gate lodge behind the trees to the right
The Old Lodge is a single storey listed building and, according to its Historic Scotland citation, it was built around 1830. Buildings of that age are pretty scarce in this part of the country and considering the literally hundreds of times I must have driven past, I never knew one existed behind these familiar walls just past Achnasheen. Must stop for a closer look next time I'm passing.

Picture copyright RCAHMS
Back to the "New Lodge", though, I'd guess it was built at exactly the same time as Cabuie, in the 1890s, and as part of the same development of the estate under a new owner: comparing the picture of Cabuie (here) with the picture of the Lochrosque New Lodge at the top of this post, they look to be of similar architectural style.

The owner was Arthur Bignold (1850-1918) who acquired Lochrosque Estate in, I believe, 1879 although, to judge by the references in Grimble (see below), it's possible he bought the estate in three tranches, and it was only after he acquired the last of these, Lochrosque around 1890, that he embarked on redevelopment of the lodges. Grandson of the founder of the Norwich Union Insurance Company and knighted in 1904, Bignold was, from 1900 to 1910, the Conservative MP for "the Northern Burghs", namely Kirkwall, Wick (where he is the eponym of Bignold Park and the former Bignold Cottage Hospital), Dornoch, Tain, Cromarty and Dingwall. You can see details of his speeches to Parliament on the Hansard website (a tremendous free resource for local history). Bignold's contributions range through such esoteric topics as lady inspectors of factories and the supply of saddles to Indian cavalry officers but a recurring theme is the North Sea herring fishery as you'd expect from the MP for Wick which was one of the most important fishing ports in Scotland at that time.

Sir Arthur Bignold MP
An interesting exchange took place in Parliament in 1902. The member for Ross & Cromarty, seconded by the member for Caithness, rose to ask the First Lord of the Treasury (not at that time the Prime Minister) what progress was being made towards legislating to prevent the spread of Highland deer forests at the expense of crofters and agriculture? Before the First Lord (A J Balfour - later Prime Minister and whose ancestors had, by coincidence, owned the neighbouring Strathconon Estate until 1877) could even answer, Sir Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque rose to remind the House that, in 30 years, only one person had ever been evicted to extend a deer forest.  (Read the whole exchange here.)

The reason for Bignold's defensiveness where deer forests were concerned becomes obvious from that bible of Victorian sportsmen, Augustus Grimble's The Deer Forests of Scotland (1896). Speaking of Sir Arthur's estate it says:-

"Achanalt was first afforested [i.e. converted from a sheep farm to a deer stalking estate] in 1879, Strathbran came next in 1887, followed by Loch Rosque in 1880 [sic. 1890?]. The three estates are excellent examples of what can be done with deer in a short time, for when Mr. Bignold first bought the property, there was nearly as good a chance of meeting with a Red Indian as of coming across a red deer." 

As well as developing the sport, Bignold is also said to have planted 8 million trees on the estate but this has all become an over long preamble to the strangest Lochrosque story and its sequel in the 20th century which I'll come back to in Part 2.

Stone marking plantations in Strathbran established by Arthur Bignold - photo credit Rob Woodall