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Thatched Cottage, Packman's Brae, Polwarth

A Category B Listed Building in Polwarth, Scottish Borders

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Latitude: 55.7453 / 55°44'43"N

Longitude: -2.4071 / 2°24'25"W

OS Eastings: 374540

OS Northings: 650286

OS Grid: NT745502

Mapcode National: GBR C2M0.N9

Mapcode Global: WH8X7.0V1G

Plus Code: 9C7VPHWV+45

Entry Name: Thatched Cottage, Packman's Brae, Polwarth

Listing Name: Thatched Cottage, excluding glazed link, west wing and detached garage to west, Packman's Brae, Polwarth, Greenlaw, Duns

Listing Date: 12 July 1991

Last Amended: 13 August 2021

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 395544

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB48123

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Polwarth

County: Scottish Borders

Electoral Ward: Mid Berwickshire

Parish: Polwarth

Traditional County: Berwickshire

Tagged with: Cottage

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A late-18th or early 19th century, single-storey, thatched cottage (originally comprising two cottages) with later alterations and additions dating from 2003-04. It sits within a rural hamlet near Duns, amongst other houses of varying dates.

The cottage is built on a rectangular plan with four symmetrical bays and a piended thatched roof. The rubble walls are smooth lime-rendered and the door and window openings have droved, long and short margins in ashlar red sandstone. The main elevation (southeast) has doors to the outer bays and two single window openings between them. There are single windows on each gable (the southwest is offset to the left). The rear (northwest) elevation is blank.

The windows of the cottage are timber sash and case frames in a 16-pane glazing pattern and the doors are vertical timber boarded. The roof is thatched in wheat straw with a turf ridge and has a timber boarded ventilation detail under the eaves. There is a later stone-built chimneystack to the centre of the ridge with a single clay pot.

The interior was seen in 2017 and the detailing predominantly dates to the restoration and extension works of 2003-04. Part of the thick internal cross wall that separated the two former cottages still survives and there are deep window cills and door openings.

Later additions (2003-04) adjoin the rear elevation and comprise a glazed, pitched-roof sunroom connecting to a taller single-storey stone and slate wing with attic. There is also a detached garage to the west, which also dates from this period. These additions are all excluded from the listing.

Legal exclusions

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: glazed link, west wing and detached garage to west.

These additions all date from the early 21st century and are not of special architectural or historical interest.

Historical development

Thatched Cottage is set to the east side of a former village of thatched buildings in Polwarth, between Greenlaw and Duns, in the Scottish Borders.

The building is first shown clearly on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map (surveyed 1858, published 1862) although a group of buildings is shown in a similar position and orientation on Blackadder's map of Berwickshire (1797). The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map shows the full extent of the former village of Polwarth in the mid-19th century, when it consisted of around nine rows of cottages along the main road (A6105) and the (now dead end) road just to the north of Thatched Cottage. The map shows the rows of cottages, a farm and two schools with a large village green to the southernmost part. Thatched Cottage sits slightly apart from this group, to the east.

Polwarth is described as 'an ancient place' in the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-5) and throughout the 18th and 19th centuries it was used as a trading post because it was equidistant between Greenlaw and Duns. The St Mungo's Fair was established by Royal Decree at the beginning of the 16th century and was held twice a year on the village green for two days. Local folklore records that two packmen fought on the way to the fair and one was killed. He was buried where he fell on the road between the village and the church, and the road then became known as Packman's Brae. The first edition Ordnance Survey Map (surveyed 1858, published 1862) marks the 'Packmans Grave' 200m to the southeast of Thatched Cottage.

Polwarth expanded further as a Huguenot Village in the 18th century. The Huguenots were a group of French Protestants established following the reformation of the Protestant Church in France around 1550. In 1685 King Louis XIV was concerned about the strength of this religious minority and exiled all Huguenot pastors and forbade the congregation from leaving France. However, around 200,000 Huguenot refugees fled the persecution and around 50,000 are believed to have settled in Britain. Some travelled from the Netherlands to Berwick-upon-Tweed, and a small group then travelled inland and settled in Polwarth. They chose the location because of its seclusion and the convergence of a number of natural streams which were ideal for their leather tanning skills. 'Polwarth' is thought to have meant 'boggy place' and Thatched Cottage has a stream running along the northern boundary of its garden. The village later developed into a centre for weaving.

The Statistical Accounts recorded a thriving village in the later 18th and 19th centuries. In 1755 the parish population was 251, in 1793 it was 288, and in 1861 it was 251. The 1793 statistical account records various trades in the village. There were three wrights, a mason and a blacksmith, two weavers, two tailors, five shoemakers, a tanner and three carters. Polwarth was an important village on the trade and travel routes and the 1845 account records that the stagecoach between Edinburgh and Duns passed through it every day. Strang (1994: p.48) references Robert Chambers, Pictures of Scotland, which describes the houses in Polwarth as 'old-fashioned, having stupendous chimnies of catton clay and each provided with a respectable knocking stone'.

In the early 20th century Polwarth was known locally for its vernacular charm and character and was said to have been the prettiest village in Berwickshire. A number of historic postcards from the time show the groups of thatched cottages that were in the main part of the village. One of these postcards shows a thatched building with a piended thatched roof, which may have been a particular vernacular style for a thatched cottage for the area. The Thatch and Thatching Techniques Advice Note includes an illustration of a pair of thatched cottages from an early 19th century pattern book, which is the same plan form and principle elevation of Thatched Cottage in Polwarth.

After the First World War the village population fell dramatically, and the cottages began to fall into disrepair. A personal account in a newspaper article in the Berwickshire News and General Advertiser from 1933 records the state of the village at that time. It describes several roofless and unmaintained buildings and it appears the hamlet quickly deteriorated further during that decade. The decay was probably because of a lack of maintenance which was likely to have been accelerated by the boggy ground conditions. By the 1950s the rows of thatched cottages that formed the main part of the village had been abandoned and were derelict.

Polwarth appears to be unusual in the speed and almost total loss of the former village. The majority of small villages in the Scottish Borders still exist with the loss of some buildings and further new buildings built. Polwarth seems to be unusual in the extent of the almost complete loss of the 18th century vernacular cottages. Thatched Cottage is the only vernacular building from the period known to survive in Polwarth.

The former listed building record describes the condition and materials of Thatched Cottage when it was listed in 1991, which included a thatched roof on couples and purlins under a corrugated sheet roof. By this time the building had been vacant for at least 20 years and was in poor condition. Strang (1994) describes the cottage as having a stitched wheat straw roof under corrugated iron. Photographs from 1998 and 2003 also show that it was built in sandstone rubble with rough ashlar margins. There was only one entrance door in the second bay from the left. The central stack was built in brick and it had cast iron rainwater pipes. There was a roofless stone building to the northwest in the same position as that shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (1862). The Buildings of Scotland describes the building just prior to 2003-04 and confirms the description on the previous listed building record.

In 2003-04 the cottage was comprehensively restored on its original footprint. The window and door openings were partially re-ordered to reflect its earlier arrangement as two separate cottages. The rubble walls were rendered in lime and the window and door openings had new droved stonework surrounds inserted. The previous sawn roof timbers were replaced with a modern roof construction, which incorporated a timber vented overhanging eaves detail to the newly thatched roof. The corrugated covering over the roof was removed and the thatch was reinstated using the traditional materials of wheat straw with a turf ridge. It is likely that the building retains some original fabric both in its external walls and the central wall that divides the former two cottages.

A large extension was built on the footprint of the roofless, stone section to the rear (northwest) (planning ref: 03/00400/LBC and 03/00401/FUL), which is excluded from the listing.

Statement of Interest

Thatched Cottage, Packman's Brae, meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: glazed link, west wing and detached garage to west.

Architectural interest


Thatched Cottage has been constructed and repaired using traditional materials and methods that are characteristic of this part of Scotland. The building was extensively restored and extended during the early 21st century, which included the reconstruction and rethatching of the roof. The renovations show how the building has been altered to accommodate improvements in modern needs and living standards. The restoration works used the traditional materials and methods that were evident in the fabric of the building and there is a clear distinction between the historic part of the building and the new additions to the rear.

The use of thatch as a roofing material has a long tradition in Scotland. Thatched buildings are often single-storey cottages or crofthouses, which are traditionally built, reflecting pre-industrial construction methods and materials. The survival of this building type into the 21st century is extremely rare (see Age and Rarity for more information). Thatched Cottage retains its thatched roof, which has been traditionally replaced and maintained.

The design and construction of a building, the method of thatching and the thatching material used was a distinctly localised practice. The best examples of local vernacular buildings will normally be listed because together they illustrate the importance of distinctive local and regional traditions.

The central and southern regions of Scotland have a history of diverse local thatching techniques. The industrial and agricultural revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries transformed areas of this region in a very short period of time, and as a result relatively fewer thatch buildings survive. Thatched Cottage is the only remaining thatched building in a small hamlet that was formally a thriving village comprising similar vernacular buildings. It is also one of only 11 thatched buildings to remain in the Scottish Borders.

With the significant shift of people to towns and cities and improvements in transport and communication this region experienced a variety of thatching techniques and traditions. Thatched Cottage has a turf ridge, which was a common method used in the Scottish Borders and in some areas of Fife. The traditional thatching material in this area would have been oat straw, as was often the case across Scotland. The planting of the Tay reed beds in the 18th century and the increased availability of reed as a result now means that most buildings in this region are thatched in reed. Thatched Cottage has been rethatched in wheat straw, which reflects its earlier thatch covering that was recorded by Strang in 1994.

The narrow, rectangular footprint of Thatched Cottage is a typical plan form of traditional buildings throughout Scotland, as the expense of suitable roof timbers restricted the depth which could be spanned. The building has been modernised and altered to form a single dwelling, but the overall plan form appears to be largely unchanged from that shown on the 1st Edition Map. Part of the thick internal wall between the two cottages remains intact, as does the change in level between the two rooms. These are evidence of the earlier arrangement of the building as two separate dwellings and add to the historic character of the building.

It is common for these traditional cottages to have been altered by addition of porches and small extensions. The present extension to the rear of Thatched Cottage dates from 2003-04. This was constructed on the footprint of a previous outbuilding, shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map (surveyed 1858, published 1862), and the design is purposely distinct from the original building. The early footprint of Thatched Cottage remains readable, despite the later additions, which adds this to its special interest.

The interiors of these traditional thatched cottages in Scotland were often simple. Many of them have been refurbished and historic features no longer survive. The alterations to the interior of Thatched Cottage, Packman's Brae, have been significant and very few details that predate 2004 survive. However, the 18th century footprint of the building and its thick walls are evident in the deep window and door openings. The level of alteration to the interior means that it does not add to the special interest of the building in listing terms.

Authenticity of material can be an important factor in assessing the significance of thatched buildings, however buildings which have been repaired over time (perhaps with new roofing material or rethatched) can also be listed. The retention of the overall traditional character of vernacular buildings is therefore important in determining their special architectural or historic interest.

Photographs from 1998 and 2003 show the building before the works were carried out. The restoration works (2003-04), the windows and doors were reordered to an earlier symmetrical format and new droved sandstone quoins were built around the openings. The rubble walls described in the previous listed building record were rendered with lime-based render. The existing roof structure was replaced, the corrugated covering was removed and the thatch was reinstated using the traditional materials of wheat straw with a turf ridge.

There has been a significant amount of change to the building but the restoration work used traditional methods and materials. The overall appearance is that of an improved 18th century thatched building that has been restored in recent decades. The alterations and additions do not significantly impact on the overall character of the building, or its architectural significance.

Thatched Cottage continues to show traditional building methods and materials characteristic of this area of lowland Scotland. The traditional character is evident in the thick rubble walls, the traditional plan form and the reinstated thatch roof. It is a rare surviving example of a vernacular thatched building and informs our understanding of traditional techniques and methods of construction, as well as the land-use and development of communities such as Polwarth, during the 18th and 19th centuries.


Thatched Cottage was built in a semi-rural location and originally formed part of an 18th century village of similar buildings. The majority of the other historic cottages in the village had been lost by the middle of the 20th century and Thatched Cottage is the only thatched building to survive. Some other buildings that belonged to the Polwarth Estate survive in the surrounding area. These include Polwarth Kirk (St Kentigerns Church) (listed at Category A, LB15384), Polwarth Manse (listed at Category B, LB15385), the Polwarth Crofts (listed at category B, LB46329), and the Old Schoolhouse (Category C LB46328) which are all to the south of Thatched Cottage. Packman's Brae Bridge (Category C LB46327), is located just to the northwest of the entrance to Thatched Cottage and the pair maintain a close visual relationship.

All of the remaining buildings in Polwarth that predate 1900 are built of dressed stone and have slate roofs. None of these are inter-visible with Thatched Cottage, which sits in its own secluded garden grounds. Thatched Cottage does not make a significant contribution to the setting of the remaining hamlet because it is visually separate from the other historic buildings in the group. However, it is an important survivor that tells us about the early character and layout of this once prosperous village and trading point.

The immediate setting of Thatched Cottage has been partially altered by the later additions of a glazed link and stone and slate building attached to the rear, and a detached garage to the southwest. The additions are visibly distinct from Thatched Cottage in terms of their style, scale and materials, and Thatched Cottage remains dominant in principal views from Packman's Brae.

Historic interest

Age and rarity

The survival of thatched buildings into the 21st century is extremely rare. A Survey of Thatched Buildings in Scotland, published in 2016 by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), found that were only around 200 buildings with thatched roofs in Scotland. Those which retain their traditional vernacular character, including plan forms and construction techniques may be of special interest in listing terms. The SPAB survey report shows that Thatched Cottage, Packman's Brae, is one of only 11 thatched buildings to remain in the Scottish Borders, four of which are located in Town Yetholm (SPAB, pp. 356-380).

These once prolific traditional buildings are now extremely rare. Thatched Cottage is the only vernacular building known to survive in a small hamlet that was formally a thriving village in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is also the only remaining thatched building within Polwarth and is one of a small number that remain in the Scottish Borders. The building has been substantially restored and extended but it retains much of its vernacular character and continues to demonstrate traditional building skills and materials.

Social historical interest

The Thatched Cottage, Packman's Brae is a rare surviving example of thatched vernacular building that contributes to our understanding of the development, layout and ultimate decline of Polwarth from the 18th century on. As the only surviving vernacular building in the hamlet, it has historic associations with the Huguenots and the Polwarth's importance as both a trading village and part of the Redbraes and Marchmont Estates.

Association with people or events of national importance

There is no association with a person or event of national importance.

Other Information

Polwarth was an important settlement with a strong history and folklore throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. In the 16th century Redbraes House and the Polwarth Estate was inherited by two unmarried sisters. Their uncle Sir William Sinclair tried to retain the estate and imprisoned them in Herdmanston Tower in the Lammermuirs to prevent their marriages. However, the Hume brothers from Wedderburn Castle released them and returned them to Polwarth where the two pairs married. The Polwarth estates were therefore inherited by the Hume family. The celebrations involved a wedding party dance around the ancient thorn bushes on the village green. This began a 17th century tradition for local weddings which involved a celebration dance around 'The Thorns'. This tradition was recorded in many poems most notably by the poet Allan Ramsay (1686-1758). A photograph from 1998 shows the historic thorn trees on the former village green protected by a late 19th century enclosure of a stone wall and cast-iron railings.

Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2021. Previously listed as 'Packman's Brae, Thatched Cottage'.

External Links

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