Adding that extra something

Creamy summer

It started life as a tower house, built in 1487 by the Hoppringill (Pringle) family. Like all such buildings Old Gala House was later extended and improved, firstly in 1583, then in 1611 and in 1635, with further improvements in the 17th and 18th centuries when the building more or less as it is today emerged. From a beginning where the building was for defence, to keep rampaging enemies away from your livestock – incarcerated on the ground floor – and your servants and family – ensconced on the upper floors – until the enemy was defeated, gave up or overran your tower with superior manpower or weaponry.

When raids across the border became fewer and life turned to more peaceful pursuits, those who had the desire and the money could indulge themselves. First on the list would be the status symbol that would shout to others of your position and wealth. Your tower would be extended, remodelled, furniture and furnishings such as tapestries added to make the place more comfortable, more homely. And that process has continued through the centuries. So today many of the tower houses and grand homes have evolved from fairly humble origins, added to as circumstances and finances allowed.

A bit of excitement at the end of last week when I received the proof copy of my new book Any news from India? One of the characters in the book is Aitken, owner of a house in the Borders, originally a small cottage that was added to over the centuries by members of his family. Aitken is devastated, wracked by guilt at the impending sale of his crumbling family home that he feels encapsulates the essence of his being. Seeing the wonderful structures such as Old Gala House, and many others around here, the reaction of my character is understandable.


Bronze of Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.

Today Old Gala House in Galashiels is a museum and exhibition space with rooms for meetings. Part of the space is devoted to information on Thomas John Clapperton, a renowned yet little known sculptor, son of a Galashiels photographer. John sculpted many war memorials for the first world war, as well as capturing in bronze a raft of well-known and not so well-known figures. John Buchan, Baron Tweedsmuir, author and Governor General of Canada, was sculpted by him, as was author and wanderer of the South Seas Robert Louis Stevenson.

Clapperton collaborated with C L J Doman on the colossal, figurative frieze representing Britannia with the Wealth of East and West for Liberty’s department store in London, and was responsible for the statue of Robert the Bruce at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. Topping the dome of the Mitchell Library in Glasgow is his Allegorical Figure of Literature, known affectionately by folk in the city as Mrs Mitchell. He also did work in New Zealand, Canada and California.

Look up

Detail of the painted ceiling in Old Gala House.

Extensions and remodeling, adding a bit of comfort and style, got you hooked onto the fashion ladder. Between 1580 and 1640 any Scots laird or merchant who wanted to cut the mustard as a man of the modern times sought out an artist who could paint a ceiling. Sometimes done to add that extra something or to please the lady of the house, but often done to commemorate an event such as a wedding.

Cherubs and fruit

We spent ages wondering what inspired the images which seem to be a mixture of cherubic faces and cherubs.

Painted beam

Does it make you itch to get the paints out and cover all that white emulsion on your ceiling?

Old Gala House boasts a painted ceiling, depicting fruit and flowers, what looks like cherubs though may well be the couple being married (wings may be high collars), and initials, the date (1635), as well as squiggles and scrolls between the oak beams and on their sides.

Beam upon beam

No indication of who painted the ceiling, but guess he must have suffered from a crick in his neck afterwards.

The Old Gala House ceiling, hidden beneath subsequent ‘renovations’ until 1952 when it was uncovered, celebrates the marriage of Jean Hoppringill to Hugh Scott, Jean’s father having removed himself to his family seat of Smailholm Tower – another famous Borders towerhouse.

Talking point of the meal

View of room as it is today.

The painted ceiling at Old Gala House is one of only forty such ceilings now remaining in Scotland.

Must have been some fireplace.

Fireplace lintel, Old Gala House

This enormous chunk of sandstone was the lintel above a fireplace and is dated 1611.

About jingsandthings

I am me. What do I like? Colour Shapes Textures Paintings, photographs, sculptures, woven tapestries, wonderful materials. The love of materials probably comes from my father who was a textile buyer, and I grew up hearing the names of mills and manufacturers which sounded magical and enticing. Glass in all its soft and vibrant colours and flowing shapes, even sixties glass which makes its own proud statement. A book I can immerse myself in. Meals with family or friends with lots of chat and laughter (and probably a bottle or two of wine). The occasional trip abroad to experience the sights, sounds, food, conversation, quality of light and warmth of other countries. To revel in differences and be amazed by similarities. I like to create and to experience, to try and to achieve. And then there are words – read, heard, written at my keyboard, or scrawled on sticky notes, or along the edges of dog-eared supermarket receipts excavated from the unexplored nooks of my handbag. What do I dislike? Cold Snow Bad design Fast food Condescension
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6 Responses to Adding that extra something

  1. mybrightlife says:

    Those ceilings are quite something!

    • Probably not one of the best, but it has real character and conveys a feeling of the age in which it was done nearly 400 years ago. No idea where the other remaining painted ceiling are, must have a search.

  2. Chris says:

    That ceiling is fabulous. What colour is the floor? Looks like a dark brown or black.
    So exciting about your new book “Any news from India?”! I obviously don’t visit your blog often enough–I had no idea. Congrats on being at the proof stage.

    • I think the floor is stained very dark brown, though presumably it would originally have been bare floorboards. A few minor changes and the the book is finished – just a case of me getting round to making the changes. So many other bits of writing (and reading) seem to have taken precedence.

      • Chris says:

        Isn’t that always the way? In order to write well, we have to read too, but sometimes the reading takes over. I’ve seen some old style wooden floor boards with original paints still on them, usually a very dark burgundy-brown, a black or a dark red.

  3. I think the floor stain at Old Gala House is modern. Many changes took place over the years, the painted ceiling was covered up, so I assume when renovations were carried out the floor may have been treated and stained. I’m not aware of painted floors in Scotland, but may just have missed hearing about them.

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