House of Dun

House of Dun

On a lovely sunny morning during our stay at Wester Dun we visited its big neighbour, the House of Dun. Built in 1743, and formerly home to the Erskine family, it is now part of the National Trust for Scotland.

As we entered the courtyard, the first thing to greet us was the clock, which, in keeping with my habit of asking “what about the women?” everywhere I go, I was interested to see had been renovated in memory of a group of sisters, the Richies.

Entrance to the house interior is by tour only, usually led by a costumed guide. Ours, seen in the gallery below, maintained the fiction that he was interviewing us for the post described as follows:

Wanted at Martinmas first. An Active LABOURING MAN, who can make himself generally useful, and his Wife to open a Gate. A Free House and Garden given, with fair wages. A man and wife without family will be preferred. Application, personally, to Mr Young, Dun House.

Dun House, September 25, 1867.

Every time we successfully performed a trial task we were given a Victorian penny. The tasks, needless to say, were very simple, such as opening a door. We weren’t asked to carry buckets of coal or sweep the floors! Or clean out that weird boot-shaped bath with a funnel to allow more hot water to be added. It certainly made for an interesting visit.

We also had a wander round the garden and courtyard before checking out the museum.

Angus Folk Museum used to be located in the nearby village of Glamis. It was founded by Jean, Lady Maitland who gave her collections to the nation in the 1950s. (See the first image in the gallery below for one of the ways she created her collection. Others included visiting scrapyards, house clearances, farm sales and the like.) Since 1976 it has been administered by the National Trust for Scotland, but the building in Glamis closed permanently in 2017 due to structural problems, and NTS had to find an alternative home for the collection.

That home is the House of Dun. A legacy from another woman, Dr Sheila Bain, allowed the courtyard buildings to be reconfigured to house the Angus Collection. As well as the letter from Lady Maitland asking for the donation of everyday items, in the gallery below you can see some items typically associated with women (quilts and a crib), a hearse, a memorial tribute to Jeanie Downie, and two saddles. The hearse was built by Thomas Swinton & Sons in Dundee in 1896 and one of its first funerals was that of a young woman teacher. The information board points out that she must have been well-loved, because only the most expensive funerals could afford such a hearse. The saddles also have a female connection. Women had many roles on a farm, but dealing with the horses was barred to them by culture and tradition. One champion draught horse breeder, David Smith of West Mains of Dunnichen, did permit a woman into the stables. The side saddle, known as the Bride’s Saddle, was used by Jane Osler to ride to her wedding with him in 1857.

One room contained panels about interesting people connected to the area. Again, I homed in on the women (Caroline Doig, Margaret Fairlie, and Susan Scott Carnegie – click on each image to read more), but allowed one man to creep in. Hugh Munro published his table of Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet in height in 1891 and “Munro bagging” is still a popular sport today. My favourite overall is Margaret Fairlie whose work in obstetrics and gynaecology has benefited so many women over the years.

One woman whose words appear on walls in both house and museum is Violet Jacob (1863-1946), a writer I only recently came across without knowing that she was part of the Erskine family and had been born at House of Dun. She was particularly renowned for her poems in the Angus dialect, but also wrote short stories and novels. The one I have read is Flemington (1911) set in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising of 1745 and described by John Buchan as “the best Scots romance since The Master of Ballantrae”. It tells of two men, one for the Jacobites and one for the government, who just can’t betray each other. I found it unexpectedly enjoyable (because I usually read more modern authors).

Overall, this was a wonderful visit. Kudos to the House of Dun not only for pulling out so many women’s stories, but also for having such great staff (the guide and the staff in the ticket office and café were exceptionally friendly and helpful).

My next Angus post will be about Montrose and its Basin. Coming soon(ish)!

38 Comments »

  1. I enjoy a guided tour with someone who is passionate about the site much more than just walking around reading and looking. I find it much easier to take in all the stories and information. This house seems to be presented so well.

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  2. When I look at old houses like this, I can’t help thinking that it must have been exhausting living at that time (at least for the staff). Then I wonder if future societies will look at our daily lives and wonder how we got it all done (“What? Their houses didn’t clean themselves automatically?”).

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  3. Interesting house. Either it was a very busy and active gate that the wife had to open, or gate meant something else years ago. Think I’d rather do that than maintain the gardens and grounds of a property that size. Weeds never sleep in summer so he’d be knackered ‘being useful.’

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  4. I have been away too long and missed your great posts. This looks like a wonderful visit. I love the attention to detail. That hearse looks quite beautiful to be honest. What is that green contraption? It hS a spout on the end. That’s not a bath is It? I’m glad they centred on the women as well.

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  5. I can’t decide if I would find the tour guide’s “interview” fun or annoying. I guess it depends how embarrassing I found the tasks and how many people were watching me do them. Did you get to keep the pennies? I love the walls – I’m such a huge fan of Georgian arsenic green that I’ve painted my “library” (room between the kitchen and living room that has all my books in) the same colour, and actually the blue of my living room is not that dissimilar to the blue in their dining room. I like a colourful house!

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    • It wasn’t too intrusive, just the odd request such as John opening the door. At the end, we all got a penny even if we hadn’t done a “task”. I still have mine, but John out his in a charity box! Of course, we’re old enough to have used pennies in real life and there were still Victorian ones around in the 1960s.

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  6. It looks a magnificent house. Is the Erskine Bridge named after the Erskine family? Interesting to find out about Hugh Munro, shame he didn’t complete all his hills. Good to see that Women in history roles are being more written about now too, you certainly help with that. 🙂

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    • Why, thank you! I find going in with my “women” question in mind provides me with a good focus. And I also think places are getting better at providing more diverse information. We’ve been to a couple of castles lately where that has been the case. It just gives me too much to write about! WAY behind.

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