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7 Sept 2018

Stay away from the trapdoor!

Written by John Mackenzie
Project Reveal open the trapdoor for the first time
Broughton House in Kirkcudbright is well known as the home of Scottish artist Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933). Hornel was associated with the Glasgow Boys, an influential group of artists prominent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A Category A listed building, Broughton House is an impressive property. In addition, the garden is included on the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland. Hornel bought Broughton House in 1901, living and working at the property until his death in 1933. As well as works of art by Hornel himself, the house contains sketches, paintings and sculptures by other artists. There is also a wide variety of furniture, furnishings and decorative art objects – such as collections of pewter, blue and white china, needlework samplers and antiquarian curios – as well as two Japanese kimonos and other items brought back from his travels in the Far East. The library contains over 25,000 books and archives, including a nationally significant collection relating to Robert Burns.

The house, as it stands now, is thought to date from the 1730s, though with significant 19th- and 20th-century modifications. Glasgow architect John Keppie, a friend of Hornel, was commissioned by the artist to add the Studio and Gallery between 1902 and 1910. The trapdoor was fitted to enable easier movement of large paintings between the two rooms. The trapdoor is always a talking point for visitors and provides an insight into Hornel’s original use of the room.

The trapdoor at Broughton House
The trapdoor at Broughton House was fitted to enable easier transportation of Hornel’s paintings from the Studio to the Gallery

When Project Reveal arrived the trapdoor hadn’t been opened for quite some time. Rachel, our Lead Inventory Officer, kept her distance due to the multitude of spiders’ webs! It had been varnished over and took quite a long time for the team to gently prise open. Once opened, it proved to be of great interest to a group of visitors who were fortunate enough to be there at the time. However, our team photographer, Alistair, missed out as he was too scared to look through it!

The Project Reveal South West Team recently appeared on the weekly Borders TV programme Border Life, talking about the project, Hornel and Broughton House. News is spreading of all the exciting things Project Reveal has uncovered.

Project Reveal is a Trust-wide collections digitisation project. It will result in an updated database with high-quality images and unique object numbers for every item in the National Trust for Scotland material culture collections. Six regionally based project teams, supported by experienced project managers, will work across all our properties with collections to complete the inventory in 18 months from July 2017 until December 2018.

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