23rd May 2018
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Painstaking work to restore historic Belmont House in Unst is almost complete

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The restoration of the Georgian mansion Belmont House, which stands proudly near the ferry terminal in Unst, is nearly complete.

Years of work have gone into the project to rescue the symmetrically-fronted dwelling, one of the finest of its type, from dereliction. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Belmont Trust, the restoration, which started in 1996 and cost £1.2 million, will be finished by the end of July.

The 18th century mansion will be used for holiday accommodation marketed by the National Trust for Scotland, as well as for a range of other events. The first wedding to be held in Belmont for 200 years will take place in September.

The work to restore Belmont House to something exceeding its former glory has been carried out by Shetland Amenity Trust through its North Isles squad.

The first priority was to secure the structure, which was bought for £5 from Edinburgh architect John Hope, and make it wind and watertight. Slates were missing from the roof, rotten joists had to be replaced and collapsed ceilings had to be re-instated.

Great care was taken throughout the project to keep the property true to its era, hence the lath and plaster walls using traditional lime plaster, sheeps’ wool insulation and cast iron baths. Single glazing was also used in the restoration, to keep the transformation as “faithful as possible,” according to architect and trustee Mike Finnie.

There have been some concessions to modern living, however, with plumbing, electricity, central heating and a fire sprinkler system.

Now the joinery work is finished on the three-storey house, with the attic and middle floor being the last to be completed, and internal painting done, with original Georgian colour being used.

The drawing room paint is exactly the same as the original colour, a “sophisticated and understated” greyish blue called oval room blue, and the other rooms in the sunny-coloured paint called straw. Historic Scotland took samples of the original paint colours and these were replicated. The small range of colours was deliberate on the part of the trustees to “tie the house together as a co-ordinated whole”.

The flooring, still to be done, will be a mix of painted wooden floors with oriental rugs, fitted carpets in bedrooms and lino in kitchen and bathrooms. Work is still going on to the back porch and stone flags are still to be laid outside to form paths in the forecourt.

The next challenge, Mr Finnie said, is the furniture. There was a small quantity of “battered and weathered” original furniture left in the house, built by Thomas Mouat in 1775, which will be painted.

He said: “It was in a poor state and not restorable. It will be painted in similar colours [to the rooms] and look fine.”

Painted furniture was common in the 18th century, Mr Finnie added. Additionally, the National Trust for Scotland has agreed to a long-term loan of some period furniture from its collection.

After 31st July the Belmont Trust has to raise money to furnish the house for the first season of opening in 2011. The trust is entering into an agreement with the Bluemull Development Company which will project manage the development of the house into a business.

There will be local marketing particularly for the off-peak times of the year (the peak season price for the house, which sleeps 12, will exceed £1,000 per week) and the trust expects the house to be a popular venue for weddings.

There will be a working weekend at Belmont on 17th and 18th July doing gardening and restoring and painting some of the furniture remaining in the house. Anyone interested in helping will be welcomed, for all weekend, one day or even a couple of hours, is asked to contact the trust (01595) 820281 or email skeogarth@btinternet.com

• The book accompanying the project, Belmont, the Rescue of a Shetland Country House, is now available at The Shetland Times Bookshop and Shetland Museum.

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About Rosalind Griffiths

I am a Shetland Times reporter covering news, including health stories, and features. I have been in Shetland for more than 30 years.

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