Importance of Site
A site included in the Inventory is assessed for its condition and integrity and for its level of importance. The criteria used are set out in Annex 5 of the Scottish Historic Environment Policy (December 2011). The principles are represented by the following value-based criteria and we have assigned a value for each on a scale ranging from outstanding value to no value. Criteria not applicable to a particular site have been omitted. All sites included in the Inventory are considered to be of national importance.
Work of Art
Belmont House is an outstanding example of an 18th century neo-classical design, applied to the smaller country house. Its outstanding value as a Work of Art also relates to the design's adaptation to the distinct Shetland landscape and economy.
The site has high Historical value, being associated with the Mouat family since the 18th century until the mid 20th century.
Horticultural, Arboricultural, Silvicultural
As no planting survives within the gardens, the site has no existing Horticultural value.
The design quality of house and site, including the farm and ancillary structures, indicate that the ensemble can be considered of outstanding Architectural value.
Belmont House is a focal point in the landscape. It contributes to the scenery of Wick of Belmont thereby the site has high Scenic value.
The formerly cultivated enclosures of Belmont have little Nature Conservation value, at present.
The general sensitivity of the Belmont area and the large number of archaeological sites in the vicinity, give this site high Archaeological value.
Location and Setting
Belmont House is situated at the south-west corner of Unst, Shetland's northernmost isle, north of the Yell-Belmont ferry terminal on the Wick of Belmont. The island is relatively green with gentle rolling slopes and bare, rocky hilltops.
The designed landscape occupies a south-facing slope, with its main outlook over the Wick of Belmont. There are also important views westwards to the Loch of Belmont. On a clear day, views from the house encompass the Wick and other northern islands. The house within its symmetrical arrangement of rectilinear walled enclosures is prominent viewed from the sea.
Belmont House is located just below a ridge and, consequently is viewed in silhouette from the south. Although adjacent 20th century housing detracts from the skyline, the historic house and its associated landscape reinforce the traditional quality and character of the Unst landscape. The distinctive vegetation of the area, the texture and colour of the grasslands contrast strongly with rougher grazing land and surrounding heathlands.
The designed landscape comprises rectilinear walled enclosures and courtyard gardens set symmetrically around the mansion house, and leading down to the shore. This pattern has not changed since established in the 18th century (1878, OS 6"; 1900, OS 6").
Thomas Mouat, son of William Mouat of the Garth estate, toured the Lothians, visiting and viewing contemporary buildings. He is said to have been strongly influenced by Hopetoun House (q.v. Inventory, Volume 2, pp.112-9) in his building plans. Belmont House was completed in 1775. The House and landscape were laid out to a formal plan with a central design axis linking the farm steading immediately to the north and the sea gates to the south, with the House. This combined a strong classical design with practical considerations, and reflected the importance of the farm and the sea for income and transport.
The only alteration to the House was the addition of an early 19th century east wing. Belmont remained in the Mouat family until the mid 20th century, when it was sold. It then fell into disrepair, accelerated by storms in the 1990s. The Belmont Trust, a charitable trust, has been formed to restore the house to Mouat's design and allow public involvement and access.
Belmont House, c 1775, has a 19th century eastern extension. The principal south-facing block comprises two-storeys and an attic, over a basement. It has three bays with flanking quadrant walls linking it to square single-storey, single bay pavilions set at right angles. The quadrant walls curve southwards to enclose a terrace, which forms the forecourt to the house. Low rubble terrace walls linking the pavilions to a raised gateway define the southern forecourt boundary. The gateway, on the design axis, comprises ashlar gatepiers.
South of the house, the Garden and Boundary walls, Gateways and Gate Piers form the landscape framework. Most are drystone walls with rubble or flagstone copes, although some have been replaced with cement. Integral with the south boundary wall is a single storey, rubble Trading Booth.
A symmetrical, U-plan single-storey and attic Farm Steading, contemporary with the house, is positioned to the north.
Drives and Approaches
The original 18th century layout of drives and footpaths survives. The main approach was from the shore, to the south, whence an avenue leads northwards, along the central design axis. This route forms a steady ascent, passing through sets of gates and gatepiers before reaching the forecourt.
The main vehicular entrance is from the east, along the public road, which forms the site boundary. It led up to the farm steading, but a spur now leads up to the east side of Belmont House.
The footpaths are overgrown, but can still be followed due to their even gradients. Their original construction, formed by shallow cuttings and embankments, is apparent.
South of the courtyard gardens is a large rectangular park, bounded by drystone dykes, its centre set on the design axis. The park is quartered by footpaths, with gateways marking the entrance through the boundary walls into the adjacent fields. Some gateways have been infilled with rubble walling.
North of the House, rubble walls with flat coping stones enclose the park. It is bisected by an axial path linking the House to the farmstead.
South of Belmont House are three square courtyard gardens, each quartered by crosspaths. The east-west one connects each garden.
The central courtyard, south of the House, was separated from those to east and west by a low wall, topped by railings. The railings have not survived, and would have allowed intervisibility between the gardens. The south wall of the central courtyard is low, allowing uninterrupted views to and from the House.
Both the east and west courtyards are sheltered and enclosed by stone rubble walls, and were in productive use. Both have nails embedded in their south-facing walls indicating the supports for climbers and fruit trees, although none survive. The west garden, with the remains of a semi-circular summerhouse against the centre of the west wall, may have been an ornamental flower garden.