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16 Jul 2020

175 years of the Bavarian summerhouse at Brodick Castle

Written by Tim Keyworth, Gardens and Designed Landscape Manager, Ayrshire & Arran
The interior of a summerhouse, with a ceiling decorated in an intricate pattern with pine cones.
The ceiling of the Bavarian summerhouse is original and the grandest feature of the building.
Built in 1845, the Bavarian summerhouse is the only survivor of four similar structures that once graced the woodland at Brodick Castle.

The four summerhouses each had a stunning view of the surrounding landscape, having been built at key scenic points across the garden. The one you can see in the garden today was constructed in a Bavarian style as a wedding present for Princess Marie of Baden and was said to be the grandest in design. It’s likely that the building was constructed by specialist craftsman from Bavaria.

Princess Marie of Baden is a key figure in the history of Brodick Castle. Her marriage to William, who later became the 11th Duke of Hamilton, was the catalyst for Brodick’s expansion into the luxurious castle you see today. Princess Marie’s cousin was Napoleon III and the marriage elevated the Hamiltons to a new social standing. It’s thought that Princess Marie was often marooned at Brodick Castle while her husband travelled widely across Europe, leaving her lonely and homesick, although we know that she travelled to Paris to host parties for her cousin. The marriage ended tragically, when William fell down a staircase in Paris at the age of 52.

Detail of a painting of Princess Marie of Baden.
Princess Marie of Baden

Back to the summerhouse. Built into a sandstone rock face, it holds a prominent position over Brodick Bay and the wider Clyde estuary. It’s a rare and outstanding example of a rustic structure, fashionable in gardens at the time it was installed. Princess Marie and her friend, the artist George Hering, developed the gardens, creating ‘Romantic walks’ and drives in the woodland surrounding the castle, and the summerhouse would have provided an ideal resting point.

A Bavarian-style summerhouse, built into a rock face.
The summerhouse, built into the rock face

Inside, the ceiling, which is original, is decorated with pine cones and is a real masterpiece of craftsmanship. Externally, the building is adorned with the stems of the common rhododendron, Rhododendron ponticum, giving the exterior a striking, layered appearance. This invasive rhododendron, which can be seen growing wild across the west coast of Scotland, would have been in plentiful supply.

The interior now needs restoring, which we hope to carry out in the coming years. Once completed, the building can continue to be a feature of the gardens for the next 175 years!

The interior of a summerhouse, with a ceiling decorated in an intricate pattern with pine cones.

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