Kingsmuir House

Built 1855

Architect: David Cousins - Edinburgh


On the rising ground called Kingsmuir, to the south-west of the pleasant little town of Peebles, this house was erected in the year 1855.
The entrance-door is sheltered by a recessed porch or varandah: entering which, and turning to the left, you pass through an outer lobby, or vestibule, which is lighted from the front, and separated from the inner lobby by a glass door with side lights.
On the left of the inner lobby is the drawing-room, lighted by a bay-window in the entrance front: and beyond it in the dining room, having a projecting window in the south front: opening out of the latter is a light store-closet.
On the right of the lobby is a room suitable for either a parlour or bedroom, as may be desired: which is provided with a large closet.
Entering on the left under the stair is a water-closet, lit from, and ventilated by, the roof: and on the right are the kitchen-offices, namely, kitchen, wash house, coal-cellar: and servants water-closet.
A stair from the wash house leads to the servants bedroom over same.
On the upper floor there are three bed-rooms and a dressing-room, with four large closets, besides the servants bed-room having separate access as already referred to.
The staircase and landings, as well as the lobby below, are well lit by a large roof light.
The height of the ceilings in the principle storey is 11 feet 6 inches. The height of the bed-rooms in the higher portion of the building is 10 feet 9 inches, and in the lower 9 ft. 6 in.
The external walls are of freestone from Musselbough Quarry: a distance by road of about twenty-one miles. Where they are two storeys high they are 2 feet thick, and where only one storey 1 foot 9 inches. The walling is chiefly of rubble, squared at joints and hammer-dressed on beds and faces, with the quoins of tooled ashlar.
The principle stairs are of rubbed Arbroth stone, the steps having moulded edges. The floors of the kitchen-offices are laid with tooled Arbroth pavement.
The roofs are covered with grey slate from Glen-Almond, Perthshire, disposed in ornamental bands. The gutters, including those of the eaves, the valleys, and chimney flashings are of 6lb. lead.
The roofing, wall-plates, joists, sleepers, bond timbers, wall-battening, lintels, and beams, also the windows and other external woodwork, are of the best Memel timber. The flooring is of Baltic white wood. The other internal wood finishings are of American yellow pine. The drawing-room and dining-room have moulded skirtings, framed moulded shutters, window-backs, jambs, and soffites and double-fascia door and window architraves.
The windows of the principal rooms are glazed with plate glass, the others with 21-oz sheet glass. The three sitting-rooms have marble chimney-pieces.
The cost was considerably increased by the extent of land carriage of materials. The particulars here given are from the tradesmen’s accounts:-

Masonry and bricklaying.............................£565.00
Carpentry, glazing and ironmongery............£445.00
Gasfitting & Bellhanging..............................£21.19
Encaustie Tiles & Marble chimney-pieces....£20.18
Total Build Cost… £1194.70

Plan of the Ground Floor

South Elevation

Plan of the Upper Floor

West Elevation

Kingsmuir House - The First Hundred Years

‘Kingsmuir Cottage’ was built in 1855 for Robert Romanes, a gentleman whose wealth came from the Edinburgh drapery firm of Romanes & Paterson, tartan makers to Queen Victoria.
Designed chalet-style by David Cousin the Edinburgh city architect, the masonry is light grey, coursed sandstone rubble from Musselburgh Quarry with tooled ashlar finishes, the roof enlivened by bands of Glen Almond slate. (See Cottage and Villa Architecture by Blackie & Son,1868).
A small extension was added, likely by Cousin, to the south in 1863, and further work, probably by the local architect and builder, George Wilkie, undertaken at the rear about 1900. The 1+1/2 acre grounds comprise the first feus of North Kingsmuir Park made by Peebles Burgh in 1854-5.
The King’s Muir was a large open, partly wooded expanse, anciently used for hunting, on the south side of the River Tweed from Peebles. First mentioned in the early 15th century burgh charter of James II, it is later termed common pasture upon the mure called the King’s Muir in the way to Cademuir in the confirmation made by James IV in 1506. Parts were soon subtracted by lairds, however, and from 1737 the poor town council sold it off in lots for grazing to raise funds.
Robert Romanes (1821-79), whose family roots were at Lauder in Berwickshire, also had a house in Edinburgh at Doune Terrace in its New Town. Romanes and his wife, Isabella Macdonald, had five daughters and two sons, one of whom, Robert, was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson. (see ‘A Heaven to Me’) Romanes had emigrated to Canada in 1837 with his younger brother, John, to join their elder brother, Rev. George Romanes, minister at Smiths Falls, and later professor at Queen’s College, Kingston, Ontario. (His son, George John Romanes, a friend of Charles Darwin, was the evolutionary biologist who founded comparative psychology.) However, all three brothers returned to inherit fortunes in 1850, after their father, James Romanes, the royal draper, died.romanes-shop-front
In Peebles, Robert Romanes was a promoter of Bonnington Park, a small private school for boys built west of Kingsmuir in 1858, and now part of Peebles High School, where his wife presented the prizes on occasion during the 1860’s. As a devout Christian, he was one of those responsible for raising the Free Kirk in the Eastgate of Peebles in 1871, when his wife laid its foundation stone. Romanes also represented the Coleporteurs’ Society, distributing tracts to those untouched by religion. In 1870 the family moved to the larger, but plainer, ‘Craigerne’, built on Cademuir to the south-west. After 1881, Isabella lived at Bonn in Germany, a daughter and a son marrying there.

Kingsmuir was sold to Helen Vary Hunter (1804-85), the widow of John Hunter LL.D (1801-69), Auditor of the Court of Session 1849-66, who from 1850 lived at Craigcrook Castle, Edinburgh; formerly the home of his uncle, Francis, Lord Jeffrey, the legal and literary lion who edited the Edinburgh Review. Their son, John Hunter (1834-72), Sheriff-Substitute for Peeblesshire, lived at Kingsmuir until his early death. (His hand was amputated the year before, after being shattered by a bursting fowling-piece.) He is commemorated on the family memorial at the Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh, with his father, mother and brothers, James George Hunter (1832-62), an engineer who died in in India, and William Vary Hunter WS (1840-72), who died in Peebles.

Kingsmuir passed to the daughters, Jane Wilson Hunter (b.1836) and Henrietta Vary Hunter (b.1846), who had married the brothers Henry Fowler Watt (in 1863 at Craigcrook), and Arthur Chorley Watt (in 1869 at Poona, India). They were sons of Fitz-James Watt of Morrisbrook, Cheshire, and Phoebe Elizabeth Hough Fowler, the daughter of a wealthy banker, John Fowler of Horton Hall, Staffordshire. Born at Leek, Staffordshire, after their father died they were brought up by their step-father, Dr. John Carlyle, brother of the writer and philosopher, Thomas Carlyle. He had married their mother in 1852, but she died in childbirth in 1854 after an accident on the railway.

An undated family portrait shows, from left to right. Henry Fowler Watt; this wife, Jane Hunter Watt; Jane’s sister Henrietta Hunter Watt; their mother Helen Vary Hunter; Arthur Watt (Henry’s brother and Henrietta’s husband); and Mary Watt and her husband, William Watt (Henry’s youngest brother). The brothers Henry and Arthur Watt married the sisters Jane and Henrietta Hunter at a double wedding in 1863. (Courtesy of Marjorie Lyle.)

Henry Fowler Watt (1839-1913) was a master mariner at age 28, and a shipowner ten years later. On marrying, he stayed at Belle-vale House, Liverpool, but later he and Jane Wilson Hunter lived at Victoria Park, Wavertree, Liverpool, with their eight children - six daughters and two sons. Watt owned five sailing ships, namely the Eliada, Margaret Wilkie, Elice, Elissa and Elvira, at different times.He demanded high specifications: when the Elissa was commissioned from Alexander Hall & Company, Aberdeen, for £8000 in 1877 under a Lloyd’s special survey, it received their highest accreditation - 100A1. This iron-hulled, shallow-drafted barque, with nineteen sails, was designed for the South American timber trade. Sold by Watt in 1897, she is moored at Galveston Historical Foundation, Texas. (see Kurt Voss: Galveston’s The Elissa, The Tall Ship of Texas, Arcadia, 2009)


The exact circumstances of this intriguing photograph of Henry Watt are unknown. It appears to commemorate a particularly fast passage made by Watt: “The 50-day run to Australia” written on the front, is in the handwriting of Watt’s wife , Jane.

When Marjorie Lyle visited her grandfathers ship in Galveston in 1994, she donated this extraordinary artefact to the Texas Seaport Museum. It is Henry Fowler Watt’s first master’s license, issued to him in 1867. After Watt became a ship owner, he spent more time ashore than sea. He was captain of the Elissa in 1885 when he took the ship from Rangoon to Cape Town and then again from 1895 to 1897, during the ship’s last voyage under his ownership. The Elissa leaving Galveston in 1884 by John Stobartelissa

Henry Fowler Watt continued a family tradition of marrying well when he and Jane Hunter were wed in 1865 at Craigcrook Castle, the Hunter family estate outside Edinburgh, Scotland. Watt entered into a family of lawyers, professors and ministers [that] were part of Edinburgh’s silver age.”locket

Below, this locket belonged to Jane Hunter Watt; the photograph inside is of Henry Fowler Watt. It is now part of the collection of the Texas Seaport Museum thanks to the generous donation of their granddaughter Marjorie Lyle.

Arthur Chorley Watt (1840-85), having attended the Royal Naval Academy, Gosport, and Edinburgh University, became a judge in the Bombay Civil Service at Poona, and died there. His wife later lived at Horton Hall, Leek, Staffordshire, but died in 1890 at Aix-les-Bains spa in Savoy.

Fowler Watt’s younger son, Rev. John Hunter Watt (1879-1947), went to Marlborough and Lincoln College, Oxford, where he was elected to a classics exhibition. He taught at Merchiston Castle School, Colinton, Edinburgh, before being ordained and licensed to St. Mary’s at St. Helen’s in Lancashire, in 1907. He was Vicar of St. Dunstan’s, Liverpool, but for health reasons came to St. Peter’s Episcopal Chapel, Peebles, 1913-18. Transferring to the Church of the Good Shepherd, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, he was given Parton rectory by the Bishop of Peterborough in 1924.