I remember Courthill from the 1960s when we used to go on holiday to a cottage in nearby Achintraid when I was a child. I remember my parents telling me the roof was deliberately taken off after the War because the lead was more valuable than the house. That sort of thing that gets a 6 year old thinking - what's so good about lead that it's more expensive than a house? Especially a very big one like Courthill - are you sure it wasn't roofed with gold?
Below is the only picture I've ever seen of Courthill when it was still in use. It was taken in July 1931 and comes from the collection of Robert M Adam held by St Andrews University Photo Archive.
I had to look long and hard at that photograph to reassure myself it was indeed Courthill. But it is - what's in the centre of my photo at the top is off to the left behind the trees but the right hand bit in my photo is what's on the left of the 1931 pic.
As to the history of the house, around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, Courthill was the smallest of the three estates which comprised the parish of Lochcarron. It belonged to Major Alexander Macdonald - a great grandson of Sir James Macdonald, 9th chief of the Macdonalds of Sleat, and married to a niece (by another account, a great grand-daughter) of Flora Macdonald, he was also tacksman (tenant) of Monkstadt in Trotternish on Skye where he lived.
An interesting snippet is that this well connected member of Clan Donald held Courthill as feudal vassal of the Earl of Seaforth, the chief of the MacKenzies - in earlier centuries, that might have caused a conflict of clan loyalties but was an irrelevance by the late 18th century.
|Major Alexander Macdonald of Courthill & Monkstadt|
It's interesting to note that it's marked as "Court Hill or Laggandown" on the Arrowsmith map (above). Laggandown also appears on the Roy Maps of the 1740s-50s:-
So Laggandown - which I think is Gaelic for "brown hollow" - was the original name of a place which became known as Courthill. I'd guess an 18th century laird who'd made some money abroad settled there but decided its Gaelic name was too uncouth so he changed it to the name of his English wife's parents' house - or something like that. It's the reverse equivalent today of people buying a house in Wester Ross called "Sea View" and deciding that was rather pedestrian and renaming it something more couthy like "Sealladh na Mara" (which I believe to be the Gaelic for "view of the sea").
Who changed the name, I can't discover but we read in a footnote to page 276 of Alexander Mackenzie's magisterial "History of the Macdonalds and Lords of the Isles" (1881) that Major Macdonald of Courthill's eldest son, another Alexander, "was never married. He became insane when a young man by an operation performed on his ears for deafness, and lived principally with his brother Hugh [at Monkstadt], and was quite harmless." Whether that tragic circumstance had anything to do with it, I don't know, but the New Statistical Account for the Parish of Lochcarron compiled in 1836 recorded that there were now only two landowners in the parish which indicates that the Macdonalds had sold Courthill to their neighbours, the MacKenzies of Applecross. (The other landowner was Matheson of Attadale.)
In 1854, Thomas MacKenzie, 9th laird of Applecross, sold the whole of his estates, including Courthill, to the splendidly named Francis Godolphin D'Arcy D'Arcy Osborne, 7th Duke of Leeds.
|Arsy-D'Arcy D'Arcy to his friends|
|Approximate boundaries of Lochcarron Estate bought by Sir John Stuart in 1861|
|Sir John Stuart of Lochcarron's grave - photo credit Roddie Macpherson|
As to the history of Courthill House (as opposed to its surrounding estate), my main source of information is the scottisharchitects.org website. This merely records that "alterations and repairs" were carried out in 1856 by architect Alexander Ross. I suspect that understates what happened in 1856. I'd guess that hitherto Courthill was an unpretentious Georgian farm house and what Ross did was convert it into a Victorian mansion house. I suspect the Duke of Leeds, having just bought the whole Applecross Estate in 1854, fixed on Courthill as his seat and commissioned Ross to transform it into something befitting his ducal station (perhaps as a conscious departure from the MacKenzies' seat at Applecross itself) .
The architects.org website records further additions in 1883 after the Murrays acquired the house and more in 1901 including the addition of a conservatory. Extensions to Courthill can be seen between the 1875 and 1902 editions of the Ordnance Survey Map below. Generally, it seems to have expanded east and north (that's to the right and behind in the photos above):-
Provost of Inverness 1889-95, the architect Alexander Ross, was responsible for a number of Victorian buildings in this part of Scotland including Gairloch Hotel and Duncraig Castle. There's more about him, with a photo, here.
In 1885, Charles Murray's daughter, Elspeth, died aged just 4. In 1900, tragedy afflicted the family again when his eldest son, Lieutenant Alastair Murray of the Grenadier Guards, was killed in action during the Boer War aged 22. Amongst the 1901 additions to Courthill was a chapel which included stained glass windows in memory of Elspeth and Alastair. More information about the chapel with pictures on Undiscovered Scotland.
|Picture credit James Yardley|
|Couldoran with the hills of Applecross behind|
Charles Murray, junior, died in 1945 and that was the catalyst for the sale of Lochcarron Estate. It was sold in lots in 1946 and the purchaser of the lot with Courthill House on it, having no use for the house and finding it a liability, took the roof off and sold the lead to avoid having to pay rates on it. I don't know who the ruin belongs to now but the Murray family retained the chapel in 1946 and eventually gifted it to the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1979. It's still in business as a church (with wheelchair access as well) - further details here.
Above is the partially blocked main gate of Courthill. The three stars in the crest are a feature (yellow on blue) in the arms of both the Dukes of Atholl and the Earls of Dunmore, both peerages held by Murrays. The Courthill family are descended from the Dunmores except that the stars in the Atholl and Dunmore arms are both two on top and one underneath contrary to the pattern at the gate of Courthill. I wonder if C J Murray unofficially adopted an ancient Murray motif with a minor adaptation so as not tousurp the arms of his more exalted cousins? Below the crest on the gate is an inscription in Gaelic (I think) but I don't know what it means.
|Courthill seen from Google Earth|
|Picture credit Joe Dunckley|