AN imposing Victorian building on the skyline of Newmilns in Ayrshire Lamlash House boasts breathtaking stained-glass windows and stylish rooms inspired by both Charles Rennie Mackintosh and William Morris.

Over 130-years-old, the listed building’s grandeur is again apparent after a painstaking restoration project that propelled it into the finals of the 2023 VisitScotland Thistle awards for Best Eating Experience.

The magnificent windows, by the renowned stained-glass designer Stephen Adam, are the perfect backdrop for wedding photography and the house is also becoming known for its themed Afternoon Teas and other events like fine dining lunches and tasting menus.

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Viewing it now in its pristine condition, it is hard to believe that just a few years ago the ground floor of the three-storey building was festooned with cables which served its former purpose as a modern bank.

To make restoration even more difficult the ground floor was sealed off from the upper storeys that were once the bank manager’s abode but were sold off by The Royal Bank of Scotland in 1993.

The dwellinghouse was originally built as a private bank and bank manager’s house to serve the booming lace manufacturing industry in Newmilns, which was thriving so well that another three banks existed in the town at that time.

It was customary then for the bank manager to live above the bank and Robert Carmichael Mitchell, who had the house built, moved into the new property in 1890 with his wife Lydia, seven children and two domestic servants.

When the upper part of the building was sold in 1993 it had a few owners before civil engineer Gordon McDonald and college lecturer Johnathan Muirhead bought it in 2006 and decided to restore it to its original condition.

“At that point the bank was still operating on the ground floor – it’s almost unthinkable now that an operational bank was ever down there,” said Gordon.

Eight years later they had just completed their labour of love when the bank decided to sell up completely in 2014.

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Gordon and Johnathan decided to take the ground floor on to complete the restoration but soon found out this would be more difficult and time consuming than they had expected.

“We did not appreciate that it was going to take another five years to restore the bank part and as a consequence of that both of us resigned from our professional careers to commit to the restoration of the building because it became much more than a hobby you could do after work or weekends,” said Gordon. “It was an enormous job and pretty much a nightmare as we had to strip the whole place back, remove all the cabling and undo the separation work the bank had done in 1993. It has been almost continuous restoration and renovation from 2006 until now so it has taken us 17 years to get to where we are.”

The pair thought the property would make an ideal bespoke events venue in the Irvine Valley but unfortunately, they had just completed the work and secured the consents needed for the change of use when Covid struck.

As they had no business track record they were ineligible for any specialist government funding to survive the lockdowns but the restrictions did give them more time to finish the house to perfection.

Since these eased, the public has responded enthusiastically to the themed Afternoon Teas and pop-up dining events with guest chefs such as Paul Moffat, and Stephane Hervy. Private functions are also popular with part of the appeal being the original Adam windows which feature Scottish poets Robert Burns, Robert Tannahill, Allan Ramsay, James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott, while the front door has an image of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers.

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“We had to have them professionally restored so they were taken to pieces and put back together again. That was a nine-month process alone but they are pretty amazing,” said Gordon.

As the history of the house is tied up with the lace manufacturing, Gordon and Johnathan have teamed up with Janet Martin of Tasting History Ayrshire Tours to present the Millers & Merchants Tour.

This gives a unique glimpse into the fascinating history of Ayrshire’s textile and lace production and involves a visit to MYB Textiles, which is still utilising original Victorian methods, before lunch and a tour round Lamlash House.

For Gordon and Johnathan, the VisitScotland accolade is a vindication of all their hard work over a prolonged period.

“It has not been easy and that is why it has been really flattering that we have been recognised, given what we have been able to do against the odds,” said Gordon. “It’s something we are hugely proud of given the amount of competition that exists across the west of Scotland.”