Join Dundee Civic Trust Today

Carbet Castle Ceiling Article

Carbet Castle, Broughty Ferry

Image of Carbet Castle Ceiling

The above ceiling was formerly an impressive part of Carbet Castle, the former Broughty Ferry mansion of the Grimond jute barons which sadly was demolished some years ago. The ceiling (size 32 ft. x 16 ft.) painted by Charles Frechou in 1871 was 'saved' by the Dundee Civic Trust in 1985. We are actively seeking a suitable architectural location for this fine example of late Victorian art and craftsmanship and would welcome enquiries from suitable and interested applicants.

R. M. Henderson of Dundee Civic Trust recounts:

The Saving of a Ceiling

Dundee's jute barons once vied with each other to erect the biggest and most elaborate houses in the fashionable suburbs of the city, particularly Broughty Ferry. One of the grandest was Carbet Castle, built for Joseph Grimond by a local architect, T. S. Robertson. The internal decoration was extremely grand, with dining and drawing-room ceilings painted in 1871 by Charles Frechou of Paris (whose most notable work is perhaps the Paris Opera House).

Carbet was hardly lived in and mostly demolished in 1920, but a section was left and used latterly as a builder's store. The condition of this section deteriorated and was allegedly the cause of outbreaks of woodworm and dry rot infestation in nearby properties.

In the spring of 1984, an application to demolish this last section of the castle and erect flats was lodged with Dundee District Council. Much to the surprise of all concerned, it was found that the dining-room ceiling and one panel of the upstairs drawing-room ceiling had survived almost intact despite the ravages of weather, time and neglect. The Council set about trying to save these important works of art; not an easy task physically and financially, for the main ceiling measured 30 ft. x 16 ft. and was estimated to weigh about five tons. Loose plaster on the walls and rotted joists added danger to the operation, but even more critical was the time aspect, as the developers, Apex Builders Ltd., were keen to proceed.

For reasons of expense, some two weeks before the demolishers were due to move in, the District Council decided they were unable to proceed with the salvage operation. At this stage, Dundee Civic Trust resolved to act, and in a week of frenzied activity, negotiated a contract with the demolishers to salvage the ceiling for a sum in excess of £12,500, obtained a stay of execution of the demolition, and set about raising the cash.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund agreed to a grant of £6,000, the developers themselves offered £2,000 and another £2,000 came from a trust administered by a local firm of solicitors. With various other donations and guarantees by individual Civic Trust members, the money obstacle was quickly solved, but there remained the technical problem of removing the ceiling.

Sandy Kirk, the engineer for Dundee Plant Co. who conducted the salvage operation, spent many hours calculating and scheming before deciding that the ceiling should be sandwiched in timber and polystyrene, sawn into nine pieces, and lifted out by crane after the roof had been taken off the building. The ceiling was waxed, six inches of polystyrene cut and packed underneath, then supported by heavy timbering.

Above the ceiling, casting plaster was used as reinforcement before another layer of heavy timbers was arrayed above the joists. The sandwich was then bolted together using 1 inch. diameter eyebolts for which holes had to be drilled right through.

The roof of the building was removed, the sandwich was cut into nine pieces using a carborundum saw and each piece lifted out by crane for transporting to a store, a disused factory kindly lent free of charge by a local builder.

The whole operation took six weeks to execute, and the ceiling is now in safe keeping while the Trust endeavours to find a suitable home for it in Dundee. The Trust also managed to rescue a smaller ceiling from Carbet Castle which is in a steel frame. Many possible locations for these ceilings have been investigated over the years but without success. The larger of the two ceilings is at present in storage in premises owned by Historic Scotland, the smaller in a container on the University of Dundee precinct.