Standing on a slight eminence - the Drum of Drumkilbo - Drumkilbo House is possessed of ancient origins. When it was first an inhabited dwelling is not known, though from the formation of the ground and from the type of building found in part of the foundations, it may well date from the time of Nechten, when Pictish courts were held in Midgill (Meigle), one of the oldest villages in Scotland.
King Robert the Bruce
The present house incorporates the remains of a fortified tower dating from the 13th century. Indeed, the first recorded owner of Drumkilbo was King Robert the Bruce, who gave it to Morice de Tiry in about 1300. The Tyrees were the first confirmed inhabitants of Drumkilbo. On an old tombstone in Kirkinch (Nevay) Churchyard they are described as ‘honest men and brave fellows’. The chief of the clan joined Robert the Bruce in the Wars of Independence.
The Tyrees lived at Drumkilbo for 300 years. Sir Thomas Tyree was fond of horse racing. His horse, Kildaro, won the first silver cup raced for at Perth on Palm Sunday 1631. King Charles 1 wrote to him asking for a ‘loan’ of his grey gelding. This was probably the famous Kildaro, and one wonders whether the horse was ever returned to Drumkilbo.
During the years 1650 and 1651, Oliver Cromwell campaigned in Scotland. When his troops were fighting to control Perth and Dundee, it is said that 20 of his soldiers were captured by the Scots and imprisoned at Drumkilbo – apparently they were jailed in rooms on the lower ground floor (on the way to the laundry).
The Nairne family
Sir Thomas sold the estate to the Nairne family in 1650. They were descended from Michel de Narai, an Italian from Narni who came to Scotland as Italian ambassador during the reign of King Robert III. Alexander Nairne enlarged the House in 1811, but his descendant, David Nairne, who died in 1854, was the last of the Nairnes of Drumkilbo. The property was sold to Lord Wharncliffe in about 1851.
The Cox family
In 1900, Drumkilbo was sold to Edward Cox of Cardean for his younger son, John Arthur Cox. The Cox family were the leading proprietors of the jute industry in Dundee. The property was then let for a time to Lord Glamis, the heir to the Earldom of Strathmore and Kinghorne, whose seat is nearby Glamis Castle. In 1920, John Cox commissioned the leading Scottish architect of the day, Sir Robert Lorimer, to enlarge the House. This was done superbly, in a style that was in keeping with the original structure. During the alterations, some accounts with a Dundee draper were found dating from 1745, as well as an old sword, a claymore made at Solingnen.
In 1952 the Drumkilbo Estate was purchased by the 17th Lord Elphinstone, a first cousin of HM The Queen. On his death in 1975 it passed to the 18th Lord Elphinstone. The Queen and other members of the Royal Family stayed at Drumkilbo on several occasions, generally on the Queen’s return south after vacationing at Balmoral. There is still a connection for a direct telephone line to Buckingham Palace. The 17th Lord Elphinstone is credited with bringing most of the rare species of trees and the rhododendrons to the property. Following the death of the 18th Lord Elphinstone in 1995, the property was sold to a corporate events company.
The Baron of Innes
In 2017, Drumkilbo House and Gardens were bought by the present owners, the Baron and Baroness of Innes.