Estate, Friends, History, Kinneil House

Discover James Watt at Kinneil House on April 27

• Free tours inside mansion from noon
• Additional guided visits to Watt’s cottage workshop


Historic Kinneil House in Bo’ness is opening its doors for free tours on Saturday, April 27, 2019.

The A-listed mansion – which boasts some of the finest Renaissance wall paintings in Scotland – will be open from noon to 4 p.m. (last admission 3.30 p.m.).

Tickets for House tours will be available on the day from Kinneil Museum (in front of the House).

The event will also offer additional free, outdoor guided walks to James Watt’s cottage workshop, in the grounds of the imposing mansion.

It’s 250 years since Watt worked on developing the steam engine at the site (the patent was granted in 1769). This year, 2019, is also the 200th anniversary of Watt’s death, with special events taking place across the country.

The April 27 Kinneil event has been organised by The Friends of Kinneil charity and Historic Environment Scotland.

As well as celebrating Watt and Kinneil’s great history – it will also form part of a series of events celebrating John Muir and the John Muir Way, the coast-to-coast trail which runs through Kinneil.

Ian Shearer, Chairman of the Friends of Kinneil, said: “We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors to Kinneil on April 27.

“The House is an amazing building, steeped in history. Our volunteer guides will be on hand to take people through the main tower and palace section, and tell Kinneil’s story.

“We’re also looking forward to providing additional guided tours to the cottage workshop used by James Watt.

“The cottage is one of the most significant historical sites along the John Muir Way. Exactly 250 years ago, this was where Watt secretly tested his newly-patented steam engine.

“This invention revolutionised industry and the world.”

As well Kinneil House and the Watt Cottage, the surrounding Estate – a public park – also features the remains of a medieval church and a Roman fortlet, once part of the Antonine Wall.

Amy Mack from Historic Environment Scotland said: “We’re delighted the John Muir Way is celebrating five years this week, helping to boost tourism at many historical properties along the route from Helensburgh to Dunbar.

“Here at Kinneil, with the Antonine Wall World Heritage Site and a magnificent 16th-century palace as a backdrop, James Watt was surrounded by history as he developed his most famous invention.”


The current House is thought to date from the 1500s and was home to the powerful Dukes of Hamilton.

It was extended in 1553 with the addition of the “palace section”. This was built by James Hamilton, the 2nd Earl of Arran – who served as Regent of Scotland (effectively the acting King) for 12 years. This section boasts amazing Renaissance wall paintings, said to be some of the best in Scotland.

In 1667, William, 3rd Duke of Hamilton and his wife Anne launched a major expansion of Kinneil House. Within a century, however, the Hamiltons had ceased to use Kinneil, and rented it out to tenants.

Those tenants included the 18th century industrialist Dr John Roebuck, one of the founders of nearby Carron Iron Works, who brought inventor James Watt to the estate, and the 19th century philosopher Dugald Stewart and his family.

In later years, Kinneil House fell into decline and the House and parklands were sold to Bo’ness Town Council in the 1920s. Demolition work within the main House started in the 1930s; however, work was halted when the Renaissance wall paintings were discovered.

The building was put into the care of the Ministry of Works – now Historic Environment Scotland – and opened to the public. However, regular openings ended in the 1980s due to low visitor numbers.

In 2006, The Friends of Kinneil was set up. It has worked with Historic Environment Scotland to increase public access to the House and promote the development of the surrounding estate and area. In 2016 it won a Scottish Heritage Angel Award for its activities.

Kinneil House, Museum and Estate are on the western edge of Bo’ness in central Scotland, just off the A904 and A993.

For more information visit – or discover the Friends of Kinneil on social media at and

John Muir Day celebrations logo

This year’s John Muir Week celebrations run from 20-28 April, with details of events at and

Details of the national programme of events for the James Watt 2019 year are at and

Other open days at Kinneil for the rest of 2019 will be announced soon.

James Watt's Cottage at Kinneil Estate, Bo'ness
James Watt’s Cottage at Kinneil Estate, Bo’ness


HOW: Book a timed tour inside the House by visiting Kinneil Museum – the red-roofed building in front of the big mansion – on the day of the open day. Tours will run at regular intervals from noon, leaving from the museum and walking the short distance into the House. Last admission to the mansion is 3.30 p.m. Volunteer guides will be on hand to take the tours and to answer any questions. Additional volunteers are in the museum to help you. The Museum opens early around noon on open days (normally it opens at 12.30 p.m.). At this special event, there will also be free additional outdoor guided visits to James Watt’s Cottage (no tickets or booking required), leaving from outside the Museum at 12.30 p.m., 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.

COST: Admission to the House, Museum and James Watt tours are all free of charge. Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult.

ADVANCE TICKETS: Currently tour tickets are only available on the day from the museum. You can’t book tickets in advance or online. Numbers on each house tour are limited for health and safety reasons.

ACCESS: The House is around 500 years old in parts – and doesn’t have a lift. Everyone can get access to the oldest section, the Tower House (albeit just to a platform inside the tower). For the Palace section, you have to go down a few stairs to reach the ground floor. There is also one flight of stairs up to the star attractions, the painted rooms. There are two further flights of stairs to displays on the top floor …. Neighbouring Kinneil Museum also has stairs; however, there is a ramped access to the ground floor and an accessible toilet. The Museum also has an iPad with images of rooms inside Kinneil House. Key paths around the Estate, including for the outdoor visits to the James Watt Cottage, are also accessible using wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

PARKING: In front of the House and museum. If in doubt, ask one of the volunteers across the site.

PHOTOGRAPHY: No flash photography is allowed in the painted rooms at Kinneil.

REFRESHMENTS: A stall selling drinks and sweet treats is normally operational during open days. If you want a meal, you can find cafes and restaurants around Bo’ness. (Sorry – but you can’t take food or drinks into Kinneil House itself!)

OTHER THINGS TO SEE: The museum offers displays and maps about the surrounding Estate, which also boasts a Roman fortlet, the ruins of a medieval church and a cottage workshop used by inventor James Watt.

DIRECTIONS: The postcode is EH51 0PR.

QUERIES: Ask volunteers at the event, or email the Friends: