Thomas Carlyle’s Birthplace teacher information

This unassuming white-painted cottage was built by Thomas Carlyle’s father and uncle – both stonemasons – and is a simple gem of Scottish 18th-century vernacular architecture.

Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) was a historian, essayist and satirical writer. The eldest of 8 children, he grew up in Ecclefechan, in a strict Calvinist family. He was educated at the village school, Annan Academy and Edinburgh University (where he studied arts and mathematics). After graduating in 1813, he became a teacher in Kirkcaldy. 

In 1818, Carlyle moved to Edinburgh and wrote for the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia and Edinburgh Review. He began translating German writers such as Goethe and Schiller, and wrote The Life of Schiller (1825). In 1826, he married Jane Baillie Welsh and they moved to London. 

Carlyle was a friend of the liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill and wrote articles for Mill’s Westminster Review. He published several books including The French Revolution (1837), On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History (1841) and Past and Present (1843). His work inspired writers and artists such as John Ruskin, William Morris and Charles Dickens, who were interested in social reform. However, later in life, Carlyle became undemocratic in his views; this is reflected in works such as the History of Frederick the Great (1858–65).

Upon Carlyle’s death, his instructions were to refuse a place in Westminster Abbey. Instead, he was buried in the Ecclefechan kirkyard beside his parents, just a few hundred yards from his place of birth.

Carlyle’s Birthplace, the Arched House, was built over a cobbled pend by Carlyle’s father and uncle, both stonemasons, c1791. It presents a typical home belonging to a Victorian family on a small income. Downstairs is a kitchen with a low ceiling, open fire range, stone flagged floor, cloutie rugs, cooking utensils and furniture typical of the period. Some of Carlyle’s personal possessions are still inside the house, such as his hat, writing desk, tobacco cutter and letters. In the bedroom where he was born, the children’s cradle stands beside the parents’ box bed. The sofa came from Carlyle’s home in London (24 Cheyne Row, Chelsea).

A school visit offers opportunities for cross-curricular work and engaging with the Curriculum for Excellence: 

  • Pupils can enjoy a guided tour of the house and a tour of the village of Ecclefechan. 

Tours can be adapted to suit the requirements of your class.

Possible themes

  • Thomas Carlyle 
  • Victorians

Resources for schools

  • Illustrated leaflet about Thomas Carlyle’s Birthplace for sale

Planning your class visit

  • To book: please telephone us on 01556 502575.
  • Book well in advance to avoid disappointment.
  • The house is open for school visits all year round but all visits must be booked.
  • Maximum class size: 30 pupils, with a ratio of 1 teacher/adult to 10 pupils
  • Access: we regret that this historic house is not easily accessible for wheelchair users because of the narrow doorways. A ramp has recently been installed to improve access to the kitchen on the ground floor.
  • Parking: school coaches can park on the road in front of Thomas Carlyle’s Birthplace.
  • Toilets: there’s a toilet on site and also public toilets nearby.
  • Clothing: if you book the Ecclefechan Village guided tour, then pupils should dress appropriately for the outdoors.
  • The site has been risk assessed. Teachers should prepare their own risk assessment for the visit.
  • Further information about planning your class visit can be found on our School visits page.

Charges

  • There’s no admission charge for schools with Trust educational membership.
  • Non-member schools are welcome but there’s an admission charge of £2 per pupil.
  • Accompanying adults are admitted free.
  • All class teachers are encouraged to make a free preparatory visit.

During your class visit

  • On arrival: please knock on the door of the Birthplace to be admitted.
  • Tours of the house and the village will be led by Trust staff and volunteers.
  • A house tour takes around 45 minutes; the house and village tour takes around 1½ hours.
  • A class of 30 pupils should be split into 2 groups - each group must be accompanied by at least 1 teacher/school helper.
  • Teachers are responsible for their pupils and their behaviour.
  • We regret that pupils cannot take photos inside the house.
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