After 800 years, the Maxwells are forced to admit it's time for a move

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The Independent Online

Scotland's first brick-built house, which has been in the same family for nearly 800 years, is going on sale for less than a three-bedroomed terraced house in Islington.

Kirkconnell House, the oldest continuously inhabited tower house in Scotland, dating from the 12th century, is being sold by its debt-ridden laird, who is crippled by an overdraft after losing £500,000 as a Lloyd's name and following his divorce in 1998.

The house, near New Abbey in Dumfries and Galloway, has been home to ancestors of Francis Maxwell, the present laird, since it was granted to the family in 1235.

The mansion, which includes three reception rooms, four bedrooms, a keep with five apartments, a large chapel, stables, a coach house and five acres of land including an 18th century walled garden, is on sale for the first time in its history for offers over £375,000.

The Maxwells are a famous Roman Catholic, Jacobite family. Mr Maxwell's cousin, Catherine Maxwell-Stuart, lives at Traquair, which is even older than Kirkconnell House, whose gates were closed in 1746 when Bonnie Prince Charlie fled Scotland and will not be opened until a Stuart is back on the throne.

James Maxwell, once the laird of Kirkconnell, was Bonnie Prince Charlie's aide-de-camp at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, after which he hurriedly left for France. He returned in 1750 with a band ofFrench bricklayers to construct the brick house alongside the ancient 12th century fortified tower.

James Maxwell's son, William, who created the house's walled garden, was a friend of and physician to the poet Robert Burns and was also present when King Louis XVI of France was guillotined.

Bad luck seems to have dogged Francis Maxwell, who was educated at Downside, the Benedictine public school, since he inherited the estate in 1975 on his 21st birthday. He originally went into dairy farming until he realised he was allergic to cattle and then joined Lloyds in 1983 just before the insurance company crashed.

"Obviously I am pig sick about it. It's very sad. I find it very distressing," said Mr Maxwell, 46, who has five children aged between 5 and 15. "I have been left with a large overdraft after my divorce and not enough land to keep the house going. This house has been in the family for hundreds of years. It's home. We're currently trying to clear out 200 years of rubbish in the attics."

Mr Maxwell intends to stay nearby, retaining 80 acres of the family land and the ancient barony with the title of Kirkconnell, whose motto is "Spero meliora" - "I hope for better times". Mr Maxwell's own personal motto is "Reviresco" - "I will flourish again".

He expected the family ghosts to be very upset when they discovered the sale. They last made their presence known in 1984, when his daughter was the first child to be born in the house in 130 years.