A Very Fine and Historically Important Plaque from the Duke of Gordon’s Gordon House, Castle Hill, Edinburgh, Removed When the House was Demolished in 1887

28th May 2024

A plaster military trophy panel from the Duke of Gordon’s house in Edinburgh

 

Provenance

Part of the interior decoration at Gordon House, Castle Hill, Edinburgh, seat of the Duke of Gordon and later the birthplace of Sir David Baird, “hero of Seringapatam”. Removed when the majority of the building was demolished in 1887

Taken to Swanton Abbott Hall, Norfolk by its new owner.

A private UK collection for the past 50 years.

This fine and important painted plaster plaque is contained in a frame which is inscribed “Panel from Duke of Gordon’s House Castle Hill, Edinburgh, Demolished 1887. Wood of frame from same house”. Sadly the interiors of Gordon House are not particularly well  recorded (please see below) but it is likely that this panel was one of a number of fine architectural elements either made for the Gordon family or perhaps for the Baird family who occupied the house after them. A report in the Edinburgh Evening News dated the 21st of December 1912 mentions “two (panels) from the Duke of Gordon’s house” in the Corporation Museum in the city. Unfortunately that museum is not the same museum which continues to serve Edinburgh today and it is currently unclear as to whether the panels were transferred in to the collection of the new museum founded in 1932 as certain items were sold at that point.

Our research has also identified references to a bookcase and a settle that were made from the reclaimed oak salvaged from the interior of Gordon House when it was demolished. Our plaque, incorporating both Gordon House oak in its frame and part of the architectural decoration of the house itself,  is a fascinating souvenir of one of Scotland’s great town houses and a fascinating piece of military history due to its associations with the great Sir David Baird (see below).

Dimensions: Length 105cm Height 45cm Depth 7cm

Gordon House

 Believed to have been built in the 16th century, Gordon House was a landmark on Castle Hill in Edinburgh until its partial demolition in 1887. Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh, published in c.1885, describes the house as follows:

“This house is mentioned in the ” Diurnal of Occurrents” as being, in 1570, the residence of Patrick Edgar ; and after it passed from the Gordons it was possessed by the family of Newbyth, who resided in it for several generations…..From the Bairds of Newbyth the house passed to the Browns of Greenbank, and from them, Brown’s Close, where the modern entrance to it is situated, derives its name”.

“The internal fittings of the mansion are in many respects unchanged since its occupation by the Duchess (of Gordon). It is wood-panelled throughout, and one large room which overlooks the Esplanade is decorated with elaborate carvings, and with a large painting over the mantelpiece the production of Norrie, a famous house-decorator of the eighteenth century, whose genius for landscapes entitles him to a place among Scottish painters”.

After the demolition of the house in 1887 the site was used as a school, the turreted doorway to the house being retained. Near the site today is The Witchery hotel and restaurant which retains period features of the sort that would have adorned Gordon House such as ceilings based on those at Holyrood Palace. Our plaque is a wonderful reminder of an important period in Edinburgh’s history and of a great interior now tragically destroyed.

The Dukes of Gordon 

The Dukedom of Gordon was first created in 1684, the clan itself having a much longer history. A proud Catholic clan, the Gordons were traditionally associated with the Jacobite cause. During the 1715 risings, the clan and the Duke supported the Jacobite cause-though some members of the clan fought with the Crown forces. During the 1745 rebellion the Duke of Gordon pledged allegiance to the crown but many of his clan fought for the Jacobite cause.

The Duke of Gordon was keeper of the keys to Edinburgh Castle-hence the location of his city residence on Castle Hill. The Gordons are one of the most important of all the Scottish families and the Dukedom survives to this day, now combined with the Dukedom of Richmond and with the family seat at Goodwood House in Sussex.

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