Crossing Ferry Road and continuing through stone gateposts you enter Erskine Park, the grounds surrounding Erskine House (1828-45), designed by Sir Robert Smirke, the architect of the British Museum. During the First World War it became the Princess Louise Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers.
It is now the 5-star Mar Hall Hotel, its name recalling the estate’s former ownership by the Earl of Mar.
During the early 18th century the Mar estate and old Erskine House came into the ownership of the Lords Blantyre. In 1828 Major General Robert W Stuart, the 11th Lord Blantyre and a distinguished veteran of the Wellington’s Peninsular campaigns during the Napoleonic Wars, commissioned the present house. His architect, Sir Robert Smirke (1781-1867) was still engaged in designing the British Museum. That, however, is a very classical design whereas Erskine House is more Gothic with touches of Tudor, in the small turrets and pointed arches in the principal windows and entrance porch. The overall design is similar to that of Lowther Castle in Cumbria which was Smirke’s first country house design. The stone was quarried locally. Sir Charles Barry produced designs for the gardens. Sadly Lord Blantyre never saw his house as he was killed in Brussels during the 1830 uprising that led to the birth of Belgium. The house was completed only in 1845. The final cost was £50,000, about £2.5m today.
When the Blantyre line became extinct in 1900 the house was left derelict but in 1916 it re-opened as the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital of Limbless Sailors and Soldiers, the second largest specialist hospital of its kind in the UK. There was an acute shortage of artificial limbs available for the numerous casualties of the First World War. The hospital’s consultant surgeon, Sir William Macewen, developed a new design, named the Erskine limb, drawing on the skills of Clydeside shipworkers and the help of the patients themselves to produce it. Over 600 were fitted. You can find out more about Macewen in ‘A Healing Passion’ at the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow. The modern Erskine Hospital, which continues to work with injured ex-servicemen and women is on a site nearby.
In recent years £15m has been invested in the refurbishment of the house and the restoration of its many original features as the Mar Hall Hotel.