On the edge of a working farmyard amid rural countryside, Carwood House sits the unlikely accompaniment to neighbouring cowsheds, its stark grey walls becoming lost among the trappings of agriculture.
I approached one summer afternoon, entering a patch of shadow cast by the tall rubble walls of Carwood’s irregular north front. Behind broken panes a tattered blind fluttered eerily with every breath of the warm air, catching my eye and drawing my attention to the muddle of windows set in this facade.
A few retained glazing, but most were part shuttered and blocked up by debris, their sashes slipping from their casings and home only to jagged shards. Others were completely blank, framing the endless blue sky beyond, while those at ground floor level were shielded by rusting bars, guarding an interior reduced to wreckage. With its roof having departed some years previously, Carwood’s unprotected innards had been gouged out by the elements, leaving the house a mere shell of its former self.
Proceeding around the western side of the building, I passed a tall chimney stack rising skyward. Near its summit a deep wound had developed, eating through the rough-cast skin and into the coarse stonework beneath, undermining the octagonal pots above. My path sloped upwards, leading me to Carwood’s south-facing entrance front.
The rise in ground level had hidden the lower service storey to the rear, and from this vantage point the house appeared a neat package of two storeys and five bays. The walls here were of smart ashlar, their straight edges and composed symmetry imposing an order absent from the north front. An entrance portico encasing the front door was the only embellishment to this simple design.
This restrained classical block was erected in 1832 for Robert Gray, an Edinburgh merchant who had recently purchased the estate of Carwood. These lands retained the name of their former owners, and had once formed part of the Biggar estates which had been dispersed and sold upon the breaking of an entail around 1830. After its initial construction the house was extended and altered in 1845 and again in 1859, these works being carried out by the Mitchell family who had gained possession of the house.
I neared one of the architraved ground floor windows and looked through to the hollowed space within. Set into the wall directly opposite was an elegant arched window, below which a few shards of stone jutted from the wall determining the former course of a staircase now vanished.
At the terminus of the window’s plaster hood mould I could just discern the form of a little grotesque grinning morbidly at the carnage of his crumbling home. Above, a small apex of roof still remained, with splintered parts of its structure dangling from joists like icicles. One remaining interior wall loomed over the whole mess of fallen floors, looking ready to collapse at any moment.
I moved along to the front door and its flanking plain doric columns, the stone steps overgrown with nettles and cow parsley. Since Carwood was abandoned in the 1950s its slim double doors have remained resolutely shut, opened only for the sale of its furniture and contents which didn’t take place for another twenty years after the house was vacated. For decades the locked doors deterred intruders and even survived the threat of demolition, yet they failed to hold back the encroaching tendrils of decay as the house slowly fell apart on the other side.
Completing my tour of Carwood’s perimeter, I came to its east side. Here the mid-19th century alterations had seen the addition of a boxy extension, upsetting the intended symmetry of the main front. Its rendered walls were mottled and yellowing like old paper, yet its low-pitched roof was still mostly in place.
Behind shattered windows lay rooms cast in semidarkness, with lightless doorways leading deeper into this wing of the house. Behind one of the windows dangled a dead crow, suspended by unseen means. Its head bowed and wings outstretched in lifeless flight, it made for a weird symbol of Carwood’s inevitable demise.