POTTED HISTORY No 4: Elie House – Part 1
By Graham Johnston
The house was built in 1697 by Sir William Anstruther as the home for the Anstruther family. They lived there for six generations before selling the house and the estate to William Baird, an iron and steel magnate from Lanarkshire. Legend tells that a curse was put on it that only six generations of the Anstruther family would live in the house. Lady Anstruther demanded the demolition of a village, Balclevie, which lay between Elie House and Kilconquhar Loch since it spoiled her view. The curse was said to have been placed on the family by an ancient lady seeking revenge for the demolition of the village.
There was a poem written about the time and noted by the Rev. R A Armstrong of Kilconquhar which went:
Balclevie was a village fair, Balclevie is no longer there,
They took and cast its houses down, Balclevie was a bonnie town.
She cursed the tongue that gave command that not one stone be left to stand
She cursed the Lady Jenny Fa’ that their wee toon had ta’en awa’.
The house was substantially remodelled in 1864. The Baird family subsequently sold it to Sir Michael Nairn in 1928. Sir Michael lived at Elie House from 1928 until he died in 1953. On Sir Michael’s death, his son, Sir George Nairn, decided that Elie House was too large to be occupied as a private residence in post-war Britain. The house and gardens were sold to the Marie Reparatrice order of nuns to be used as a Retreat. As a result of dwindling numbers the nuns moved out in the early 1970s and the house had owners who did little to maintain it. In 1999 Alex Braidwood & Co. Ltd from Hamilton sought planning permission to build a number of houses in the grounds and renovate the main house. The finance to renovate the main house was intended to come from the sale of the new houses in the grounds. After much to-ing and fro-ing and public meetings, etc. planning permission for the Braidwood scheme was refused and Braidwood abandoned the project. Two of his professional advisors offered to take on the renovation of the house and planning permission to do so was eventually granted in 2004.
In addition to the 13 apartments of the main house permission was granted for the building of three town houses on the footprint of what was the chapel, built by the nuns. The chapel was a modern building by comparison with the main house and was linked to the main house by a corridor apparently to enable the nuns to reach the chapel without coming into contact with any male persons who might have been using the main house as a retreat and presumably vice versa. The stone pillars and gate posts at the driveway entrance are retained by Sir Michael Nairn.
To the right of the early part of the drive beyond the small plantation can be seen a stone obelisk in the Deer Park to the south of Elie House. According to the Royal Commission of ancient Monuments of Scotland, it was erected to commemorate Union of Parliaments in 1707 but there is little legend on the stonework and such as there is has suffered from erosion.
In the grounds there is an old doocot (dovecot) and a shrine possibly reflecting the time Elie House was a religious retreat.
Kilconquhar Loch is jointly owned and managed by Elie Estate in conjunction with the neighbouring Kilconquhar Estate. The loch is an important site for both breeding and wintering water fowl, including the rare little grebe which rears its chicks in the reed beds around the loch. Given the importance of the loch for bird life Scottish Natural Heritage designated the loch and surrounding area a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). In 2009 Elie Estate and its neighbour, Kilconquhar, entered into a Management Agreement with Scottish Natural Heritage to ensure the loch continues to be managed for the benefit of the environment. The water level is regulated by a complex drainage system known as the ‘loch run’ which runs south, largely in a deep underground culvert which runs past the front of the main house, through the copse and crosses the main driveway about 40 yards from the pillars. It then goes under the main road, across the field to the south of Baird Place under Wadeslea and eventually through the Toft and discharges out of the Toft Wall.
With thanks Ron Oliver – any feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org