Cairness House

Cairness House, four miles south of Fraserburgh in the County of Aberdeenshire, is the largest and finest country house in Buchan and one of the great houses of Scotland. It was built between 1791 and 1797 to designs by architect James Playfair and replaced an earlier house of 1781 by Robert Burn, which was largely incorporated into the Playfair scheme. Sir John Soane assisted in the final stages of the construction following Playfair’s untimely death in 1794. The park was laid out by Thomas White, a follower of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown.


Cairness House was commissioned by Charles Gordon of Cairness and Buthlaw and was part of a 9,000-acre (36 km²) estate that included the village of St. Comb’s and the Loch of Strathbeg. The second laird, Major-General Thomas Gordon (1788-1841), a good friend of George Byron, 6th Baron Byron, was a hero of the Greek War of Independence and wrote a celebrated history of the conflict. The Gordon family sold the estate in 1937 to the Countess of Southesk.

After the Second World War, the house was used as a farmhouse and gradually fell into serious decline. The park was destroyed from the early 1950s onwards with the mass clearance of trees in order to reclaim land for agricultural use. In 1991, the house was listed as a Building At Risk by the Scottish Civic Trust. A major long-term restoration programme of the house and grounds was instigated by new owners in 2001. Cairness House now contains a very fine collection of furniture and works of art and is open to the public.


Considered one of the finest examples of Neoclassical architecture in Britain, Cairness House shows the influence of the French architects Étienne-Louis Boullée and Claude Nicholas Ledoux and has many parallels with the works of Sir John Soane.

The design incorporates a complex mixture of Masonic and pagan symbols as well as many numerological and architectural conceits. It is a calendar house, and its ground plan shows an adjoining “C” and “H”, variously standing for Cairness House and Charles Gordon.

Constructed in finely detailed granite ashlar, Cairness House consists of a 110 ft main block, flanked by two raised “bookend” wings. A tetrastyle pedimented Roman Doric porch sits to the centre, its unjointed columns hewn from menhirs taken from a nearby druids' temple. A pair of lower pavilions with representations of the Masonic Altar adjoin at the back. From these spans a huge semicircular service wing, with a central bell tower above a lunette arch, enclosing a courtyard at the rear of the house. The centre of the courtyard is dominated by a round ice house modelled on the Temple of Vesta in Rome. The main roof is surmounted by 51 cast iron chimney pots in the shape of fluted Doric columns.

The interiors are boldly Neoclassical with fine examples of simulated marble walls, pendentive or coffered ceilings and Greek key friezes. The Egyptian Room was the first of its kind in Britain and contains elaborate hieroglyph plasterwork. The Entrance Hall features a columbarium fireplace with anthemion antefixes.

ee also

*Calendar house

External links

* [ Official Buchan and Peterhead website]
* [ Cairness House: Official website]

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