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. You’re all about the stories, whereas I make do with a pretty picture. Space for all of us, and I’m an admirer, Anabel. I would very much enjoy the House of Dun experience.

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  2. Hi Anabel – what a fascinating house to visit … I think I’d love to go twice – and re-visit, as there’s so much to see. I agree with everyone else – Victorian penny, the ‘boot bath’ – actually reminded me of a film I saw years ago … I must find it and remember it: sorry for now not to be looked for.

    However my main thought is about the side saddle … we recently had a talk titled ‘England From A Side-Saddle’ – the great journeys of Celia Fiennes by Derek J Taylor – I’ve got the book here. 1697, a 34 year old woman mounted her horse and set off on a 3,000 mile journey, which over 2 summers wold take her to every county in England.

    It’s a travel book about life here 320 years ago … I have yet to read the book.

    Cheers – a wonderful place to visit – thanks for this post … Hilary

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