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Woodburn House, Midlothian: designs for a house for James Kerr Esquire, 1792, executed status unknown (7)


There is very little known of James Kerr, or Ker, of Morriston (d.1794). He owned a considerable estate in Berwickshire and had one son named George (d.1809). He is described as ‘a very rich man’ who spent most of his time living in London. He does not appear to be of any relation to the Kerrs, Earls & later Marquesses of Lothian, who owned several estates, including Newbattle Abbey.

In 1792, Robert Adam and his office produced designs for a house in Dalkeith for James Kerr. The designs include a preliminary plan (SM Adam volume 10/181), three floor plans (SM Adam volume 33/100-102) two elevations and a section (SM Adam volume 33/97-99). The elevations, which show the rear and side of the house, and section are inscribed with dates from both before and after Robert Adam’s death on 3 March 1792. The proposed building was a three-storey, three-bay house over a basement with a single-storey service wing at basement level with canted ends on one side. The plans and side elevation indicate that the principal front, of which there are no drawings, contained a pedimented roof and an entrance portico.

King suggests that this house was unbuilt, however, the present author has discovered that contemporary accounts from the early-mid-nineteenth century, including The New Statistical Account of Scotland, record that a ‘Woodburn House’ was built for a ‘Mr Ker’ to the east of Dalkeith in the parish of Newbattle and ‘commands a beautiful prospect’. Furthermore, the 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows Woodburn House with a similar footprint to that shown in Adam’s plans, though with an additional wing to the west. It is not clear if or how much the house was built to the designs of Robert Adam and his office, though an undated photograph of the principal front does align with the arrangement of windows shown in the plans and general elevational treatment shown in the designs for the rear and side of the house.

The house was demolished in 1935 and the site redeveloped into a building estate. A pair of gate piers belonging to the house, which appear to date from the late-eighteenth century and could be contemporaneous with the house, were relocated to No. 37 Woodburn Road and are designated Category B on Scotland’s listed building register.

A.T. Bolton, The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Volume II, Index, 1922, pp. 31, 77; Dalkeith History Society, ‘The establishment of housing in Woodburn’, Edinburgh News, Sunday, 24th April 2016, J. Gordon (ed.) The New Statistical Account of Scotland, Volume I, 1845, p. 69; D. King, The Complete Works of Robert & James Adam and Unbuilt Adam, Volume 2, 2001, p. 134; Historic Environment Scotland Online, ‘Woodburn Road Gatepiers to Former Woodburn House Opposite Post Office: LB24478’ [accessed 07 March 2022]; C. Mosley (ed.), Burke's peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 2003, pp. 239-246; Ordnance Survey Map, 25 inch, 2nd Edition, 1894; L. Catt, 'The building that was' in Sir John Soane's Museum, Annual Review 2021/2022, 2022, pp. 64-67

Louisa Catt, 2022



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Contents of Woodburn House, Midlothian: designs for a house for James Kerr Esquire, 1792, executed status unknown (7)