Turning Stunning Largo House
Into A Ruin - Why?
The Beginning Of The Demise
In early 1946 The 1st Independant Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) left Largo House, Upper Largo, Fife. Later that year, The Polish Military Geographical Institute take up residence at Largo House, Fife and stayed until the end of 1946.
The house never "fell into demise" at that point. Yes, the house was empty and no doubt had some battle scars left on it from The 1st Independant Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) having been there but there is no reason to believe statements found on the internet that it "fell into demise" at that point.
In 1951 the roof was removed and the house "stripped out", THEN and only THEN did the demise begin. In 1951, as a consequence of being "stripped out" it was declared derelict (and not prior to that as some claim).
To understand why the roof was removed and the house was "stripped out" you have to go back to the history books.
Prior to World War War 1, large country houses were providers of local employment and their future seemed fairly certain. Pre 19th century, the upper classes lived almost tax free, staff were cheap and plentiful and land around these mansions generated income from farming, forestry and tenants not to say the political power it bought you as well. In essence, these large country mansions were self sustaining. Stripping out, selling off the effects and demolishing old houses is recorded as happening as early as 1912, it was unusual, although it passed without comment.
However the war changed things and decadent life as we knew it ceased to exist for these former mansion home owners. Add to this the increasing costs of maintaining older properties as they aged further and you start to get the picture, the stripping out and demolitions increased.
Come the end of World War 2, having no further need for them, the government handed back these mansion homes to their former owners. Often these homes were in a state of complete disrepair, damaged from the war and army units taking up residence in them. Imagine having owned a former mansion home that was in very good condition pre-war only to be handed it back post war in a derelict and dilapidated condition. How heart wrenching for these impoverished mansion owners! And that is exactly what happened all over the UK!
Without funds to repair the property along with property taxes, death taxes (which could be up to 80% of the property value) staff shortages because many had been killed in the war and the old way of life having dis-appeared, suddenly these wealthy families now had large unwanted houses, often seen as milestones around their necks, to deal with. These houses were no longer self sustaining pads for the wealthy, they were liabilities, devoid of staff or income, willing to take any money that the owner had leftover after the war, which as you can imagine, was very little.
You can see why demolishing "that old mansion" seemed to be a feasible way out of all the expense and headache for them. What had started as a small number of mansion demolitions in 1912 now became a raging torrent because by 1955 small palatial houses through to large country houses were getting destroyed at the rate of one every 5 days and still no-one gave it any thought, it seemed a way out of debt and misery.
Another factor that made it very palatable to demolish old houses was that during World War 2 a staggering amount of houses were destroyed in bombing. Post war, there was an insatiable demand for land to build new houses on so owners of old houses could make a quick profit selling the ground the former mansion had stood on. This had the effect of creating a temporary feeling in the nation that demolishing old houses was good for the countries future housing needs, so even owners of houses who were having them stripped out (to avoid taxes) would not have felt so bad about destroying the nation's treasures of stately homes.
House Stripping Specialists
In a world where the bigger the property the more it is worth, is true, it seems incredible to believe there was at one time a group of people called "House Strippers". No, not some naughty, seedy night in, but rather a profession centered on stripping out old houses and selling the contents at auction. In one year alone, one company was reputed to have stripped out 45 mansions!
So it comes as no surprise, that in 1951, that the then owners of the house, the Maitland-Makgill-Crichton family of Monzie Castle, Crieff, decided in a bid to avoid property taxes, namely rates, to have the roof removed. The floors were removed at the same time. Some myths abound that the house was declared derelict in 1951 and then the roof was removed. This is untrue, it was the removal of the roof that in itself defined the house as derelict.
Removing the roof meant the property no longer fitted the description of a "roofed building" and thus they tax was bypassed. The furniture, lead, timber, panelling, bannisters, fireplaces, tiles, sinks, baths, stoves and suchlike were also removed and sold, most likely by Charles Brand (Dundee) Ltd. The contents went to auction in Ladybank, Fife as you can see from the newspaper advert below.
Coincidentally, 35 years after his parachute training of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) at Largo House, Upper Largo, Fife, my grandfather, Wladyslaw Hoscik, moved up from Luton (London) to Ladybank, Fife. At 6 years old, following the breakup of my family, I joined him there when he became my prime carer in 1977. It's kind of spooky that Ladybank is where Largo House went to die and yet that is the starting point of my journey in life that was to lead to me researching my Grandfathers life which in turn led to this website about Largo House...
1951 was a truly sad year for the house, there was to be no turning back now as the weather did it's best to reduce the house back to the bare earth from where it's materials first came.
Haunting Photo's Of Largo House
The 1957 Photo Collection
In 2018 I became aware of a private collection of professionally taken photo's of Largo House, taken in 1957, just 6 years after the place was stripped out. Having purchased rights on the photographs, I am proud to put into the public domain photo's that have not been previously seen.
These photos belong to Copyright Holder © RCAHMS. Illegal copying of photos is theft. Please do not copy these photos.
Why Was House Stripping & Demolishing Allowed?
Before The Town And Country Planning Act 1968, there was no legislation in place to protect old heritable property. Neither was there the sentiment or desire to protect old heritable houses. Severe apathy about the subject existed.
Even by 1955 when one grand house was being demolished every 5 days no-one raised a care. Perhaps this was due to the fact that as a servant in a large house you were poorly paid whereas work in private smaller houses was distinctly better paid. Perhaps these grand houses were seen as nothing more than elaborate sweatshops.
Either way, no-one wanted to return to that way of life or what it stood for, least of all the common man. Remember too, that the wealthy saw these houses as money pits so, from both the working man's viewpoint and the wealthy mansion homeowners viewpoint, there was no desire to return to the old ways.
We also have to take into account that servants were told to keep their heads down when working, this coupled with a lack of education about the heritage and history of stately homes meant there was little appreciation for them.
So now, when you see the background of these houses, we start to understand why the demise set in and how it was allowed to continue. Most of all, we start to understand what happened next in the history of Largo House, Its head was removed and it was internally dis-embowelled, which is another way of saying the roof was removed and the inward parts stripped out and sold off.
The Demolition Of One Big House After Another
When I started researching into the stripping out and demolition of grand old mansions I came across a page with photos of beautiful house after beautiful house, all demolished and in the 1950s. As yet I have not had the time to look into why each one was demolished but i'm certain the theme here is avoiding upkeep costs and taxes.
After you have reviewed the below links, you will start thinking Largo House is lucky to even be standing at all!
Take a look at these links:
This one is a custom search string that will bring up hundreds of pages of demolished grand houses:
What Hope For Largo House?
If you are like me, it's hard not to get a bit emotional about Largo House in Upper Largo, Fife. Such rich history pre WW2 followed by being such a landmark in the history of my grandfathers time with The 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa) and no doubt your relative too.
There are a lot of people that would like to see Largo House restored, perhaps as a museum acknowledging the Polish soldiers training in WW2 there.
Historic Scotland have an interest in the property as do Fife Scotland, but ensuring it's survival needs much more than reports, documents and say-so.
Restoration Costs & Valuations
I did some digging around and found what it would cost to restore. Below are some estimates from various years, its rather scary how quickly it has gotten into the sort of money that would finance a small country! It's also noticeable how planning has been sought on it yet nothing has happened.
- 1980 - Repair costs estimated at £600K. Owners sought to demolish it but it was denied (thank goodness!)
- 1990 - Planning permission sought to turn it into apartments
- 1993 - Property is marketed for £100K in Country Life
- 1994 - repairs Estimated at £1.4M
- 2002 - Property is marketed at £2M
- 2007 - Report highlights that deterioration is now rapidly accelerating
Why Is Largo House In Upper Largo Being Left To Rot?
It's easy to believe that the house was bought and then left to rot away. On the contrary, in 1901 17 estates were left as inheritance to one person. This persons descendants, to this day continue to own this property. This family, the Maitland Makgill Chrichton family of Monzie Castle, Crieff will not sell to anyone and insist that the property and surrounding area is developed so that they can make financial gain from it. Meantime, the house continues to rot away.
The Final Word On Largo House
My Polish grandfather, Wladyslaw Hoscik, came from the Middle East on a boat to the UK to serve as a Polish Paratrooper in the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade (1 Samodzielna Brygada Spadochronowa)) stationed at Largo House, Fife in the United Kingdom.
For me, part of my history is tied up at Largo House, it's part of my families legacy which came as a surprise discovery for me in 2017. Whilst I don't condone or approve of war, I cannot ignore the fact that my grandfather travelled thousands of miles in appalling conditions to undertake serious physical training there as a parachuter (he was super ripped for sure, such was the intensity of training there!).
Largo House is not only part of my history, it's part of yours too, no doubt. What happened there in 1941/42 changed the face of the UK, it resulted in many liasons and marriages, tens of thousands of descendants and many life stories. To ignore this and let the place go to ruin is to ignore what our relatives stood for. They had courage, determination and stamina. They came from thousands of miles away to train there and carry out operations by parachute. We owe it to our memories, history and heritage to respect them and what better place to have exhibitions about this than Largo House?
Long Live Largo House!