Mystery over claim of Lauriston Castle’s ‘missing millions’

A local campaigner wants to take the City of Edinburgh Council to task for allowing a Victorian greenhouse in the grounds of Lauriston Castle to fall into serious disrepair.

By David Mclean
Thursday, 30th July 2020, 3:33 pm
Local heritage campaigner David Baker
Local heritage campaigner David Baker

David Baker, 61, fears the fenced-off structure is in danger of collapse and might not make it through the winter unless something is done.

The retired HMRC worker also wants to know why a 1929 endowment fund, which former owners of Lauriston Castle bequeathed for the future upkeep of the estate, is considerably smaller than expected.

Last September, David wrote to the council and supplied the council’s museums manager Frank Little with a lengthy document detailing items on the estate that were at risk or suffering from lack of proper maintenance.

Concerns included the greenhouse and a healing well and sundial dating from the 17th century.

David said: “Frank Little asked me to advise him of my concerns. He didn’t expect 58 pages.”

Category A listed Lauriston Castle was acquired by Edinburgh cabinetmaker William Reid and his wife Margaret in 1902.

Upon the death of Mrs Reid in 1926, the house and grounds were left in Trust to the Nation (Scotland), with the City of Edinburgh responsible for its upkeep, the Reids leaving behind a capital sum of £35,000 on June 1, 1929.

David Baker says the endowment fund should have grown into the millions. However, records state there has only been a small increase.

David, whose late wife Frances worked within the grounds of Lauriston Castle for more than 30 years, said: “I would estimate the Reids’ endowment to be worth over £2 million today, but the latest set of accounts for the Lauriston Castle Trust indicates it amounts to around £42,000.

“I find that incredible. I would have thought that due diligence of the trustees would have seen the value increase over the past 90 years.

“So what has happened?”

A staff member at Lauriston Castle, which hosts the Lord Provost’s annual garden party, told David the greenhouse recently underwent an expensive restoration – a claim he finds hard to believe.

He said: “A groundsman mentioned to me that around £30,000 had been spent restoring the greenhouse about seven or eight years ago.

“With that in mind, I find it difficult to understand why the greenhouse is in the state it is today.

“It’s unlikely to last another winter before falling down.”

In addition to caring for structures and monuments within the castle and its grounds, David says the trustees of Lauriston Castle are also responsible for the upkeep of the former owners’ graves.

David added: “A deed states that the trustees should provide perpetual care and upkeep of the graves of William Robert Reid and Mrs Margaret Johnstone Reid and five others.

“They’re uncared for. It’s an absolute disgrace that they would be treated in such a manner.”

The City of Edinburgh Council say they are aware of the deteriorating condition of the historic glasshouse, but that there are currently insufficient funds available to meet the cost of its repair.

A Council spokesperson said: “Lauriston Castle is one of our much-loved treasures in our museum’s collection and the Glasshouse is an essential part of its popularity.

“We’re fully aware that refurbishment work needs to be carried out on the structure and we’d like nothing more than to restore it to its former glory.

“Unfortunately there are insufficient funds to meet the expensive costs and in the current financial climate it’s just not possible for the Council to identify the available capital. We will of course continue to explore other funding avenues for any potential restoration.”