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31 Mar 2023

House of the Binns reopens to public

Written by Sarah Burnett
Delivering our strategy: House of the Binns


Three voices: Phil Long [PL]; Kirsty Redmonds [KR]; Helen Knox [HK]

PL: I'm here today at the historic House of the Binns in Linlithgow, the home of the Dalyell family for over 400 years.
The National Trust for Scotland is delighted to reopen the doors of this fascinating house to the public this spring, for the first time since before the pandemic.
The completion of this conservation project and reopening of the Binns is a fitting way to mark the first anniversary of our 10-year strategy, Nature, Beauty and Heritage for Everyone, which we launched here a year ago.
This outlines our commitment to caring for Scotland's special places, providing access and enjoyment to all and being a sustainable charity.

KR: The biggest challenge of this project was probably the scope of it.
It's involved emptying two principal rooms within the property, which took 5 members of staff about 18 days to achieve.
My favourite item in the collection at House of the Binns are probably the Persian menu holders.
They were commissioned by Eleanor Dalyell and they were painted with a single cat's hair.

HK: As with any project in a historic property, we have overcome some challenges along the way, not least of which was coming out of COVID lockdown.
Finding the correct materials and the correct traditional craftspeople to do the work for us was challenging.
The House of the Binns is such an important property and deserves to be seen by everyone.

PL: All of this work has been made possible by the support of our members, donors, volunteers, employees and other supporters.
We're grateful for everything you do to help us care for and share Scotland's special places.
Thank you.

After repairs and refurbishments have been completed, visitors can now step inside the historic house and soak up its 400 years of history.

The start of April sees the House of the Binns, near Linlithgow, reopen to the public, providing the first opportunity to see the property’s interiors and collections since before the pandemic.

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. This fascinating collection give glimpses into the history of the house, the family, Scotland and its place in the world over four centuries.

We have cared for House of the Binns since 1944. Our recent Bringing Back the Binns project demonstrates our commitment to improve the condition of our heritage buildings, ensuring their future, in line with our Nature, Beauty & Heritage for Everyone strategy. This is just one of a number of repair, restoration and conservation projects – large and small – that we’re carrying out across Scotland.

In support of our restoration aims, roof works began at the House of the Binns in 2022. The whole collection remained on site during the restoration project and was moved around, with great skill, to enable the work to take place. Lesley Scott, the National Trust for Scotland’s Regional Conservator, oversaw the movement and safe interim storage of the collection, making sure the greatest care was taken. Each piece was carefully condition-checked, dusted, checked for signs of pests and mould, and then labelled and packed for short-term storage and dust prevention. This was all carried out by a team of just 5 people over the space of 18 days. They packed over 100 pieces of historic china, 32 framed portraits, over 40 pieces of furniture, 3 clocks, a piano, curtains and curtain rails, light fittings, a fireplace and removable grates, and hundreds of small collectables, crockery and dinnerware items – all of which hold significance to the family.

Listen to our podcast episode where Jackie Bird chats to Lesley Scott about this decant process.

The Morning Room in the House of the Binns. Two white armchairs and a pale red chaise longue are arranged round a circular, glass-topped coffee table. A large dresser stands against the wall, with china items on display. A dark marble fireplace stands against another wall, with large silver ornaments on the mantelpiece.
Our redecoration of the Morning Room used period-appropriate colours.

Over the following months, major repairs were carried out on 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 the roof works. Our ongoing conservation work continues, and visitors will discover a house being actively cared for and lovingly maintained, in line with the family’s vision for the house.

Phil Long OBE, Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland, said: ‘Bringing back the Binns has been a real privilege for the Trust. Since 1944, the Dalyell family have entrusted the care of this important historic home to our conservation charity. We feel very honoured to have that responsibility for such a beautiful place so intertwined with centuries of Scotland’s history.

‘The works carried out over the past year not only show that we are doing what we said when we launched our new strategy here a year ago, making sure our places are well cared for, but they also enable us to reopen the doors to visitors once again. We cannot wait to share the House of the Binns’ stories with our supporters, who make all our vital work to care for Scotland’s special places possible.’

“As spring arrives, it’s the perfect time for anyone planning to make the most of their membership to plan a trip back to the Binns.”
Phil Long OBE
Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland
Reopening House of the Binns


Three voices: Helen Knox [HK]; Antonia Laurence-Allen [ALA]; Lesley Scott [LS]

HK: I'm Helen Knox. I’m the Visitor Services Manager here at the House of the Binns.
The project to reopen the Binns began 12 months ago when we had to replace the roof over this room -- the Morning Room -- and the Dining Room.
Since then, we have repaired the roof, we've replastered walls and redecorated.
In this room -- the Morning Room -- we've put up new wallpaper, which reflects the light fantastically in the mornings, and we have all of our portraits rehung on chains instead of rods.
Through in the Dining Room, we've changed the colour of the wallpaper to a lovely deep red colour, which really makes some of the portraits stand out much more spectacularly than in the past.
I am really looking forward to showing people around the changes that we've made in the house.

ALA: My name is Antonia Laurence-Allen and I'm Regional Curator for Edinburgh & East for the National Trust for Scotland.
It’s quite exciting! We've been through quite a number of years of renovations here.
We're standing in the Dining Room.
The Dining Room, and the Morning Room behind me, are Georgian extensions.
We needed to do some restorations with the rooms.
We decided we wanted the damask wallpaper that was a background to the objects, an authentic Georgian-era background, rather than wallpapers that I'd chosen: some Gothic wallpaper and some very Indian design wallpaper.
The wallpaper that we've chosen has actually (I think) magnified the objects and made the objects more grand, in a way.
The Dalyell family have lived here for centuries, and what I was very keen to do when we renovated the wallpaper, the curtains, repainted the ceilings and repaired everything, made it wind- and water-tight again, was to put things back as we had them before we did this work.
The authenticity for visitors of having things as the family had them, as they have lived with them over the years, is really, really important.

LS: I'm Lesley Scott; I'm the National Trust for Scotland's Conservation Advisor for the Edinburgh & East region.
The last nine months have seen us do an amazing amount of work with the collections.
We have taken all the objects out of the two rooms that have been refurbished, and we've literally spent the last three months installing the collections again.
The Collections Care staff team have been coming in every day.
They've been unpacking all the boxes of the items that have been stored away for the last year.
They’ve been making sure that all the objects are carefully put back in the positions that they were in when we started the project, so we can get ready for reopening this April.
We are in a position that we will still be working on some of the collections when the public come round the house.
You’ll have the opportunity to see us doing some conservation in action work.
We have these boots that belong to Tam.
These boots have been sent down to Northampton Leather Conservation Centre for some remedial conservation work.
These boots are a few hundred years old and they had to make sure that they were stable, so they can go back on display at the House of the Binns.
As a conservator working at the Trust, it’s always really exciting to see all the objects back in place.
They’ve spent the last year all packed up in tissue and under wraps, and it's just so exciting to see everything all out on display again.

HK: I'm really looking forward to re-introducing people to the house, showing people the work that we've done, and the portraits and collection that we have in here, which spans 400 years of the Dalyell family history.

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. As the former manager of the property, a member of the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland and the Chair of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), Kathleen knows the stories of the Dalyells and their family home better than anyone. She often describes the house as having its own personality, one that welcomes people and loves visitors.

Kathleen Dalyell OBE said: ‘When I first arrived at the Binns on my marriage to Tam in 1963, I had no idea of the central role it would play in my life for over 60 years. At that time, my mother-in-law, Eleanor Dalyell who, along with her son Tam, had gifted the house to the Trust in 1944, was very much in charge of running the property in partnership with the Trust. It was from her, in those early years, that I learned to appreciate and love the house and its collection, its parkland and wonderful views.

‘On Eleanor’s death in 1972, I became more involved with the Trust in running the house. I very much enjoyed the contact with the Trust’s specialist staff with their skills and expertise, along with the constant flow of visitors and their unexpected knowledge of the house and family. Their interest and delight in the house increased my own; the most interesting and unusual always arriving as we were closing up at 5 o’ clock!’

“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.”
Kathleen Dalyell OBE

Kathleen continued: ‘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.’

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 17th 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 from 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.

A lady uses a small brush to dust a pair of tall, black, leather boots on a shelf. The wall behind is red, with two very large gilt-framed portraits hanging on it.
Artefacts in the Dining Room include General Tam’s boots, once reputed to walk by themselves.

The house and its collections are set in beautiful grounds, just a 30-minute drive from Edinburgh, offering fantastic views over the Firth of Forth. Throughout the year, visitors can enjoy woodland walks, with daffodils in April and bluebells in May.

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