Kames Estate and Castle: Bannatynes and later owners.
Transactions of the Buteshire Natural History Society Vol.25, 2000.
Kames: the age of improvements
Returning to the story of Kames Castle itself, it is difficult to learn anything personal about the confusing number of Hectors and Ninians who lived there in the earlier centuries, but the last two resident Bannatynes are well documented. From all accounts James (1697 – 1786) was a kindly Laird, and was no longer involved in the matters of defence like Hector. He considered his tenants as part of his family, and never removed anyone nor increased their rents. Although he never gave a written lease, the farmers knew that as long as he lived their tenancies were secure. When a tenant died he gave the farm to the nearest male relative.xxxvii Except for planting trees he made no improvements, although he had plans drawn up for the enlargement of the castle. Many letters in the Lochgilphead archive discuss the erection of another floor, additional bedrooms and a large drawing roomxxxviii, but the work was never carried out in his time. He was not able to manage his own finances, and the estate soon became impoverished, forcing him to sell a substantial portion of land to the Earl of Bute. Earlier Bannatynes had paid hearth tax in 1693, and later window tax was levied. A receipt of 16 January 1772 reads "Received from Kames the window tax of the house of Kames due April last £1.19.6."xxxix
The surrounding woods were a source of wealth, and in 1785 there was a Public Roup of timber with over 100 ash trees being sold.xl John Blain, the Sheriff Clerk of Bute included in his account an item "to cash expended to drink with the tenants at endeavouring to settle with them about loading the wood cut this seson on the Estate – one shilling".xli Drink seems to have been incredibly cheap, or the tenants were very abstemious. Blain's account for legal expenses between 1786 & 1793 was £21.8.11d.xlii
When James died unmarried in 1786 at the age of 89, the estate went to his nephew William (born 1747), the elder son of his sister Isabella, wife of Roderick MacLeod, an Edinburgh advocate. William, also an advocate, came to Kames as William MacLeod Bannatyne, but quickly dropped the MacLeod. He was promoted to Bench in 1799, and as Lord Advocate was often called Lord Bannatyne, although he was not actually knighted until 1823.
William's attention was quickly drawn to the urgent need for good roads. John Blain had inaugurated a policy of road making after he came to the island in 1761, as there were no roads – only bridle paths. The inhabitants had to do the road building themselves, using their own horse and cart and their own tools. If they preferred to do the work by proxy and pay statute labour money they could be excused, but all males capable of gaining a living for themselves were liable for this statute labour. When the road from Port Bannatyne to Ettrick Bay was commenced, Bannatyne insisted that two roads should be built, one by Wester Kames (the present Edinbeg lane) and a second, which became the modern main road, by way of East Kames, the Kreslagmory and Achoulter to fall in with the other road at Tomenraw (Croc an Raer). He offered to pay the expenses on condition that he got the road money form his own estate and the statute labour of his own people. The cost of making the road was £93.13s1d.xliii On 30th April 1806 he obtained permission from the Commissioners to alter the line of the road from Pointhouse Burn to "near Port Bannatyne".xliv
William took a lively interest in Bute affairs and represented Rothesay in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for many years. He was an original member of the Bannatyne Club, which was founded in 1823 for the publication of works of Scottish history and literature.xlv William continued improving the farms, and in the Castle grounds laid out lawns and broad avenues, and had a walled garden built. He had the extension to the Castle carried out, almost according to the plans originated by his uncle James.xlvi In 1797 an agreement was drawn up with Robert Napier (mason & architect) concerning the building of the stone quay. Bannatyne said "It will be … for the general benefit of that part of the country as a place where vessels passing up and down the Clyde, Loch Fine or Kintyre might be with safety."xlvii The quay opened in 1801 with the Feu Charter giving the villagers certain rights of usage.
Like his uncle, William was not good at managing his own financial affairs, and was soon deeply in debt. One of the letters to John Blain from Michael Lining (Edinburgh) talks of debts of as much as £40,000.xlviii Trustees appointed were Lord Cullen, Colonel MacGregor Murray, Sir John MacGregor Murray and the Hon. Erskine. The Trustees concluded a contract with George Campbell (Glasgow), Campbell of Auchinvillan and a Mr Provan, a banker in Glasgow – the latter was bound to pay a clear yearly rent of £2,000 for the slate quarries and 17/- per thousande for whatever number of slates manufactured over and above the agreed quantity of 2 million 4 hundred thousand.xlix
In 1806 the castle was let for a period of about three years to Captain Edward Sterling (ex Dragoon Guards), better known as father of the writer John Sterling. In his biography of the latter Thomas Carlyle wrote: "John was born on 2nd July 1806 at Kames Castle, a kid of dilapidated Baronial residence with a small farm attached."l John Sterling was well known in London literary circles, and became a friend of Tennyson, Wordsworth, J.S. Mill, Garrick and Palgrave of Golden Treasury fame.
William Bannatyne was extravagant, but like the rest of his family remained faceless, without a physical description, until the writer, browsing through the Transactions, found this unexpected item. As a child Thomas Stevenson of Ardmaleish gave a picturesque description of Lord Bannatyne: "He wore knee breeches of red plush, with white stockings and silver buckles in his shoes. His vest was also of red plush dotted all over with black specks which made me thing that it had been plastered over with black currant jam and dried. He had grey hair approaching white and was well complexioned."li The speaker didn't say if this was his habitual style of dress, or specially donned for visiting farms!