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Glenlair House

A Category B Listed Building in Parton, Dumfries and Galloway

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Latitude: 55.0287 / 55°1'43"N

Longitude: -3.9432 / 3°56'35"W

OS Eastings: 275884

OS Northings: 572186

OS Grid: NX758721

Mapcode National: GBR 0BX9.35

Mapcode Global: WH4VF.DVHT

Entry Name: Glenlair House

Listing Date: 4 November 1971

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 350950

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB17096

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Parton

County: Dumfries and Galloway

Electoral Ward: Castle Douglas and Crocketford

Parish: Parton

Traditional County: Kirkcudbrightshire

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Walter Newall, 1830; substantial extension to West by James Barbour, 1868; alterations and extensions to East and North (rear), Peddie and Kinnear, 1884; partially restored 1992-3. Significant as the home of James Clerk Maxwell (see Notes). Substantial 19th century, irregular-plan, multi-gabled, country house, now largely ruinous comprising roofless 2-storey, 2-bay, double-pile, central block by Walter Newall; derelict, partially-roofed, Baronial style, 2-storey wing to W (left) by James Barbour with stone-mullioned windows, 2-storey canted window to front gable and gabled porch to side; single- and 2-storey, T-plan, former service wing, largely by Peddie and Kinnear to E (right) with corbelled chimney stacks, renovated to habitable condition 1992-3. Squared, snecked whinstone rubble with polished red sandstone ashlar dressings. Eaves course and raised window margins to 1830 section; long and short quoins to later sections.

Small-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows to inhabited section. Ashlar-coped skews with stone finials; scrolled skewputts to 2-storey section of former service wing. Coped and corniced gablehead stacks. Graded grey slate to surviving roofs; some Welsh slate to former service wing.

Statement of Interest

Glenlair is of particular interest as being the home of the pioneering 19th century physicist, James Clerk Maxwell, for whom the wing by James Barbour was built. Some of Maxwell's most important work is believed to have been carried out here and it is also believed that he designed of the tiled floor in the lobby; the tiles themselves are made by Minton.

Glenlair is occasionally also known as Nether Corsock. It is a substantial country house (now largely ruinous), combining the work of well-regarded local architects, Walter Newall and James Barbour and the renowned Edinburgh-based firm, Peddie and Kinnear.

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-79) was one of the leading mathematicians and theoretical physicists of the 19th century. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying 'one scientific epoch ended and another began with James Clerk Maxwell'. His work covered a wide range of subjects, but most importantly he introduced the idea of light as an electromagnetic phenomenon and devised a set of equations that expressed the fundamental laws of light, electricity and magnetism; he defined the kinetic nature of gases, introduced the concept of statistical mechanics and discovered the correct nature of the rings of Saturn. He was particularly interested in colour, investigated the causes of colour blindness, and produced the first colour photograph in 1861. He held academic posts at Marischal College Aberdeen, and Kings College London. In 1871 became the first Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge University and first director of the Cavendish Laboratory. Full details of his life and achievements are to be found in the Dictionary of National Biography (Vol XIII) and numerous websites dedicated to him.

Glenlair House was built for Maxwell's father in 1830 by Walter Newall, the principal architect working in Dumfriesshire in the first half of the 19th century. Newall's house was a plain double-pile, M-gabled building with gabled dormers at first floor level. This part of the building now stands ruinous and the gable heads have been removed. In 1865 Maxwell retired to the Glenlair estate and it is here that he is believed to have carried out his ground-breaking work on electricity and magnetism. His study seems to have been located in the SE ground floor room of Newall's wing, though there is nothing left in the surviving fabric to evidence this. He commissioned James Barbour, who had effectively taken over Newall's practice, to build the large wing to the W of the original house. This part of the building is in a derelict condition, though still partially roofed. In the 1880s Peddie and Kinnear added the service wing, extended the W wing to the N and made alterations to the 1830 building. In 1929 the house was largely gutted by fire and abandoned. The service wing was renovated and brought back into domestic use in the early 1990s and it is believed that the owner wishes to stabilise the rest of the structure (2007).

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