A GALLERY of modern art could be created in Selkirk after it was confirmed that historic Haining House and its picturesque grounds have been bequeathed "for the benefit for the community of Selkirkshire and the wider public".
The gift, worth millions on paper, is confirmed in the registered will of art-lover Andrew Nimmo-Smith, who died in the Borders General Hospital last month, aged 83. The retired lawyer had not enjoyed good health in recent years and had lived alone, with the help of carers, in his 18th century mansion just west of the town centre.
Apart from the A-listed house, the 160-acre estate includes a loch, extensive woodland, designed terraces, a walled garden and old bear and wolf cages.
A significant, but as yet unspecified, sum of money also forms part of the bequest which will be administered by a charitable trust, comprising Mr Nimmo-Smith's cousins Eve Carter from Somerset and Jean Pringle-Pattison from East Lothian, along with family solicitor Susan Edington, who practises in Galashiels.
"The whole family is very pleased at this bequest because it is exactly what Andrew wanted," said another first cousin, Veronica Daniel of Morpeth.
The largesse of the reclusive Mr Nimmo-Smith was acclaimed this week by Dr Lindsay Neil, chairman of the Selkirk Regeneration Group (SRG).
"We are indeed fortunate to have such a generous benefactor and our group will work with the new Haining Trust in any way to see that the exploitation of this magnificent gift is achieved in the way Mr Nimmo-Smith wanted," said Dr Neil.
"Selkirk will become an even brighter jewel in the Borders' regalia as a result."
Dr Neil revealed that the SRG, after its formation in May 2006, approached Mr Nimmo-Smith to discuss the creation of a trust to preserve the integrity of the house and estate in the event of his death.
"He seemed well disposed to the idea and we were keen to exploit the tourism potential of the site of the old Selkirk Castle, which has been untouched since around 1300, and have a proper excavation done," explained Dr Neil.
"Following visits from Scottish Borders Council and Historic Scotland, tentative plans were presented to Mr Nimmo-Smith and contact made with Mrs Edington and Jeremy Purvis MSP.
"There the matter rested, so it is with some surprise and delight that, three years later, Mr Nimmo-Smith has bequeathed his house, its contents, some money and the estate to the people of Selkirkshire and the wider world.
"It will have a huge and lasting benefit to Selkirk and its surrounding areas and will give an opportunity for the trust to create a first-class venue to attract visitors, nature lovers and culture seekers from all over."
Mr Purvis said the bequest is "very exciting".
He said: "I have always thought the house and estate had great potential and have had discussions with Mrs Edington on the possibility of a gallery of modern art and a sculpture garden being created here. It would be wonderful for the Borders to have its own dedicated art gallery.
"But it's still early days, no firm plans exist and the trust has yet to be fully constituted.
"However, although a huge amount of work lies ahead, I will support the trust's efforts every step of the way."
The early history of the Haining, though not well documented, is thought to be as old as Selkirk itself and it was in its grounds that the armies of Kings Edward I and II are said to have camped on their forays north and frantic escapes south in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.
It belonged to the Scotts in the 1500s and was purchased in 1701 by John Pringle, an advocate, who took the title Lord Haining when admitted to the Court of Session.
The present Palladian mansion house was begun in 1794 by Mark Pringle, adjacent to an earlier house, and with a terrace overlooking the loch. The older dwelling became a kitchen and servants' quarters.
Robert Pringle, a Liberal MP, became the feudal baron of the Haining in 1831 and was succeeded by his sister Mrs Pringle Douglas in 1842. Her daughter succeeded in 1868 and in 1880 held 4,800 acres in Selkirkshire and 2,527 acres in Roxburghshire.
The Haining was described at this time as "standing amid finely wooded grounds, with a beautiful sheet of water". The younger Mrs Pringle-Pattison bequeathed The Haining to her cousin Professor Andrew Pringle-Pattison, whose elder son succeeded in 1931.
During the war, the house and grounds were placed under military occupation and the older house was burned down in 1943.
The Haining passed out of the Pringle-Pattison family until 1959 when the house and its policies were repurchased by Andrew Nimmo-Smith's mother Elina Pringle-Pattison and her husband Francis Nimmo-Smith.
In the 1980s, part of the land was sold to a Borders builder who created the Haining Park housing estate and the nearby stable block was converted into flats.