‘A natural feature much improved by art’

You may not have heard of, or visited, Stanley Hill, in Dunkeld. It was described in the Ordinance Survey of 1856 as a “small knoll within the pleasure grounds of the Duke of Athole, it is a natural feature but its appearance has been much improved by art.”

The New Statistical Account in speaking of the derivation of Dunkeld, says:

“A number of sensible people still assert, that the hazel hill, meant by Dr. [Doctor] Buchannan, is Stanley hill, within the Atholl pleasure grounds; and that from that hill the word Dunkeld is positively derived. Anciently, that hill was a small insignificant knoll, where the town’s children amused themselves wrestling. It was a bare sandy knoll, and it was graphically called by them ” Shawkee Hill.” In 1730, James, Duke of Athole, heightened the knoll at very great expense, and formed it with military slopes, like a German fortification. As a specimen of the taste of a former age, it is a curiosity. This artificial mound, the Duke called Stanley Hill, after his mother, Lady Emily Stanley. The village of Stanley, in Redgorton, derives its name from the same source.”

Lady Amelia Anna Sophia Stanley was the daughter of James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby and Charlotte de la Trémoille. Her father noted in his diary that his daughter Amelia Anna Sophia was born on 17 July, 1633. This is a portrait of Emily Stanley as a child, c1640:

Amelia Stanley married John Murray, 1st Marquess of Atholl, son of John Murray, 1st Earl of Atholl and Jean Campbell, on 5 May 1659. As a result of her marriage, Lady Amelia Anna Sophia Stanley was styled as Countess of Atholl on 5 May 1659 and her married name became Murray.

Emily died on 22 February 1702 and is buried in Dunkeld Cathedral.

On the 12th September 1844 Queen Victoria was welcomed to Dunkeld with the sound of cannons firing from Stanley Hill:

According to this newspaper account of 1880, the Duke of Atholl “rolled” Neil Gow, the celebrated fiddler, down Stanley Hill:

Stanley Hill still greets the visitor today. It is still wooded but no longer has cannons. It is interesting to reflect that as part of “Atholl Pleasure Grounds” Stanley Hill survives whilst the original Dunkeld House does not [it was apparently demolished in 1824].

The original Dunkeld House was close to the Cathedral and is depicted in Theatrum Scotiae by John Slezer, 1693:

Dunkeld house as photographed in 1875:

In 1994 the National Trust for Scotland began an archaeological dig to see if they could find any trace of an “old tower where the Marquis [kept] his library”:

In 1996 an open-air Macbeth was performed on Stanley Hill:

And later that year, Stanley Hill was the site of storytelling for children:

Given the stories that I have discovered about Stanley Hill a  poem has begun to form in my mind. Hopefully I can share it one day and perhaps read it on Stanley Hill itsel’.

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