Carrying the Bat for the Borders

27th July 2023

As cricket fans around the world enjoy this year’s Ashes, Collections and Interpretation Manager Kirsty explores the Maxwell- Scott family's history with the sport.

When you think of the legacy of the Scotts of Abbotsford, I suspect that cricket could not be further from your mind. And yet, the Maxwell-Scott contribution to the heritage of the sport in the Borders endures to this day. So, as cricket fans around the world enjoy this year’s Ashes, it seems timely to share this sporting story from Abbotsford’s vaults.

The vogue for cricket may have been slower to take off in Scotland than it did south of the Border (the earliest recorded Scottish march took place in 1785), but it would be a mistake to fall into the trap of assuming that cricket had little impact here. Scotland’s oldest cricket club was established at Kelso in the Borders in 1820. From the 1850s onwards, amateurs across the land were embracing the sport and by the 1870s, cricket games and grounds had become synonymous with summer in many parts of mainland Scotland.

Lead with photo of 1884 cricket ledger courtesy of the Abbotsford Trust

There are unavoidable undertones of the imperial age at play here. Cricket was considered a key ‘moralising’ game used by public schools to demonstrate the mental value of time on the games field. The belief was that the sport could refine the character of the next generation of imperial officers and administrators with its emphasis on teamwork, hierarchies, and a comprehensive set of laws (unlike many other sports of the time). However, although gentlemen’s cricket clubs sprang up around the country like mushrooms, so too did teams from collieries, farms and other industries.

It is in this wider context that the Maxwell-Scott obsession with cricket begins. There had certainly been a cricket ground at Everingham Park in Yorkshire, ancestral home of Joseph Constable Maxwell, since the 1860s, and many articles in the Yorkshire papers record the presence of family members in the home team, including Joseph himself.

Everingham Park, ancestral home of Joseph Maxwell-Scott

Skipping forwards to 1884, we find the cricket-mad Joseph excitedly recording in his diary that on the tenth wedding anniversary of his marriage to Mary Monica Hope-Scott of Abbotsford, the couple were to celebrate with the opening of a new cricket ground at Huntlyburn, near Melrose, on lands that were then part of the Abbotsford estate. The inaugural game was to be a match against Galashiels cricket club, a match they incidentally lost 101-137.

Work had been underway on the new ground since the previous year, with Robert Brown of Scott Street in Galashiels leading on the landscaping and drainage of a new pitch. So much did the family enjoy using the new ground that it was enlarged later in 1874.

As a secondary practice ground, an area of the Abbotsford lower terraces was laid out with nets the same year. At least one lovely image of a team playing here exists in our archive from the turn of the twentieth century, featuring Elsie and Daisy Maxwell-Scott, daughters of Joseph and Mary Monica.

Although it was Joseph Maxwell-Scott that introduced a love of cricket to the family, there are also records of Mary Monica captaining the Ladies team playing against a handicapped male side who were playing left-handed. It seems that any assumptions that this 10th wedding present may have been of less interest to the chatelaine of Abbotsford than her husband is, at least on this occasion, well and truly misplaced!

Joseph and Mary Monica’s son and heir Walter Maxwell-Scott was far more careful with money than his father and dutifully recorded the costs of establishing the Huntlyburn ground in detail in his father’s diary (a total of £371-18-4). They include payments for a horse-drawn lawnmower, a tent and reclining chairs, bats and balls, and a groundsman for summer maintenance.

Abbotsford cricket matches became a mainstay of the family summers until 1887, when financial difficulties forced the Maxwell-Scotts to let Abbotsford and move away, a situation that endured with little to no respite until 1928. Sometimes short gaps in the leases allowed for the family to return to the house in the summer months and Mary Monica, Joseph and their children could use the grounds.

Photograph of Ladies Cricket Match at Huntlyburn, August 13th 1901 courtesy of the Abbotsford Trust. The Maxwell-Scott sisters are in the centre of the front and middle rows.

It was not uncommon for several years to pass between visits. The last time the family played on the Abbotsford cricket pitch at Huntlyburn was in the summer of 1908.

The pitch would then sit idle for 25 years until it was leased to Melrose Cricket Club by Major General Walter Maxwell-Scott. This land, once known as Charge Law on Sir Walter Scott’s original estate plans, passed out of Abbotsford’s ownership shortly afterwards and now proudly continues life as the ground of Melrose Cricket Club. ‘Law’ in Scots place names often means hillock or rise, suggesting that Robert Brown of Galashiels may have needed to do some fairly extensive landscape levelling to realise the Maxwell-Scott’s ambitions back in 1883!

Detail from 1838 map of the Abbotsford estate, courtesy of the Abbotsford Trust

Though the family ground was no more, the love of cricket endured for Walter Maxwell-Scott, who continued to play at every opportunity throughout his long military career. One of the generously sized linen cupboards in what is now Abbotsford’s Hope-Scott Wing was once the home of all his cricketing ephemera! The death of his mother in 1920 was commemorated in the paper by mourners from Galashiels Cricket Club.

Today, the Abbotsford collection preserves a small number of charming photographs of family and local town cricket teams and the score ledger for the inaugural matches at Huntlyburn almost 140 years ago.

Kirsty Archer-Thompson, Collections and Interpretation Manager