Before the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel the most iconic image in our area was surely the famous Pineapple at Dunmore. It adorned the front cover of many a tourist brochure attracting visitors from all over the world intrigued by this amazing structure of carved sandstone making a gigantic replica of the fruit and rising nearly fifty feet above the ground.
It is often described as a folly and it certainly served no useful purpose other than as a small garden pavilion and a picturesque example of the genius of designer and craftsmen. Who they were we do not know but we are familiar with the man whose idea it was – John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunmore.
He was descended from the Murrays of Blair Castle and purchased the lands of Elphinstone in 1754 renaming them Dunmore. His new property included the little port on the Forth which up to then was called Elphinstone Pans and his main intention was to export coal from the estate to Europe. However, he also built a walled garden with a fancy Italian style portico though, in truth, his interest in high politics had already turned his mind to far away places.
In 1761 he was chosen as one of the 16 Scottish peers to serve in the House of Lords and in 1770 was appointed Governor of the colony of New York and later Virginia. Governors controlled trade in and out of the colonies and John Murray was soon a very wealthy man indeed. We know for example that at one time he had 56 slaves working for him at the Governor’s House in Williamsburg!
He left America in haste in 1776 at the time of the War of Independence but came home with plenty of cash to spend.
It was probably at this stage that the Pineapple was built on top of the existing garden gateway in imitation of a practice he had seen in America where planters returned from the West Indies to their mansions and spiked pineapples on their gates as a sign of welcome.
So maybe the mighty stone building is nothing more that a very rich and vain man telling the world that he was back and happy to have them come and see just how rich and clever he was!
There is some evidence that the stonemasons came from Italy and, though a number of famous architects have been suggested as possible designers, no one knows for certain. What we do know is that it is a masterpiece with very detailed and accurate fruity segments all hand-crafted nearly 250 years ago.
Pineapples were a rare and exotic fruit in the 18th century and they were certainly grown at Dunmore and supplied to many great houses in Scotland including Holyrood.
The process was difficult and required high heat for a lengthy growing period. Thus the walls on either side of the Pineapple are hollow to allow for the passage of hot air while the urns on top are really chimneys serving the coal-fired heaters down below. Sloping glass and a potent mix of tanners’ bark and horse manure did the rest.
The 20th century saw the departure of the Murrays and the Pineapple fell into disrepair. However from the 1960s on the National Trust restored the building and today it is operated by the Landmark Trust as a holiday property.
Like the Wheel and the Kelpies it is impossible to appreciate just how big it is until you stand below looking up.
If you can survive the ghastly potholed road into the estate you will be well rewarded.