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Broughton House stands on the north west side of Kirkcudbright's attractive High Street not far from the town's harbour and Maclellan's Castle. The house and its extensive garden are cared for by the National Trust for Scotland and the house is of particular interest because it was purchased by the noted artist E A Hornel in 1901 and served as his home, studio, gallery and library until his death in 1933.
Broughton House as you see it today evolved over a period of nearly three centuries and combines two houses, Nos. 10 and 12 High Street. To its rear the remarkably large garden for such an urban setting includes the original gardens of Nos. 10 and 12 High Street, together with half of what was originally No. 14's garden.
The principal block of Broughton House was built in 1734 on the site of an earlier tenement at 12 High Street by a local mason, Thomas Mirrie. The house was given a degree of distinction by being set back from the building line along this side of the High Street, allowing the construction of a raised entrance courtyard. This house and the neighbouring Number 10 were purchased in 1740 by Alexander Murray of Broughton and Cally, a provost of Kirkcudbright and local laird. He seems to have combined them into what has subsequently been known as Broughton House, possibly extending the gardens at the same time.
During the rest of the 1700s and 1800s Broughton House passed through a number of hands, and provided a spacious family home for local landowners, church ministers and the 5th Earl of Selkirk among others. In a town with a number of attractive houses, Broughton House was among the most attractive and certainly most spacious, and was viewed as a desirable town house for the upwardly mobile of the day. Broughton House was purchased by E A Hornel in 1901, a local artist looking to reflect and cement the considerable success he was enjoying at the time.
Edward Atkinson Hornel's ancestors had lived in and around Kirkcudbright since the 1500s, though he was actually born at Bacchus Marsh in Victoria, Australia, in 1864, where his parents had lived since emigrating from Kirkcudbright in 1856. In 1866 they returned to Kirkcudbright with their two year old son. Edward trained briefly at the Edinburgh College of Art before attending the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp from 1883. He returned in 1885 to live in the family home at 18 High Street in Kirkcudbright where, as a result of his father's death, he was effectively head of an extended family that included four unmarried sisters.
From the late 1880s, E A Hornel and his friend George Henry became leaders of the artistic movement known as the Glasgow Boys. Hornel spent 19 months in Japan during 1893/4 and also travelled widely in Ceylon, Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, picking up a range of powerful influences that were to be reflected in much of his subsequent work. Despite, or perhaps because of, his wide travels, he was always content when in Scotland to live in Kirkcudbright, where he became heavily involved in the community of the town and began to amass a large library of books about Dumfries & Galloway and Robert Burns.
During the 1890s Hornel retreated a little from what more conservative commentators saw as an excessively modern style, with the result that his work became much more widely accepted and much more saleable. His growing financial success allowed him to purchase Broughton House in 1901, just a few doors along the street from his existing family home. In purchasing Broughton House, Hornel would have wanted to reflect his growing status and wealth, but he was also looking to secure the space he needed to work. Even before the sale had been completed he had commissioned the Glasgow architect John Keppie to build a large extension to one side of the rear of the property, which for the following three decades would serve as Hornel's studio.
Hornel also made a number of other changes to the house. The most striking was the addition of the top-lit large gallery on the main floor of the house between the original block and the studio extension. This became the main sitting room, as well as a gallery to show off his work to prospective purchasers. Today it remain the highlight of any visit to the house. Meanwhile, Hornel began to develop the garden at the rear of the house, drawing on the same oriental influences that informed much of his painting.
From 1919 Hornel embarked on a new venture, to expand his existing collection of locally based books into what he called "the perfect local library" for Kirkcudbright. In 1920 he drew up a trust deed which laid down that after his death and that of his elder sister Tizzie, with whom he shared the house, Broughton House should become a public art gallery and library. By the time of Hornel's death in 1933 his library had grown to 15,000 volumes. When Tizzie died in 1950, the running of Broughton House was placed in the hands of local trustees.
Over time the resources needed to maintain the house outstripped those available, and in 1997 Broughton House and its collections were passed into the care of the National Trust for Scotland. Extensive restoration both of the building and its contents over the following eight years finally came to fruition when Broughton House reopened to the public on 1 April 2005. Today visitors can view a number of rooms on the two main floors of the central block of the house, including the dining room and library, as well as the truly magnificent gallery and impressive studio. It is also now possible to view many of the lower ground floor and cellar areas of the house for the first time. Meanwhile, Hornel's garden continues to reflect his influence in a series of sometimes quirky "rooms" that divide the large space up, making it seem even larger.