1st Apr 2017
Pictured at Abbotsford are James Head, Fraser Thomson, Nyle Godsmark and Austin Lockington, players of the Melrose Rugby Sevens team, during their training in the gardens. Photo by Lloyd Smith
Training sessions in advance of Melrose 7s to be held at Abbotsford
Traditionally, it is argued that Melrose is the home of Rugby Sevens, invented there in 1883, yet some research suggests that the Scottish Borders play an even bigger part in the history of rugby: Links with the Carterhaugh Ba’ at Bowhill Estate in 1815 have long suggested that the foundation of the sport was laid in the area and now, new research is looking to cement this stance.
Findings of building plans for a 19th century rugby pitch at Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott, have led to an exciting collaboration between the home of the novelist and poet and Melrose Rugby Club.
It is well known that Scott organised the Carterhaugh Ba’ at Bowhill Estate in 1815 – by some considered the true origin of rugby. The match saw agricultural workers of the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate face off against men from Selkirk, Hawick and Galashiels.
However, recent research at Abbotsford suggests that the novelist’s passion for the sport went much further: Before his death, Scott had drawn up plans to replace his popular walled gardens with an extensive rugby pitch.
The Abbotsford Trust has now made the decision to honour these plans by moving to remove the historic stone walls and flower beds, before leveling the gardens and installing goal posts.
Melrose Rugby Club has already started their training sessions in advance of the Melrose 7s at Abbotsford and is now looking forward to taking over the finished pitch. As manoeuvring the flower beds and statues has proven difficult, the gardens team at Abbotsford is working hard to remove all obstacles. Some visitors will have already seen heavy machinery around the estate, felling trees and clearing space for the changes.
Gardens and Heritage Manager Pippa Coles said: ‘The findings of our research were completely unexpected but we are committed to preserving and presenting the estate in the way Scott intended. Because of this we have begun clearing the gardens and now prepare to replace them with a rugby pitch that takes inspiration from Scott’s own plans.’
Chief Executive Giles Ingram said: ‘We are delighted to further educate visitors about Scott’s belief in fresh air and exercise to support his writing process and mental health.’
‘This truly outstanding find showcases the meaning of sporting heritage for Melrose and will very much add to the region’s attractions. As such, we are delighted that this change marks the beginning of further collaborations between Melrose Rugby Club and Abbotsford.’
A spokesperson for VisitScotland said: “The history of rugby 7s as a sport can be traced back to Melrose where it was created in 1883 and it is fitting that in the Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology players from the historic Melrose Rugby Club will have the opportunity to train in the picturesque surroundings of Abbotsford House and take inspiration from Sir Walter Scott.”