Open letter asks historic protection body to look at Huntershill House.

Prof Tom DevineProf Tom Devine
Prof Tom Devine
An open letter has been sent to Historic Environment Scotland (HES) by the Friends of Thomas Muir organisation, calling for the listing of Muir’s former home at Huntershill House to be upgraded to Category A status, so ensuring greater protection for the building.

Professor Tom Devine has joined a list of 130 academics, politicians and others who have put their names to this letter.

Concerns had been raised when an application for planning permission was submitted to East Dunbartonshire Council, proposing the subdividing of the Huntershill grounds into four plots, with three large detached houses in close proximity, and with no intended provision from the sale of the plots towards restoration of Huntershill House. A number of objections have been made by community groups and the general public.

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Thomas Muir was an advocate born in Glasgow in 1765. His passionate campaigning for freedom of speech and democracy was instrumental in the development of ideas that eventually brought about jury reform and the universal right to vote. He also inspired the formation of a range of reform societies that have shaped our nation today. His campaigning saw him tried for sedition and sentenced to fourteen years transportation to a penal colony in Australia.

The open letter said that it would be a ‘travesty for the setting to be diminished and lost for present and future generations’, adding that the character and setting of the building has remained unchanged for more than 250 years.It read: “Huntershill House lies in a special category because of its unique association with former resident Thomas Muir, ‘the Father of Scottish Democracy’, which elevates Huntershill House and grounds to a place of special historic interest, locally, nationally and internationally.“Category A listing would further protect Huntershill House from over-development and subdivision of the grounds in ways that would have a detrimental impact on its character and setting”.Leading historian Sir Tom Devine said Muir was one of Scotland’s “greatest sons” and a leading advocate of political reform in the 18th-century.He added: “Muir paid a grievous penalty for his courage and principles by being sentenced to transportation.

"Muir is therefore rightly seen today as a national hero and a forerunner of our democracy of today.”Jimmy Watson, chair of the Friends of Thomas Muir, said the building must be protected due to its “national significance”.He said: “The current Category B listing confirms it as a building of regional importance.

“However national and international interest in Thomas Muir of Huntershill, suggests an upgrade to Category A listing would be appropriate.“The support we have received from academics, politicians, lawyers and members of the general public, for our open letter, confirms that there are many other people of the same view as ourselves.”SNP MP Tommy Sheppard backed the letter, saying “the proposals to convert Huntershill House into apartments can only be described as an act of historical and architectural vandalism”, adding “There are few buildings more relevant to our political history than Huntershill House, the home of the ‘father of Scottish Democracy’,”.Lesley Riddoch said: “Scotland has far more castles, palaces and mansions than places that celebrate our long, proud democratic tradition. That’s why it’s worth kicking up a fuss over plans to develop and essentially dismantle Huntershill. If the developers can’t find a way to keep the whole building intact, I hope they’ll not stand in the way of an alternative community plan.”Brian Gray, who owns the property, said the building should not get Category A listing, adding that it does not have international significance.He said he rejected the argument that his plans for the site would amount to “historical and cultural vandalism”.Gray added that his current proposals would maintain the house’s original style.“The building is a wreck. It’s four walls and a roof” he said, adding that his plans would restore the property, which has been left to rot.Ann Davie, Depute Chief Executive, East Dunbartonshire Council, said, “The Council’s planning service is considering a planning application for the conversion and refurbishment of Huntershill House. The application was submitted to the Council on April 4 and is still pending decision. Should the planning service be minded to approve the application, it would require to be presented to members of the Council Planning Board for a final decision.”A spokesperson for HES said: “We were asked this summer to review the listing of Huntershill House and to consider whether it should be changed to Category A.“We are currently looking at the case, which is available to see on our portal.“We have received the open letter, and will look closely at the arguments it makes in favour of a change of category.”