Hitory of Barnbarroch House, Whauphill

THE history of one of Galloway's former mansions has remained somewhat of a mystery as the destruction of Barnbarroch House was very little publicised.

Once a splendid mansion, the house was the ancestral home to the Vaus, later Vans Agnews of Sheucan until it was tragically burned to a shell in 1941.

The last family members to live in Barnbarroch house were Colonel John Vans Agnew (who was born in the house before leaving to serve his country as a youngster) and his wife Ada Vans Agnew (nee Ada Sybil Bates).

The couple were married in India in 1891 and returned to Barnbarroch house where they had at least four servants and a gardener.

Only a few photographs remain of the house in its former glory as most were lost during the blaze.

Barnbarroch, built in 1780, is a mile (as the crow flies) from Kirkinner and is accessed by a road leading from Whauphill.

It used to stand proud above a pond, with a magnificent stone stairway leading to the water's edge from the back garden.

Rumour has it that this pond used to be used for curling and skating in the winter months and no doubt fishing and swimming in the summer.

The pond was also a major aid in curbing the flames, which nevertheless devoured the house.

The pond was situated at the edge of the 'the park' which were the grounds surrounding the house.

They consisted of gravel pathways, winding amongst trees and smaller ponds with the ruins of an old building at the end of one of the pathways.

With an impressive 26 windows on its rear faade, Barnbarroch had certain refurbishments made to it in 1806-08 when a glass house was attached to the side and the ornamental staircase by the water were added, probably by the grand garden designer of the time, John Claudius Loudon.

From the external rear stairway, which led down to the manicured gardens, an amazing view met the onlooker – what was known as 'the avenue'. This was a clearing, which chiselled its way through a forest and gave a clear view for miles across the fields.

The Vans Agnew family's most famous relative was Patrick Vaus. He was the close confidant and adviser of King James VI of Scotland, who later became James I of Britain.

Barnbarroch would have been up there with the rest of Galloway's beautiful buildings such as Monreith House; Galloway House; Cally Palace; Torhousemuir House; Mochrum Park and Corsemalzie House.

However, in the early hours of October 23rd, 1941 a blaze began in the sleeping quarters of Mrs Ada Vans Agnew, which became out of control quickly.

On October 25th, 1941, The Galloway Gazette reported that servants were awoken by the noise of crackling and raised the alarm. Some jumped from windows, seriously injuring themselves whilst others used ropes to climb from the building.

An attempt was made to rescue Mrs Vans Agnew from her quarters but despite the best efforts of local farmers, she perished in the flames.

The remaining descendant of the Vans Agnew family is James Edward Vans of Barnbarroch, a sculptor who lives in Gloucestershire. He is the 23rd Laird of Barnbarroch and his father was the cousin of John Vans Agnew whose wife lost her life in the fire.

He has several documents which were saved from the blaze but nothing of much significance. He does have several photographs which were taken by a relative, Frank Vans Agnew on a visit to the estate in 1906.

The building as it stands today retains a feel of its previous splendour, despite its dangerous and ruinous state.

The imposing faade is generally representative of the basic structure which would have met visitors on approach from the road.

A farm fence runs through what would have been the driveway and this stops today's visitors from being able to stand back and admire the size and architecture of the house.

However, a walk around the back offers some sort of compensation for this as the rear is still in one piece apart from the attic window and rooftop pillars, which may have been a viewing platform for the surrounding fields.

Although the building is derelict, with bricks and stonework hanging precariously high above, it is still possible to get an idea of how beautiful the house once was.

The loch is now dried up and hideously overgrown and the garden staircase has gone completely.

The rear stairwell is crumbling away and the glasshouse has vanished without trace, yet there is still a sense of beauty around the ivy-covered ruins.

That is, until the inside of the shell is examined. Although not recommended, a close inspection of what was presumably the kitchen area reveals a group of pantry-type recesses and solid walls.

In 1994, a Fife-based design company announced major plans for the property, which included a 20 million restoration project to provide a holiday and conference centre.

The plan was to re-build Barnbarroch to its original design and open the complex to include a leisure and sports facility; theatre; museum and cultural centre.

Scandanavian type log chalets were intended for the grounds, with the house being the main focal point for the complex and 180 jobs being created.

But these plans fell through and nothing ever came of the holiday centre.

Damage from the fire was, in 1941, estimated to "run into several thousands of pounds" - today the building and 3.5 acres of land is on offer, in its current state, for sale at 100,000.

Those of us with hard working imaginations can appreciate how the house once looked and imagine that one day, it may be restored to its deserved status as part of Galloway's architectural heritage.