Local Information

Over 400 Years of History - Old Gala House

June 15, 2020
Over 400 Years of History - Old Gala House

Set in beautifully maintained grounds near the centre of Galashiels, Old Gala House is an impressive building dating back to 1583. Once home to the Lairds of Galashiels with over 400 years of history, the house is now a vibrant museum and gallery which tells the story of the town and its people.

Galashiels is known for its textile mill industry and Reivers heritage, and the museum brings to life vibrant tales of the town, such as the story behind its ‘soor plooms’ motto. The museum takes you from the house’s historical roots as home to the Pringle family, with its painted ceiling dating from 1635, right through to its present-day role in Galashiels, with information on the ‘Braw Lads Gathering’. This happens every year in the town and is based on a poem written by Robert Burns about Galashiels.

As well as the museum, Old Gala House features several exhibition spaces which showcase a very busy and varied programme of contemporary arts and crafts exhibitions. The Clapperton Room also hosts a permanent exhibition dedicated to the locally born sculptor, Thomas Clapperton (1879-1962), famous for the London Liberty Store frieze and ‘Border Reiver’ war memorial. It contains superb examples of his work and information on his background.

View the Museum and Gallery guide to find out more about what’s going on across the museums. You can also take a look at this tourism guide to make the most of your trip to the Borders. To support the use of local transport you can plan your journey with Traveline Scotland.

The history of the Old Gala House

Old Gala House is a museum and conference centre situated in the Old Town area of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. The building was originally built as a tower house in 1457 by the Hoppringill (Pringle) family, who had been granted the lands of Gala by the Earl of Douglas. In 1583, Andrew Hoppringill carried out many improvements and extended the house as his family home. Further expansion took place in 1611, before Andrew returned to live at the family seat of Smailholm Tower in 1635, when his daughter, Jean, married Hugh Scott.

A ceiling painting was rediscovered in 1952 celebrating that marriage. Hugh Scott, the new laird, carried out more improvements and extended the house. The Painted Ceiling Room is beautiful. Only around thirty of these Scottish style Renaissance ceilings remain intact, as they were often destroyed when the fashion changed to decorative plasterwork. Further extensions were carried out in the 17th and 18th centuries, completing the edifice we see today. The five bay, U-shaped house is built of rubblestone and is embraced on three sides by gardens complete with water features.

In 1872, Hugh Scott 9th of Gala commissioned David Bryce, an eminent Scottish architect, to design and build a new house. On completion the family moved to New Gala House, abandoning the old house. New Gala House was demolished in 1985around the time the Scottish Borders Council renovated the old house and converted it to a venue. As well as being a museum and conference centre, the house plays a role in the graduation ceremonies of the local university and also caters for all forms of meetings including marriages. The house also holds the archives of Borders Family History Society.

Plan your visit information

It’s free to get in plus there’s free parking at the front of the museum with disabled parking access at the rear. There’s also a cafe and shop in the museum.

What is usually particularly enjoyed by the visitors about Old Gala House is its eclectic mix. The permanent exhibitions that focus on local history and temporary ones with more modern pieces.

Fun fact: There’s a room devoted to Thomas Clapperton, a sculptor born in Galashiels. Clapperton’s best-known pieces include the Liberty Frieze on the department store in London, a Robert the Bruce statue at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle and several war memorials in the Scottish Borders.

The Pringle Café and Gallery is open throughout the day, with a gift shop, free Wi-Fi and a variety of refreshments. The stunning gardens – complete with SiMBA tree of tranquillity, picnic benches, fountain and waterfall – are maintained by Gala in Bloom volunteers.

There is disabled access to the ground floor, disabled parking, toilets, baby changing and a hearing loop. Assistance dogs are welcome at the venue. There is a fax machine and free access to PCs. There are bike racks and the museum is accessible by public transport. Coach tours are welcome.

Admission is free: donations are welcome.