Penicuik House, Midlothian

Black and white photograph, 1982
Survey by RCAHMS

This aerial view shows Penicuik House, stables and grounds as it appears today, an empty shell of its former self. The fire at Penicuik House in 1899 left the building uninhabitable. The desire to rebuild was quashed when insurance payments were not received, as it would have been far too costly. On the evening of the fire, the damage was already estimated at around £35,000.

 

Ink and colour wash on board, 1994
Geoffrey Hay (1922-2002)
RCAHMS: RIAS Collection

Penicuik House was designed by its owner, Sir John Clerk, and built between 1761-1769 under the supervision of the architect John Baxter.  Sir John had travelled in Italy and studied architecture, and this is reflected in the house’s appearance. It is regarded as one of the finest Scottish examples of Palladian architecture, a style based on the temples of Ancient Greece and Rome.

The original intention was to incorporate the existing family house, Newbiggin, into the design. This idea was soon abandoned in favour of a new build and the old house was demolished.

Designed as a long oblong block with projecting end bays, the house incorporates many Palladian features such as Venetian windows, symmetrical lines and a central portico. This reconstruction drawing shows the house as Sir John Clerk originally designed it, prior to the addition of side wings added in 1857 by the architect David Bryce.

 

Watercolour on paper, 1782
John Bonnar (fl. 1743-1782)
RCAHMS: Bonnar Collection gifted in 1958

This watercolour of the staircase ceiling at Penicuik gives an insight into the fine interior of the house, of which few images survive. 

The staircase ceiling featured the Greek gods Helios and Cronus, nymphs, satyrs and the signs of the Zodiac. It was one of a number of painted ceilings at the house. Another, painted by Alexander Runciman, featured scenes from the tales of Ossian, a series of poems claimed to have been translated from Scottish Gaelic and published in the 1760s.   

 

Black and white photograph, 1981
Survey by RCAHMS
This photograph shows the remains of Penicuik House.

Black and white photograph, 1981
Survey by RCAHMS
A statue at Penicuik House, situated in a niche of the remains of the building.

 

Black and white photograph, 1899
RCAHMS Survey of Private Collection

In June 1899, a devastating fire started in the kitchen and ravaged the house. This image shows the occupants assembled on the lawn, standing amongst the rescued furniture and other belongings.

 

Ink and colour wash on board, 1995
Geoffrey Hay (1922-2002)
RCAHMS: RIAS Collection

The stables at Penicuik House were built c.1763-66, but were converted into the Clerk family’s residence in 1899 after fire destroyed their home. This ink drawing recreates the appearance of the stables prior to the conversion.

The stables are set around four ranges, originally comprising a coach house, brew house, bakery and stables. The rear of the block is dominated by a Roman archway and masonry dome. The front features an imposing portico topped by a spire, believed by some to have been originally intended for nearby Penicuik Church. Since the conversion, the internal courtyard has been ornamented with a central fountain, shaped lawns and sculptured hedges, creating a distinctive Italianate atmosphere. In terms of decoration, many fixtures and fittings salvaged from the original house were re-incorporated into the new residence.