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Black Isle's lost gem remembered

By SPP Reporter

Rosehaugh House from the east.
Rosehaugh House from the east.

A BOOK which brings one of the Highlands’s most remarkable house back from oblivion has itself made a comeback, 20 years on.

Rosehaugh: A House of Its Time tells the story of Rosehaugh House on the outskirts of Avoch on the Black Isle.

Originally a home of the MacKenzie clan, the house and 6400 acre estate was bought by James Fletcher, who embarked on a programme of improvement on both building an land, but it was his son James Douglas Fletcher who, with the aid of Glasgow-born architect William Flockhart, turned the Highland home into one of Scotland’s most impressive late Victorian mansions.

However, its glory years were to be relatively short.

After the death of Douglas Fletcher’s widow, Lilian, in 1953, the house was left to a niece, who sold the estate to the Eagle Star Insurance Company.

The company soon began selling off the contents of the house in the largest sale ever staged on the Black Isle, and just a few years later the house was finally demolished in 1959.

Fortunately for posterity, John Mills, a surveyor employed by Eagle Star, became smitten by the doomed house and his notes were the starting point for Rosehaugh: A House of Its Time, which has now been republished two decades on from the first edition.

"The launch was almost 20 years to the day from the original launch," Magdalene Maclean, one of the books four co-authors, said.

"The new edition is basically the same as it was before, but one or two new facts have come to light. There’s also an update on what’s been happening in the Rosehaugh Estate in the last 20 years. There are new photographs of how the buildings have been renovated and also new photographs that weren’t in the original book. Photographically speaking, I think it’s better than the first edition."

The cover of the new edition.
The cover of the new edition.

The original edition – which was listed by The Scotsman newspaper in its Top 10 list of non-fiction titles of 2017 – was published after John Mills contacted Avoch Heritage Association with the suggestion that it publish a book on Rosehaugh.

Although it was the contribution of Mills, who died in 2008, which provided the starting point for the book, the association decided to widen its potential appeal to readers by including more on the inhabitants of house and estate than had featured in Mills’s architecturally centred account.

Maclean and fellow AHA members Hilda Hesling and Kathleen MacLeman also volunteered to contribute to the book.

"Kathleen was the real specialist because she was brought up on the Rosehaugh Estate and had a lot of memories of what went on in the 1950s and so on," Maclean said.

Hesling brought to the project a writing pedigree as the daughter of Katharine Stewart, author of A Croft in the Hills, about her life in Abriachan, and Women of the Highlands, who became one of Britain’s oldest working authors when her final book, The Story of Loch Ness, was published when she was well into her 90s.

"She obviously inherited some of her mother’s skills," Maclean added.

"I was able to contribute some research on the architect, William Flockhart, and so on, but we all read and criticised each other’s work. It was a real communal effort."

Avoch Heritage Association hosted an exhibition about Rosehaugh House at Rosemarkie’s Groam House Museum in the summer, which saw much interest in the Black Isle’s lost architectural gem, and not just from locals.

"People came up to me, people who were on holiday, and side it was such a shame," Maclean said.

"But that’s the way it was. In the 1950s there was no money."

The hall at Rosehaugh.
The hall at Rosehaugh.

Perhaps some of those visitors might find out more about the story of Rosehaugh by ordering the new version of the book, emulating the success of the first edition which sold to readers as far away as New Zealand.

The new version is not just a Black Isle book because of its subject matter. It is also produced on the peninsula by Bassman Books, the independent publisher run by local resident and former journalist Russell Turner.

"That was part of the appeal," Maclean acknowledged.

"Russell was looking for a new project, so just emailed us out of the blue.

"He had some excellent ideas as well and new exactly what he wanted to do with the photographs. I think he’s done an excellent job."

Rosehaugh: A House of Its Time by Hilda Hesling, Magdelene Maclean, Kathleen MacLeman and John Mills is published by Bassman Books.

Copies are available online at www.bassmanbooks.co.uk and from Avoch Heritage Association at www.avoch.org, as well as bookshops in Inverness, Cromarty and Fortrose, Post Offices in Avoch and Fortrose and Groam House Museum in Rosemarkie.

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