Historic Kilmun


Building owner/client:

Argyll Mausoleum & St Munn's Church, Kilmun

Architect or lead designer:

Icosis Architects / Stephen Newsom Architect

Local Authority Area:

Argyll & Bute

Nominating Body:

Historic Kilmun Management Board

Project Description

The Argyll Mausoleum is one of Scotland’s undiscovered historical jewels within the Cowal Community. It stands connected to, but separate from, the church in Kilmun, Argyll and is the burial place for the Dukes and Earls of Argyll, Chiefs of the Clan Campbell. The building had its last major renovation around 1890 and was in urgent need of restoration and repair. Argyll Mausoleum Limited was formed as a charitable company limited by guarantee to carry out the task. The main aims were to restore and conserve the building and artefacts and to open it to the public in a fitting and sensitive manner. The adjacent hillside has been occupied for thousands of years, and in the 7th century Celtic holy men, established small church. From the first Campbell burials in the 15th century, the tradition continued that most of the Dukes of Argyll and their families were buried beneath the aisles of the medieval Kilmun church. In 1660, a separate private chapel attached to the church was built for the Argyll tombs. In 1794, a separate Mausoleum being formed in its place, with some of the more important remains being moved into the new burial place. These included the 15th century effigies of Sir Duncan Campbell and his wife Marjory (great, great grand-daughter of Robert the Bruce). The present church dates from 1841, and 1890, the Mausoleum was renovated by the Marquis of Lorne, subsequently the ninth Duke of Argyll. The original slated roof was replaced by an unusual cast iron dome. The ninth Duke married Princess Louise, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. When the 8th Duke died in 1900, she made a sculpture in his memory. This, along with other interesting items, is part of the collection of artefacts that were found inside the Mausoleum. Associated with the history of Scotland for thousands of years, and with graves of many distinguished people, including Elizabeth Blackwell, (the first lady doctor) the site itself is important. There is more; the site is surrounded with local history which includes a gunpowder factory, Maritime Quarantine Station, some very interesting residents, yacht building and Royal and US Navy activity. By September 2012, a full funding package was committed amounting to over £1.0M. With this funding, main contractors and a professional interpretation consultant were appointed. Work commenced in June 2013. The visitor centre opened in Spring 2014 and the Mausoleum at the end of the year. During this period efforts by our team of volunteers to welcome visitors continued. The physical work, including the conservation of artefacts, is now complete with only the final documentation remains to be completed. Archaeological studies, historical research, and involvement of the community has been a major part of the project, and the extensive history of the site and locality has been revealed. Historic Kilmun is now moving towards welcoming an increasing number of visitors, further community involvement and ensuring a sustainable financial future enabling as wide as possible an audience able to enjoy the wonderful facilities.

Supporting Statement

With an important historic site it was important to balance the restoration with the ability to welcome as many visitors as possible, using a limited number of Volunteer guides. The space available for a Visitor Centre was restricted by the existing building but the best use was made to create a small and very high standard welcoming area. C-operation with the Presbytery of St. Munn’s Church has resulted in the additional use of a small meeting room available for use as a tea room, and there is a shelter in the carpark. The site is now open to disabled visitors with a suitable toilet available. Throughout the site are a number of interpretation boards enabling self-guided tours, with information leaflets available. Maintenance of this high quality project should be minimal. The condition of the neglected Argyll Mausoleum was such that there was water ingress from the building into the church which was causing considerable damage. There was no disabled access. The precious artefacts were suffering from damp and neglect; the stone of the tombs themselves were deteriorating. This has all been rectified and the interior of the church improved with new server replacing an out-dated kitchen, and a disabled toilet. The site is now welcoming and more visible with signage and lighting. The site was largely neglected and unknown, even by local people. Extensive effort has been made to publicise the assets, using newspapers and magazines as well as social media. Local schools are involved whenever possible and have taken part in fetes, dramatic events, displays and exhibitions, as well as archaeological studies. The project has been difficult with many problems during the upgrade, and increased costs and long delays in work caused by contract problems. Costs increased to the extent that loans were required. At a time when visitor numbers to the area have fallen, causing problems for local businesses and other visitor attractions, it has taken a real effort to complete and look forward to the next stage of the project. All the input has been from a small team of dedicated volunteers who have not only managed the £1 million project, but who welcome visitors and carry out fun raising as well as organising community events and publicising the site. It is a great achievement for a small group of amateurs.