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Latitude: 60.3401 / 60°20'24"N
Longitude: -1.0189 / 1°1'7"W
OS Eastings: 454262
OS Northings: 1162187
OS Grid: HU542621
Mapcode National: GBR R1TD.ZPY
Mapcode Global: XHF97.5C1G
Plus Code: 9CGW8XRJ+2F
Entry Name: Symbister House, Symbister, Whalsay
Listing Name: Whalsay, Symbister, Symbister House (Now School), Including Area Walls, Stables, Dovecote, Boundary Walls, and Gatepiers
Listing Date: 13 August 1971
Source: Historic Scotland
Source ID: 352669
Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB18596
Building Class: Cultural
County: Shetland Islands
Electoral Ward: North Isles
Traditional County: Shetland
1823, with later additions and alterations. Former classical laird?s house comprising 2-storey and attic over basement 3 x 3-bay principal block to W, flanked to N and S by earlier 20th century classroom blocks; modern gymnasium block centred to rear (E) of house (on site of former W courtyard); symmetrical former stable court (contemporary with house) centred to E comprising 2 interlocking U-plan single storey ranges enclosing courtyard at centre with 3-stage dovecote tower centred to W, and coach-house with 2-storey belltower centred to E. Stugged granite ashlar walls, and dressings with some polished granite ashlar details.
HOUSE: band courses at principal and 1st floors, string course at impost level of principal floor, cornice and parapet at eaves. Projecting cills to windows.
W (PRINCIPAL) ELEVATION: symmetrical, centre bay slightly advanced, basement obscured by steps and base to entrance portico comprising coupled Roman Doric cast-iron columns supporting entablature with blocking course raised at centre; modern infill to round-headed entrance arch. Square window centred at 1st floor over portico; blind tripartite window in parapet, corniced and raised at centre. Infilled windows at basement in outer bays; round-arched recesses at principal floor with modern glazed infill; regular fenestration at 1st floor.
S ELEVATION: symmetrical, doors in each bay at basement, vertically-boarded at right, infilled at centre; regular fenestration (matching principal elevation) to principal and 1st floors.
E (REAR) ELEVATION: mostly obscured by modern gymnasium addition; 1st floor advanced in centre bay; regular fenestration (matching principal elevation) to principal and 1st floors.
N ELEVATION: symmetrical, doors in each bay at basement, infilled in centre and right bays, vertically-boarded timber door in bay to left.
Later (post-war) glazing throughout, modern mansard platform roof.
INTERIOR: not seen 1996.
AREA WALLS: granite retaining wall surmounted by modern steel railing.
W STEADING: symmetrical U-plan building, enclosing courtyard to E; 3-stage dovecote centring 7-bay W range comprising double forestair to W side accessing vertically-boarded timber door at 2nd stage, pebble rustication to quatrefoil decoration at stage above; low access door to lower stage in E side, door over band course at 2nd stage, flight ledge with 7 flight-holes below eaves course; blind cruciform windows to 2nd stage of N and S sides; felted pyramidal roof. Roofless L-plan ranges flanking, 3-bay jambs to W, N and S ranges with slit ventilators between stable doors in each bay (doors now missing); E side of courtyard enclosed by granite rubble wall, bases and cavetto caps to gatepiers at centre, pedestrian gates to left and right (with stanchion of fine wrought-iron gate surviving). 2-tier 3-bay entrance gate (formerly for W courtyard) adjoining NW corner, pedestrian gateway at centre with blind openings flanking, corniced upper tier over central opening containing large carved armorial panel dated 1750.
E STEADING: near-symmetrical, modern raised wallhead to S range, round-headed over-arch containing blind window centring symmetrical W gable, pedimented gablehead with cruciform pattern at centre; tripartite entrance gate with blind side openings and stepped and corniced wallhead adjoining to left and connecting with corner of W steading, single large urn surviving to wallhead at right. 17-bay (grouped 1-6-5-6-1) W elevation to E range with 4-centred arch-heads to carriage arches in 5-bay centrepiece (some arches now altered), dormer breaking eaves in centre bay, tower-like, with loading door centred at 1st floor, stepped and corniced wallhead surmounted by openwork belfry with finialled cap. Alternating doors and small square windows (some altered) in flanking bays, 4-centred arch-heads to pend arches in bays to outer right and left. 9-bay (grouped 1-3-1-3-1) symmetrical E elevation comprising 5 closely-spaced slit ventilators at centre, windows in 3 regularly-spaced bays to each side (those to left now infilled), 4-centred arch-heads to pend arches in bays to outer right and left. Irregular fenestration to N and S elevations of N range, round-headed over-arch containing modern glazed window centring symmetrical W gable, pedimented gablehead with modern window inserted over former cruciform pattern at centre; tripartite entrance gate with blind side openings and stepped and corniced wallhead adjoining to right and connecting with corner of W steading, large urns surviving to wallhead at centre and left.
Grey slate and corrugated-iron roofs to E steading; coped ashlar ridge stacks with circular cans to N and E ranges, small urn finial to W gable of N range.
BOUNDARY WALLS AND GATEPIERS: random rubble walls forming roughly heart-shaped enclosure of hillside to N W, and S of house. Coped square stugged granite entrance gatepiers aligned to N of house, dressed stonework to corners and former gateways at W extremity of policies. Paired pedestrian and vehicular gateways adjoining NE corner of E steading comprising square stugged granite shafts with stepped caps and obelisk-like pyramidal finials. Random rubble wall extending to N from W gable of E steading and enclosing former walled garden.
Built from Nesting granite at a cost of ?30,000, the house was built for the sixth Robert Bruce of Symbister. The elaborately carved armorial panel was probably moved here from elsewhere. It bears the names of John Bruce Steuart and Christina Gifford, and was sculpted by John Forbes in 1750. Symbister House was converted to a school in the 1940s and has undergone much alteration since. An old photograph shows the house prior to any alterations, with the 12-pane timber sash and case windows still extant in the over-arches at principal floor level. The photograph also shows the former appearance of the cast-iron railings and balustrade to the basement area and steps, as well as the original form of the piended platform roof with paired ashlar stacks serving the double-pile plan. The house was flanked by quadrant walls with narrow windows in each bay divided by pilasters capped by delicate urn finials. These quadrant walls extended E to meet the classical gable ends of pavilions (now demolished) that flanked the W courtyard, presided over by the back of the house to the W, and the doocot to the E. Much evidence of the former appearance and functions of the steading survives. Its formal relationship with the house, and attention to construction quality, is reminiscent of other classical houses in North East Scotland. In terms of design and construction quality, Symbister is undoubtedly Shetland?s best country house, and equal in quality to any other small classical house in Northern Scotland. However, the house has suffered badly from alteration since the war, although (to date) the remarkable stable block has only been altered significantly at the S end.
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