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High Street, Kirkcudbright

High Street, Kirkcudbright

Conservation works to an 18th century townhouse


This case study focuses on the upgrade and refurbishment works to a B-listed, 18th Century townhouse in Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway. The owners of the property sought to repair the building and reinstate the original architectural form using a best practice conservation approach. This included returning the building into a single dwelling, as it had been seperated in the late 19th Century.

Works were carried out between 2001 and 2014, and had the following objectives:

  • to create a flexible family home;
  • to restore the building to its mid-18th century design;
  • to contribute to the 'Artist's Town' heritage, acknowledging the importance of the building in the High Street-scape;
  • to undertake conservation to the highest affordable standard; and
  • to continue to occupy the building during conservation works.



With help from a local historian, a conservation architect and a student volunteer from Historic Scotland, a full visual assessment of the building was conducted. Following this, the owners decided to reinstate the original Georgian layout. This made sense in terms of providing suitable living accomodation, but also allowed the symmetrical facade to be reinstated.


Layout alterations

The layout internally was altered to reinstate the single dwelling and to return rooms to their previous proportions. A second stairwell was removed as it was no longer needed, and the second front door was also removed. Partitions were removed to recreate a larger bathroom upstairs. A new archway was created between the dining room and kitchen.


External envelope improvements

The building was made wind and water tight by repairing the roof and walls. The roof was fully stripped and re-slated. Approximately 40% of the existing slate was redressed and reinstated; matching slates were sourced to complete the roof. A new vapour open membrane was installed below the slates. All flashing was replaced with new lead flashing.

Patches of cement and cement render were removed from the external walls, as it was preventing trapped water from evaporating. Lime mortar was used to repoint all the masonry walls, then a lime harl was applied to all elevations.


External alterations

A chimney stack which had previously been demolished was replaced and the existing one was repointed and lime rendered.

Four roofed dormers, which were added around 1937 were retained as they provide valuable floor space and light in the attic rooms. The dormers were finished in lead to reduce their visual impact.

The property had a mix of Victorian and Georgian windows. Some of the existing windows were repaired and retained, while others were replaced as this was deemed to be more sustainable in the long-term. Some windows which had been removed were reinstated.

The existing front door was also retained. An improved drip rail was added to the base to prevent further deterioration from damp.


Internal improvements

Following the removal of the second stair, a full wood-panelled wall was revealed. This was left exposed as a feature of the properties history. An old cobbled floor was discovered in one room, underneath a rotting 1930's suspended timber floor. This was determined to be too uneven for modern use, so it was documented by a local historian and then covered.

Where possible the existing timber and ironmongery was repaired and retained.

Thermal improvements were also made during the conservation works, namely insulation which was added to walls, cooms and ceiling spaces.




Despite the disruption encountered during the works, the homeowners are very happy with their new home. The house has been restored to a workable configuration. The owner, having undertaken these works, learned a great deal about the history of the property and also the appropriate use of traditional techniques.


The owners made a presentation to the Local History Society in Kirkcudbright, in which they outlined some 'lessons learned':

  • they stressed the importance of taking time to understand how the building functions before beginning work;
  • they felt it was important to take a minimalist approach - to only do work that is neccessary and consider carefully any repair or replacement;
  • the architectural history and character should be retained during any improvement works;
  • documenting all 'finds' is also important;
  • inappropriate alterations should be avoided;
  • involvement with the local community, particularly immediate neighbours is key.

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