History of The Roxburghe Hotel

(Formerly known as Sunlaws House Hotel)

The history surrounding Sunlaws and the village of Heiton can be traced as far back as the 12th century when David I was King of Scots. At this time, the medieval town of Roxburgh, now vanished, stood between the rivers of Tweed and Teviot in front of what is now Floors Castle. There has been a dwelling house at Sunlaws for many centuries and one of the earliest records states that John Hume of Ersiltoun (Earlston) purchased the mill at Sunlaws in 1543.

In June of 1544, during the period known as the “Rough Wooing”, a band of Englishmen entered Scotland and burned Sunlaws; they took eight Scots and 40 oxen. When the Abbeys of Jedburgh, Kelso, Dryburgh and Melrose were sacked and destroyed along with 36 other places on the River Teviot, these included towers and villages of Heyton-on-the-Hill, Sunlaws, Ormiston and Roxburgh.

In September of 1600 James Kerr of Chatto acquired lands in Heiton and further enlarged his holdings in 1614 by purchasing from William Rutherford “Sunlaws with Myln lands thereof”.

During October of 1715, at the time of the first Jacobite rising, William Kerr of Chatto and Sunlaws was living in Kelso whilst “Sunlaws was being rebuilt” and his younger son, Robert, joined the Jacobite army who had gathered in Kelso on the 23rd October 1715. Robert was later captured at the siege of Preston and transported to America where he subsequently died. The start of a long association of the Kerr family and the Jacobite cause. Some short time afterwards Sunlaws was ready for occupation but in 1720, the house was discovered one night to be in flames and William Kerr only just escaped with his life. He died the following year at the age of 68 and the estate was passed to his daughter, Christian, Lady Chatto.

It is a firm family belief that Christian was Mistress of Sunlaws; Bonnie Prince Charlie spent the night of the 5th November 1745 at Sunlaws House, where he planted a white rose bush in the grounds.  Certainly, Lady Chatto's household account books for the time indicate large purchases of food and more.  Would this have been normal or were extra guests expected? 

On the 30 April 1770, the “Public Advertiser” reported “that at about ten o’clock in the evening Sunlaws was burnt to the ground by an accidental fire”.  A servant had left a candle where “some thatch was hanging down with which it communicated, and in a moment after the whole roof being all of thatch was a blaze”. No lives were lost though everything was destroyed.

On Lady Chatto's death, the estate passed to her nephew, William Scott of Thirlestain and he adopted the name of Scott-Kerr. In 1796, Robert Scott-Kerr applied to the trustees, who then governed the Sunlaws estate, for permission to rebuild it and "improve the estates viz. The Parks of Sunlaws and the Farms of Broompark and Whitehillfoot."  Events must have moved slowly because in 1809 another document details Robert Kerr's plans for a "New Mansion House and offices and garden wall at Sunlaws."  The house must have been built shortly after that and in 1831, Robert Scott-Kerr died to be succeeded by William Scott-Kerr.  In 1885 there was a disastrous fire which although took no lives destroyed valuable furnishings and heirlooms of the Scotts of Thirlestain. Sunlaws House was quickly repaired and rebuilt as it was.

During the 1960’s Sunlaws Estate was acquired by the Duke of Roxburghe and after using the house as an Estate Office for some time has turned Sunlaws, this “phoenix from the ashes”, into a gracious country house hotel of the 21st century.

With grateful thanks to Ian Abernethy of Heiton for allowing us to quote from his book “The High Toun on The Hill”.