Garrison House stands surrounded by gardens in the centre of Millport, the only significant settlement on the island of Great Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde. As well as being a dominating physical presence, it also serves as a hub for the community of the island.
From a visitor's perspective, Garrison House is home to the Museum of the Cumbraes, which tells the story of the islands of Great Cumbrae and Little Cumbrae. This is also where you will find the excellent Courtyard Café, offering seating within the building and, for days like the one illustrated on this page, in the courtyard from which it takes its name. Other areas of Garrison House serve as Millport's library and as council offices. Meanwhile the upper floor offers a range of NHS services including a GP's surgery.
Given its focal location, it was a real blow when the building was seriously damaged by fire in 2001. We first visited Millport in 2003, and at that time the burned-out shell was a serious blot on the landscape: see the images on this page. Rebuilding and restoration followed, and the building you can see and visit today opened its doors in 2008. (Continues below image...)
The result is an absolute triumph. The exterior of the building looks superb, and is beautifully finished and detailed. Our 2003 photos suggest that all that was left after the fire was a shell. This appears to be confirmed by the obviously modern but tastefully designed interiors you can see in the public areas, with a central space rising all the way to an extensively glazed roof.
A large reception area leads you through to the space housing the Museum of the Cumbraes, passing a beautiful spiral staircase as you go. The museum comprises a series of nicely interpreted display cases lined up along a broad room, with some side displays off towards the front of the building. To the rear of the museum area the space opens out into the internal part of the Courtyard Café. On the far side of the courtyard is a room housing a recreated schoolroom from the days of inkwells and chalk.
Garrison House has its origins in a barracks built here in 1745 by James Crawford, the commander of the revenue cutter the Royal George to house the crew of the vessel. Smuggling was a major issue in the Firth of Clyde at the time and Millport was seen as an ideal station for a fast customs cutter, whose crew needed to be on call at any time to set off in pursuit of suspected smugglers.
The barracks became known as The Garrison, and the name was kept when the barracks were remodelled to serve as a fine house for Lord Glasgow, who owned Great Cumbrae at the time, in 1819-20. In the late 1800s ownership passed to the Crichton-Stewart family, the Marquesses of Bute. They oversaw further changes to the house in 1908-9 and installed the sunken garden to the front, which has been restored in recent years. The Garrison was later used as council offices, but abandoned in 1997 because of its poor condition. As already noted, the fire followed in 2001.
It took two years to return The Garrison to life and its reopening in 2008 was accompanied by a change of name to Garrison House.