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Abbotsford House

A Category A Listed Building in Melrose, Scottish Borders

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Latitude: 55.5995 / 55°35'58"N

Longitude: -2.7821 / 2°46'55"W

OS Eastings: 350815

OS Northings: 634266

OS Grid: NT508342

Mapcode National: GBR 930P.GK

Mapcode Global: WH7WP.7JF6

Plus Code: 9C7VH6X9+R5

Entry Name: Abbotsford House

Listing Name: Abbotsford Including House, Walled Gardens and Courtyards, Conservatory, Bothies, Game Larder, Ice House, Terraces, Gate Lodge, Boundary Walls, Gardener's Cottage, Stable Block, Garden Statuary and Al

Listing Date: 16 March 1971

Category: A

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 348629

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB15104

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Melrose

County: Scottish Borders

Electoral Ward: Leaderdale and Melrose

Parish: Melrose

Traditional County: Roxburghshire

Tagged with: Country house

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William Atkinson and Edward Blore, 1816-18 and 1822-24 (architects of house); John Smith of Darnick, 1822-55 (built house and designed most ancillary structures); William Burn 1850-55 (additions to house). Pioneering Baronial Revival country house with associated gardens and ancillary structures built for Sir Walter Scott.


William Atkinson and Edward Blore 1816-18 and 1822-24; William Burn, 1850-5 additions (possibly including earlier fabric) to SW. Predominantly 2-storey, basement and attic with 2-storey courtyard wing to SW. Irregular-plan Baronial Revival country house with 1855 Tudor-style additions: central 1816-18 crowstep-gabled section with square tower; large 1822-4 wing to NE with entrance porch, crowstepped gables, corner tower, machicolation, bartizans, balconies and dormers; 1855 courtyard wing to SW with secondary entrance and oriel window to SE elevation. Squared, coursed sandstone with sandstone ashlar dressings; sandstone ashlar to 1855 chapel and entrance block. Base course, intermittent eaves course, parapet. Long and short quoins and window margins; hoodmoulds to most ground and 1st floor windows; predominantly bipartite and tripartite windows; stone mullions to 1855 additions; timber mullions to earlier parts. Fenestration arranged in bays.

Small-pane glazing with some gothick detailing in timber sash and case windows; some plate glass to 1850s wing. Ashlar-coped skews. Corniced stacks with some octagonal clay cans. Graded grey slate. Cast-iron rainwater goods with some hoppers.

INTERIOR: Principal rooms lavishly decorated: gothic-style plasterwork ceilings and cornicing throughout; gothic chimneypieces in carved stone and marble; fitted shelves to library and study; gallery with cast-iron railings to study; timber panelling to entrance hall, armoury and dining room; gas light fittings to some rooms including crystal gaselier with gilded decoration in drawing room. Victorian 'thunderbox' lavatory. Timber panelled doors with moulded architraves throughout. 1850s kitchen with dresser and cast-iron range. WW2 soldiers' paintings on wall of former Servants' Hall. Wine cellar with stone bins. Larders and store-rooms with fitted cupboards. Cantilevered, spiral stone staircase in 1822 wing with domed ceiling and cast-iron balusters. Stone staircase with cast-iron baluster to 1855 wing. 1855 chapel with trussed timber roof supported on decorative corbels, carved chimneypiece, and altar with circa 1480 Flemish altar-front; sacristy with decorative porcelain basin.

SOUTH COURTYARD: Probably John Smith of Darnick, 1824. Quadrangular courtyard to SE of house with crenellated entrance gateway to SW wall, boundary walls with niches containing carved stonework to SW and SE, small entrance gateway to E corner and arched stone screen to NE. Fountain, sundial and mounting block formed from effigy of Scott's dog Maida within courtyard.

EAST COURTYARD: Circa 1824 with 1850 alterations and later entrance passage. Trapezoid-shaped walled garden to NE of house and adjacent to S court. Random rubble walls with turrets or mini turrets at each corner; entrance gateway to kitchen garden in NE wall; sunken visitor entrance passage between S and E courts; late 19th century sunken lawn with stone steps to terraces; circa 1832 statue and sundial by John Greenshields. 1850 walled service enclosure with pedimented doorway and corner turret situated outside the East Court to the NW.

KITCHEN GARDEN AND BOTHY: John Smith of Darnick, circa 1824. Rectangular walled kitchen garden adjoining East Court to NE; random rubble walls lined with red brick. Lean-to bothy with crowstepped half gables on outer side of NE wall.

CONSERVATORY: situated within Kitchen Garden. John Smith of Darnick, 1823. 5-bay by 3-bay conservatory with stone screen of pointed arches supporting timber-framed glasshouse. Vertical strip glazing; glazed roof.

GAME LARDER, ICEHOUSE AND TERRACES: John Smith of Darnick. Game larder 1851 incorporating 1821 icehouse; terraces circa 1851. Situated to NW of house. 2 steep earth terraces in front of house and walled bank at bottom of lawn. Castle-style game larder and icehouse built into upper terrace and connected to house by tunnel; crenellated platform at top of game larder.

GATE LODGE AND BOUNDARY WALL: Probably William Burn or John Smith of Darnick, dated 1858. 2-storey, roughly T-plan gate lodge with projecting crowstepped gables to NE, SE and SW elevations, and lean-to addition to NW elevation. Roughly coursed rubble with sandstone ashlar dressings. Fairly regular fenestration of small windows in roll-moulded margins; slightly advanced bipartite window to SW (road) elevation with carved pediment over. Studded timber-boarded front door in roll-moulded margin to NE elevation with inscription above: IN THE LORD IS MY HOPE I.R.H.S. 1858.

Predominantly plate glass in 20th century timber windows; some timber sash and case windows; some latticed lights. Coped, corniced stacks with octagonal clay cans. Graded grey slate. Ashlar-coped random rubble boundary wall parallel to road.

GARDENER'S COTTAGE: Circa 1818. 2-bay, single storey gabled cottage with later flat-roofed additions to NE and coped wall extending from N. Random rubble with ashlar dressings. Long and short quoins. Ashlar window dressings with projecting cills. Irregular fenestration. Front door in NW elevation of later addition.

Predominantly small-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows. Deep, bracketed eaves to original cottage; corniced gablehead stack to NW gable; yellow clay can; graded grey slate.

STABLE BLOCK: Circa 1816-20 with later additions and alterations. Courtyard-plan stable block in ruinous condition with mid 19th century piend-roofed outbuilding to SW, linked to S corner by coped wall. Predominantly single storey with 2-storey sections to S and W corners; single-storey and attic piend-roofed former coach house and cottage to NE range. Random rubble with red sandstone ashlar dressings; some grey render to SE and NW ranges. Dormer windows of various types to 2-storey sections. Coped ashlar gatepiers to entrance of courtyard at N corner.

Coped stacks to cottage. Graded grey slate to surviving parts of roof.

WEST COURT: Mid 19th century. Walled service court to SW of house containing L-plan outbuilding with half-gabled roof. Random rubble to walls and outbuilding; sandstone ashlar copes and quoins. Walled pen to side of outbuilding (possibly pig sty). Broken gas retort at entrance to courtyard (see Notes). 19th century statue of Edie Ochiltree on slab plinth outside courtyard at foot of drive.

Statement of Interest

Abbotsford is one of the most important 19th century buildings in Scotland. It was built for Sir Walter Scott, one of Scotland's greatest authors, and has great architectural and historical importance as it was the first Baronial Revival house where a conscious effort was made to re-create an authentic Scottish castle, using vernacular details (such as crowstepped gables), elements copied from earlier buildings (for example the entrance porch is based on the entrance to Linlithgow Palace), and pieces of old stonework and other fixtures from earlier buildings that were being demolished at that time (the door at 1st-floor level on the SW return of the 1822 entrance block was the Gaol door from the old Edinburgh Tolbooth, which was demolished in 1817). Castle-revival houses had, of course, been built prior to Abbotsford, most notably by Robert Adam, but Abbotsford was the first example where an effort was made to achieve antiquarian correctness. Much has been written about Abbotsford, and the following is intended as a brief history of the development of the building to illuminate the list description. For fuller details of the history and contents see the Abbotsford Guide Book and Clive Wainwright and James Macaulay's accounts.

In 1811 Sir Walter Scott purchased Cartleyhole farm and re-named it Abbotsford. The farmhouse was a small 2-storey, 3-bay house with a tetrastyle portico at the front; a steading stood to one side, roughly where the William Burn wing stands. Scott's original intention was to demolish the farm and build an ornamental cottage in the style of an English vicarage: plans for this were drawn up by William Stark, but were abandoned because they were too expensive. Instead, Scott built a kitchen, small bedroom and dressing room in a building detached from the farmhouse. This was situated to the S of the house, possibly converted from a wing of the steading. It is shown in a painting at Abbotsford (copy at the NMRS). By 1812 Scott had gathered a number of friends and architects to advise him on the alterations he wished to make including the architects William Stark (who died in 1813), William Atkinson and Edward Blore; George Bullock, a cabinet maker; and two other friends James Skene and Daniel Terry. In 1816 Scott decided to join the farmhouse to the first addition with a new extension. Both Atkinson and Blore drew up designs for this. Atkinson's design was for the 'vicarage' that Scott had originally wanted, but Blore's design was in a Scottish vernacular style, which Scott preferred. However, Atkinson made better use of the available space, and in the end his design was chosen, although Blore altered the elevations to give them a more Scottish appearance. This section is best identified from the NW, and is the 3-bay gabled section with tower to one side. Inside it included the armoury, dining room, study (later breakfast room), kitchen, and a conservatory on the SE side. In 1822 Scott started a much more ambitious building on the site of the farmhouse, which was completely demolished. Like the 1816-18 wing it was designed principally by Atkinson, but with advice from Blore on the Scottish details. In this wing a much more concerted effort was made to re-create a Scottish Castle, and details were copied from earlier buildings.

Scott died in 1832. After this point the evolution of the building becomes unclear because full access to plans not currently possible. In 1853 Scott's granddaughter, Charlotte Hope Scott, inherited Abbotsford from her brother although she and her husband seem to have been living at Abbotsford and commissioning improvements from John Smith of Darnick since at least 1850. William Burn was commissioned to design the West wing, and his first set of plans also date from 1850, with later plans dated 1854 and 55. John Smith drew up a detailed 8 page estimate for the building work, from which it seems that the whole wing was built at the same time, although its disunited appearance suggests otherwise. The first item on Smith's estimate is for 'taking down houses and old walls on site of proposed new building', which suggests that nothing remains of the original steading. The total for the estimate was just over £2934.

GARDENS: Sir Walter Scott was extremely interested in gardening and the theory of picturesque landscape, and devoted a considerable amount of energy towards creating his garden and developing the surrounding landscape. The gardens at Abbotsford are of considerable architectural and historic importance, especially the East and South Courts which were designed for Sir Walter and form an extremely important part of the setting of the house.

The SOUTH COURT and adjoining East Court were built at the time of the 1822-4 additions to Abbotsford. This 2nd phase of building reflects an increase in Sir Walter's antiquarian interests, and his knowledge of medieval Scottish architecture, which he was aiming to re-create. Sir Walter's interest in both antiquities and medieval Scottish architecture is highly apparent in the South Court, which contains both real pieces of medieval and Roman stonework (the medallions, panels, sundial and fountain), and re-creations of medieval Scottish architecture: the entrance gate, the screen (copied from the cloisters of Melrose Abbey), and, of course, the house. This courtyard is intended as precursor to the house: a romantic approach that indicates what lies within.

Drawings for the walls, gateway and screen exist in the Abbotsford archive. The drawings are not signed, but the architect is likely to have been John Smith of Darnick, who was the builder of the house, and designed many of the less important details. Edward Blore made the first design for the stone screen: it was very ornate with traceried gothic arches, and would have been very expensive to execute.

Maida was Sir Walter's favourite dog, and is shown with Sir Walter in both the portrait of him by Raeburn, and on the Scott Monument in Edinburgh. This statue was carved from life by John Smith, and is mentioned in his diary: he began the statue on 25th December 1823, and the next day remarked 'on figure of dog all day. Had person to hold him'. It was finally completed and put in position on 12th Feb 1824. Maida died soon afterwards and is buried underneath. Further details of the objects in the courtyard are to be found in the Abbotsford Guide Book.

While the South court was intended to form an impressive entrance to the house, the EAST COURT was evidently intended as a quieter private garden. The service court seems to have been built in 1850, and the wall is referred to in John Smith's letter of 1850. It is used as a work area by the gardeners, and has evidently always had this purpose. The bothy may have once housed some sort of heating system for the greenhouse that once stood on the other side of the wall. Even before Sir Walter Scott's death, Abbotsford was a magnet to tourists who admired his work. The sunken passage allows tourists to enter the house directly from the road, without infringing the privacy of the family. Its date is uncertain: it does not seem to appear on the 1846 photograph, but is definitely marked on the 1st edition OS map, so probably dates from the 1850s when several alterations were made to the house. The terraces around the lawn are not shown on the 1st Edition OS map, and were probably created in the late 19th century. The statue, which represents Morris asking Helen Macgregor for Mercy, and sundial were presented by the sculptor to Abbotsford at the time of Scott's death. They were originally meant to be joined together as part of a larger piece.

The KITCHEN GARDEN appears to have been built for Sir Walter Scott at the same time as the South and East courts. The entry in John Smith's diary for 8 November 1824 notes that he began the wall for the 'melon ground', which is presumably the kitchen garden. The walls are faced with red brick and contained heating apparatus to protect the plants from frost. The CONSERVATORY is also mentioned in Smith's diary: he drew up the plan for it on 19th April 1823. It still retains some of its original glass and is an unusual survival of an early example of a glasshouse with a glazed roof.

The GARDENER'S COTTAGE is one of the earliest buildings on the estate and predates the kitchen garden below. It was extremely small when originally built, but is shown roughly in its present shape on the 1st edition OS map (1862), although it has evidently been altered several times since then.

The TERRACES and GAME LARDER are situated directly to the NW (garden) side of the house and are of great importance to the setting of the house. During the 1850s there was great unemployment in Galashiels and the terraces were built as a philanthropic job-creating scheme. They are mentioned in John Smith's letter of 1851 (see below), at which point they seem to have been either in the course of construction or recently completed. The upper terraces are shown on the 1st edition OS map (1862), but the wall at the bottom of the garden first appears on the 2nd edition, which suggests that work was still in progress at the time that the 1st edition map was being surveyed. The large bank between the house and the road was constructed as part of the same project.

The ICEHOUSE, which is situated in the right-hand section of the gamelarder, was built in 1821 for Sir Walter Scott and is shown on plan of the house and grounds that Smith drew up in 1821. However, the GAME LARDER was built 30 years later, at the same time as the terraces, and is the subject of a long letter dated 15th March 1851 from Smith to James Hope. At that point the building seems to have been partially completed, and the letter principally refers to the roof and parapets of the building. There is a very rough sketch, possibly by Edward Blore, in the volume 'Abbotsford Sketches and Sundries'for a castle-style 'larder' and the design of the game larder may be based on this. A tunnel connects the game larder to the West wing of the house, and this is mentioned in another of Smith's letters, dated 11 March 1852.

The LODGE is prominently situated on the B6360, at the head of the Abbotsford drive. The initials IRHS above the front door stand for James Robert Hope-Scott. It was probably designed by either William Burn or John Smith of Darnick. Although Sir Walter Scott had had plans drawn up for a gate lodge in the early 1820s, it does not appear to have been built and there is no lodge shown on the estate map of 1838. This lodge therefore had no predecessor.

The STABLE BLOCK was built for Sir Walter Scott. It is shown on the 1821 map by John Smith, but at this date the SW range had not been built. The 1838 map shows the building footprint to be much the same as it is now, although the outbuilding to the SW first appears on the 2nd edition OS map. The stables are in a dangerously ruinous condition and several of the roofs have collapsed. There is a carved face over one of the doors to the cottage.

The WEST COURT leads to the service entrance of the house, and was probably built in about 1855, at the same time as the West wing. A Statue of EDIE OCHILTREE stands to the SW of the house, at the foot of the drive. Edie Ochiltree was a character from Scott's novel, 'The Antiquary'. Very little is known about the statue, which was donated to Abbotsford in the 1990s.

List description updated at resurvey (2010).

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