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Dunbar House, also known as Lauderdale House, East Lothian: Designs for additions to a house for James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale, 1790-92, executed in part (12)


Dunbar House (later known as Lauderdale House) was built in 1734 for Captain James Fall M. P., at the top of the High Street in the coastal town of Dunbar. The property was sold to James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale, in 1788 after Fall’s son, Provost Robert Fall, was declared bankrupt.

James Maitland (1759-1839) was the eldest son of James Maitland, 7th Earl of Lauderdale (1718–1789). He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford as well as the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Paris and began his career as an advocate before being elected MP for Newport, Cornwall in 1780-84 and Malmesbury, in 1784-89. In 1772 he married Eleanor Todd, the only daughter and heiress of Anthony Todd, Foreign Secretary of the Post Office. His succession as 8th Earl of Lauderdale in 1789 terminated his career in the House of Commons and in 1790 he was elected a Scottish representative peer in the House of Lords. In 1806 he was created Baron Lauderdale of Thirlestane into the peerage of the United Kingdom and was also appointed Lord High Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland from 1806-7.

Lauderdale was known for his outlandish and controversial stance on politics, having been a great admirer and supporter of the prominent Whig politician, Charles James Fox. He was one of the managers for Warren Hasting’s impeachment and a known criticiser of the East India Company. He opposed the abolition of slavery until 1806, when he voted in favour for the bill and was also involved in the trial of Queen Caroline in 1820 and subsequently appointed Knight of Thistle by King George IV in 1821. Lauderdale was also passionate supported of the French Revolution and acquired the nickname ‘Citizen Maitland’ in the House of Lords.

In 1790, Lauderdale commissioned Robert Adam to make designs for alterations to his house in Dunbar, ‘a snug place where he means to live mostly when he comes to Scotland’. Adam proposed a new principal front to the house with a large Ionic semi-circular porch and projecting, pedimented flanking wings incorporating Venetian windows within relieving arches. The new front faced north towards extensive land owned by Lauderdale with views of the sea, and away from the High Street to the south. A large kitchen court was also proposed to the east of the house (shown in SM Adam volume 48/53), although this was never executed.

John Paterson, an architect who was clerk of works for some of Adam's most important commissions in his later years, was involved in this scheme, having convinced Lord Lauderdale to use the lighter Craigleith stone rather than red East Lothian stone for his house, quoted in Patterson's letter to Robert Adam (see: Sanderson). Robert Adam inspected Dunbar House in June and November 1791, taking working drawings with him. During his November visit, he was accompanied by Alexander Ponton, the measurer who had costed several of his plans and shortly after had instructed Messrs Hay and Middlemass to pay the carpenter Aitken £340 and the mason Clinkscales £240 for their work at Dunbar.

The rear (south) elevation facing onto the High Street was designed in October 1792, after Robert Adam’s death and was probably overseen, if not designed, by James Adam. It comprises a plainer elevation with a balustraded roof and cartouche which was replaced in execution with a sphinx. Similarly four designs for an unexecuted stable block and offices dating from December 1792 (SM Adam volume 48/57-60) have also been attributed to James Adam by King.

The house was converted into a military barracks, known as ‘Castle Park Barracks’, in 1855 and has been extensively altered both internally and externally including the insertion of new windows and a stairwell at the east end. The barracks were in use through both the First and Second World Wars. They were decommissioned in 1955 and the property sold to East Lothian County Council. The house has since been converted into private flats and offices and a mezzanine floor has been inserted above the ground floor resulting in the loss of the Venetian windows in the flanking wings.

A.T. Bolton, The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Volume II, Index, 1922, pp.10, 78; D. King, The Complete Works of Robert & James Adam and Unbuilt Adam, Volume 1, 2001, pp.149-151, Volume 2, pp.217, 244; C. McWilliam, ‘A town of some importance: Dunbar, East Lothian’, Country Life, August 9 1973, pp. 354-356, C. Mosley (ed.), Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 2003, p. 2248-2250; National Record of the Historic Environment, ‘Dunbar, High Street, Lauderdale House’, Canmore, online [accessed 014 March 2022]; N. Pevsner, The Buildings of Scotland: Lothian, 1978, pp.185-186; R. Thorne, ‘Maitland, James, eighth earl of Lauderdale (1759–1839)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online, 2008 [accessed 09 March 2022]; M. Sanderson, ‘Robert Adam’s last visit to Scotland, 1791’, Architectural History, Volume 25, 1982, pp. 35-46; M. Sanderson, Robert Adam and Scotland: Portrait of an Architect, p. 86

Louisa Catt, 2022



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Contents of Dunbar House, also known as Lauderdale House, East Lothian: Designs for additions to a house for James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale, 1790-92, executed in part (12)