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Skirling, Skirling House

Country House (20th Century), Farmhouse (18th Century)

Site Name Skirling, Skirling House

Classification Country House (20th Century), Farmhouse (18th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Skirling Estate

Canmore ID 97985

Site Number NT03NE 62

NGR NT 07627 38953

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2021.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Skirling
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Tweeddale
  • Former County Peebles-shire

Archaeology Notes

NT03NE 62.01 NT 0762 3893 Sundial

NT03NE 62.02 Centred NT 0762 3892 Garden

Architecture Notes

The character of this unusual Arts and Crafts style house came about through close collaboration between client, architect and craftsman. In 1905, Lord Carmichael - enthusiastic traveller and Governor of Bengal - commissioned renowned architect Robert Lorimer to design a hillside mansion near the Borders village of Skirling. When the scheme proved to be too costly, Lorimer designed a smaller house for the Lord in the English Domestic style. This was also abandoned for reasons unknown, but may have been the result of a general waning of interest in the style by this time. The main elevations of this second scheme have characteristically staggered eaves to the front, and long uninterrupted eaves to the rear. RCAHMS holds a number of Lorimer drawings for both of these unexecuted projects.

Lord Carmichael then chose Ramsay Traquair, a colleague of Lorimer and son of renowned Scottish artist Phoebe Traquair, as his architect. Traquair remodelled a group of existing eighteenth century farm buildings beside the village green to create the house that exists today. Its harled walls and slate roof are typically Scottish, while its large expanses of astragalled windows and weather-boarded upper storey suggest the influence of the English south coast. The style also hints at ideas Traquair would later develop following his emigration to Canada, where he became a well-established architect and university professor. The drawing room was designed to incorporate an impressive Florentine ceiling with individually carved and painted roses dating from 1590, and a built in wall cabinet with delicate inlay work by Scarselli of Florence.

According to anecdotal evidence, Lord Carmichael was much inspired by the outsized ironwork lilies and tulips adorning the seventeenth century gates at nearby Traquair House. Consequently, Ramsay Traquair (connected to Traquair House in name only) employed Thomas Hadden, a working blacksmith closely affiliated with Lorimer, to provide the wrought iron work for Skirling House. Interestingly, Hadden's iron gates for nearby Skirling churchyard also incorporated elongated replicas of the Traquair House tulips. With both Traquair and Hadden working in his house, Lord Carmichael's interest developed into something of an obsession, resulting in an abundance of ironwork throughout the house and garden. Inside, each door and window latch, lock and handle is individually designed, often with an animal theme. Outside, Traquair House style lilies and tulips sprout up in the garden and pig, rabbit and dog-shaped boot scrapers stand beside the doors. There is an imaginative weathervane with the devil looming over the world and a heavy lantern with a twisting lizard hangs near the entrance. Lord Carmichael's passion for travel is reflected in decorative elephant, panther and crocodile motifs on walls and railings. The inspiration for all the dragons and little men with pointy hats is less clear.

As mentioned before, Hadden's name was associated principally with the work of Lorimer. Their collaboration, spanning more than thirty years, sought to revitalise traditional Scottish ironwork styles, producing the flowing shapes that Lorimer suggested and Hadden experimented with and refined. Examples of their most elaborate output include the highly ornate screen of the Thistle Chapel in the High Kirk on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, and the steel casket for the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle. These prestigious commissions are testament to Hadden's mastery of his craft and provide an interesting contrast to the light-hearted, idiosyncratic work seen at Skirling House.

RCAHMS holds over 100 colour and black and white photographs of the interior and exterior of Skirling House as well as various material relating to the ironwork produced by Hadden in association with Robert Lorimer.

Information from RCAHMS Architecture Catalogue Project, 2005.


Publication Account (2008)

With the closure of Hailes Quarry Sir Thomas Gibson-Carmichael was forced to sell his house and estate at Castlecraig and he approached Robert Lorimer to design a substantial country house for him. The resulting proposal, however, was too expensive, and a modest late eighteenth century farmhouse and barn on the south side of the green in Skirling was acquired. Lorimer passed the commission for the conversion of the house to his assistant, Ramsay Traquair, who was setting up in private practice. Traquair was the son of the artist Phoebe Traquair, who had studied enamelling with and was a friend of Lady Gibson-Carmichael. Traquair designed and built the house between 1908 –12, adding a new corridor on two levels to ease the circulation, converted the barn into a drawing room with Skirling House a Florentine ceiling dated 1590 and provided a new wing of service rooms on the southwest. Sir Thomas was a keen amateur metalworker and, with Thomas Hadden, decorated the house with art metalwork, including fish door-latches, beast-inhabited railings and light fittings. The garden was provided with a wide variety of decorative features including a sundial, a wellhead and iron stakes decorated with flowers.

The house and garden are a rare example of craftsmen, designers, architects and artists working together. Ramsay Traquair went on to teach and build in Canada exporting a particular Scottish form of the Arts and Crafts Movement to North America. The house and the people involved in its creation would feature in the proposed AHRC project, exploring Scottish domestic architecture of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries and its relationship to the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland.

Information from ‘The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Commissioners’ Field Meeting 2008'.


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