James Durham was born in Edinburgh in January 1754 - son of James Durham (1732-1808) and Anne Calderwood (1734-1797). He is pictured above in a painting by George Watson (1767-1837). James had four younger siblings - Thomas, Philip, William and Margaret. He entered the army aged fifteen in 1769, joining the Second Dragoon Guards as a Coronet The extract below from the 22 February 1840 Naval and Military Gazette charts his army career from that point, until he obtained the rank of General in 1830. Notably, in 1794 Durham raised the Fife Fencibles, an early military force based in Fife. With them he served chiefly in Ireland.
Durham married Elizabeth, daughter of Colonel Sheldon of Flitwick, Bedfordshire in 1779. It was in 1808, upon the death of his father, that a fifty-four-year-old James Durham inherited the Largo Estate. Now at a less active stage in his military service, he resided almost constantly at Largo and was involved in many practical improvements to the estate. He also set about making improvements to Largo House itself. In 1815 he had the stable block built to designs by Alexander Leslie and James Leslie.
After the death of his wife Elizabeth in 1826, James married for a second time in 1827 to Margaret, eldest daughter of Colonel John Anstruther Thomson of Charlton. The pair made significant additions to Largo House in 1831 by extending extensively to the rear of the building and adding the conservatory to the west. Another significant, if smaller scale, change made during General Durham's era was the addition of a coat of arms to the tympanum on the frontage of Largo House (more on that in the next post).
Durham had a great interest in antiquities and was responsible for the restoration of Largo's Pictish Stone within the grounds of Largo House, the saving of a portion of the Norrie's Law Silver Hoard and the placing of a plaque on Sir Andrew Wood's Tower in 1832. In 1837, he had a cannon brought to Largo from the sunken HMS Royal George following salvage work on the wreck. The loss of the ship had been the worst naval disaster in British home waters since the Mary Rose, 237 years beforehand. James's brother Philip was one of four lieutenants saved from the Royal George. The cannon, which had lain for over half a century (since 1782) on the seabed, was brought to Largo House where it was displayed right in front of the house, drawing much interest. Durham also owned an original manuscript of John Lamont's Diary which went missing from his library around 1830 (see 25 March Fife Herald entry from that year below). This 17th century diary contained much every day information about the Lundin family of Lundin. Lamont's brother Allan was factor and chaplain to the family.
Among the other roles carried out by James Durham was a stint as Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews. He fulfilled the role of Convener for the County of Fife for a spell right up until his death. General James Durham is pictured below in his later years. He died at Largo House 6 February 1840 at the age of 86. Having left no heir, he was succeeded in the estate of Largo by his nephew Thomas Durham Calderwood of Polton. James Durham's second wife Margaret died at 44 Moray Place, Edinburgh in 1847. Both James and Margaret were interred in the family vault at Largo Kirk. James was arguably the last custodian of Largo House who truly cared for the building and had a strong personal connection to it, given that he spent his childhood years there and that it was his father who had it built. He certainly invested heavily in caring for and extending the house and adorning it with meaningful artefacts. Perhaps the story of the decline of the mansion really began with the death of General Durham in 1840.