Jacqueline Heron Wray
Updated: Oct 24, 2022
I love to visit Rozelle Estate and gardens in Alloway. Apart from the fact that it is on my doorstep and, importantly, provides ample sheltering space during the frequent rain showers, we experience here in Ayrshire; it is a picturesque and safe place to walk and enjoy nature at its best.
Usually, there are numerous cars in the car parks, but once I get out of the car and begin to walk, it feels like I have the place to myself. I particularly enjoy walking around the ponds. The woodland of remembrance is particularly tranquil and quiet.
As is often the case, I discovered that there is quite a bit of history attached to Rozelle and that it has links to Sundrum, which I wrote about in my last blog.
Back in 1754, the Royal Burgh of Ayr held the land on which Rozelle now stands. It was a part of the Barony of Alloway and was sold to help reduce the Burgh debts.
A sizeable amount of land was bought for the princely sum of £535 by Robert Hamilton of Bourtreehill. His father was Hugh Hamilton of Clongall.
In 1734, Robert married a woman called Jean Mitchell, who happened to be a sugar plantation widow. After their marriage, Robert became co-owner of two Jamaican sugar plantations, Pemberton Valley, and La Rochelle, also known as Rozelle.
The sugar from the plantations was sent to London, Leith, and Glasgow, and the returning ships carried wine, food, and provisions such as candles, mosquito nets, and all things which were necessary to provide a comfortable life on the plantation.
When Robert left Jamaica in 1744 to return to Scotland with his wife and four daughters, he sent his nephew John Hamilton to Kingston to manage the estates.
After Jean died, Robert married another widow, Anne Cunningham. Anne had two sons. By this time, Robert had built on the land he had purchased in Alloway, an Adam-style mansion that he named Rozelle after his Jamaican plantation.
Robert died, leaving no male heir, in June 1773, at that time the Rozelle plantation in Kingston had 185 slaves with another forty being added by 1780.
In 1834, when slaves were liberated, the estates had 305 slaves working on them.
Robert’s nephew, Hugh Hamilton took over the management of both Pemberton Valley and La Rochelle (Rozelle), assisted by his brother Peter. By 1776 he was an established Agent in Kingston.
During the American War of Independence, from April 1775 until September 1783, Hugh used the Glasgow firm of Alexander Houstoun & Co for his shipments to and from Jamaica and Scotland because they had armed ships which could see off any enemy attacks.
Hugh returned to Scotland in 1784. He bought Pinmore house, near Girvan, and then he purchased some land near Rozelle which in turn became Belleisle Estate. His replacement in Jamaica was Alexander West Hamilton, his second cousin.
Alexander managed 6 Jamaican estates including Pemberton Valley and Rozelle. He returned to Scotland in 1816 after inheriting Pinmore, Rozelle, and Bellisle.
Robert Hamiltons' half share in Pemberton Valley passed to his daughter Eleonora and her husband Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton.
Lady Jane Montgomerie, daughter of Eleonora and Hugh, married Archibald Hamilton who was her cousin and son of John Hamilton of Sundrum. The Earl of Eglinton bequeathed a life-rent interest in Rozelle to Archibald and Jane who eventually bought the estate in 1837.
“A life tenant has all rights associated with ownership of real property, except the right to sell the property, until his/her (or someone else's) death. Upon the death of the life tenant, the property reverts to the owner, or to a third party designated by the owner.”
Archibald made several changes. In 1834, he commissioned James McDermont to re-design the gardens. Numerous trees were planted, and many are still in situ today including sycamore, horse chestnut, yew, beech, elm, oak, and Acer. Many of the more noteworthy trees are situated around the mansion itself including a Wellingtonia, the Cedar of Lebanon, thought to have been planted on completion of the mansion, Camperdown elms, cut-leaf beech, and holm oak.
The Countryside Commission and Nature Conservancy Council categorised Rozelle as being an important site, one of 8 in south Ayrshire. Quite an achievement.
The Georgian mansion was originally square, a porch and rear extension were added in the 1860s
By the 1960s, the Hamilton family's wealth had diminished. They sold much of the land owned by them.
John Hamilton gifted the Rozelle estate to The Royal Burgh of Ayr in 1968, his only condition being that the land would be used as a local amenity for cultural and recreational purposes.
Mrs. Mary Maclaurin bestowed money to the town of Ayr in the 1970s which enabled some restoration works to be carried out to the stables and what was once the servants’ quarters, resulting in the development of the Maclaurin art gallery, which opened in 1976.
From the completion of the mansion until it was gifted to Ayr town council, the only occupiers were the Hamilton family.
Unfortunately, the Belleisle mansion was destroyed by fire in 2019. It has been bought by South Ayrshire Council which is planning development and renovation.
Above, Stella the Staffy enjoying Rozelle.
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