Abbotsford House

Abbotsford in 1880.

Abbotsford is a historic house in the region of the Scottish Borders in the south of Scotland, near Melrose, on the south bank of the River Tweed. It was formerly the residence of historical novelist and poet, Walter Scott. It is a Category A Listed Building.

The nucleus of the estate was a small farm of 110 acres (0.45 km2), called Cartleyhole, nicknamed Clarty (i.e., muddy) Hole, and was bought by Scott on the lapse of his lease (1811) of the neighbouring house of Ashestiel. He first built a small villa and named it Abbotsford, creating the name from a ford nearby where previously abbots of Melrose Abbey used to cross the river. Scott then built additions to the house and made it into a mansion, building into the walls many sculptured stones from ruined castles and abbeys of Scotland. In it he gathered a large library, a collection of ancient furniture, arms and armour, and other relics and curiosities, especially connected with Scottish history, notably the Celtic Torrs Pony-cap and Horns and the Woodwrae Stone, all now in the Museum of Scotland.

The last and principal acquisition was that of Toftfield (afterwards named Huntlyburn), purchased in 1817. The new house was then begun and completed in 1824.

Ground plan of Abbotsford House.

The general ground-plan is a parallelogram, with irregular outlines, one side overlooking the Tweed. Abbotsford’s picturesque and irregular architecture is the progenitor of the Scottish Baronial style of architecture in which identifiably Scottish precedents and elements of architecture, including steeply pitched slate roofs, turrets, bartizans, and crowstepped gables reminiscent of ancient castles, keeps and fortified houses, are used to evoke a sense of national identify. Into various parts of the fabric were built relics and curiosities from historical structures, such as the doorway of the old Tolbooth in Edinburgh.

Abbotsford’s interiors are essentially unchanged since Scott’s time and are now, possibly, the best-preserved suite of late Georgian interiors in Scotland. The decorative painting was carried out by David Ramsay Hay, a protégé of Scott. Abbotsford’s interiors are exemplars of the Romantic period defined in part by the objects they contain and in part by the motives of those who created them.

While Scott is known as a writer, his surmounting interest, which gave him the most pleasure, was gardening. At Abbotsford, Sir Walter created enclosed gardens and parkland to complement the house, and laid out the largely unimproved land to form an extended wooded agricultural landscape, that remains uniquely adapted to its Tweedside setting. Historic Scotland has classified the landscape and gardens created by Scott as of outstanding aesthetic, scenic and architectural importance, and, as the creation of Scott, of international significance. Scott wrote on tree planting and landscape gardening and kept detailed records of his landscaping at Abbotsford, all of which add significantly to the historical value of the Abbotsford Estate. His landscape design at Abbotsford influenced many of his peers and neighbours, informing garden design across the UK.[citation needed]

The house at Abbotsford stands at the top and south east side of a terraced slope, which was shaped from the natural gravel escarpment that rises to a height of 12 metres above the Tweed. On the south east side, Scott created a formal entrance courtyard, the first of three enclosed garden spaces, each enclosed by high walls. To the north and extending westwards from the north side of the house, Scott's descendents developed the Morris Garden and the impressive kitchen garden.

Much of the gardens and landscape remain as they were in the time of Sir Walter, with some modest additions and alterations. This, coupled with the association with Scott, make the Gardens at Abbotsford among the most historically important in the UK.[citation needed]

Scott had only enjoyed his residence one year when (1825) he met with that reverse of fortune which involved the estate in debt. In 1830 the library and museum were presented to him as a free gift by the creditors. The property was wholly disencumbered in 1847 by Robert Cadell, the publisher, who cancelled the bond upon it in exchange for the family's share in the copyright of Sir Walter's works.

Scott's only son Walter did not live to enjoy the property, having died on his way from India in 1847. Among subsequent possessors were Scott's son-in-law, John Gibson Lockhart, J. R. Hope Scott, Q.C., and his daughter (Scott's great-granddaughter), the Hon. Mrs Maxwell Scott.

Abbotsford gave its name to the "Abbotsford Club", a successor of the Bannatyne and Maitland clubs, founded by William Barclay Turnbull in 1834 in Scott's honour, for printing and publishing historical works connected with his writings. Its publications extended from 1835 to 1864.

Abbotsford opened to the public in 1833 (a year after the death of Scott, and among the first historic houses to become a public attraction) and from the outset, it was a huge hit with visitors. This resulted in his descendents extending the house and adapting the garden and landscape to cope with the huge numbers that visited. These early adaptations are considered to be of significant historical value in terms of the history of tourism in the United Kingdom.

Abbotsford House as seen from the gardens.

Scott's descendants continued to live in the house until 2004. The last of his direct descendants to inhabit Abbotsford was his great-great-great-granddaughter Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott (8 June 1923 - 5 May 2004). She inherited it from her elder sister Patricia in 1998. The sisters turned the house into one of Scotland's premier tourist attractions after they had to rely on paying visitors to afford the upkeep of the house. It had electricity installed only in 1962. Dame Jean was at one time a lady-in-waiting to Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, patron of the Dandie Dinmont Club, a breed of dog named after one of Sir Walter Scott's characters; and a horse trainer, one of whose horses, Sir Wattie, ridden by Ian Stark, won two silver medals at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.[1]

Following the death of Dame Jean Maxwell Scott, a charitable trust, the Abbotsford Trust (Charity No SCO37425) was established to safeguard the house for current and future generations. The trust embarked upon an ambitious £10 million campaign to save Abbotsford in 2009. This campaign will see the repair and restoration of the house and grounds and the creation of a new visitor centre. The visitor centre will feature a permanent and free to access exhibition on the life and works of Sir Walter Scott. It is envisaged that this redevelopment work will be completed in early 2013.

In keeping with its many Walter Scott references, Rose Street in Edinburgh has a bar called the "Kenilworth", along with one named the "Abbotsford".

Sir Walter Scott rescued the "jougs" from Threave Castle in Dumfries and Galloway and attached them to the castellated gateway he built at Abbotsford.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Obituary of Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 July 2004, p. 32
  2. ^ Napier, George G. (1897). The Home and Haunts of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. James Maclehose, Glasgow. P. 153.

External links

Coordinates: 55°35′58.174″N 2°46′56.853″W / 55.59949278°N 2.78245917°W / 55.59949278; -2.78245917

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