31 March 2023
Major conservation work at the House of the Binns, near Linlithgow, is approaching completion, with the house reopening to the public on 1 April 2023.
This is the first opportunity to see the property’s interiors and collections since pre-lockdown.
Built for butter merchant Thomas Dalyell in 1612, the country house has been the Dalyell family home for centuries and holds over 4,000 artefacts which give glimpses into the history of the house, the family, Scotland, and its place in the world over four centuries. In support of the Trust’s restoration aims, roof works began at the House of the Binns in 2022. The whole collection remained on site during the restoration project.
Lesley Scott, the National Trust for Scotland’s Regional Conservator, oversaw the movement and safe interim storage of the collection to allow for redecoration work and to make sure the greatest care was taken for the house’s historic collections. Each piece was carefully condition-checked, dusted, checked for signs of pests and mould, and labelled and packed for short-term storage and dust prevention, by a team of five. Over the space of 18 days, this included:
- over 100 pieces of historic china
- 32 framed portraits
- over 40 pieces of furniture
- 3 clocks
The repair work
Over the following months, major repairs were made to the roof and rooms were redecorated using period-appropriate colours and finishes. National Trust for Scotland curators, in close discussion with Kathleen Dalyell, advised on wallpapers and curtains that would be appropriate for the Georgian Morning Room and Dining Room, areas of the house that were most affected by roof works.
The House of the Binns is still home to Kathleen Dalyell OBE, the widow of Tam Dalyell who served as a Scottish MP for 42 years. Kathleen, as a former manager of the property, member of the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland and Chair of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), knows the stories of the Dalyells and their family home better than anyone, and she often describes the house as having its own personality that welcomes people and loves visitors.
Kathleen Dalyell OBE said: ‘It is with a great sense of satisfaction and appreciation of the continuity of life through difficult times that I see the fruits of this past year’s labours by the Trust. I have been impressed at the thought and hard work that has gone into restoring and stabilising the roof, along with work on the heating and electrical systems - all “behind the scenes”, but an important investment for the future.
‘I am sure the redecoration and re-displaying of the collection “front of house” will be of interest and a delight to visitors. I am grateful to the National Trust for Scotland – with its excellent staff, members and volunteers - who have ensured that the history, legend and memory of the Binns can continue “to be preserved for all time” as intended by Eleanor’s gift of 1944.’
Visit House of the Binns
Tours of the house give visitors the chance to learn about the Dalyell family tree and heritage, including General Tam Dalyell, also known as ‘Bluidy Tam’, a Scottish general who fought in the War of the Three Kingdoms, in the seventeenth century. Visitors also enjoy hearing about Tam’s alleged card game with the Devil, in which his cheating was discovered. The story goes that Auld Nick launched the table they were playing on across the room, narrowly missing Tam’s head and landing in the pond outside the house. Two centuries later, after a significant drought, the table was rediscovered and is a prized visitor attraction with a mysterious hoof mark burned into one of the corners.
Artefacts in the house also include Tam’s newly conserved riding boots, dating back to the 1600s. According to the legends that sprung up after Tam’s death, the thigh-high Russian leather boots were given to a family member and were rumoured to march around his house on their own at night, until they were returned to the House of the Binns.
Tours of the House of the Binns can be booked on the National Trust for Scotland website.
House image © elisa.rolle, CCASA 3.0; interior © National Trust for Scotland