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19 Nov 2020

Collections uncovered: Kellie Castle

A video tour of Kellie Castle with Curator, Antonia Laurence-Allen


Hi, my name’s Antonia, and I’m a curator for the National Trust for Scotland. This is Kellie Castle. I’ve popped up here today to give you a taste of some of my favourite things. This is a wonderful property, it’s a hub of creativity, and when you come here, you’ll still discover a home – a warm, comfortable home. So come with me and let’s go see some of my favourite things.

This is the Earl’s Room. I think in this bedroom is where you can really see what Kellie is all about. Here’s a simple brass bed that’s been converted into a grand place to sleep. While on the wall there’s chintz and silks adding luxury to the space. This is all the work of Mary Lorimer. She moved here with her husband Hew after World War II. They met at Art School in Edinburgh and she spent her time at Kellie creating a little bit of wonderful. She hung this lace canopy by repurposing an old frame that she’d found in the attic, and she topped it with a homemade crown. The bedcover was converted from an old bridal veil. This … I think this would be my favourite place to sleep if given the opportunity.

I’m now in the library. This was used by Mary and Hew as their winter sitting room. It’s actually my favourite room in the house because it’s so cosy with an amazing view to the River Forth. I can imagine myself in here with a book by the fire, kicking back, and perhaps beside me is King James VI. Looking up at the ceiling, you can see lions and monkeys, and somewhere there are the initials TVF and the date 1617. TVF stands for Thomas Viscount Fentoun. 1617 was the year James VI was travelling in Scotland. Thomas and James actually had grown up together, and this bedchamber ceiling was added for the King. What’s truly amazing about this ceiling is that it’s likely to be one of the first of its kind in Scotland.

Here in the library is one of my favourite photos. It’s of Professor James Lorimer and his wife, Hannah. It probably marks their wedding in 1848 – he was 30, she only 16. They actually met on a ferry boat going from Edinburgh to Fife – she was seasick and he saw her to the family carriage off the boat – and the rest, as they say, is history. James had quite bad asthma, so they came to Fife quite a lot for holidays. And it was in 1877 that they came across Kellie and fell in love with it.

We’re now standing in the Vine Room. One of my favourite stories about the restoration of this property by the Lorimers can be seen in this ceiling. When James and Hannah arrived in 1878, the property was suffering from years of neglect. In this room, plaster was literally falling off and this panel painting was missing. Plasterers from the nearby fishing village of Pittenweem had to re-do the entire north section – taking segments down from other areas, copying them and reapplying the plaster bit-by-bit. It was a mammoth task.

One of my favourite drawings in the collection at Kellie features this room. It was drafted by Hannah and James’ son, Robert and is a detailed sketch of the ceiling. Robert was only 14 when his family leased the castle, but he would go on to become one of Scotland’s best-known architects. One summer, Robert caught scarlet fever and he lay in this room recovering. I can just imagine that he spent hours studying the plasterwork. He did this drawing when he was 23, and he’s noted right here on the paper that it was ‘Measured and Drawn to scale on the spot, November 1887’.

The Lorimers restored the interiors of Kellie, and added many new fixtures – they made their mark, so to speak. In the drawing room, where we’re standing now, the monograms of Robert, his mother Hannah, and brother John Henry, were added here after the fireplace was redone in the 1890s. This picture was painted by Phoebe Anna Traquair. It was commissioned by John Henry Lorimer in 1897. In the 1950s, Mary and Hew didn’t really like the style, so they covered it up with a panel for many years.

Standing here in the drawing room, it brings me to my last favourite object – a painting. It’s got to be Sunlight in a Scottish Room by John Henry Lorimer. It’s a true gem of a painting and tells you two things about his work: he loved Kellie and he adored the light of the East Neuk. The way the light floods into these rooms, falling over floorboards and furniture. It has to be seen to be believed. John spent the first summer at Kellie when he was just 23 – a studio was built for him. Although he had studios in Edinburgh and London, he always returned to this place and lived here almost permanently from 1916 when his mother died.

This place was a haven for John; a place to retreat and be inspired. And I have to admit, it feels much the same for me.

Join Antonia Laurence-Allen, the Trust’s Curator for Edinburgh and East, as she takes you on a short tour of Kellie Castle, and shows you some of her favourite things.