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THE GLADSTONE FAMILY AT FASQUE
By Sir William Gladstone, Bt., KG.
John Gladstone purchased Fasque from Sir Alexander Ramsay, Bt for £80,000 in 1829. It was the end of a long search, fulfilling his lifetime ambition to become a Laird. Fasque provided him with a magnificent house and a fine agricultural estate. He wanted both. He wanted to live in style, and as one who had made his first fortune in corn he wanted to own and improve fine agricultural land.
Ramsay had overreached himself in his desire for splendour. He had pulled down an almost new house in the vernacular style lying just to the north-west of his new palace, and had ruined himself in the process. John Gladstone could afford both to buy the new house and to live in it.
The son of a prosperous Leith merchant, buying corn from the Baltic for the Edinburgh market, John intended to exploit the new Atlantic trade. As a young man he migrated to Liverpool and sent the first convoy of merchantmen to the United States after the War of Independence. He was feeding the massive population of Lancashire, hotbed of the Industrial Revolution. Liverpool was a newcomer amongst the great seaports of northern Europe, a dumping ground in time of surplus. John gave it its Corn Exchange, a wholesale and futures market, reducing volatility. Having tried his hand at many trades - always successfully - by the time he retired Liverpool was the second richest town in the world, with more millionaires than anywhere but London.
John developed Rodney Street and built a house there (where most of his children, including William Ewart Gladstone, were born). Then he moved out into the country and built a fine Palladian mansion which he called Seaforth, after his wife's family. Thus Liverpool's two greatest docks, the Gladstone (Headquarters of the Royal Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic) and the Seaforth (which now handles more tonnage than all the old docks put together ever did) owe their names to him.
Built on 100 acres of Litherland, four miles north-northwest of Liverpool, Seaforth was described by J.P. Neale in 'Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentleman', 1824, as a house 'not large, but particularly commodious in the disposition of the apartments, with a pleasing exterior'. Although no contemporary descriptions of the interiors survive, Anne Gladstone, in a letter to her brother Tom in October 1817, reported that her father was spending so much time on altering the house that it should be now called 'Guttling Hall' - with alterations to Library and Picture Gallery, as well as the building of a further wing.
Whilst John's professional career is well recorded, evidence for his interest in the arts is harder to unravel, but he may well have been influenced by the Liverpool connoisseur and fellow M.P. William Roscoe (1753-1811) - mirroring the latter's patronage of both George Bullock and John Gibson, R.A.. Certainly, the prosperity that ensued following the defeat of Napoleon was reflected in John's increasingly fashionable acquisitions - from expensive books, drawings to Flemish and Italian Old Masters including Salvator Rosa and Jacob Ruisdael by 1820.
Ultimately John began to look for a Scottish Estate. With Fasque secured, he leased Seaforth to the Paulet family in 1830 and brought a house-full of possessions from Liverpool; but compared with what he required for Fasque, it was a very modest house-full. Almost everything he needed was bought, much of it brand new, but with antique pieces where they suited him, in the 1830s. Furniture, carpets, books, linen, porcelain, pictures, silver, statuary, ornaments - whatever was desired was purchased, and everything of top quality, regardless of expense. He was still making money, now as an investor in railways. In his acquisitive endeavours, he may well have been assisted by his children - his eldest son Thomas being conveniently attached to Lord Granville's embassy in Paris in 1825, whilst his youngest sons John and William Ewart embarked upon an extensive Grand Tour of Europe in 1830-1, visiting Belgium, France, Germany and Italy. Charmingly, as founder of a dynasty he also had his ageing parents painted by Raeburn. He and three of his four sons all became members of parliament (an expensive business, in those days) although only the youngest of them, William, made a mark.
John had already built schools and churches in Leith and Liverpool. Now he built more, including the church, the school, and the almshouses on the estate. He was a force in the world of philanthropy as well as the world of commerce, and in 1846 Sir Robert Peel made him a Baronet. By that time William was a Minister of the Crown.
William Gladstone loved Fasque, and especially before his marriage in 1839 he spent much time there - reserving a turret room for his political and intellectual pursuits. He was a formidable walker: you have to be very fit to repeat the walks he recorded in his diary, some of which he himself repeated several decades later when Minister in attendance at Balmoral. He enjoyed shooting, especially rough shooting on his own, and recorded the modest but mixed bags - hare, duck, rabbit, partridge - which he proudly carried home over his own shoulder. Even as a rising statesman he was given the menial task of copying his father's letters, and (as a convinced free-trader) obliged to listen patiently to his father's tirades ('always at the top of his voice', for he was by then hard of hearing) on the virtues of Protection.
John's eldest son Thomas inherited the baronetcy, the Estate and the by now conservative ideas of his father, which were much at variance with those of his famous youngest brother. William did not visit Fasque for some years, but in the end he and his brother were reconciled, and he paid some nostalgic visits to his old family home.
Thomas managed to purchase Glen Dye, a large area mostly of moorland, thus proudly becoming the largest land owner in Kincardineshire, a big fish in a small pond. He lived a quiet and undistinguished life, playing a part in public service locally and doing much to modernise the farms and cottages. Somewhat inhibited in his younger days by the expectations of his dominating father, he also had the misfortune to lose four daughters from typhoid: the princely house did not have princely drains. Only his two youngest children, John and Mary, lived to a ripe old age, bachelor and spinster, with a large team of servants in a large house. John served in the Coldstream Guards at the battle of Tel el Kebir, and introduced a fair amount of militaria to the house, and many fine books on plants and birds. Most of his time, energy and money was devoted to fishing and shooting. He was carried to his grave in 1926 by ten of his gamekeepers. In his day, his staff remembered, the Estate was 'perfect': the front drive was raked every day. Miss Mary was remembered until recently, not altogether fairly, as a frequent and formidable visitor to the School. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother visited Fasque several times in her later years, and reminisced about the good old days when she was a guest of John and Mary in the 'great white house' before the first world war.
John was succeeded in the baronetcy by a contemporary cousin, so he left the Estate to the next in line, Albert, the oldest surviving grandson of William. For the second generation the house was owned by a bachelor. Not until the 1930s could Albert afford to live at Fasque for any extended period; and four blissful summers, with the house full of guests old and young, plentiful fruit and vegetables from the garden, venison and grouse from the hill, were brought to an abrupt halt by the outbreak of war in 1939. As Poland fell to the armies of Germany and Russia, the last guests left. The blackout did not present a problem. There was no electricity. After that there was never a full staff in the house again, and not until the 1970s, when Peter Gladstone arrived to modernise and diversify the Estate, was there a family living in the big house.
Peter with heroic efforts brought the house to life again. Much remained as it had been before 1914, and for a number of years it attracted visitors who were fascinated by the now uninhabited world of butlers, footmen, cooks and maids galore, as well as the superb furnishings and the mementoes of Victorian family life. Fasque has always been a friendly house: you only have to step inside to feel its welcome. Astride the great Boundary Fault, to the south lies the lowland Howe of the Mearns, famous for its agriculture, and to the north the highlands - the heather moors of the Grampian foothills. It enjoys a wonderful climate with its soft clear air, balmy in the summer, crisp and dry in the winter. But it is too big for a family and it needs a new lease of life.
Sir William Gladstone, Bart., K.G.