Abbotsford House


A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Abbotsford, the mansion erected by Sir Walter Scott in Melrose parish, Roxburghshire. It stands on the right side of the river Tweed, opposite Abbotsford-Ferry station, and 2 miles W of Melrose. Sir Walter purchased its site, together with about 100 surrounding acres, in 1811: he purchased an adjoining tract, up to Cauldshiels Loch, in 1813: and in 1817 he made his most extensive purchase, the lands of Toftfield. His original purchase was a plain, coarse, unimproved farm, called Cartley Hole: but it contained a reputed haunt of Thomas the Rhymer: contained also some memorials of the battle of Melrose, and commanded a view across the Tweed of a prominent extant portion of the Caledonian Catrail: and it therefore suited his antiquarian taste. His first care was to find a euphonious name for it, in room of Cartley Hole: and, with allusion to a shallow in the Tweed, which the abbots of Melrose had used for driving across their cattle, he called it Abbotsford. His next care was to build a residence: his next to improve the land. He first built a pretty cottage, and removed to it from Ashiesteel in May 1812: next, between 1817 and 1821, he built the present 'huge baronial pile,' whose internal fittings were not completed till 1824: and he, all the while, carried forward the improving and planting of the land. The mansion stands on a terrace of a steepish bank, between the Tweed and the public road from Melrose to Selkirk. The grounds comprise a tract of meadow at the bank foot, but are chiefly a broad, low hill upward to the southern boundary. Their present features of garden and park, of walk and wood, are much admired, and were all of Sir Walter's own creating. The mansion 's precincts comprise umbrageous shrubberies, curious outhouses, a cast-iron balcony walk, a turreted wall, a screen wall of Gothic arched iron fretwork, a front court of about ½ acre in area, and a lofty arched entrance gateway. The mansion itself defies all the rules of architecture, and has singular features and extraordinary proportions, yet looks both beautiful and picturesque, and is truly 'a romance in stone and lime.' It presents bold gables, salient sections, projecting windows, hanging turrets, and surmounting towers, in such numbers and in such diversity of style and composition and or nature, as to bewilder the eye of any ordinary observer. Many of its designs and parts are copies of famous old architectural objects, as a gateway from Linlithgow Palace, a portal from Edinburgh Old Tolbooth, a roof from Roslin Chapel, a mantelpiece from Melrose Abbey, oak-work from Holyrood Palace, and sculptured stones from ancient houses in various parts of Scotland: so that they make the mansion also a sort of architectural museum. The entrance-hall is a magnificent apartment, about 40 feet long, floored with mosaic of black and white marble, panelled with richly-carved oak from Dunfermline Palace, and tastefully hung with pieces of ancient armour. A narrow arched room extends across the house, gives communication from the entrance-hall to the dining-room and the drawing-room, and contains a rich collection of ancient small weapons and defensive arms. The dining-room has a richly-carved black oak roof, a large projecting window, Gothic furniture, and a fine collection of pictures, and is the apartment in which Sir Walter died. The drawing-room is cased with cedar, and contains beautiful antique ebony chairs, presented by George IV., and several chastely-carved cabinets. The library is entered from the drawing-room: measures 60 feet by 50: is roofed with richly-carved oak, after ancient models: and contains about 20,000 volumes in carved oak cases, an ebony writing-desk presented by George III., two carved elbow chairs presented by the Pope, a silver urn presented by Lord Byron, Chantrey's bust of Sir Walter, and a copy of the Stratford bust of Shakespeare. The study, in which Sir Walter wrote, is a small, plain, sombre room, entered from the library: and, after Sir Walter's death, was fitted up as an oratory. A closet is attached to the study, and contains, within a glass-case on a table, the clothes which Sir Walter wore as a member of the Celtic Society, the forest accoutrements which he used to carry in his strolls through his grounds, and the hat, coat, vest, and trousers which he wore immediately before his death.

'Ah! where are now the flashing eye
That fired at Flodden field,
That saw. in fancy. onsets fierce,
And clashing spear and shield,-
The eager and untiring step
That sought for Border lore,
To make old Scotland's heroes known
On every peopled shore,-
The graphic pen that drew at once
The traits so archly shown
In Bertram's faithful pedagogue,
And haughty Marmion,-
The hand that equally could paint,
with each proportion fair,
The stern, the wild Meg Merrilees,
And lovely Lady Clare,-
The glowing dreams of bright romance
That shot across his brow,-
Where is his daring chivalry,
Where are his visions now?'

The mansion passed to Mr J. Hope Scott, who married Sir Walter's granddaughter, and added a Roman Catholic domestic chapel: from him it passed, also by marriage, to the Hon. Jos. Constable Maxwell-Scott. See Lockhart's Life of Scott (1837-39): Washington Irving's Abbotsford (1835): Nathaniel Hawthorne's English Note-Books (1870): and Jas. F. Hunnewell's Lands of Scott (1871).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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