I’m heading north for this post to Scotland and a hotel near Dumfries called Friars Carse. It has a long history, although not in its current form, only the stables and hermitage are listed. The original Frierkerse was a friary (small monastery) established by Cistercians. (A carse means fertile land near a river.) The monks built a crannog – an artificial island of logs – in the middle of Carse Loch so they could hide their valuables when the English raided. After the reformation, the property passed through many hands and a tower house was built.
In 1771 Robert Riddell pulled down the ruins of the friary to make room for a new mansion and renamed it Glenriddell. Riddell was a friend of the poet, Robert Burns, who wrote a collection of poems for the Riddell library in 1791. Around 1790 Burns witnessed a drinking game that involved three lairds drinking themselves under the table and the last man able to blow an ebony whistle was the winner. The winner supposedly consumed eight bottles of claret, stood and blew the whistle. Another collapsed and the third went to bed. An inspired Burns wrote a poem, the Whistle.
Three joyous good fellows, with hearts clear of flaw
Craigdarroch, so famous for with, worth, and law;
And trusty Glenriddel, so skill’d in old coins;
And gallant Sir Robert, deep-read in old wines.
What happened to the whistle? Who knows. The hotel named its restaurant after it.
Remodelled in 1873, a baronial style house of red-brick was constructed around the older building. The tower is unusual with its square top sitting on a round support. ‘Glenriddle’ was sold on and amongst its owners was Dr James Crichton, a East Indian Company trader, who renamed it Friars Carse. In 1895 the house became a home for the insane and these wealthy patrons rumour has it might have included royalty. (Non-paying residents worked as servants.) The house was further extended by another owner, Nelson, an engineer working on the Forth Rail Bridge, before being sold to an organisation with links to the Post Office and for a while it was a guest house and memorial to the men and women of the PO who died in the world wars. Since then it has remained a hotel.
Like so many of these mansions, Friars Carse has been sustained through the lives of very diverse people. Does your home have a history?
My book uncovers the history of a Victorian house and its inhabitants as they came and went.