Memories of Abbotsford

25th Jun 2017

History isn’t simply about the four walls of that place you visit on your day out. It’s very much about the feeling you get standing in those four walls, and at Abbotsford, it’s that feeling of homeliness and warmth that makes all the difference.

Women have played an integral part in opening Abbotsford to visitors and keeping it open to this day. Taking part in Museum Week 2017, which looks at women’s outstanding contributions to shaping and maintaining heritage, we want to take the opportunity and tell the stories that are often hidden away.

Introducing ‘Memories of Abbotsford’ we want to share personal stories of friends and visitors of the two women who have shaped Abbotsford like no others and who are still fondly remembered by the community: Mrs Patricia and Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott poured their heart into their home for almost five decades, holding the Lairdship of Abbotsford until 2004 and turning it into an outstanding visitor attraction.

Dame Jean (left) and Mrs Patricia at the Abbotsford Orangery

The first to share his fond memories of ‘the Ladies’ is Alasdair Hutton; storyteller, writer and well-known narrator of the world famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. A long-time friend and supporter of Abbotsford and, of course, Life Member of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club, Alisdair has seen the Scottish Borders change greatly over time, and especially his experiences at Abbotsford stuck with him:

‘In the summer of 1979 I had the great honour and good fortune to be elected as the first Member of the European Parliament for the South of Scotland. It was a vast area and one of its jewels was that I represented Abbotsford and came to know the two ladies, Mrs Patricia and Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott.

I managed to visit Abbotsford from time to time and knew that some of Sir Walter’s marvellous writing was sold at what I might describe as the suitably discreet sales counter.

I had always had a set of the A&C Black 1884 edition of the Waverley Novels but as my interest in Border lore grew, I realised that I was obviously short of a copy of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.

I lifted the telephone and rang Mrs Patricia and asked if she had a copy; meaning “was there a copy for sale at Abbotsford?” A short time later she rang back and said that a bookshop in Edinburgh had a copy which it had set aside for me. I hurried to the city and snapped it up before the shop had time to sell it to someone else.

Instead of simply telling me that there was not a copy at the House, Mrs Patricia had gone to the trouble of picking up the telephone and tracking one down. To this day I do not know how many bookshops she had rung until she struck gold.

It was a classic demonstration of how much trouble the ladies would take to make sure that people who were interested in Sir Walter’s legacy and in Abbotsford were given generous help whenever they asked for it.’

Do you have a story of Dame Jean or Mrs Patricia you would like to share? We would love to hear from you – send your stories, pictures and more to Carole (carole.allan@scottsabbotsford.co.uk)

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