The Restoration of Foulis Castle
By Mrs. MUNRO OF FOULIS
IN order to give a clearer picture I must tell you a little of the history of Foulis Castle over the last 100 years.
Sir Hector Munro, my husband's grandfather, inherited the castle from his father in 1886 at which time it was let. He and his family did not come to live at Foulis until 1893. Before coming to reside at the castle with his young family, Sir Hector and his wife, Violet, made considerable improvements.
The attic on the top floor was all lined with tongued and grooved boarding backed with felt to lag and make warmer the rooms which were used by the housemaids. On the next floor down a dressing room was turned into a bathroom with a bath, basin and w.c.—the only bathroom in the house. At the back of the building a larder, boot cleaning-paraffin lamp room and cloakroom with w.c. and hand basin were added respectively to the two wings. At that time the hand basin only ever had cold water. The top floor of the buildings on one side of the courtyard, which contained among other things on the ground floor the bake-house and bread oven, and on the upper floor grooms and coachmen's rooms, was gutted to make a large "recreation room" for the estate staff.
Sir Hector and Lady Munro had 4 daughters and 2 sons. The eldest son died when he was 18 months old, the second son, Hector, who was the apple of his parents eye and considerably younger than his sisters was killed in the last week of the 1914-18 war aged 23. In the same year the second of their daughters, Isobel, died in a flu epidemic leaving a baby daughter of a few days old who was brought up by her grandparents at Foulis.
From then on they lived at Foulis, but nothing seems to have been done to the castle to up-date it in any way. Sir Hector, who threw himself into public work and never looked to the future, died in 1936 and the estate came to my husband through his mother, Mrs. Gascoigne, Sir Hector's eldest daughter. His widow, Lady Munro, and her third daughter, Violet, who had never married, lived on at Foulis Castle.
During and after the 1939-45 war the large walled garden disappeared, and the grounds became somewhat neglected since there was not the staff to tend them and modern machinery had not yet taken over. Inside the castle life continued. The old kitchen with the spit-rods through the table and an iron cooking range that had to be lit each day still served its purpose but the cook had gone.
Only an aged housemaid, a ladies maid for Lady Munro who could not leave her room and some daily staff coped. Vi, her daughter, cooked.
In 1946 Lady Munro died and my mother-in-law, Mrs. Gascoigne, now a widow, came to live with her younger sister at Foulis. The kitchen was moved up to the butler's pantry next to the dining room but remained very much a "cooker in a pantry" rather than being designed as a kitchen. All materials for building were very scarce and could only be obtained with a permit at that time. Over the years the two sisters lived in the castle under most difficult circumstances. The roof leaked in many places and they had to empty the basins and buckets that collected the drips. Both of them had known the castle all their lives and the dilapidations going on round about them were so gradual that neither of them seemed to notice. They always had a good, hot fire to sit beside and a welcome for everyone.
The castle had been partially wired for electricity in 1947. This at least did away with having to clean and light paraffin lamps or stoke a hot water boiler, but there was still no form of central heating. In 1958 a grant was received from the government to help us re-roof the castle in order to make it water-tight.
Predeceasing her sister, Vi died when she was 80 in 1969. My mother-in-law lived on at Foulis with a companion and eventually died in her 96th year in 1976, having been active until only a few weeks before her death.
We looked at the castle and realised that there were two alternatives; either to leave it empty, when it would deteriorate and gradually become an interesting ruin or to sell the house we lived in, Ardullie Lodge, in order to obtain some money to spend on the restoration of the castle. Ardullie Lodge had always been a Munro house, we had lived there since we were married, and all our children had been born and brought up there, but after much heart searching we decided to sell it for the sake of renovating Foulis Castle.
Realising that the budget would be pretty tight if we were to do all that we wanted our first object was to make it easy to run with minimum help and comfortable to live in. The public rooms are all on the first floor and all the bedrooms are on the second. We will not get any younger, therefore a lift became essential. The electricians told us that the castle would have to be completely rewired and the plumbers told us that none of the existing lead piping could be used. The water tank was a wooden box lined with lead and beginning to leak. Nobody knew where the sewage went to since it had worked and no-one worried. With extra plumbing we had to make a large septic tank, but the mystery of the old drains still remains unsolved.
The castle did have sound walls and a good roof, otherwise it would not have been possible to start the work. We first looked to see how the size of the castle could be reduced since there were 17 bedrooms upstairs and seven on the ground floor in what is now the business room and the Munro Room. A passage and staircase were removed and 5 attic bedrooms were gutted above the "big drawing room".
We installed 4 bathrooms, managing to keep these in pairs, with a new cloakroom and laundry below one of the pairs. The previous laundry had been in a building in the courtyard which had also housed the only linen cupboards. The kitchen in the old butler's pantry was modernised and at the same time the library was divided into a utility room, cloakroom and passage. We divided the servants hall on the ground floor into a laundry, woodstore and passage. In the "little drawing room" we still have our open fire which we enjoy sitting beside and we also have a fire in the "big drawing room" when we use it.
We opened 9 windows that had been blocked up at the time of the Window Tax, lightening the whole house and, in the process, a great many rotten wooden lintels were removed, work that involved taking down panels and sometimes shutters and then reassembling them again. Many old panelled walls had to be rearranged in order to make way for the new bathrooms and the lift shaft and since we plastered the bathrooms sufficient panels were left to carry out repairs in the bedrooms and upstairs passages where some panels had decayed. Linen cupboards and an ironing-sewing room were also added.
We have ended up with a beautiful "big drawing room" which has not been used since 1824, a "little drawing room/library", a business room, 6 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. The 3 guest rooms and 2 bathrooms can be shut off from the rest of the house when not in use.
The roof was insulated and electric heating was installed but our main source of heat for the house is the old wood burning stove with the date 1796 on it. This stove which had not been used in living memory now stands in the lower hall where with a few minor repairs it heats the whole of the centre of the house.
In the west basement we gutted a series of small rooms formerly occupied by men servants and sand blasted the walls to clean them. This is now the Munro Room. In the process we also pulled down the larder, boot cleaning-paraffin lamp room and old cloakroom which had been added by Sir Hector. The foundations had not been dug deep enough and they were falling away from the house. We received a small grant from the Historic Buildings Council to stop rising damp and to replace defective stones round the windows. We repaired a good deal of decaying plasterwork, painted the house throughout, refitted most of the carpets and replaced 68 pairs of curtains, the majority of which had to be made 9 or 10 feet high.
We were fortunate to have available skilled and helpful local tradesmen, the only firm employed which was not local being the lift manufacturers. We owe all of these people a "thank you" for the great interest and pride that they took in their work which made it a much easier task for us. It took 2 years to complete the work on the main building and eventually we moved in on 29th November, 1979. Luckily we never both got depressed at the size of our task at the same time.
Since we moved into Foulis we have made a garden in the courtyard at the back of the castle and with the help of modern mowers we are reclaiming some of the lawns. There have always been lovely daffodils and rhododendrons here to which we are adding.
There is still a good deal to be done to the courtyard walls and dependent buildings, but at least the old castle itself is preserved for posterity and is proving easy to run and comfortable to live in. The proceeds of the sale of Ardullie Lodge, with careful budgeting, have just about covered the work we have done and we look forward to having many happy years here. Our hope is now that Foulis Castle, for so many centuries the centre of the Clan Munro, will remain so for many years to come.