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Threatened Buildings Survey 2007

Date November 1997

Event ID 606922

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Summary Record

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/event/606922

Inverailort House is situated on the east shore of Lochailort to the south of the River Ailort on the southern edge of its fertile flood plain, sheltered beneath Seann Chruach. The oldest part of the existing house is the south wing which is shown on the First Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1872. This now appears as a relatively substantial late eighteenth or early nineteenth century house. The twin gabled or double pile form suggests that it incorporates an earlier core possibly dating back to the 17th century, and invasive building archaeology would be the only way to verify this. The house was orientated north-south, and the main front appears to have been west facing. Borrodale House, near Arisaig, is a building of a similar form and age in the vicinity.

Relatively soon after the First Edition was surveyed, c.1880, a large new L plan wing was added to the north gables of the existing house. This wide three bay two storey block contained a suite of formal reception rooms and principal bedrooms, the two storey canted bay affording excellent views of the area. This block faces north with an entrance to the east, sheltered by an elaborate cast iron veranda. The architectural style is typical of a smart villa, which would not be out of place in the suburbs of any Scottish town. Much of the interior of this block survives including a number of fireplaces and a fine sideboard recess in the original dining room.

In 1891 the architect J Pond MacDonald added a substantial baronial wing to the east, creating a large new drawing room - later called the ball room - facing north, a new entrance facing east, and further accommodation to the south. The wing is embellished with a large octagonal turret the base of which forms the ‘inglenook’ fireplace. This work is of a completely different scale to the earlier house and perhaps suggests that it was to be the first phase of a much grander scheme that was not realised. The interior of this wing is extremely elaborate with a gilded heraldic panel over the drawing room fireplace; heavy plasterwork and extensive panelling survives throughout.

During the nineteenth century the family created a Roman Catholic chapel on the first floor of the back or east portion of the original house. This evocative timber-lined chapel may well be in the earliest part of the building. Its hidden location uncelebrated externally is perhaps a memory of historic persecution.

The family’s Catholicism probably lead to the appointment of the architect Reginald Fairlie in 1912. He too was Catholic and designed a number of churches including examples in Mallaig and Fort William. At Inverailort Fairlie designed a large new wing to the west of the c.1880s block. This work attempted to balance the façade providing a large new dining room and a morning room which has since been used as the local post office. The first floor provided further bedroom accommodation. Fairlie opted for a Baronial style, but of a gentler seventeenth century inspired form, with its crow-stepped gable and elaborate dormer heads. The interior of this wing also survives largely intact.

Inverailort is a fascinating house because the different builders have made no attempt to blend their work in with the existing building. It is quite a rare example of a building where the most recent four phases of development are clearly identifiable. It is unusual that the house was enlarged three times in less than forty years. The Post Office directories show that in 1872 Inverailort was owned by Duncan Cameron of Inverailort, in 1875 by Mrs Cameron of Inverailort, but by 1894 James Head had acquired the estate, and in 1912 Mr Cameron Head employed Reginald Fairlie. Additional work on the family and ownership history is required for a fuller understanding of the building.

Information from RCAHMS (STG), 2007

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