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Dun A Bhuilg (Loch Sween House), near Achnamara

A Category B Listed Building in South Knapdale, Argyll and Bute

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Coordinates

Latitude: 55.9104 / 55°54'37"N

Longitude: -5.6768 / 5°40'36"W

OS Eastings: 170305

OS Northings: 674701

OS Grid: NR703747

Mapcode National: GBR DFC2.VYH

Mapcode Global: WH0JS.RPYV

Entry Name: Dun A Bhuilg (Loch Sween House), near Achnamara

Location: South Knapdale

County: Argyll and Bute

Parish: South Knapdale

Locality: Mid Argyll

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Listing Date: 2 March 2017

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Building Class: Cultural

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52422

Source ID: 406666

Description

Dun A Bhuilg was designed by Albert Reginald Powys (with John Eric Miers MacGregor) and was built in 1929. It is a 2-storey and attic, multi-gabled house in an Arts and Crafts style, combining traditional Scottish and contemporary building methods and materials. The house stands in an elevated position to the west of Kilmory Bay with panoramic views towards the mountains of Jura to the west. The rubble for the walls was quarried from the rocky outcrop directly behind the house. The house has stylised crowsteps and steeply pitched roofs with wallhead chimney stacks and mitred slates. The first floor windows are set close to the over-hanging eaves and the exterior walls are whitewashed.

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: outbuilding to rear.

The principal (west) elevation has an entrance in the re-entrant angle of a full-height stair outshot. The outshot has a pair of small roundels (one glazed) to ground floor, two windows above and a monogramed date plaque in the gable. The wall to the left of the entrance steps has a faucet spouting water into a stone basin. There is a brass bell on the wall to the left of the door, and a cast concrete porch with crowsteps above. There is a further concrete porch above the door to the south gable end. The rear elevation has a broad gable at the first floor with a wallhead chimney stack. There are small windows in the gable stepping down to the right of this chimney stack.

The interior, seen in 2016, has exposed timber beams to the ground and first floor ceilings. The ground floor has quarry tile floors that slope to corner drains. The staircase steps are solid timber, spiralling around a central post with a rope handrail. The boiler/cloakroom area has a former coal store beneath with a circular coal-hole and a suspended drying rack for wet clothes. The sitting room fireplace has a flush pedimented lintel and is flanked by exposed brickwork. The interior doors are faced with single sheets of plywood. Storage cupboards and drawers are built into walls and attic eaves throughout the house. The kitchen retains bespoke timber dressers and a small glass-walled creamery with slate shelves and a chimney to extract warm air. The walk-in pantry has bespoke timber units and a serving hatch to the kitchen. The main bedrooms have timber window seats and timber coving. The attic bedrooms each retain four built-in timber bunk beds. An additional bathroom has been added on the first floor.

The large sitting room and stair outshot have multi-pane timber sash and case windows, some with 'Vita-Glass' panes. There are smaller multi-pane, crittal windows elsewhere. The roof is dark slate with tightly mitred joints at the valleys. The rainwater goods are predominantly of cast iron with some decorative rainwater hoppers.

Statement of Interest

Dun A Bhuilg is a distinguished and late flourish of Arts and Crafts architecture which has been little altered since it was built in 1929. It is a rare example of a bespoke house by the renowned English conservation architect and author, A. R. Powys. The simplicity of its design, in comparison with earlier 20th century Arts and Crafts houses, is interesting as it pre-empts the streamlined style of 1930s architecture. The design of the house is also strongly influenced by Scottish building traditions of previous centuries as well as using early 20th century materials. It makes a valuable contribution to its remote and dramatic setting near Loch Sween on the west coast of Scotland.

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: outbuilding to rear.

Age and Rarity

Dun A Bhuilg was built for Mr and Mrs Edwin Lewis as a remote Scottish holiday home beside Kilmory Bay to the south of Loch Sween on the west coast. The 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map (revised, 1898) indicates that the outcrop known as 'Dun a' Bhuilg' (which means Hill of the Fairies) behind the house was at one time occupied by a Roman fort. There are no buildings shown in the immediate area on the 2nd Edition map.

The house was completed in 1929, as shown by a date stone in the stair gable, and remains in the ownership of the same family (2017). A feature article in the June 1932 edition of The Ideal Home magazine noted that Dun A Bhuilg was 'designed to house a large family during holidays' and be 'as accommodating, hard-wearing and labour saving as possible' (Ideal Home, p.427).

Dun A Bhuilg was designed by Archibald Reginald Powys, the respected English conservation architect. Powys was secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) for 25 years until his death in 1936, and was the author of many books and articles on architecture including 'Repair of Ancient Buildings'. This book, first published by SPAB in 1929 and illustrated by Powys's business partner and fellow architect, John Eric Miers Macgregor, was reprinted for the fourth time in 2015.

Powys's obituary in the Somerset-Western Gazette noted that he was interested in 'questions of good materials, right construction and honest workmanship, being essentially a craftsman'. His own writings indicate that he was inspired by architects such as Philip Webb, William Weir and Charles Robert Ashbee, all of whom were pioneers of the Arts and Crafts movement. Arts and Crafts architecture was, like the movement itself, defined by a set of principles with every aspect of the design considered as part of an integral whole. Spanning a period of 50 years and reaching its height around the turn of the 20th century, it advocated the honest use of local materials, traditional building methods and authentic craftsmanship. This was largely in reaction to the increased materialism and mass-production of the late 19th century.

The design and construction of Dun A Bhuilg also takes inspiration from earlier Scottish building traditions including the use of crowsteps, steeply pitched roofs with mitred slates and first floor windows set directly beneath the over-hanging eaves. The stone for Dun A Bhuilg was quarried from the hill directly behind the house and the dressings are of a local blue stone. Practicality and weatherproofing were of primary concern in this remote area. The house was whitewashed in 1931, on the advice of the architect, as the exposed local stone proved to be more porous than expected.

The 'modernising' influence of Powys' business partner John MacGregor may be seen at Dun A Bhuilg in the use of 20th century building materials such as concrete, plasterboard and plywood. The novelist, John Cowper Powys wrote of his brother that 'his constant desire to allow beauty to emerge inevitably from an economic use of practical materials, rather than be superimposed as an artistic afterthought, dominated his own work' (Introduction to 'From The Ground Up' p.8). Dun A Bhuilg strongly evidences this philosophy in its design and craftsmanship.

Built in 1929, Dun A Bhuilg is a late flourish of Arts and Crafts architecture by the renowned conservation architect and author, A. R. Powys. It has been little altered since 1929. The simplicity of its design, in comparison with earlier 20th century Arts and Crafts houses, is interesting as it pre-empts the streamlined style of 1930s architecture.

Architectural or Historic Interest

Interior

The principles of the Arts and Crafts movement have been applied to the design of the interior. In particular, the authentic and craftsman-like approach to the use of materials is evident in the bespoke fixtures and fittings such as the stairs and inbuilt storage space. The interior is unusual because it is pared back and functional in comparison to earlier Arts and Crafts houses in more urban locations, which typically have elaborately carved timberwork and stained glass.

Plan form

The house is designed so that the internal room layout is clearly expressed in the exterior form of the building. This approach to plan form is typical for a house that follows Arts and Crafts design principles. The early 20th century plan form is largely unaltered.

Dun A Bhuilg was designed as a holiday home, so the need for functional and practical facilities were considered within the plan form. These include a cloakroom with drying rack, tiled floors with corner drains, serving hatch, open fireplace and multiple bunk beds to accommodate many guests. The sitting room and principal bedrooms are located on the west side of the house to take advantage of the scenic landscape to the west.

Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

Arts and Crafts design principles have been applied to this building with every aspect, both externally and internally, carefully considered with functionality and weatherproofing guiding the design. The low-set eaves to the more sheltered rear (east) elevation and the irregular placement of windows beside the chimney stack are illustrative of early 20th century Arts and Crafts architecture.

The exterior design of Dun A Bhuilg is influenced by traditional Scottish building methods of previous centuries which serve to ground the house, historically, to its location. The roof slates directly adjoin the gable ends without skews or bargeboards to increase weatherproofing. The use of stylised crowsteps in the projecting gables, first floor windows set directly beneath the eaves, steeply pitched roofs, tall chimney stacks and the use of stone quarried from the site are all in keeping with earlier building traditions of west coast Scotland. It is understood Powys also drew inspiration from nearby buildings. The 19th century Seafield Farmhouse at the nearby settlement of Achnamara, for example, has a similarly advanced gable entrance.

More unusual for an Arts and Crafts house is the prudent use of 20th century building materials such as 'Celotex' (established 1925) insulation boards, 'Vita-glass' window panes (invented circa 1926, allowing natural ultraviolet light to pass through), large plywood sheets (which were first used as a building material during the 1920s), and the use of cast concrete for the exterior porches. These economic and practical materials would also have been relatively easy to transport to such a remote location. The design of the house follows the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement while moving beyond it, pre-empting the more streamlined and practical style of 1930s architecture.

Setting

The house has been tailored to its remote coastal setting and orientated so that the main rooms take advantage of the views towards the Isle of Jura and the rear of the property is sheltered by the hill behind. The immediate setting has not changed greatly and the footprint of the house remains as it was in the early 20th century. Much of the garden layout survives from when the house was built, including substantial rockwork that was repositioned for visual effect.

Regional variations

There are no known regional variations at present.

Close Historical Associations

There are no known associations with a person or event of national importance at present (2016).

A. R. Powys, the architect of Dun A Bhuilg, was secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) for 25 years until his death in 1936. His influential book 'Repair of Ancient Buildings' was first published by SPAB in 1929, the same year that Dun A Bhuilg was built.

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