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North East "Speak of the North..." Northumberland and the Borders

Scottish Borders: Paxton House, Description

From the kitchens, we climbed the steps into the main Entrance Hall. This is a very elegant room and designed to make an impression on visitors. It has an Adam’s ceiling. This was made by George Morrison from Kelso who began work on this as an apprentice. By the time he’d finished working at Paxton House, he was a fully qualified artisan. There is a marble fireplace with a plaster frieze of flowers and leaves above it. All the fireplaces and chimneys are numbered to save mistakes when they are cleaned. On the wall is a large and very ornate Louis 14th clock. All the furniture is Chippendale, as is the light fitting. This would originally have contained three candles. The glass surround was designed to stop them blowing out when the front door was opened.

Four white panelled doors lead off the hall. We moved into the Morning Room with a marble fire surround and mirror above. The furniture and wallpaper are all Chippendale. He had a selection of 10-12 different patterns to choose from. This has a pattern of grey wreaths with a stipple pattern inside and tiny five dot crosses between the wreaths. Around the room are yellow upholstered armchairs with wicker sides. One has a candlestick mounted on the arm for extra light.

On a wall is a pair of mounted gloves. Patrick spent time at the court of Frederick the Great in Prussia where he fell in love with one of the ladies in waiting. The families would not agree to the marriage and Patrick was sent on the Grand Tour in the hope he would forget Sophie. She presented him with the gloves and promises of being faithful. When he returned, Patrick began to built Paxton House as a symbol of his standing in society. Unfortunately he never did marry Sophie.

Off this is a small room which had been used as a servery. Food from the kitchen was brought here before being taken into the dining room. This now contains a large glass display case with three 1750s men’s waistcoats. It used to contain a horse with the costume, saddle and headgear worn by Patrick when he attended the Berlin Carnival in 1750. He led the ‘Carthaginian’ contingent. When the costumes were checked recently, the stitching was beginning to pull apart and stretch, so the display has been dismantled and the costumes laid flat to allow the stitching to recover. After restoration, they will be going to an exhibition in Berlin next year as a rare survivor of the 1750 event. It is hoped they will be back on display afterwards.

The Main Bedroom has a Chippendale four poster bed and wall paper with a grey diamond pattern on an off white background. Off this was the secure strong room where all the important documents could be stored. This was later turned into a bathroom with a quarry tile floor, hip bath, marble top washstand with a blue and white jug and bowl and a Chippendale clothes horse.

A corridor leads to the Alcove Bedroom. On the glass of the window are carved the names of all the children born in this room. The four poster bed is set back in an alcove to shield it from drafts. The wall paper is blue and white stripes with black flowers and there are Japanese and Chinese paintings on the walls. A small wooden Chippendale chest opened up to provide space for a china bowl for washing in. This room also doubled up as a sitting area and there is a small table laid out with a dainty blue and white china tea set with a copper kettle set in front of the fire.

Across the corridor is the Portico Bedroom so named as the four poster bed had a hand painted timber frieze with pink roses painted along the top. These were fragile and few still exist.

The Nursery contains a crib and a small bed with a stone hot water bottle. There is a fire guard in front of the fire with clothes airing over it. Another large screen has pictures pasted on it. Toys include a spinning top, cup and ball, skipping ropes, marbles, dominoes, set of lead soldiers, doll’s house and furniture, doll’s pram puppet theatre... On the walls are old family photographs.

Another bedroom was originally a library but was turned into a bedroom by the wife of Ninian as it was a large room which she could use to entertain her friends. The four poster bed has a white embroidered nightdress thrown across it. On either side are cabinets with a chamber pot. The wallpaper, curtains, bedding and upholstery are pale cream with a dark blue pattern of flowers and leaves. The marble fireplace has a white plaster frieze above it. An inlaid sewing cabinet opens up to reveal space for needles, scissors and threads and has a pull out shelf and small drawer below. There is a table with wheel back Chippendale chairs with a green design on the white wood. These originally cost £1-4s-4d. Four similar chairs were recently sold at auction for over £10,000.

The Landing at the top of the stairs has a beautiful rosewood cupboard with thin legs with etched bone inlay, bought from an Italian family. The doors open to reveal 108-110 drawers and secret compartments but unfortunately are now too fragile to be opened.

The Main Stairs have a half turn and a plaster ceiling with an eagle holding a crystal chandelier in its talons. There are decorative plaster panels on the walls with vases with scrolls.

The Dining Room has a glorious plaster ceiling in the style of Adams painted in pink, pale green, blue and cream with a crystal chandelier. The fireplace has plaster roundels and pale blue panels with white plaster oak leaves and acorns. In the centre of the room is a polished oval table set with a Japanese china service. The cutlery and glass are modern re-creations of the style used in the 1770s. We were told the crystal bowl beside each place setting was not used to rinse fingers but to rinse the wine glasses. These were very expensive to buy as they had a very high duty on them. Numbers used were kept to a minimum. The long serving table is Chippendale and has silver gilt bowls and china dishes containing fruit or nuts.

A door leads to the Ladies Retiring Room with a 1807 box piano. There is a glorious plaster ceiling in shades of pale green, pink and white. The crystal chandelier cost £10,000 to clean last time it was done. There are French hand painted panels down the walls and over the doors. Between the windows are huge Italian mirrors with semi-circular wall tables beneath them and other occasional tables scattered around the room. On the walls are family portraits.

A long corridor leads to the 1815 extension containing the library and picture gallery. This is furnished with display cases with china and chairs with white and gold upholstery.

The Library has an oval end wall and a marble fireplace. The walls are lined with glass fronted bookcases full of books with marble busts arranged on top of them. There is a large settee and red upholstered arm chairs with wicker sides. On a drop leaf table is an ink stand, silver salver and a piece of unfinished embroidery. There is a model of the Hibernia, flagship of the British Fleet, in a large display case.

The Picture Gallery originally housed the family portraits but these have been sold off over the years. It now has a selection of paintings on loan from the Scottish National Gallery. It is a very elegant oval room with two big pillars at either end. These and the wall pillars are made of plaster and painted to resemble yellow marble. This was done using a feather by a technique know as feathering. The base of the walls are painted with deep plum and blue panels. Above, the walls are blue. There is a white ceiling with a central cupola to give more light. The plum coloured carpet with its pattern of banana leaves is a copy of the original. There are several marble topped tables made from pieces of marble collected by Patrick when he was in Italy. The furniture is by William Trotter. In an alcove is a scale model of a 400’ obelisk planned for the estate but never built. In front of it is a grand piano as the room is now used for musical recitals as the acoustics are so good. It is also licensed for weddings.

The gardens are pleasant to walk in with flower gardens, woodland and river walks. There is a good shop and the Stables Tea room is excellent.


Paxton House
Scottish Borders: Lennoxlove House

Lennoxlove is a delightful stately home set in parkland with specimen trees just south of Haddington. There has been a house here since the 13thC, called Lethington Tower. The oldest part of the present house is the sturdy 15thC keep with walls 11’ thick. This was built for defense as these were troubled times. The main entrance led to a narrow, easily defensible turnpike stair with slit windows. The original owners were the Gifford family but it passed to the Maitlands in 1345. During the 16thC, William Maitland played a prominent role in Scottish politics as he was secretary of State to Mary Queen of Scots and married Mary Fleming, one of her attendants.

The Maitlands were created Dukes of Lauderdale and they extended the house in the 17thC turning it into a comfortable family home suitable to their rank. Their family vault is in St Mary’s Church in Haddington.

In 1703, Frances Stuart, Duchess of Lennox bought the estate and changed the name to Lennoxlove. She was a great beauty and caught the eye of Charles II but resisted all his advances and gifts. She is now more likely to be remembered as the model for Britannia.

In 1912, the Edinburgh Architect Sir Robert Lorrimer was commissioned to oversee an extensive refurbishment. Much of what you see now is his work.

The house and estate was bought the Dukes of Hamilton in 1946 when Hamilton Palace in Lanarkshire had to be demolished due to subsidence. They brought some of their furniture and fittings with them. The family still live here.

It is a large and simple stone house with the original tower house in one corner and smaller square tower joined by the main entrance. The front door has a shield with the date 1912.

Entry is by guided tour only. It was a quiet day and I was the only person. The tour begins in the Main Entrance Hall which has yellow walls with the usual family portraits.

This leads into the Lorrimer Room with oak panelled walls with brown leather above with gold tooled spiral motifs with the ducal crown. The plaster ceiling has cherub heads and initials of the different families who have lived in the house (a typical Lorrimer touch). There are blue upholstered settees, grand piano a marquetry cupboard and long bookcase on one wall. Stairs lead to a landing with a Van Dyke painting. This has blue walls with white ceiling and woodwork. There are glass fronted display cases which contain a 1730 set of armorial china from the 5th Duke of Hamilton. In another case are the coronation robes worn by the 14th Duke and his Duchess for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The Duchess didn’t like real fur and her robes are trimmed with fake fur.

The Black Bedroom has lovely views across the gardens. It is very stylish with ebony furniture with a gold inlay. The four poster bed is inlaid with ivory, tortoiseshell and mother of pearl. The three panels on the bed head have inlaid mother of peal designs of vases of flowers and Chinese style birds. Under the canopy are tortoiseshell and ivory panels. The black theme continues through the chairs with their wicker seats. Even the candlesticks are black and gilt. The only colour comes from the patterned pink wallpaper on a beige background.

Next to it is the Display Room with glass fronted display cabinets with china or miniatures, which were designed by Lorrimer to fit the room. The table is set with white china with a gold pattern and the armorial crest and motto of the Dukes of Hamilton. Robes of the Order of the Garter of the Duke of Richmond and Lennox are on display as well as the robes of the Order of the Thistle. There is a coronation chair from George VI and also Elizabeth II. These could be bought after the Coronation and are often seen in stately homes.

The Blue Room is a sitting room with blue wall paper, carpets and curtains with gold upholstered easy chairs and French chairs upholstered in blue. Furniture is French. There is a display case full of crystal glassware. There is a harp and also a grand piano.

The Ante-room contains the 10th Duke’s desk inlaid with rosewood with a huge armchair with a cushion with his arms on it. The wallpaper is most unusual as it is gold silk damask with embroidered designs appliqued on to it. There are flowers, turkey, bear, elephant... In a small room off is the marquetry desk inlaid with ivory which was one of the gifts from Charles II to Lady Lennox.

The Yellow Drawing Room is full of French furniture and includes a big marquetry cabinet. It has a marble fireplace with a yellow upholstered sofa and red armchairs. The walls are covered with pictures including a Van Dyke, all in beautifully carved frames.

This leads into the Stuart Room with red and grey wallpaper. In a protective case is a grand red chair with gilt thread embroidery and applique belonging to the 10th Duke when he was an ambassador in St Petersburg. Next to it is a smaller chair in pink which belonged to the Duchess. The pièce de résistance in the room is the 17thC Antwerp ebony and tortoiseshell cabinet given by Charles to Lady Lennox. It failed to impress her.

The tour now goes into the oldest part of the house with stone floors and very thick walls. On the wall is the framed original of the Act of State confirming the 2nd Earl of Angus as regent to the young Mary Queen of Scots with lots of impressive seals round it. The first room contains artifacts of Mary Queen of Scots. There is her death mask although her ring and casket are currently away on exhibition.

This leads into the Great Hall which is now used for functions. It has a barrel vaulted ceiling and the three ducts used to remove smoke when there was a central hearth. The massive stone fireplace was put in by Lorrimer in 1912 and includes the coats of arms of the different families who have lived in the house with their initials. At the top is a big painted coat of arms of the Hamilton family. Above the door is the original coat of arms of John Maitland dated 1590.

A new and much wider spiral staircase put in by Lorrimer leads down to the original entrance into the castle, still with its iron yett. Beneath is the undercroft, which serves as a chapel. The only natural light is through two tiny windows. The well in the corner was important in times of siege. The walls have been whitewashed but it still feels cold and damp.

A small doorway leads to the dungeon. It was low and dark with an uneven floor, so I passed on this one.

The corridor leading back to the reception area has three large hatchments on the walls and the Royal Coat of Arms. The Billiards Room was off this but is now used as a conference room. It is full of family memorabilia including the propeller and face mask used by the 14th Duke in 1933 on the first flight over Everest in a Westland plane. There are cups, medals and decorations won by the family. There are two Epstein busts of the 12th Duchess and Lord Fisher, Admiral of the Fleet. There is also a large painting of him. Apparently he was a great friend of the Duchess after the death of her husband.

There are attractive flower gardens and grass around the house, reached through a wrought iron gateway. There is no tea room as the house is only open for a limited time each week.


Main entrance
Scottish Borders: St Mary’s Church, Haddington and the Lauderdale Aisle

Set in a graveyard on the edge of the town along the River Tyne, this is a lovely setting. Signing in Haddington isn’t very good and we eventually found the church more by good luck than my navigating skills.

It is a long low building with side aisles, transepts and a low square tower. It is the largest parish church in Scotland and longer than St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. There are pinnacles on the buttresses and ends of the nave and a small cross at the west end of the nave. Looking at the church, the colour of the stone to the west of the tower is paler than that to the east. The architecture is less ornate to the east. This is explained by the history of the church.

Building began in 1380 when it replaced an earlier church destroyed by the English under Edward I. Haddington was occupied by the English Army in 1548 during the Siege of Haddington, during the Rough Wooing when Henry VIII tried to persuade the Scots to agree a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Mary Queen of Scots. The chancel, transepts and tower were left roofless. The townsfolk could not afford to restore the church and built a wall across the end of the nave and used this. The rest was left open to the elements. The church was finally restored in the 1970s and this has been described as one of the most significant church restorations of the 20thC. The only clues to the restoration are in the slightly different colour stone, architecture and some of the pillars in the chancel are eroded after being left exposed for four hundred years.

There is a splendid west end with two double doorways with round arches above each with to larger carved arches above them. There is a carved frieze of foliage round the tops of the pillars and a large stained glass window above.

The church is large inside with side aisles extending the length of the church. Pillars with a carved frieze and pointed arches separate nave and side aisles. The side aisles have 19th or 20thC stained glass. These include a Burne Jones Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John in the south transept, which came from Torquay and was given to the church when it was restored. The pulpit and font in the nave date from 1892 and are carved stone standing on legs.

The ribs of the vaulted ceiling are deep beige and have carved bosses where they meet. There is a large organ in the north transept. The south transept has a huge carved stone memorial on the wall with full size figures on either side with a very worn inscription between them. Above are two figures holding a shield. Next to it and partially hidden by screens in another badly eroded monument with a skull and cross bones on the base.

At the end of the north and south aisles are altars with a tapestry wall covering above them and on the altar front, that in the south aisle is supposed to represent ‘hills’. in the north aisle ‘coast’. The chancel has carved stone altar beneath a large plain glass window. On the floor are old tombstones.

The highlight of the church must be the Lauderdale aisle off the north wall of the chancel. This was originally the sacristy but after the reformation, John, 1st Lord Maitland was allowed to use it as a burial vault. He is buried her with his son, the 1st Earl of Lauderdale, and their wives in a splendid black marble and alabaster joint tomb. The monument was erected in 1675 by the 2nd Earl of Lauderdale, a very powerful man who virtually ran Scotland for Charles II. Beneath is the Lauderdale family vault.

Dark marble pillars support arches with painted heraldic shields on them. Above in the centre, two eagles hold a gold shield with the red lion of Scotland on it. Above are helmets and a red lion holding a small sword and a blue fleur de lys. On either side a wyvern and a dog or a wyvern and a horse support a heraldic shield with a small coronet above. There is Latin inscription above each.

On the wall opposite is a small stone altar. Above is a clothed and crowned figure of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child with figures of the three Magi bringing gifts. This were carved by an Oberammergau woodcarver when the aisle was restored in 1978.


Lauderdale aisle and tomb
Scottish Borders: Mertoun Gardens, an Oasis of Peace

This is a 26 acre garden overlooking the banks of the River Tweed, just off the B6402 and two miles south east of St Boswell’s. There is a long drive through woodland to the parking area by the stable block. The gardens are only open Friday-Monday and there is an honesty box with a leaflet giving some information and a map of the gardens.

Arrows point the way through a gate and along a path past a pen with golden pheasants which brings you out in front of the main house. This was built 1703-5 and is a rather plain rectangular building which is not open to the public. In front of the house are lawns with an ornamental pond with white water lilies and yellow iris. There are informal flower borders with catnip, hebe, sedum spectabile, geum and astilbe.

Much of the garden is parkland and woodland with many very old specimen trees and Azaleas which by the end of June were getting past their best. Well made gravel paths drop down to the stream with the circular dove cote dating from 1567 and thought to be the oldest in the country. The walled garden is here. We were a bit dismissive of this at first. It is built on a steep slope and entering all you see is mowed grass with a few fruit trees. In one corner is the old Mertoun House dating from 1677, a well proportioned and attractive building and now the head gardener’s house.

The working garden is at the top of the slope. There are vegetable gardens and herbaceous borders colourful with geraniums, peonies, ornamental poppies, allium, thyme, rock roses, catnip, foxgloves, lupins, aquilegia, hosta. There were figs and apricots growing in one greenhouse and tomatoes in another.

This is a pleasant garden to wander in and chances are you will have it to yourself. The small parish church in the grounds is only open for services.




Historic Houses Association
Historic Scotland
Lovely report as usual! I'm very excited to see Chillingham Castle in here, as I am planning a visit there. And I'm especially hoping to go on one of the tours to see the wild cattle. Right now they're closed till the end of March, but I will start checking as it gets closer. Thanks so much for all the great information, Eleanor!

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