Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see 'About Listed Buildings' below for more information. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site


Status: Designated


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Group Category Details
100000019 - (see Notes)
Date Added
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NK 03831 60917
403831, 860917


Robert Burns, by 1781; enlarged and re-worked by James Playfair 1791-7, portico working drawings by Sir John Soane to Playfair design, for Charles Gordon of Buthlaw. French Neo-classic of Boullee Ledoux School, of outstanding merit inside and out. Main block 2-storey and basement 5-window centre original house with 3-storey advanced wings, 1-window to front with pedimented ground floor tripartites, 5 windows down flanks; tetrastyle R-doric porch with steps and broken column pedestals; cast iron columnar chimneys. Great 2-storey hemicycle of offices to rear with gables having proto-doric columns set in blind lunettes showing to main front, remarkable pend arch in semicircle of voussoirs diminishing in depth to crown, cupola over; circular ice-house in court.

Granite ashlar, very finely detailed throughout.

INTERIOR: fine suite of rooms ground floor, very original treatment. Egyptian; former billiard room (now (2008) thought to Masonic Temple) behind entrance hall; drawing room has bold treatment of circles in shallow relief, Ionic columns in window recess; dining room plain ceiling with doric columns in window recess; Soanic pendentive ceiling in library.

Statement of Special Interest

'A' group with Walled Garden and South Lodges and Gates. Cairness House is an outstanding example of fine Neo-classical architecture and retains an important interior. James Playfair's remodelling of Robert Burn's more subdued style displays overt Masonic and Templar symbolism based upon the Temple of Solomon. The house was requisitioned during World War II for War Office use, and during the early 1950s the grounds and gardens were adopted for agricultural purposes. Since coming into new ownership toward the close of the 20th century, the setting has gradually been reclaimed and returned to a more domestic style, and much interior restoration work has been undertaken and is still ongoing (2008).

The working drawings for the portico were made by Sir John Soane. The working drawings for the remainder of the house seem otherwise to have been complete. Letter from Dorothy Stroud 17.11.67 "Soane's connection with the house was because he had been asked for advice on proceeding with her late husband's affairs. [Soane] had already acquired Playfair's architectural drawings from Mrs P[layfair]. Soane's advice was 'Mr Gordon's bill should be made up from Mr Playfair's memorandums I mean as to the number of Journies. The money expended on which a commission is to be taken cannot I fear be had but by recourse to him; all drawings made and now executed should be charged which I shall be happy to name a sum for as correctly as I can if you will have the goodness to let me know what they consist of which I presume you will be able to do from Mr P's books'. It would seem that Mrs Playfair suggested that Soane should design the portico which her husband had intended for Cairness. There are no references to his having been concerned with any other part of the house".

References from the previous list description included Plans: complete set Miss Gordon, 16 Corrennie Gardens, Edinburgh and set at Sir John Soane's Museum, 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London.

List description revised 2008.



Statistical Account Vol 16, p634. New Statistical Account Vol 12, p224. Dunbar Historic Architecture of Scotland p120-3. Dorothy Stroud The Architecture of Sir John Soane, p160. 2nd edition Ordnance Survey map (1899-1901). Charles McKean Banff & Buchan An Illustrated Architectural Guide (1990), pp140-3. Information courtesy of owners of Cairness House. David Walker Country Life 1973 (not seen).

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Listing is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for buildings of special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings which are found to be of special architectural or historic interest using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Listed building records provide an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building which has been identified by its statutory address. The description and additional information provided are supplementary and have no legal weight.

These records are not definitive historical accounts or a complete description of the building(s). If part of a building is not described it does not mean it is not listed. The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site which is known as the statutory address. Other than the name or address of a listed building, further details are provided for information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland does not accept any liability for any loss or damage suffered as a consequence of inaccuracies in the information provided. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing. Even if a number or name is missing from a listing address it will still be listed. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior and any object or structure fixed to the building. Listing also applies to buildings or structures not physically attached but which are part of the curtilage (or land) of the listed building as long as they were erected before 1 July 1948.

While Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating listed buildings, the planning authority is responsible for determining what is covered by the listing, including what is listed through curtilage. However, for listed buildings designated or for listings amended from 1 October 2015, legal exclusions to the listing may apply.

If part of a building is not listed, it will say that it is excluded in the statutory address and in the statement of special interest in the listed building record. The statement will use the word 'excluding' and quote the relevant section of the 1997 Act. Some earlier listed building records may use the word 'excluding', but if the Act is not quoted, the record has not been revised to reflect subsequent legislation.

Listed building consent is required for changes to a listed building which affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. The relevant planning authority is the point of contact for applications for listed building consent.

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