Glen Tanar's 'Architectural Gems'

25th June 2020

The magnificent landscape of Glen Tanar is perhaps what the estate is best known for, and where William Cunliffe Brooks hid a collection of architectural gems of national significance. Built over the course of two decades from 1870 onwards, today they remain virtually unknown to the outside world.

William Cunliffe Brooks 1
William Cunliffe Brooks

Brooks entrusted the architect he admired most with the important task of adding a large number of noteworthy buildings to his estate, that architect was George Truefitt. Brooks first discovered the young Truefitt’s talent back in 1847, when his proposed Flemish Gothic competition entry for the Army and Navy Club house in London earned him a full-page coverage in The Builder. Although the design did not win, Brooks was so impressed that he contacted The Builder to track down Truefitt’s whereabouts and stayed in touch with him for the rest of his life.

The first building to greet the visitor at the entrance to Glen Tanar is the now category B listed, Tower O’Ess. This is an unusual entrance lodge built in the 1870s taking the form of a fortified tower with a turret at one corner. It was built of local granite of various colours which became finer as the building went up; they were laid on top of each other using a local technique called ‘cherry-cocking’: embedding pebbles within the mortar between the granites, allowing the relatively undressed blocks to be aligned neatly into courses.

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Tower O'Ess

The Chapel of St Lesmo is another impressive building, also category B listed.

It is a private chapel within the estate, converted in 1871 from the ruins of a house with a 17th century archway. Truefitt took a measured, primitive approach to the design by adding a roof made of unsawn rustic pine and heather thatch. It was built with recycled materials from the ruins, local granite and the pine from the forests nearby. Inside even the seats were covered with local deerskin - a truly ‘homemade’ building.

St Lesmo's Chapel Wedding Destination Scotland
St Lesmo's Chapel

Among the many idiosyncratic structures erected by Truefitt on the estate is Glen Tanar House and this being Brooks’s residence, was the most splendid of all. Today only one corner survives, housing the Ballroom.

Inside the Ballroom, the roof has a series of large and majestic cusped arch-braced trusses with collar beams on which the kingposts sit, that, alongside the deer skulls and beautiful chandeliers, create a cosy atmosphere, despite the hall’s large size.

glen tanar house in 1920
Glen Tanar House 1920
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Glen Tanar Ballroom

Another large utility building built in 1880 was the cattle court at the Home Farm, with a striking design for a structure of this nature. It consists of a very long northwest-facing elevation with one wing on each end embracing a courtyard in a U-shaped layout. Not unlike other Truefitt’s structures at Glen Tanar, the cattle court does not have a show front and the elevations on all side are all different and asymmetrical. The complexity of the building form means any attempts to describe it in words would be an arduous process.

Truefitt’s last known built work within the estate is the now vacant Glen Tanar School, opened in 1897 as a gift by Brooks to the community. The school is two-bay wide crowned with two whimsical pyramidal roofs, it is perhaps one of the earliest examples of architects exploiting the intriguing English oast house aesthetic in a different typology.

The legendary Architectural Association in London which Truefitt co-founded in 1847 has since become the Akademia of the architectural world, and Sir John Summerson rightly singled Truefitt out as the most brilliant architect of all among its founding fathers.

As a rebel and nonconformist, Truefitt might have cut a lonely figure in the noisy architectural scene of the 19th century, but his architecture is no less original than those designed by the household names of his time: 33 out of 37 buildings identified as his now standing have been statutorily listed, and Glen Tanar holds the largest number and some of the finest examples of his work.