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House Of The Binns

Country House (17th Century)

Site Name House Of The Binns

Classification Country House (17th Century)

Alternative Name(s) The House Of The Binns; The Binns; Binns Policies

Canmore ID 49158

Site Number NT07NE 4

NGR NT 05080 78567

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council West Lothian
  • Parish Abercorn (West Lothian)
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District West Lothian
  • Former County West Lothian

Recording Your Heritage Online

House of The Binns, from 1612, ?Sir James Murray of Kilbaberton

Lovely U-plan Renaissance villa created by Thomas Dalyell from a three-storey courtyard manor-house. A king's favourite, constructing a villa near the king's palace at Linlithgow, he may well have used the king's architect, Murray of Kilbaberton. Half a century later, General Sir Tam Dalyell further extended the building. All was clothed in fashionable castellations in 1812 by Robert Burn. Possibly entered from the north, one of the turnpike stairs on that façade was originally corbelled from the first floor. The principal block, harled with stone dressings, was two-and-a-half storeys above ground-floor kitchens and cellars, which can still be seen on the west.

A Laigh Hall was created out of the original cellar in 1621, raising the ceiling and thereby squashing the principal floor, and General Sir Tam created the adjacent Business Room or Closet. The glory of the piano nobile is the two great Renaissance chambers with outstanding plasterwork by Alexander White - particularly the deep, elaborate frieze in the High Hall, the King's Chamber and the Vaulted Chamber. Painted panelling and ceilings. The first country house to be donated to the National Trust for Scotland. NTS: open to the public; guidebook available.

The 1829 Binns Tower, in the same livery as the house, was built by Sir James Dalyell, 5th Baronet, following an after-dinner wager. Restored, 2002, by The Pollock Hammond Partnership. Merrylees Cottages, a characterful row enlivened by obelisk-capped skews, hood-moulded windows and door at the centre.

Taken from "West Lothian: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Stuart Eydmann, Richard Jaques and Charles McKean, 2008. Published by the Rutland Press

Architecture Notes

NT07NE 4.00 05080 78567

(NT 0508 7855) The Binns (NR)

OS 6" map (1967)

NT07NE 4.01 NT 05254 78591 Tower

NT07NE 4.02 NT 05029 78267 Cottages and Stable buildings (ruins)

NT07NE 4.03 NT 05170 78260 Pond

NT07NE 4.04 NT 01571 78318 Walled garden

NT07NE 4.05 NT 05717 77809 East Lodge

NT07NE 4.06 NT 05082 78227 Cottage (Garden House)

House now curated by the National Trust for Scotland


Owner: National Trust for Scotland.

Occupier: Mrs Dalyell of the Binns

Architect: Thomas Brown 1823 - East Gate (10 guineas for making plan and superintending)

Reslated etc - reparations c. 1722

William Burn - adds 1810

Alexander White, plasterer 1612-30


Dick Peddie & MacKay, Edinburgh alterations

Bin 12, Bag 2 Peddie & Forbes Smith 1913


National Library: Small's "Castles and Mansions of the Lothians"

Scottish Record Office: Binns Papers 1320-1864 - text rebuilding

REFERENCE: Historic Scotland

Built for Thomas Dalyell, merchant in Edinburgh, who had acquired land of Binns 1612. Extended for his son and heir General Tam Dalyell, (1615-1685) who defeated Covenanters at Rullion Green (Midlothian) Nov. 1666 and raised the Royal Scots Greys here 1681. Altered for Sir James 5th Bt. Sir John Graham Dalyell 6th Bt. (1778-1851) was eminent antiquary and zoologist.

(Undated) information in NMRS.

The house of "The Binns", property of the National Trust for Scotland, stands today much as it did after Thomas Dalyell had completed its restoration in 1612-30. Since then, c.1745-50, two rooms were added on the S side of the house where the courtyard was, and later, other rooms were added on the W wing of the house. About 1810, the old crow-stepping and pointed turrets were replaced by battlements.

There is no record of the old house as it was when Thomas Dalyell bought it, but examination of the layout and walls (especially while re-harling was in progress in 1938) suggests that it consisted of two buildings, now part of the E and W wings, joined on the N by a main building and two towers lower in height than at present. The position of the house and the strong tradition that the site has been inhabited since Pictish times (see NT07NE 3) makes it not unreasonable to suppose that these older buildings grew up where in earlier times the Picts had their dwellings. There is written evidence of "the lands of the Bynnis" (in various spellings) from 1335 onwards, and of the existence of a house prior to 1478.

RCAHMS 1933; NTS Binns Guide

While The Binns is a house of considerable importance its external appearance has been marred by harling and the addition of battlements.

Visited by OS (JLD) 22 January 1953 and (JP) 26 March 1974.


Publication Account (1985)

In 1612 an Edinburgh merchant, Thomas Dalyell, acquired the small properties of Mannerstoun, East Scotstoun, Fludders and Merrilies. He was living in Mannerstoun in 1614, but began to build a new house on the western shoulder of Binns Hill a little before 1621. It was completed by 1630.

The present exterior reflects a remodelling begun c1810. The east and west ranges were enlarged, the south side was extended into the forecourt, square corbelled turrets were added to all of the major gables,and everywhere imitation battlements gave it the appearance of a caricature fort-compare the grandiose and romantic Tudor Gothic turrets and battlements of William Wilkins' Dalmeny House, 1814-17 (NT 168780).

The original west wing had been built to match an earlier east wing shortly after 1665 when the notable royalist General Sir Tarn Dalyell was recalled from Russia by Charles H. It made the house into a hollow square around a courtyard, open to the south and entered from there. The General is said to have responded to the Devil's threat to blow down the house, with the words-"I will build me a turret at every corner to pin down my walls". Not all of them, therefore, are 19th century!

The original house would seem to have been the north-west part of the present main block-three storeys and a garret, with two turnpike turrets set symmetrically on the north side. Each floor had four unvaulted chambers. The ground-floor rooms are mainly 19th century, except for the vaulted kitchen or bakehouse with its wide-arched fIreplace and two ovens in the eastern, originally detached wing.

On the fIrst floor are the major early rooms, the High Hall or 'Chamber of Desse', the King's Room and the Vault Chamber-three state rooms which might be said to "embody the theory if not the actual functions, of feudal loyalty". They all have interesting ceilings, reflecting a move to Elizabethan-type modelled plasterwork in parts of Scotland following the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Most notable is that in the King's Room where rose, thistle, harp and fleur-de-lys feature in some compartments, low relief Heads of King Alexander or King David in others. The elaborate frieze contains fInely-modelled fruit, and above the fIreplace a late 18th century royal coat-of-arms echoes the thistle and rose theme to reinforce a Unionist flavour.

Northwards lies Blackness Castle (mid 15th-late 19th century, NT 055802), to which tradition attributes an underground passage leading from the-base of the east stair turret at the Binns. On the hill west of the house a round, crenellated tower was built in 1826; and south towards the road, the remains of a modest packhorse bridge survive in the middle of a meadow.

Information from 'Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Lothian and Borders', (1985).

Reference (1999)

Historic landscape survey of The Binns, West Lothian by Peter McGowan Associateson behalf of the National Trust for Scotland.

Reference (March 2013)

House dating from 1612-30, subsequently extended and altered, comprising a main 2.5 storey block with slated roof and pedimented dormers (dated 1621) facing a south-facing court. Two turnpike stairs on the north side. Extended c.1670. Remodelled in castellated style c.1810 by William Burn making a three-storey facade with crenellated parapets. South-east and south-west wings forming the south courtyard are partly 17th century but refaced in castellated style c.1810. All harled and lime-washed.

The House of the Binns is positioned off-centre to the north in the policy landscape, on the west side of the highest part of Binns Hill. The hill’s landform and Binns Wood, between the hilltop and house mean that the house is not visible in views from the east.

The name of ‘Binns’ derives from the hills on which the house and policies are located, the old Scots ‘binns’ or ‘bynnis’ meaning hills, from the same origin as the more familiar ‘ben’.

Watching Brief (22 October 2013 - 15 November 2013)

Watching brief by GUARD Archaeology Limited at The House of Binns (NT 05080 78567).

Funder: National Trust for Scotland

GUARD Archaeology Limited


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