This stately home is one of Dundee's glories. Situated 4 miles north-west of the city centre in the magnificent 395-acre Camperdown Park, it has been described as "at the very highest rank of Scottish country houses."

Camperdown House was erected by Admiral Duncan's son and heir, Robert Dundas, 2nd Viscount Duncan of Camperdown. It was constructed between 1824 to 1828 to designs by a leading Edinburgh architect, William Burn (1789-1870). Burn's finest design for a neo-classical mansion, it was built in a beautiful lemon white sandstone from Cullalo on the north shore of the Firth of Forth. The magnificent hexastyle (6 columns wide) Ionic portico on the short east side of the house is a perfect expression of the "Greek Revival" spirit. The main south facade is plainer with engaged pilasters which allows unrestricted enjoyment of the view over the gardens and the river Tay beyond. It also allowed an uninterrupted sequence of sumptuous inter-connecting 'state' rooms - the dining room, library and drawing room - along the south front. The glory of the interior is the double height central hall or Saloon with an elegant Georgian fireplace and 'scagliola' pillars richly coloured to look like marble, the whole roofed and lit with a stained glass dome featuring in the centre Admiral Duncan's coat of arms proudly showing his gold medal.

The family : Robert Dundas, 2nd Viscount Duncan of Camperdown, was actually created an Earl by King William IV in 1830, a retrospective honouring of Admiral Duncan. The title only lasted three generations, with both the third and fourth earls of Camperdown being brothers, the fourth earl dying childless in 1933. The last occupant of the house was their cousin, Georgiana Wilhelmina, Dowager Countess of Buckinghamshire, who died in 1937. The house contents were sold in a four day auction in 1941 and the house and estate were purchased by Dundee Corporation in 1946.

The Camperdown House Project

The following paper is based on a talk given in 2000 to The Friends of Camperdown House by David Stockdale, previously a Heritage Officer with Dundee City Council Leisure and Arts.

Several years ago the idea of restoring Camperdown House, as an historic house was first floated by Dundee District Council, the predecessor authority to the present Dundee City Council, and a small feasibility study was carried out. At about the same time, the Lady Buckinghamshire Bequest - a major collection of Duncan family relics, which included many items, connected with Admiral Duncan - was returned from London to the national institutions in Edinburgh, the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Museums of Scotland.

The Camperdown House Project thus came into being in 1996 with the formation of a partnership between Dundee City Council and the National Galleries of Scotland to develop the House. In that historic partnership agreement, signed in October 1996, the National Galleries pledged in principle to provide Dundee City Council with pictures, works of art, expert advice and assistance in the restoration of Camperdown House for the benefit and enjoyment of both the local community and visitors to Scotland.

Soon afterwards, the National Museums of Scotland also offered to support the Project. The first fruit of this three-way co-operation was seen in 1997, when the three institutions collaborated on the highly successful Glorious Victory exhibition, which was staged in the Mc Manus Galleries. Of all the events in the 1997 Bicentenary the Glorious Victory exhibition was perhaps the most visible to the wider world. It attracted more than 50,000 visitors and stimulated interest from all over Britain as well as from Ireland, Holland and Australia.

A special publication, also called Glorious Victory, was produced to coincide with the exhibition - again as collaboration between Dundee City Council Arts and Heritage department and the National Galleries of Scotland, with support from the National Museums of Scotland. This book - which brought together up-to-date research on the Battle of Camperdown, the life of Admiral Duncan and the national celebration of the Battle in the late 1790s - stands as a permanent testimony to the achievements of Dundee's naval hero and continues to sell well - click here to order your copy

The commemoration of the actual Bicentenary in Dundee on 11th October 1997 and the erection of a privately funded statue of Admiral Duncan next to his birthplace were also major achievements. The Bicentenary celebrations attracted favourable national publicity and did much to resurrect Duncan's undeservedly neglected reputation. The marking of the 200th Anniversary will live long in local memory. Events on the weekend of the Bicentenary included the unveiling of the Admiral Duncan statue and the poignant open-air memorial service for the dead of the British and Dutch navies, the stirring parade and march-past which made such a wonderful spectacle for all who were in the city centre on Saturday, and the sombre service at Lundie Parish Church on the Sunday. Though ably supported by Dundee City Council, the success of the Bicentenary events was due in large part to the energy and enthusiasm of private individuals, particularly the members of the Bicentenary Ginger Group - Mrs Philippa Crawford, Captain James Crawford, Commander Hilary Foxworthy, Commander John Picton, Commander Gavin Wemyss, Mrs Anne Parker-Jervis and Ms Henny King.

It is fortunate that members of the Ginger Group founded the Admiral Duncan Camperdown Trust to carry on from the work of the Bicentenary and subsequently the "Friends of Camperdown House".

At the beginning of 1998, the partners in the Camperdown House Project moved on to the next stage. Dundee City Council applied for and received money from the National Heritage Lottery Fund to fund a major Conservation Plan and study of Camperdown House. The respected firm of architectural consultants, Benjamin Tindall Architects, of Edinburgh, compiled the Plan. The consultants drew on the knowledge of other experts in the field as well as the expertise of staff within the Project.

The Plan, which has taken half a year to compile and runs to several volumes, provides an independent assessment of both the importance of Camperdown House as an early nineteenth century country house and its potential for development as a sympathetically restored historic property. It is worth quoting the conclusions of the Consultants - for they judged the House and its associated grounds to be of national architectural and historic importance. In their opinion the House was "one of the finest neoclassical Houses in Britain" and "a milestone in European neoclassicism" as well as a supremely important memorial to a national hero, Admiral Lord Duncan.

The Consultants said that the House had enormous potential for being adapted as an historic house - a potential that could be realised to the full by the display of Duncan family possessions and Camperdown memorabilia. As already mentioned, both the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Museums of Scotland have been willing to lend their extensive Duncan and Camperdown collections for display in Camperdown House, provided the restoration and displays meet the appropriate standards.

As a final part of their study the Consultants behind the Conservation Plan were able to put a tentative figure on the restoration and development costs for Camperdown House. That figure, estimated to be a seven-figure sum, has been calculated on the basis that the restoration work would be spread over a number of years. The end-result would be a substantial visitor attraction, incorporating elements of a historic country house, museum and art gallery.

What, then, is the nub of the historical importance of Camperdown House and how does it link with the story of the descendents of Admiral Duncan?

Robert Dundes Haldane-Duncan, the son and heir of Admiral Duncan, was, unlike his father, no military hero. But in his day he was an important and well-connected national figure, serving in the House of Lords. He moved in royal circles and was a personal friend of the Duke of Gloucester, the Prince Regent's cousin, and the Duke of Clarence, who eventually ascended the throne as King William IV. In his Coronation honours William IV made his old friend Robert Haldane-Duncan the first ever Earl of Camperdown.

Before he was raised to an Earldom, Robert had already improved his family's estate, laying out many of the features we can still see today and, of course, building Camperdown House. Within a few years of inheriting his father's titles and estates in 1804, Robert had started the formal planting of parkland in his policy grounds to the northwest of Dundee and had constructed a Walled Garden - which is now used as the Camperdown Wildlife Centre. In 1812, Robert was in discussions with one Scottish architect - James Gillespie Graham - about a scheme for replacing the existing family seat with a new enlarged mansion. In the end Gillespie Graham's scheme was not realised and the family had to wait another 8 years before work started on the new House.

This time the chosen architect was William Burn. Burn re-used large elements of a neoclassical scheme he had submitted to the Earl of Rosebery for a new Dalmeny House in 1812 - a scheme that Rosebery had rejected in favour of a neo Tudor design [by William Wilkin]. Until Camperdown House was built the Duncan family lived in a country house, called Lundie House, which was situated several hundred yards to the south-west of the present Camperdown House. After Camperdown was built, the earlier house was demolished. One of the major findings of the Conservation Plan for Camperdown House is the pinpointing from early maps of the likely site of Lundie House in Camperdown Park. This earlier House is the family seat in which Admiral Duncan lived. Whether it is possible to gain more information about it using archaeological techniques is a yet uncertain.

The design and building of Camperdown House took eight years to complete. Construction works went on continuously in the park over this period - including the laying of new roads, the digging of new drain networks, the excavation of earth to clear the site, putting in foundations and building the house round a timber and cast-iron skeleton. The finished house was a masterpiece, an elegant essay in neo-classical restraint. Clad in creamy-white sandstone, the House had a striking presence and a very bold design in placing the grand portico'ed entrance on the narrow eastern side, leaving the long south front an unobstructed command of the views over the parkland down towards the river. Internally this arrangement allowed for an uninterrupted sequence of staterooms - dining room, library and drawing room - behind the façade. It also led in a linear progression to an entirely separate private part of the house, designed as family apartments. This separation of the state and family apartments is widely regarded as a technical coup by Burn, achieved within and in spite of the tyrannical symmetry of the Greek Revival interior layout in the main block of the House.

The House was complete by 1828, although internal decorative schemes continued for some years afterwards. We are still trying to calculate exactly how much the first Earl spent on his new House, but in the mid 1820s expenditure was running at some £5,000 a year. Into the new home came not only the Earl and his family, but also John Singleton Copley's masterful painting 'The Victory of Lord Duncan', which Robert inherited after the death of his mother in 1832. The expense continued in the parkland as well, with more avenues being laid out as the landscaped features were remodelled.

New research has confirmed many of the accolades, which writers and historians have bestowed on Camperdown House. The architectural merits of Camperdown are unsurpassed - it is on par with the very finest Greek Revival buildings in early nineteenth century Scotland and is possibly the best and boldest country house design in the long career of its architect, William Burn. It is now beginning to be understood how the architectural project was achieved on the ground, the family context for which it was designed and the historical background of the continuing social rise of the aristocratic Duncans. The new research has also uncovered in greater detail the relationship between the development of the parklands around the House and the building of the House itself - a relationship, which is far less straightforward than first thought.

The Conservation Plan includes a great deal more than the research details summarised. It is a technical list of all the features in the House and Park which have survived and which can be best preserved in the future. The Conservation Plan clearly concludes that Camperdown House is a unique and important national asset and truly deserves national funding to realise its potential. It is hoped that national funding will be forthcoming for such a worthy project.

Afterword

The Opening of the House for the second year running in the summer of 2004 is one more step towards the long-term goal envisaged by the Conservation Plan. The Camperdown House Partnership Agreement between the National Galleries of Scotland, the National Museums of Scotland and Dundee City Council is still in place. However, progress in developing the house will be gradual in the short term because DCC Leisure and Arts Department's major focus at present is the restoration and development of their core museum facility at the McManus Galleries, the subject of a major Heritage Lottery Fund application. The long-term aims of the Camperdown House Project remain to restore and open Camperdown House as a historic country house and to display in the House collections relating to the story of Admiral Adam Duncan and family.

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