Viewfield House, Isle of Skye, a Victorian country house steeped in history

The Macdonald family have a long association with Skye and the Outer Islands. Viewfield was built by Lord Macdonald, probably as the residence for his ‘chamberlain’ or factor, a position taken by Dr Alexander Macleod (known as ‘An Dotair Bhan’) in the early 19th century. An Dotair Bhan (Gaelic for ‘the fair doctor’) was a grandson of Donald Macleod of Bernera, known as ‘The Old Trojan’, who in turn was a grandson of Rory Mor, 13th Chief of the Macleods of Dunvegan. In the middle of the 19th century the Viewfield family were known in Skye as part of the ‘Bernera tribe’ after the Old Trojan who latterly lived at Unish on the point of Waternish. He, notwithstanding his exploits at the battle of Falkirk, married his third wife at the age of 75 (a sixteen year old from Greshornish in Skye by whom he had nine children) and had 29 children in all.

Alexander Macleod’s son-in-law, Harry Macdonald, was a Writer to the Signet and a man of some enterprise. He was the son of the cobbler in Dingwall and as a young man is reputed to have walked the 100 miles to Skye in search of work. He took up employment with ‘An Dotair Bhan’ (his portrait hangs to the left of the oriel window in the dining room) and subsequently married his employer’s daughter, Johanna. He took on the lease of Viewfield in 1846 and founded the legal firm of Macdonald and Fraser in Portree.

Harry Macdonald Snr had four sons who reached majority. Alexander continued the legal firm of Macdonald and Fraser and became the first bank agent in Skye for the National bank, now the Royal bank of Scotland (Macdonald and Fraser’s original building still houses the Royal bank of Scotland). He also took over the Factorship of the Macdonald Estate – the third generation to do so. Thomas became a Surgeon General in the Indian Army. Harry Jnr and John both prospered in India planting indigo for the empire’s textile industry; vegetable dyes being a lucrative business in the second half of the 19th century.

Harry and John both retired young having made considerable fortunes and returned to Portree to set up rival establishments. Freehold land was virtually unobtainable in Skye a hundred years ago. Apart from a handful of small estates, the whole of Skye belonged to either Macleod of Dunvegan or Lord Macdonald. Portree belonged to Lord Macdonald and was at that time little more than a hamlet centred on the harbour.

Harry took over the lease of Viewfield assigned to him by his father’s trustees in 1885. John took on the larger establishment of Portree House, also on lease. Harry promptly embarked on an ambitious building programme. Viewfield was at that time a fairly modest house; the original Georgian part is identified by the small-paned windows. It had a fine upstairs drawing room with windows on three sides facing south, east and west. The old drawing room fireplace was recently discovered under the flight of stairs connecting the old house to the Victorian additions. The house was not as big as Portree House, so perhaps apart from fraternal rivalry he also intended to make provision for the further increase of the ‘Bernera Tribe.’

 

The alterations and additions to Viewfield were built by Alexander Ross of Inverness, a prominent Victorian architect who built a number of notable buildings throughout the Highlands. More recent generations would gladly hang him from the tower by his toes since all of his additions leak and cost a fortune to maintain.

Harry Jnr’s only surviving son, Col. Jock Macdonald was, after recovering from broken limbs sustained during the 1911 rugby match against Wales, sent out to India to earn his living. There was little work on Skye then. Apart from service in the army during both world wars and occasional home leave, Col. Jock and his wife Evelyn remained in India planting tea until 1948. During all of that time his mother Flora, who was widowed in 1905, lived at Viewfield with two unmarried daughters. There were servants, of course, and various indigent relatives who came and went as their fortunes allowed. Col. Jock said that he would sometimes find that a second cousin three times removed had been a guest for two years, and remembered various shadowy ‘relatives’ who moved in and out of his childhood.

Flora was dying in 1948 and Col. Jock and Evelyn moved back to Skye to be at Viewfield, bringing with them their own mementos of India to add to those collected by the previous generation. They continued for a few years to live in much the same style as they had in India, entertaining on a grand scale. They fairly quickly found that they had run through their money and in 1954 opened the house for bed and breakfast.

When the present Lord Macdonald’s father died leaving the estate with considerable burdens, most of the estate was sold. Col. Jock and Evelyn finally bought the freehold to Viewfield in 1976, with ten years of the 99-year lease to run. After Col. Jock died in 1980, his grandson, Hugh, ran Viewfield in partnership with his grandmother Evelyn for a number of years. Col. Jock and Evelyn’s only son Johnnie (Hugh’s father) died at the tragically early age of 39, in 1971, leaving his wife Ann with three young children. In 1984, Evelyn, who had worked tirelessly to keep her husband’s family home going, handed over what was by then a long-running family business to her oldest grandson Hugh and his then wife Linda—a Californian. Evelyn died in 1993 aged 91. In 2016, Hugh’s eldest daughter Iona moved home to assist with the running of the business. Now that he is in possession of his bus pass, Hugh hopes to be the lesser spotted of the Macdonalds, with Iona and her partner Jasper taking charge.

Viewfield is still very much our family home and we hope you will enjoy it.