In November 1917 a newspaper advertisement in The Scotsman announced the pending auction of the Loaningdale Estate, near Biggar, Lanarkshire. It was offered at the ‘low upset price’ of £3,500 in an attempt to be rid of the property. The newspaper described Loaningdale House as a ‘very desirable residential estate with its mansion-house containing four public rooms, twelve bedrooms and dressing rooms, servants’ accommodation, stables, coach-house and good gardens’.
Britain was at war and it wasn’t the best time to be selling; country mansions were being offered for sale every day, and—for those still able to afford them—there were numerous properties to choose from. At December’s auction Loaningdale House failed to find a buyer and its owner was resigned to keeping the house, putting it back onto the rental market, as it had been for many years. The succession of tenants came at a price. In 1901, the property had been described by one tenant as being in “a dirty and unhealthy condition with bad smells.”
However, Loaningdale House had enjoyed much better days. It had been built in the early 18th century for Nicol Sommerville on the site of an old farmstead called Sunnyside. It was enlarged by a Dr Black and in 1855 was bought by Walter Scott Lorraine (d.1871), a Glasgow merchant, who changed the name to Loaningdale and remodelled and enlarged the house to designs by the architect Thomas McGuffie. In 1867 it was described as “a spacious and elegant building, somewhat in the Elizabethan style of architecture”. This is the mansion house we see today, sympathetically restored by the current owner.
In 1871 the property was bought by Gavin Ralston (1827–94), a writer, on whose death Loaningdale passed to his wife, Christina Ballantine Walker, who lived in Edinburgh and rented the house out. After she died in 1908 it became the property of their eldest son, Gavin William Ralston (1862–1924), a barrister who practised at Dr Johnson’s Buildings at Temple. After failing to sell Loaningdale in 1917 he finally sold the house in 1921, probably to a Mr and Mrs Baird. Little is known about the property in the following forty years.
In 1963 Loaningdale House became an Approved School for Boys and nearly suffered closure in 1967 when the body of a fifteen-year-old local girl was discovered in a nearby churchyard. She had been hit over the head with a heavy object and strangled from behind. It was determined that the murderer was seventeen-year-old Gordon Hay, a resident at Loaningdale, who was the first person in Britain to be convicted based on evidence from forensic dentistry. The school finally closed in the 1980s and in recent times the house was used as an outdoor education centre.
The core of the Victorian mansion remains, with the addition of a 1960s accommodation block and outbuildings to the east. The school gymnasium, also built in the 1960s, has been converted into the concert hall, and the rest of that building transformed into a dance studio and reception area.