The significance of Auchinleck House derives from both its architecture and the international renown of one of its owners, the diarist and biographer James Boswell. SHBT carried out the important structural repairs to Auchinleck in the late 1980s, enabling The Landmark Trust’s full restoration a decade later.
Simpson & Brown
Auchinleck is a classic example of the Palladian style, used for many country houses across Britain during the mid-18th century. Four ionic pilasters, topped by an elaborately carved pediment, mark the entrance front and are repeated on the garden side of the house. Inside, the floorplan remains essentially unchanged since the time the house was built. The ground floor features a series of interconnected rooms, layed out in a traditional circuit that would allow guests to pass from one to the other. The first floor consists of bedrooms and a large library.
Auchinleck House was built between 1755 and 1760 for Alexander Boswell, 8th Laird of Auchinleck. The estate had been owned by the Boswell family for many generations and the ruins of two previous residences, a medieval castle and a 17th century mansion, survive nearby.
For many years, Auchinleck was thought to have been designed by the famous architects Robert and John Adam, who at the time were working on the nearby property of Dumfries House. However, archival evidence uncovered during the building’s restoration instead suggests that no architect was employed and Auchinleck’s design was instead the product of a collaboration between the patron and the Edinburgh wright John Johnson.
In 1782, Auchinleck was inherited by its most famous resident – the diarist and biographer James Boswell. Boswell was a great friend of the writer Samuel Johnson. The two men went on a tour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands in 1773 during which they visited Auchinleck. As a result, the house features in both of their published accounts of the trip. After inheriting Auchinleck from his father at the relatively late age of 41, James Boswell continued to spend much of his time in either Edinburgh or London. His wife and children, however, spent more time there and as a result his eldest son, Sir Alexander Boswell, took more interest in the estate following his own inheritance in 1795. The house continued to be lived in by James Boswell’s descendants until 1905, when the contents were sold and the surviving archives removed to the family’s Irish property, where they were ‘discovered’ in the 1920s.
Auchinleck was sold to distant branch of the Boswell family, who maintained it until the 1940s. By the early 1960s, however, the house was empty and beginning to deteriorate. The situation was accelerated by the theft of the lead gutters, allowing water to pour down the linings of the outside walls. By the time SHBT acquired the house, much of the beautiful internal plasterwork had collapsed, the windows were smashed and the property was plagued with extensive dry rot.
Auchinleck House was first listed as a Category A building in 1971. When SHBT purchased Auchinleck in 1986, it was clear that emergency works were needed in order to prevent the building from becoming ruinous. The progression of these works was enabled by a grant from Historic Scotland. Simpson & Brown Architects were appointed to oversee the project, which focused on making the building structurally sound and watertight in order to prevent further damage and enable a full internal restoration at a later date.
The roof and external walls were repaired and all of the windows were replaced, preventing any further water ingress and allowing the building to dry out naturally. Any timber deemed structurally unsound was replaced, whilst all the surviving internal timber panelling and fixings (along with large sections of fallen plasterwork) were removed and placed in storage.
In 1999, Auchinleck was sold to The Landmark Trust, who were best-placed to secure the building’s long-term future. They continued to employ Simpson and Brown Architects and received a generous donation from the American Royal Oak Foundation, supplemented by further fundraising and grants, in order to carry out a comprehensive restoration. The carefully-stored panelling was repaired and re-installed, whilst the surviving plasterwork was used to ensure the accuracy of the extensive re-creations. The project was completed in 2001 and Auchinleck once again became occupied as a magnificent holiday-let.
Auchinleck is now owned by The Landmark Trust and available to hire as holiday accommodation.