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The History of Shambellie House

Find out more about the story of Shambellie House and the local area of New Abbey home of the Stewart family from the 15th century.

The Stewarts of Shambellie

During the 13th century much of the land around New Abbey was under the control of Cistercian monks based at Sweetheart Abbey. During the Scottish Reformation, the estate began to break up and in 1625, the Stewart family, associated with Galloway from the early 15th century, began to acquire land, especially around Shambellie to the north of the village. Shambellie is from the Gaelic sean baile meaning old settlement.

The Stewarts lived in a house in New Abbey for over 200 years. Some nationally significant Stewarts were William Stewart who was Lord Mayor of London in 1721 and another William who was secretary to the powerful Dukes of Queensberry.  His son, Charles built up the estate to 2400 acres and began the forestry plantations, now such a feature of the area.  He developed important commercial interests; in his America trade he imported tobacco, which led to the establishment of a snuff mill on the outskirts of New Abbey.  His son, another William, took over the estate in 1759 and continued with the commercial enterprises despite inheriting significant debt.

A Family Affair

William fathered 26 children. His son, also a William, inherited the estate in 1844 and the following year married Katherine Hardie, the couple going on to have seven children. 

With their growing family the Georgian house where they resided in New Abbey no longer met their expectations, and in 1854 William appointed an architect to build Shambellie House.

The Building of Shambellie

William Stewart appointed David Bryce, a leading Victorian Scottish architect, to build his house.  It was to be built on a raised bank in the Shambellie woods, private, but near to New Abbey and able to take advantage of the spectacular view over Criffel to the south-west.  However, William argued with Bryce, with tradesmen and just about everyone associated with building the new house.  Bryce was forced to change his plans a number of times and to scale back the size of the new house to cut down costs.  Despite this, the house design still reflects the romantic old Scottish manor house with mullioned windows, crow stepped gables and conical roof turrets.  Inside the house the basement area, sunk to the rear, gave generous servant and service accommodation, whilst the family and guests would enjoy the raised aspects seen from the main rooms on the two floors above.

By 1860 the house was complete, albeit behind schedule and William added the gate lodge in 1863. 

The Stewarts and their descendants were to occupy the house continually until 1977 when it was given, along with his collection of 2,000 costumes and accessories, to the National Museum of Scotland by Charles Stewart and opened as the National Museum of Costume in 1982.  It closed in 2013 and is now managed by the Shambellie House Trust.

Shambellie Woodland

The grounds surrounding Shambellie House are classified ancient woodland and have a rich variety of wildlife and biodiversity. The woodlands are a very important ecosystem comprising of native species, some planted impressive specimens and a rich and structured network of fungi and plants that has taken hundreds of years to form.

The grounds demonstrate a complex relationship of trees, plants, wildlife, fungi, ferns and mosses.  Woodlands like this are rare throughout the UK and are sanctuaries for species whose ideal habitat is only created over hundreds of years of ecological processes.

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