McCaig's Tower

McCaig's Tower
McCaig's Tower.
View from the tower over Oban Bay looking towards Kerrera.
McCaig's Tower from the ferry to Mull. Additional Images may be found at The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland website.

McCaig's Tower[1] is a prominent folly on the hillside (called Battery Hill[2]) overlooking Oban in Argyll, Scotland. It is built of Bonawe granite taken from the quarries across Airds Bay, on Loch Etive, from Muckairn, with a circumference of about 200 metres with two-tiers of 94 lancet arches (44 on the bottom and 50 on top).

The structure was commissioned, at a cost of £5,000 sterling (£500,000 at 2006 prices using GDP deflator), by the wealthy, philanthropic banker (North of Scotland Bank), John Stuart McCaig.

John Stuart McCaig was his own architect.[3] The tower was erected between 1897 and his death, aged 78 from Angina Pectoris, on 29 June 1902 at John Square House[4], Oban, Argyll.

McCaig's intention was to provide a lasting monument to his family, and provide work for the local stonemasons during the winter months. McCaig was an admirer of Roman and Greek architecture, and had planned for an elaborate structure, based on the Colosseum in Rome. His plans allowed for a museum and art gallery with a central tower to be incorporated. Inside the central tower he planned to commission statues of himself, his siblings and their parents. His death brought an end to construction with only the outer walls completed.


McCaig of Muckairn and Soroba

John Stuart McCaig (sometimes styled as John Stuart McCaig of Muckairn and Soroba) was the second son of Malcom [sic] McCaig (a farmer) and Margaret Stewart (6 June 1796-2 August 1865) and was born at Clachan, Isle of Lismore, Argyll, Scotland on 11 July 1823 and baptised at St Moluag's Cathedral, Lismore. He is recorded in various census and documents as being a draper's assistant(1851 Census); Inspector of Poor(1861 Census); Merchant(1871 Census); Banker(1881 English Census and 1891 Scottish Census; Death Certificate) and the Gas-Works[5] Director.(1901 Census) He owned the North Pier in Oban and was forced to sell/rent it to the newly formed Harbour Authority in 1895.[6]

He had 8 siblings;

Name Date of Birth Place of Birth Date of Death Place of Death Remarks
Duncan 10 July 1822 Isle of Lismore 22 July 1902 John Square House, Oban Captain and Honorary Major[7] in Argyllshire Volunteer Artillery. Awarded Volunteer Officers' Decoration[8] in 1892.[9]
Draper(1851 and 1861 Census); Merchant(1871 Census); Banker(1881, 1891 and 1901 Census; Death Certificate)
Dugald 9 October 1824 Isle of Lismore 9 December 1885 John Square House, Oban Inland Revenue Officer(1851 and 1861 Census); Annuitant(1871 Census); Merchant(1881 Census; Death Certificate)
Donald 31 December 1825 Isle of Lismore 11 April 1886 The Manse, Muckairn, Argyll Appointed by Queen Victoria as Minister(1861, 1871 and 1881 Census; Death Certificate) to the church and parish of Muckairn in 19 July 1859.[10][11]
Jane 27 April 1827 Isle of Lismore 19 February 1876 365 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow Milliner(1871 Census; Death Certificate)
Catherine 6 February 1829 Isle of Lismore 1 July 1913 John Square House, Oban Annuitant(1871 Census)
Peggy 13 August 1830 Isle of Lismore 21 August 1887 John Square House, Oban aka Margaret - Milliner(1851, 1861, 1871 and 1881 Census)
Ann 14 February 1832 Isle of Lismore 18 February 1902 303 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow Milliner(1871, 1891 and 1901 Census; Death Certificate)
Peter 29 June 1833 Isle of Lismore Before 1841 Census Unknown - Probably Isle of Lismore Died in Infancy

None of Malcom's children are known to have married.

John Stuart McCaig's Will

McCaig made many wills but the latest one set aside the money from his heritable estate - yielding a yearly rental of between £2,000 and £3,000 and a moveable estate of £10,000 - as a charitable trust to continue construction, with the University of Glasgow acting as trustee. The Will contained the following settlement and codicil[12]:

Settlement dated 20 January 1900.

"The purpose of the trust is that my heritable estate be not sold, but let to tenants, and the clear revenue or income be used for the purpose of erecting monuments and statues for myself, brothers and sisters on the tower or circular buildings called the Stuart McCaig Tower, situated on the Battery Hill, above Oban, the making of these statues to be given to Scotch sculptors from time to time as the necessary funds may accumulate for that purpose; also that artistic towers be built on the hillock at the end of Airds Park, in the parish of Muckairn; and on other prominent points on the Muckairn estate, and on other prominent places on the various estates; such in particular on the Meolroor of Balagown, lying north-east of Kilachonish Farmhouse. My wish and desire is to encourage young and rising artists, and for that purpose prizes be given for the best plans of the proposed statues, towers, &c., before building them."

Codicil dated 18 February 1902.

"Further, in order to avoid the possibility of vagueness of any kind, I have to describe and explain that I particularly want the trustees to erect on the top of the wall of the tower I have built in Oban, statues in large figures of all my five brothers and of myself, namely, Duncan, John, Dugald, Donald, Peter, and of my father, Malcolm, and of my mother, Margret, and of my sisters, Jean, Catherine, Margret, and Ann; and that these statues be modelled after photographs. And where these may not be available, that the statues may have a family likeness to my own photograph or to any other member of my foresaid family; and that these statues will not cost less than one thousand pounds sterling, and that money to come out of the accumulated clear revenue"

The Will was challenged by his surviving sibling, Catherine, taking 5 years for the settlement to be found in her favour. In a landmark ruling[13] the Court of Session decided that the tower was not a charity as it was self-advertisement and not in the general public good.

Catherine McCaig's Death and Judicial Hearing arising from her Will

Catherine died at John Square House, Oban on 1 July 1913 aged 84 leaving an estate worth £69,593. (£6,093,261 at 2006 prices using GDP deflator) [14] In her Will in 1913 she left instructions to commission the statues of herself, her siblings and parents to be placed in the Tower. In 1915 the Court of Session overturned her will for the same reasons that she had overturned her brother's testament. During the hearing prior to ruling the following discourse between their Lordships and the Dean of Faculty of Advocates(representing the beneficiaries) was noted in The Scotsman:

Court of Session (Second Division) - Wednesday, 20th January 1915

The Lord Justice Clerk said it was a good thing it was limited to statues and not to obelisks such as were set up. These things were monstrous. Both Haddington and Linlithgow were disfigured. It was a disappropriation of architecture. These obelisks were on top of a hill, and were about 150 ft (46 m) high. They could be seen fifty miles away. It would be useful if Zeppelins would come and knock them down.

Lord Salvesen said that the bequest might be looked upon a a kind of charitable bequest for young sculptors. At all events, Peter, the infant might be treated judiciously, there being no family likeness to trouble the artist, he being an infant at the time of his lamented death.

The Lord Justice Clerk said that they could get a prize baby to copy from. He noticed that the statues were now to be hidden away. They were to be on the top of the great tower before and to be of colossal size.

Mr Aitchison, for the beneficiaries, said that about the only purpose that would be served by the statues would be that archaeologists would have discussions about 2000 years hence. (Laughter)

Court of Session (Second Division) - Thursday, 21st January 1915

The Lord Justice Clerk: - Mr McCaig might look splendid in a Roman toga. (Laughter)

The Dean of Faculty: - Our own statesmen are always enveloped in a toga which they never wore. They would have been taken up for indecent exposure if they had. (Laughter)

Lord Guthrie: - If the statues were put in the place would be called “McCaig’s Folly.”

The Lord Justice Clerk: - It is called that already.

Ruling of the Court of Session

The Court's of Session ruling[15] was as follows:

Court of Session (Second Division)

(Before the Lords Justice-Clerk and Lords Guthrie and Skerrington)

The McCaig Statue Case

Special Case – Alex. Duffus, &c. (Miss C. McCaig’s Trs.), &c.

Judgement was given in the special case brought for the determination of questions which have arisen under the will and codicil of the late Miss Catherine McCaig, of John Square House, Oban, who directed her trustees to execute certain works at the McCaig Tower, Battery Hill, Oban, and to erect eleven bronze statues of near relatives, including one of an infant, within the Tower, each statue to cost not less than £1000. These works and statues were made a first charge on the revenue of the estate, and were to be completed before certain other purposes of the will came into force. Beneficiaries under the will challenged the validity of the deed, maintaining that they were entitled to receive payments of annuities without postponement until the statues and other works had been erected and completed. The trustees contended that the directions of the will were valid, and that they were bound to proceed with and complete the erection of the statues and other works before making payment to the other parties.

The Division decided that the bequest was invalid.

Lord Salvesen, whose opinion was read by the Lord Justice Clerk, said the first question of law put to them was, whether the beneficiaries were bound to submit to postponement of their annuities until the statues and other works directed by the codicil had been erected and completed out of the free revenue of the trust estate. If the directions in the codicil were valid, and must be carried into effect by the trustees, the question fell to be answered in the affirmative, and, accordingly, the only question raised in the case was the validity of these directions. It was noteworthy that no beneficial interests were created by the bequest in favour of third parties. Even the public would have no right of access to the inside of the tower, for special provision was made for keeping them out by means of railings across the existing openings on the ground level, and the ground enclosed was expressly declared to be a private enclosure. The trustees alone would have the privilege of from time to time entering this museum of portrait statues of a relatively obscure family. There was, so far as one could see, no person who had a title to enforce the erection of the statues, and there were no descendants of any member of the family alive who might take pleasure in contemplating (if he were permitted to do so) the proposed representations of the forms and features of his relatives. The expenditure of this large sum on statues, which was directed apparently from motives of personal and family vanity, would serve no purpose all the more seeing that the family had virtually become extinct. It could not be of benefit to the public, because the enclosure in which the statues were to be erected was one to which they would have no right of access. The question appeared to be decided by the unanimous decision in the previous case of McCaig. There were no legal grounds of distinction, and accordingly their duty was to declare the bequest wholly void. His Lordship was prepared to hold that the bequest was contrary to public policy on more than one ground. In the first place, he thought so because it involved a sheer waste of money, and not the less so that the expenditure would give employment to a number of sculptors and workmen, for it must be assumed that their labour could be usefully employed in other ways. He thought further that it would be a dangerous thing to support a bequest of this kind, which could only gratify the vanity of testators who had no claim to be immortalised, but who possessed the means by which they could provide for more substantial monuments to themselves than many that were erected to famous persons by public subscription. A testator might still leave his means to be expended in stone and lime which would form a monument to his memory, provided the bequest he made served some useful public purpose, and was not merely for his own glorification. The prospect of Scotland being dotted with monuments to obscure persons who happened to have amassed a sufficiency of means , and cumbered with trusts for the purpose of maintaining these monuments in all time coming, appeared to his Lordship to be little less than appalling. If a bequest such as that in Miss McCaig’s codicil were held good, money would require to be expended in perpetuity merely to gratify an absurd whim which had neither reason nor public sentiment in its favour.

Lord Guthrie said the elements which influenced him in thinking the provisions of the testatrix’s codicil relative to statues in McCaig Tower unnatural, not customary, and unreasonable, were

  • (1) because, so far as natural, customary, and reasonable, the desire was or would be fully satisfied by the memorials already erected under the testatrix’s settlement;
  • (2) because of the inappropriate place selected in relation to the people to be commemorated;
  • (3) because of the method of commemoration by bronze statues of people of whom it would be impossible to make non-ludicrous representations without abandoning likeness and without putting the people into picturesque costumes which they never wore;
  • (4) because of the proposal to make statues of two of whom, the testatrix’s father and her infant brother Peter, there were no materials for making any individual representation;
  • (5) because of the proposal to make a statue (recumbent, he presumed) of Peter, the infant, to cost not less than £1000;
  • (6) because of the absence of limit of price, the trustees being entitled to spend thousands, say, by the employment of a leading London or Continental artist; and
  • (7) because the testament and codicil ordered the erection, within a short distance of each other, of two[16] statues to the same person – namely, Major Duncan McCaig.

The statues would not, in fact, achieve Miss McCaig’s object of perpetuating an honourable memory. They would turn a respectable and creditable family into a laughing-stock to succeeding generations.

The Lord Justice-Clerk, who concurred, said that with reference to a remark made by Lord Guthrie, where he spoke of a testator ordering his money to be thrown into the sea, he thought such an order might be more rational than the orders given to the trustees in this case.

Lord Skerrington did not hear the case.

The Court of Session did allow the setting up the Catherine McCaig's Trust,[17][18] which is ongoing and promotes the study and use of Gaelic and provision of various buildings for inhabitants of Oban.

Here and Now

The empty shell of the tower dominates the Oban skyline, and is now a public garden with magnificent views to the islands of Kerrera, Lismore and Mull. The first marriage to be conducted in McCaig's Tower was between Oban High School teachers Jim Maxwell and Margaret Milligan and was reported in the Oban Times published 11 July 2003.[19] Also reported in the Oban Times drinking of alcohol is prohibited in the tower under local by-laws.[20]

External links

References and notes

  1. ^ Dictionary of Scottish Architects - Basic Site Details
  2. ^ National Library of Scotland 1867 Townplan of Oban (Zoomed on The Battery)
  3. ^ Dictionary of Scottish Architects - Basic Biographical Details
  4. ^ National Library of Scotland 1867 Townplan of Oban (Zoomed on John Square)
  5. ^ National Library of Scotland 1912 Townplan of Oban (Showing Gas Works, McCaig's Tower, North of Scotland Bank (John Square House), North Pier and Breadalbane Street)
  6. ^ Edinburgh Gazette Issue 10729 published on the 22nd November 1895. Page 40 of 64
  7. ^ London Gazette Issue 25005 published on the 16 August 1881. Page 5 of 48
  8. ^ Volunteer Officers' Decoration Warrant - London Gazette 29th July 1892
  9. ^ London Gazette Issue 26347 published on the 22 November 1892
  10. ^ Edinburgh Gazette Issue 6929 published on the 22 July 1859. Page 4 of 8
  11. ^ From Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae for Muckairn: DONALD McCAIG, born Island of Lismore, 1828, son of Malcolm M. and Margaret Stewart ; educated at Univs. of Glasgow and St Andrews, and New College, Edinburgh ; licen. by Presb. of Lorn 2nd May 1854 ; ord. (assistant) St Columba's, Glasgow, 22nd May 1855 ; trans, to Watten 23rd Nov. 1858 ; trans, and adm. 28th Sept. 1859; died unmarr. 11th April 1886.
  12. ^ The Scotsman - Thursday 7th December 1905 - Page 7
  13. ^ McCaig v. University of Glasgow [1907] S. C. 231.
  14. ^ The Scotsman - Friday 8th May 1914 - Page 6
  15. ^ The Scotsman - Saturday, 6th February 1915
  16. ^ The second statue of Major Duncan McCaig V.D. was to be in front of the trustor's property in Breadalbane Street, Oban
  17. ^ National Archives of Scotland Catalogue - Catherine McCaig's Trust
  18. ^ National Library of Scotland Manuscripts - Catherine McCaig's Trust Acc.11417
  19. ^ Oban Times Archive 2003 - Two for the tower
  20. ^ Oban Times Archive 2004 - Police announce drinking in public clampdown

56°24′57″N 5°28′07″W / 56.4157°N 5.4685°W / 56.4157; -5.4685Coordinates: 56°24′57″N 5°28′07″W / 56.4157°N 5.4685°W / 56.4157; -5.4685

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