Comrie, near Crieff, Perthshire
This house is best associated with...
William (Robertson) Williamson
Mrs "Wilhelmina" William Boyd (Robertson) Robertson Williamson
David Robertson Williamson
Lord Balgray, of Lawers House, Perthshire; Judge of the Court of Session
David Robertson Williamson
Lt.-Col. D. Robertson Williamson, J.P., of Lawers House, Perthshire
The pink sandstone Palladian mansion was extensively remodelled by Drummond between 1782 and 1783 to the designs of James Salisbury. One year after completion (1784), the wily financier sold the 35,000-acre estate on for what was no doubt a healthy profit to Major-General Archibald Robertson, of the Royal Engineers, in whose family it would remain until 1918. He married Catherine Austin but died without children in 1813 when the estate was valued at £52,446 producing a yearly rental of £2,166. It was his unfortunately named but otherwise fortunate niece, Miss William Boyd Robertson (aka Wilhelmina) who inherited Lawers and in 1814 she married her cousin, David Williamson, a Judge of the Court of Session titled Lord Balgray and took the name David Robertson Williamson.
Columns & Colonnades
From 1815, the Williamsons commissioned Richard Crichton to make several significant changes to the house that included moving the entrance to the north front from the south front that was then given its pediment supported by Ionic columns with colonnades off each side. A new lodge was built at the foot of the new entrance from the east off the Crieff to Comrie road that winds its way up to the house through a rocky, tree-covered landscape. The original driveway is about a mile further along to the west on the same road, closer to Comrie, and is also marked with another handsome lodge from which the drive stretches up to the house along a broad, mile-long avenue lined with beech-trees. To the south the house enjoys a view over the River Earne while it is sheltered from the north by a wooded bank. The interior of the house was described in 1829 as, "commodious and admirably finished. The large Adam Saloon (that later became the ballroom) is well-proportioned and is fitted up in the Grecian style, with great purity and elegance".
Twas' the American Heir
Like the Robertsons before, neither were the Robertson Williamsons blessed with children and after Lord Balgray died in 1837 the estate passed to his American nephew, Charles Alexander Williamson. Charles was born and lived in New York where his father had been a land agent, spy and agitator on behalf of the British. He was married to Catherine Harrison Clarke, the eldest daughter of Thomas Bayard Clarke whose father grew up at Chelsea House in Manhattan where his first cousin, Clement Clarke Moore, was credited with writing "Twas' the Night Before Christmas". Charles moved into Lawers with his family but similarly to his father before him when he returned from America to Scotland, he began to get restless. In 1848, he and his wife joined the California Gold Rush but only got as far as Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. They both contracted cholera and died within four days of one another, leaving their 19-year old son, David, as heir to Lawers.
The Convict Colonel
Lt.-Col. David R. Williamson was born in New York and came to Scotland when he was seven. He was just nineteen when his parents died and for the next four years Lawers was held in trust by his great-aunt, Lady Balgray. The next few months were somewhat eventful for the young heir: In May, 1852, he inherited Lawers; In July, he resigned his commission as a Lieutenant with the Coldstream Guards; In January, 1853, he married Selina, daughter of the 1st Lord Tredeger; and, in April he was charged with the serious assault of a clergyman in his own house. He was spared exile to a penal colony and sentenced to nine months in the ordinary prison in Perth, released early in September.
Once the dust had settled on David's past, he went on to become a Colonel of the Perth Volunteers and, perhaps ironically, a Justice of the Peace. Whether or not money was becoming scarce is unclear, but in 1894 he rented Lawers to the Edinburgh stockbroker and Liberal M.P., Andrew Grant, whose gift of £350,000 (more than half his total worth) still provides travel scholarships and bursaries to the Edinburgh University College of Art. The Grants lived here until 1901 when they bought Pitcorthie House near Fife.
The Compassionate Clergyman
The Colonel and his wife had just one child, a son, Charles. He was sent to Eton but turned down a commission into his father's old regiment, the Coldstream Guards, which is when we start to realise that father and son were chalk and cheese. Sometime after leaving Oxford, as if he hadn't already infuriated his father enough, Charles sent him apoplectic when he converted to Catholicism. The ill-feeling between them developed into an unhealthy vendetta and the Colonel devoted the rest of his life to breaking up the estate and denying his only son of his inheritance. In the meantime, Charles was supported by his old friend, Lord Esher, who kept him from mental and financial ruin.
Charles was ordained as a priest in 1880 and went to work in the slums of London before being attached to the more upmarket Brompton Oratory and then settling in Venice. He only returned to Scotland 33-years later after receiving word of his father's death. In 1918, he sold Lawers and its remaining 4,000-acres but retained the dower house at Tomperran with 600-acres where he lived with his mother and spent the rest of his life as a working priest at Comrie. Despite what his father had thought of him, Charles, "had a very natural loving way with him... all who came in contact with him spoke in loving terms".
The Rockeys Roll Through
In 1918, Emma Hall Stewart was married at Crieff to Captain Norman Frank Were Rockey, a South African veteran of the Royal Flying Corps, and as a wedding present the bride's father, Duncan Stewart of nearby Millhills (head of the family-owned McCallum's Whisky), gifted the newlyweds Lawers. The estate then encompassed 4,000-acres with grouse moor and salmon fishing on the River Earne, and between 1919 and 1922 they carried out various additions and alterations to the house. They lived between London and Lawers that was severely damaged by a fire in 1927. Two years later (1929), tragedy stuck again when Emma died and in 1931 Capt. Rockey sold the estate and returned south.
Lawers School of Agriculture
Its unclear to whom Captain Rockey sold Lawers, but between 1931 and 1948 it was only temporarily occupied when leased out in season as a hunting lodge, and walks and landscaping were lost as they became overgrown. From 1939 to 1947, it became home to Cargilfield School that had relocated from Edinburgh during the war. In the following year, the house and 300-acres were purchased by Perth County Council and Lawers was repurposed as an agricultural school. About 30-pupils were taught, slept and fed in the main house while the grounds - as part of their training - were restored to their former glory. The school ran until 1973 and today Lawers is once again a private family home.
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