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Smailholm House

House (Medieval), Lairds House (18th Century)

Site Name Smailholm House

Classification House (Medieval), Lairds House (18th Century)

Canmore ID 57149

Site Number NT63NE 1

NGR NT 65117 36590

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Smailholm
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Roxburgh
  • Former County Roxburghshire

Accessing Scotland's Past Project

Andrew Don, the second son of James Don, Clerk of Kelso, built Smailholm House in 1707.

He evidently built it on the site of an earlier structure, which is represented by the remains of a vaulted cellar. It is three storeys high and built on an L-plan, and is a good late example of the traditional tower-house. Its crow-stepped gables, a characteristic feature of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Scottish architecture, terminate at the base in ornate skewputs, which are carved to resemble grotesque heads.

Members of the Don family are commemorated by several inscriptions around the doors and windows. One above the main entrance is dedicated to Andrew Don himself: the initials AD are separated by what appears to be the family crest, a pomegranate, as well as portions of the family coat-of-arms and the date 1707. A nearby window has three sunken panels which commemorate Andrew's father, James Don, and his wife. This bears the initials JD and EK, and the date 1663.

Text prepared by RCAHMS as part of the Accessing Scotland's Past project

Archaeology Notes

NT63NE 1 65117 36590

(NT 6510 3658) Smailholm House (NAT).

OS 6" map, Roxburghshire, (1924).

Smailholm House. This characteristic laird's house of the early 18th century stands in the remains of its policies 430yds NE of the parish church. Three storeys in height, it is L-shaped on plan with the re-entrant angle opening towards the S and the wing projecting SE in alinement with the NE gable of the main block. The masonry is white- washed rubble with exposed freestone dressings, which are backset and chamfered; the walls were obviously intended for harling. The gables are crow-stepped, the skew-puts being carved with grotesque heads of which one has fallen and now lies in a rockery in the garden. The roofs have been renewed and the chimney-stacks are rebuilt in brick. Apart from these repairs, and from the provision in 1864 of a porch on the NW. side, the house has been little altered and is still occupied. The entrance, situated within the re-entrant angle at the N end of the SW wall of the wing, has a bolection-moulded architrave with lugs, which sweeps upward at the lintel in an ogival curve. Below are the initials A(NDREW) D(ON), separated by a device which may have been a pome granate, the family crest, and flanked by the three mascles of the family coat and the date 1707. On either side of the doorway there is a small blind window with a semicircular head. The nearest window to the SE of the entrance has three small sunk panels on the lintel. The central panel contains the initials J D and E K for James Don, 1st of Smailholm and father of Andrew Don, and his wife, while those at the sides together supply the date 1663. Two similar panels, in this case set one above the other, occur on the lintel of the back door, which is on the NW side and is sheltered by the porch. The upper one is inscribed JULY 29, the lower one AD 1717. They were presumably set up by Andrew Don, who did not die until 1720. (C B Balfour 1899).

The house is simply and compactly planned. On the ground floor the entrance opens into a hall which occupies the full width of the wing and contains a fine oak staircase with a panelled balustrade. This staircase, which rises to the garret in the roof, is in exceptionally good preservation, the only parts missing being three of the small globular finials that capped the newel-posts. The remainder of the wing on this floor is devoted to the dining-room, which has Georgian deal panelling. On the NW side of the hall a central passage leads through the main block to the back door. This gives access to the modernised kitchen at the SW end of the main block and to a vaulted cellar at the NE end. On the first floor there are three large rooms, all panelled and all possessing bolection-moulded stone fireplaces. There are six rooms on the second floor, two of them panelled and four having bolection-moulded fireplaces.

The house is probably to be dated to the year 1707, but it may replace an earlier house represented by the vaulted cellar on the ground floor. Although the fabric certainly seems to be all of a piece, there is some evidence for there having been an older house here, as two ash-trees, at least two centuries old and self-seeded, can be seen growing out of the ruin of an outhouse on the lawn to the SW. Illustrations are given in RCAHMS 1956, figs.202 and 317.

In 1663 James Don, clerk of Kelso, was granted a charter to the twenty-merk lands of "Smalhome" with the buildings, etc., formerly belonging to William, Earl of Roxburgh, (Reg Magni Sig Reg Scot 1984), Andrew Don, his second son, succeeded to the property as Alexander, the eldest was "fatuous".

RCAHMS 1956, visited August 1938.

Fully described above. Mr Andrew Liddle of Smailholm could provide no additional information.

Visited by OS (WDJ) 21 Sptember 1963.

Architecture Notes (24 October 2004)

This early 18th century L-plan laird’s house was recorded as part of the threatened buildings survey on 24 October 2002 prior to sale by the present owners Mr and Mrs David Black. Although included in the RCAHMS Inventory the interior has been altered and restored since publication. Of particular interest is the quantity and variety of architectural salvage items installed in the house. These include a marble floor from the London Ritz, scullery cabinets from The Peel, a house designed by John Kinross near Caddonfoot and 18th century panelling from James Court, Edinburgh. All these items and many others have been recorded and noted and form an interesting document of this late 20th century fascination with architectural salvage. This is in addition to the obvious importance of the original fittings including the unusual timber staircase and panelled first floor rooms. The opportunity was also taken to record the estate buildings including the stable block and various items of architectural salvage in the grounds. RCAHMS STG 2004


Sbc Note

Visibility: This is an upstanding building.

Information from Scottish Borders Council.


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