Location and Setting
Stobhall is situated some 8 miles (13km) north-east of the city of Perth on a ridge approximately 100' (30m) above the east bank of the River Tay which forms the western boundary of the site. The surrounding landscape on either side of the Tay is agricultural or afforested. The high situation enables fine views to be gained to the river and the landscape beyond from the west and north side of Stobhall. Due east of the Castle, the ground slopes steeply down to the valley of a burn, beyond which the land rises to the A93 which runs between Stobhall Wood and the Pleasance. The East Lodge, the parkland and woodlands are of moderate significance from the A93, the main route linking Perth/Blairgowrie.
Stobhall consists of four buildings: the Dowery House, the Chapel Castle, the Kitchen/Laundry and the Library which are assembled around a grass courtyard, the centrepiece of which is a clipped yew tree. The designed landscape slopes west down to the River Tay, and east, beyond the A93, to the Pleasance. To the north, it extends to the main drive, and south to Stobhall Wood. The earliest documentary map evidence is provided by a map by John Adair, FRS of 'Strathern, Stormount and Cars of Gowrie' dedicated to the Earl of Perth who was Lord Chancellor in c.1685. It shows Stobhall with trees on both sides of the buildings and a square enclosure which indicates the policies at this time. The development can be subsequently traced on General Roy's map of c.1750, the 1st edition OS map of 1868 and the 2nd edition OS map of c.1910 which indicate that the structure of the present designed landscape was established by the time of these surveys. Views to the west have influenced the designed landscape, which includes some 171 acres (70ha) today.
A settlement at Stobhall is thought to have been founded originally in the 12th century and its Chapel is 13th or 14th century. Around 1360 the Drummonds acquired the property, probably through marriage with the Mountfichet heiress. Between that date and 1490 two Queens of Scotland came from Stobhall, Margaret and Annabella. The latter married Robert III and from this marriage came the Stuart line of Kings and Queens. In 1490 the main family seat was moved to Drummond Castle. Dame Lilias Ruthven, widow of the 2nd Lord Drummond, moved to Stobhall on his death in 1571 and she was responsible for building the small castle on to the Chapel and converting the whole into living quarters. This was finished in 1578, a date found on the Chapel walls with her and her husband's arms. She probably also built the Kitchen/Laundry.
After the period of Cromwellian rule when the Castle at Drummond was destroyed, the 2nd Earl of Perth took up residence at Stobhall. He built the Dowery House before his death in 1662 and it is thought that the formal garden adjacent to it was laid out at this time. The 3rd and 4th Earls were both loyal to the Stuart causes during the 17th century and thus caused their financial and social status to fluctuate accordingly; the 4th Earl was Lord High Chancellor and in 1690 was made Duke of Perth by James II with whom he spent the last years of his life in exile in France after his deposition. The Drummond estates were confiscated during the 1745 uprising but the Crown allowed the widow of the 2nd Duke (d.1739) to remain at Stobhall until her death in 1773. The Dukedom became dormant in 1760 on the death of the 6th Duke. In 1776, Stobhall became the home of James Drummond of Lundin, (de lure 10th Earl), who, despite the attainder, lived a life of considerable luxury. His wife, Lady Rachel Drummond, and his sister-in-law, Lady Sarah Bruce, remained at Stobhall after his death in 1781, when the policies fell into neglect.
The forfeited estates were regranted to the (de jure) 11th Earl in 1784 and he was created Lord Perth. Drummond Castle once again became the main seat of the family. He died in 1800 and the estates passed to his only daughter Clementine who married the 19th Baron Willoughby D'Eresby seven years later. Although neither she nor her descendants lived at Stobhall, she made considerable improvements to the grounds. Stobhall was occasionally let, and Millais, the painter, is known to have rented the property in the 1850s.
In 1853, the Earldom was restored and in 1902 Viscount Strathallan became 15th Earl of Perth. In 1953, the Earl of Ancaster passed Stobhall to the present 17th Earl of Perth enabling the title and estate to be joined again after a lapse of almost 150 years. Since the 1950s, Lord and Lady Perth have been responsible for considerable improvements to the buildings and policies.
The Dowery House, listed category A, is a two-storey rubble building with dormer windows which dates from 1671. The Chapel Block, listed category A, is thought to date from the 14th century and was completed in 1578. The Kitchen/Laundry, listed category A, is a single-storey building with the bakehouse in the basement below, dating from the 16th/17th century. The group of buildings is completed by the Library, put up in 1965, on the exact site of earlier buildings. The Garden Walls, listed category A, stand adjacent to the Dowery House. James IV recalls them in a famous poem indicating that they existed between 1488-1513 and were probably restored in the 19th century. They enclose the formal garden in the centre of which stands a Sundial, dated 1643 and listed category A. One or two pieces of modern sculpture stand on the drive in the foreground of distant views to the wider landscape beyond. The Old Bridge, listed B, spans the burn to the east of the house. The Caretaker's House and garages are listed category B individually but are part of an A group with the other residential buildings. They date from the mid-19th century but were remodelled in 1953-4. Beyond them is the Shell Garden built in 1975 with two urns and the wall coping from Dunmore House and the Pineapple. A well head in its centre comes from Tuscany. A Sundial, situated near the Gardener's House and the vegetable garden, has an elaborate facet dial surmounted by a hemispherical dial and is listed A.
The parkland at Stobhall is situated on the banks of the River Tay and to the east of the A93 around the Pleasance Wood which is mainly oak coppiced 150 years ago. Oak and Spanish chestnut trees, some dating from c.1840, stand in the park on the banks of the Tay which slopes steeply down from the ridge on which Stobhall stands. A lochan has been created in a low-lying area to the north of this park since the 1950s. Trees are being replanted in the parks in clumps.
The policy woodlands of Stobhall lie to the south of the house at Stobhall Wood and east, beyond the A93, in the Pleasance. Reference to Adair's map of 1680 and General Roy's map of c.1750 indicates that woodland was long established in these areas. An account of 1883 (Woods & Forests of Perthshire) describes the best timber to be in Stobhall Wood where spruces, larch and numerous Scots firs were growing, the latter to a great size; however, a larger Scots fir was to be found, and may be that which remains, in the Pleasance which is now a coppiced oakwood. The account noted that good hardwood trees were also grown at Stobhall, including beech, oak and ash 'but none to a great size'. The banks along the River Tay are also described as being 'lined out with gean, ash, poplar, sycamore, walnut and larch and just beneath the ancient pile, the trees are a little low, opening up a fine glimpse of the broad and gently broken surface of the stream'. These woods remain but are much depleted.
The woodland garden is situated in the valley of the burn which flows to the east and south of the house at Stobhall. A pathway descends from the west side of the courtyard down into the dell beneath a canopy of sycamore and conifers, mainly larch which were planted c.1910. The trees are well spaced and there is a thick groundcover of species, indicating that woodland has been established there for some time. Since the 1950s, waterfalls have been formed along the burn as it flows towards the Tay to reduce the bank erosion; a practical, yet attractive solution. A variety of species and hybrid Rhododendron and Azalea have been established within the woodland canopy. A bridge crosses the burn and the pathway meanders up the bank opposite the house where, in addition to those mentioned, Japanese maples and other ornamental trees including Corylus 'Contorta' have been planted. The footpath continues through the site to the former orchard, where young beech trees have been planted, past the vegetable garden to the main drive. Here, a new beech avenue has been planted with trees at the same spacing as the beech avenue at Drummond Castle. The beech have been interplanted with Spanish chestnut. The vista down the main avenue to the house is closed by two large Wellingtonias at the point where the drive turns sharply south to return to the house.
The formal garden lies on the north side of the Dowery House and is thought to have originally been laid out following the construction of the house in the mid-17th century. The earliest reference to the garden is that of 1786 by John Ramsay of Ochtertyre who describes how he was shown the garden by Lady Rachael Drummond who called it her 'withdrawing room' where she and the guests went after dinner. She described it as a small parterre with box which lay beneath the window. The garden is mentioned again in Herbert Maxwell's book of 'Scottish Gardens', 1908, which includes a painting of the sundial, which still forms the centrepiece today. The garden itself is symmetrical in layout with four square box-edged compartments centred around the sundial. Two compartments are filled with hybrid roses and two with shrubs and herbaceous plants and each of the four corners are punctuated by a single, tall cylindrical box or clipped yew. Other distinctive topiary shapes stand on the boundaries. It is not known if this is the original layout or if it has since been altered. To the north of this garden, on the west side of the main drive beyond the garage/stable complex, Irish yews have been planted on the lawn in a formal pattern and provide the setting for the modern sundial. Steps and a gateway, the posts of which are capped with eagles, lead down to the Shell Garden.
The Shell garden is situated on the low side of the retaining wall which forms the western boundary of the formal gardens. The garden has been built up from the natural west-facing slope and is retained by a stone wall which was built in 1975. A greenhouse with an octagonal central feature was added in the 1970s and is well stocked with plants. The garden is divided into four compartments, the two largest of which are contained by box hedging. A well head, brought from Tuscany, forms the centrepiece, and below is one of the early sundials. The garden is used for growing on plants, cut flowers and vegetables. A footpath leads south to the house along the retaining wall of the formal garden which is trained with fruit trees and bordered with flowering plants. Fine views are gained down to the Tay.
The vegetable garden is situated on the south side of the main drive. It was laid out in the 1950s and is enclosed by a beech hedge. A fine sundial forms the centrepiece, from which four grass paths radiate off to access points. Fruit and vegetables are grown here for the house.