Personal Recollections

Graham Black, Harare, Zimbabwe

The following is an extract from email correspondence sent by Graham Black to Martin Hay and reproduced with his kind permission.

Amongst other things it describes the time when the house was cleared and its contents burned. This account accords with that given in Ray Perman’s book on the life of John Lorne Campbell.

“I live in Harare, Zimbabwe where I was born in 1947. However I spent some of my early years in Scotland, 1949 to 1955, much of that time living in one half of the cottage Achnakeillie. In those days the cottage was a semi detached affair with the Ellis family next door. Mr Ellis was the farm shepherd and he and his wife had three children, Charlie, Libby and Willie.

The farm was being worked at the time by Peter Graham (senior) who was my paternal great uncle. You will be aware perhaps that his son Peter took over when the old man died and eventually sold the farm. He struggled to keep it going seemingly as EU regulations were making it difficult for farms to be profitable. It was the time of milk lakes and butter mountains and when I saw Peter last sometime in the late 1980s he was somewhat disillusioned. Despite selling off land for building purposes eventually things became unsustainable and the farm was sold and he retired with his wife Sheila to the house they had built at Church Hill. Changing times.

However in my memories I recounted an incident and the easiest way will be to cut and paste the bit from my notes

While unsure about the financial aspect of Inverneil farm when the old laird died I think that Peter Graham bought the farm and the laird’s residence from the estate. He must have been a tenant at the time in which case the laird’s house would have been included in the purchase price of the property. In any event the “big hoose”, a square grey granite place with little architectural merit but forbidding to a seven year old and running to several storeys was cleared out. And what a clear out. The house had obviously been occupied for many years and there was an abundance of furniture, paintings and so on. The outbuildings similarly had all sorts of interesting (to Charlie and I) bits and pieces. Plumed metal helmets reminiscent of old Spanish headgear, bows and arrows and rusty old swords. We took a number of items which later were promptly confiscated as being too dangerous.

Being on several storeys, manoeuvring furniture down the stairs proved arduous so a window was opened on each level and furniture unceremoniously hurled out to be put, what remained of it, on a huge bonfire. Pictures were included and I remember seeing one I liked and I was invited to take it away. Proved too much to carry with the bow and arrows so it was left, later burned. Years afterwards I saw a reproduction of a William McTaggart painting which reminded me strongly of the painting I had liked and when I read “Whereabouts unknown” I had to wonder…

Jeannie had also claimed a painting of highland cattle which she liked and in her case was not hampered by bow and arrows. Sometime later she was told that she should have it cleaned as over the years soot had darkened the colours Visiting Glasgow she took the painting to an art establishment and it caused great interest. She was also offered 100 pounds (a considerable sum at the time) before cleaning – which she refused. The rest of the family were understandably irked when they considered just how much money had perhaps gone up in smoke. I saw the painting again on a visit to Scotland in the 1980s when my father and I called in at Jeannie’s after a visit to Campbeltown, still hanging above her fireplace in the farmhouse at Gartnagrenach. Thinking back I have no doubt that, apart from the paintings, some valuable furniture was destroyed on that bonfire but a complete unawareness of possible values dictated the action taken.

In front of the lairds residence was a walled orchard with iron railings in the section facing the house. Charlie and I climbed in one night when we knew the laird was away and filled our pockets with damsons and plums which were in season at the time. We were horrified when we saw car lights coming up to the house. It was of course the laird so we had to lie low until he had gone into the house and we deemed it safe to scale the railings again.

While we managed to escape without being caught I could hear my father calling for me as we ran back towards the cottage. I had to dump the evidence of my wrongdoing but because I was out of earshot and couldn’t risk the laird anyway, he had been calling for a while and was a bit steamed up. I got a good skelping for not coming immediately and my protests that I couldn’t hear him fell on deaf ears. We never returned to the orchard!

[The present stewards of Inverneill House hereby grant a full pardon to Graham, Charlie and any other youngster who pinched fruit from the walled garden. Hopefully the new fruit trees that we have planted will produce fruit that will be picked and enjoyed by many generations of children to come].

Jeannie was Peter junior’s sister. She married Ian McCallum and they farmed at Gartnagrenach. I was slated to be a page boy at her wedding and despite being fully kitted out with all the regalia came down with measles a couple of days before the wedding. Somewhat to my relief it must be said.

I was prompted by the incident with Charlie to take a look again at Inverneill and that is how I found your website. I must say that I admire your spirit in taking on such a task which is bound to be full of unexpected problems but I hope you can find a moment to answer my questions. At last I hear you say!

The old laird died in 1954 and it seemed to be around late ’54/early ’55 that the house was stripped which would have been, I assume when Peter Graham bought the farm. I came back to Africa in April 1955 but have very clear memories of the emptying of the house. Where I am a little confused is as regards the “Cottage” part of the house. From the photographs I have seen I do not recall it being there yet a number of references say it was demolished in 1955 or “somewhere around 1955”. Do you know at all? And do you have any knowledge of the financial aspect of the purchase at that time? I have become intrigued by the whole thing and reading about the family and the house has stoked my curiosity. I am also a family historian of sorts so this is all relevant as you will understand. My roots are very much in Kintyre/Knapdale, my Black ancestors being tenants of “Old Kilberry” on Tiretigan and Keppoch.

Looking at the site photographs I do remember very well that there were two monkey puzzle trees in the walled garden, and of course there were still many fruit trees in the garden. My one sister recalls the quality of the fruit and it seems that it had a reputation even outside the area. But it’s the cottage that bothers me – when was it demolished, I wonder if anyone does know for sure.

My childhood on Inverneill is remembered fondly. They were golden years and not just from the sentimentality of looking back. I loved the freedom of living on Inverneill, roaming the hills and splashing in the burn, unfettered by the strictures which came with the move to Salisbury as it was and living in a city. But some things happen when you have no control, twists and turns in the road.”

[Graham’s fond memories of his childhood in Inverneill chime with other voices who have described their childhoods here to us. We think it important that Inverneill continues to weave its enchantments on our global citizens of the future].

“It was my sister Mima’s birthday today so I had occasion to call her. While on the phone I asked her about the bonfire day which she also remembered vividly mentioning that my mother had protested to young Peter that he was destroying good furniture. My mother was well educated and had been raised in a prosperous environment so she could see quality. She also had something to say about the art but to no avail. He had a job to do and was getting on with it.

Mima was not sure about the house itself but did comment that it was a real rabbit warren so that indicated to me that the cottage was still extant as the extension does not strike me as a rabbit warren. So I am satisfied that my memory is not quite correct – I was obviously too focused on the articles of war in the outbuildings!

She also asked if the orchard was still there and was disappointed to hear it was all gone. She again commented on the fruit.”

Charlie Ellis, Lochgilphead

Charlie Ellis showing the break in the iron railings that he and Graham Black exploited to scrump fruit in the walled garden!

Charlie recalls that Peter Graham demolished the old part of Inverneill House using explosives. Stones blasted from the wall by the explosives caused damage to the iron railings, the repairs to which are obvious to this day. Charlie and his father Richard worked for Peter Graham.

Magazine article about Inverneill Farm in 1962.

Charlie recalls clearing the trees out of the walled garden and ploughing up the ground. Only the central gravel path was kept. His brother Richie later worked for the new owners of the house, Colonel Colquhoun and his wife, Dr Hilla Colquhoun. Richie helped to point the walls, mixing the mortar in the basement of the gardener’s turret and carrying it up the outside steps into the garden.

After doing much to restore the house and gardens, the Colquhouns built the bungalow, Olbia, to which they moved to spend their remaining years.

Obituaries for Dr Hilla Colquhoun

The spectacular specimen rhododendrons and the avenue of beech trees along the northern boundary are much appreciated legacies of the Colquhoun stewardship of Inverneill House.

The Frostwick Years

In June, 2021, we were visited by Toby Frostwick and his wife, Lucy and were delighted to be able to host a reunion of Toby with our neighbour Jimmy Logie from Inverneill Cottage, and his son John who grew up there and happened to be visiting his father at the same time.

Toby provided us with many recollections of the house during the 1970s, when it was owned by his parents.

The family purchased Inverneill House from the Colquhoun’s in the early 1970’s when they built the bungalow, Olbia, below the walled garden. They did some fairly extensive works at that time, but only ever used the house as a second home. Sadly after the economic downturn in the late 1970’s they had to sell the house.

Toby is one of four brothers. His father owned a printing business in Northampton. The boys boarded at Rannock in Perthshire, and spent the summers at the house with their mother, joined when possible by their father who took a very active interest in the house and grounds.

Toby recalled that the turrets still had floors and plastered internal walls, so that it was possible to come up the steps from the drive into the walled garden. The kitchen turret was full of glass jars. Much of the garden was mowed grass, but the far end was used to cultivate fruit and vegetables under a large fruit cage. The field beyond the wall had no trees in it, so John could return home by jumping though the bottom window in the kitchen turret and cycling across to Inverneill Cottage.

The pillars by the large turret were put up by Toby’s father and were gated. The urns on top originally had lids.

The bridge over the burn provided access to the house. Peter Graham the dairy farmer at Inverneill Farm used to drive his cows across it, assisted by Toby and his brothers. The milkman and postman used to come up the drive by the main turret and leave by crossing over the bridge. (It is now clear that Inverneill House did continue to enjoy a right of access over the bridge after it was sold by Peter Graham).

The Frostwicks installed the famous blue carpet in the entrance hall and stairs. Remarkably some of it still survives to this day. They also installed the fireplaces in the living room and top floor bedroom. Toby remembered his mother hand cleaning the celtic carvings in the living room door.

It was during this period that new fibreglass tanks were installed to supply the house and Olbia with water. Due to low water pressure, a pump was need to pump the water up into the house. These have since failed and been decommissioned. (We had found an old manifold lying in the ground where the pump would have been, so that explains what it was for, and also an old Action Man. John recalled that the Frostwick boys were a bit wild and used to throw Action Men out of the top floor windows, so that explains that as well!. Both Toby and John also recalled building a raft out of wood and cement and sending John down the burn to test it.).

Other additions during the Frostwick era were the top floor bathroom (now decommissioned) and skylight, and in the coach house new flooring in the hayloft and stairs).

Frances and I hugely enjoyed hosting this visit and hope that Toby and other members of his family will visit us again and continue their historic association with the house. We have no doubt that the family made an important contribution to saving the house for future generations to enjoy.