Cromarty House, Jamaica

Montego Bay

Built circa 1930, for Commander J.K.L. Ross (1876-1951), formerly of Montreal and afterwards Deputy-Governor of Jamaica. Cromarty is one of the island’s best known historic landmarks, located up in the hills overlooking Montego Bay. The two-story house is approached via a long avenue of Royal Palm trees and surrounded by 11-acres of manicured lawns. In the 1950s, those who caught sight of it described it as a majestic home that looked more like an "exclusive country club". 
In 1913, Jack Ross inherited $16 million but only 15 years later he was down to his last $300 and was only spared from penury by a trust fund. Disgraced, his first wife, Ethel, left him and so he left his mansions in Montreal for Jamaica. The change ended up suiting him rather well: in 1931, he met and married Iris de Lisser and he confided to his close friends that he was happier at Cromarty than he had ever been when he was a multi-millionaire.

Jack Ross had named the house for his father’s birthplace in Scotland. Jack was a passionate yachtsman and sportsman whose world record for catching the largest tuna with rod-and-line was only broken by his son-in-law, Commander Duncan McIntyre Hodgson, as reported in Cape Breton's Magazine. 

In 1948, Cromarty was purchased as a winter retreat for the Canadian-British press magnate and politician, Max Aitken (1879-1964), 1st Lord Beaverbrook. It was acquired in the early 1960s by the British owner of Aston Martin cars, Sir David Brown (1904-1993). In the 1990s, Cromarty was purchased by the present owner, land developer David Witter, an ex-cane cutter who made his fortune investing in property in south London.

In 2004, The Jamaica Observer reported that, “years ago, (Cromarty) was featured often in overseas tourism promotions as one of Jamaica’s celebrated beauty spots and hang outs for the titled and wealthy”. Over the years, Cromarty has played host to the actor, Errol Flynn (1909-1959); British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965); the playwright, Sir Noel Coward (1899-1973); the creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming (1908-1964); the author, Roald Dahl (1916-1990); and, the Anglo-Canadian spy, Sir William Stephenson (1897-1989), whose house, Hillowtown, neighboured Cromarty, some 800-feet further up the hill.

Cromarty was badly damaged during Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Nineteen of the property’s eighty royal palm trees were lost, including one of 75 feet that crashed into the house. The house has since been repaired by the Witters.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 27/11/2018 and last updated on 03/07/2019.

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