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Latitude: 57.6382 / 57°38'17"N
Longitude: -1.9375 / 1°56'14"W
OS Eastings: 403831
OS Northings: 860917
OS Grid: NK038609
Mapcode National: GBR P8KJ.R1S
Mapcode Global: WH9NH.68NV
Entry Name: Cairness House
Listing Date: 16 April 1971
Source: Historic Scotland
Source ID: 341522
Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB9263
Building Class: Cultural
Locality: Peterhead North and Rattray
Traditional County: Aberdeenshire
Robert Burns, by 1781; enlarged and re-worked by James Playfair 1791-7, portico working drawings by Sir John Soane to Playfair design, for Charles Gordon of Buthlaw. French Neo-classic of Boullee Ledoux School, of outstanding merit inside and out. Main block 2-storey and basement 5-window centre original house with 3-storey advanced wings, 1-window to front with pedimented ground floor tripartites, 5 windows down flanks; tetrastyle R-doric porch with steps and broken column pedestals; cast iron columnar chimneys. Great 2-storey hemicycle of offices to rear with gables having proto-doric columns set in blind lunettes showing to main front, remarkable pend arch in semicircle of voussoirs diminishing in depth to crown, cupola over; circular ice-house in court.
Granite ashlar, very finely detailed throughout.
INTERIOR: fine suite of rooms ground floor, very original treatment. Egyptian; former billiard room (now (2008) thought to Masonic Temple) behind entrance hall; drawing room has bold treatment of circles in shallow relief, Ionic columns in window recess; dining room plain ceiling with doric columns in window recess; Soanic pendentive ceiling in library.
'A' group with Walled Garden and South Lodges and Gates. Cairness House is an outstanding example of fine Neo-classical architecture and retains an important interior. James Playfair's remodelling of Robert Burn's more subdued style displays overt Masonic and Templar symbolism based upon the Temple of Solomon. The house was requisitioned during World War II for War Office use, and during the early 1950s the grounds and gardens were adopted for agricultural purposes. Since coming into new ownership toward the close of the 20th century, the setting has gradually been reclaimed and returned to a more domestic style, and much interior restoration work has been undertaken and is still ongoing (2008).
The working drawings for the portico were made by Sir John Soane. The working drawings for the remainder of the house seem otherwise to have been complete. Letter from Dorothy Stroud 17.11.67 "Soane's connection with the house was because he had been asked for advice on proceeding with her late husband's affairs. [Soane] had already acquired Playfair's architectural drawings from Mrs P[layfair]. Soane's advice was 'Mr Gordon's bill should be made up from Mr Playfair's memorandums I mean as to the number of Journies. The money expended on which a commission is to be taken cannot I fear be had but by recourse to him; all drawings made and now executed should be charged which I shall be happy to name a sum for as correctly as I can if you will have the goodness to let me know what they consist of which I presume you will be able to do from Mr P's books'. It would seem that Mrs Playfair suggested that Soane should design the portico which her husband had intended for Cairness. There are no references to his having been concerned with any other part of the house".
References from the previous list description included Plans: complete set Miss Gordon, 16 Corrennie Gardens, Edinburgh and set at Sir John Soane's Museum, 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London.
List description revised 2008.
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