Spanish cast-iron baths coming to Unst

Two new cast iron baths all the way from Spain are among the recent acquisitions for Belmont House in Unst, a meeting of Shetland Amenity Trust heard last week.

The old-style baths were sourced from Spain and imported via North­ern Ireland at a cost of around £400 each, according to trust project officer John Mackenzie.

A report he delivered to the trust showed that the restoration of the historic property, which it owns, is progressing well.

The Georgian mansion, which is being restored as a five-star tourist destination, has now had some of the internal walls restored in traditional lath and plaster, using authentic lime plaster. The work is being done by Unst-based plasterer Phillip Mar­shall who went on a course to learn the skill, which was never commonly used in Shetland and was last used in other areas around 40 years ago. Preliminary work on the £1.2 million refurbishment the Georgian mansion started in 2005, and ensured the building, which had been neglected by an absentee landlord and bought by the Belmont Trust after standing empty for years, was saved from collapse. Although three quarters of the house was intact, a quarter had decayed badly.

The first part of the second phase, finished 18 months ago, was a com­plete external restoration making the house wind and watertight. Slates were missing from the roof, causing it to leak, some ceilings had fallen in and some of the roof and floor joists were rotten. These have now been repaired and the harling and doors restored. Windows have been repla­ced with single glazing, in keeping with the original building.

The second part of the second phase, a £537,000 re-fit of the inside, is being carried out by Shetland Amenity Trust’s North Isles squad to restore the property “as faithfully as possible”.

It will eventually be restored far beyond its original splendour, boast­ing plumbing, electricity, central heating and a fire sprinkler system.

Although funding for this phase is assured, fund-raising has to take place for the rear porch and for furnishings. Fortunately the National Trust for Scotland has offered authentic Georgian furniture to the house on long-term loan – other items such as beds, settees and kitchen equipment will be bought new.

Architect Mike Finnie said: “We want it to look like the house has evolved over the last 200 years, with some old and some new things, with the feel of a family house.”

The classically symmetrical house, built by Thomas Mouat in 1775, is regarded as one of the finest Georgian houses in Scotland and retains many original features. It had never been modernised and its rooms had only been repainted once, around 1840.

By spring 2011 the Georgian residence will take on a new lease of life as self-catering accommodation which will sleep up to 12 people, marketed through the NTS.

Seventy per cent of the project’s funding has come from outwith Shetland, mostly from Historic Scot­land, with the rest, almost £400,000, coming from the council and its trusts.

Meanwhile work on the restor­ation the trust’s project at Sumburgh Lighthouse is currently on hold while it goes through planning consent. Lottery funding has already been allocated to the project and a decision is awaited on the final tranche of SRDP (Scottish Regional Development Programme) funding.

In another of the amenity trust’s projects, the entrance area at Quen­dale Mill which has given trouble with water ingress is being tackled. The roof in this area is being renewed and the drains, which tend to block, are being made bigger and overflows are being put in. The work will be completed before the mill is open to visitors again in April.


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