18th December 2018

The iconic entrance gate that secured Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott, has been reinstated, after a year-long absence for major conservation work.

The reinstated Portcullis Gate was opened by Keith Smith, of Darnick, great-great-grandson of Thomas Smith, who was the original installer of the gate with his brother John Smith in 1824.

The restored gate was formally opened by Keith Smith, of Darnick, near Melrose, whose ancestors, Thomas and John Smith, were important architects and builders of Abbotsford, and original installers of the gate on the same date (December 13th), 194 years ago.

The Portcullis Gate, made of oak and wrought iron, was designed by Scott between 1822 and 1824, creating a grand entrance into his home near Melrose, in the Scottish Borders. It was an integral part of Abbotsford, the ‘conundrum castle’ Scott created, but it had suffered many years of continuing deterioration, reaching the point where conservation was critical to avoid it falling apart.

Keith, great-great-grandson of Thomas Smith, was delighted to keep the family connection with the gate and told the invited audience of Abbotsford donors and Friends about the link between the Smith family, Darnick and Abbotsford. Keith said: “Abbotsford is a joy. My family and others from Darnick are proud to have played a part in its construction. The gates are a tribute to local craftsmen - ancient and modern.”
Pippa Coles, Abbotsford’s Gardens Heritage Development Manager, said: “We are thrilled to see the gate back in position and looking as Scott intended. Earlier this year, I read in John Smith’s diary that the gate had originally arrived on December 13th 1824, so I felt it was a fitting date for their return, and it was extra special that Keith, John’s descendant could join us.

“We are very grateful to our funders and donors who made this important conservation project possible. We hope visitors to Abbotsford in the New Year, when we reopen in March, will enjoy walking through the grand entrance, just as Scott’s guests did nearly 200 years ago.”

Initial plans by The Abbotsford Trust, to replace the old wood and repair the wrought ironwork on the gate, were revised when research by The Scottish Conservation Studio revealed the Portcullis Gate was not a mismatch of wood of varying quality as originally thought, but was in fact all original wood from Scott’s time. The project then turned into one of conservation rather than replacement.

The skilled work was undertaken by Charles Taylor Woodwork, based in Dalkeith. The gates were removed in December 2017, dried out and then dismantled and recorded before work began. The original wooden frame was badly damaged and has been replaced, while the internal lattice work has been restored by splicing in good wood from the old frame.

Portcullis Gate undergoing conservation work at Charles Taylor Woodwork, Dalkeith.

Despite its name, the Portcullis Gate is hinged and not raised and dropped by a pulley system. It derives its name from its design, which references the style of a portcullis, an image of which is also carved above the gate. Scott’s use of this defensive symbol at the main entry to his home suggests that Scott viewed Abbotsford as a personal sanctuary. The portcullis image was also used by Scott on his personal book bindings in his library, where the symbol is accompanied by the Latin motto Clausus Tutus Ero ('Closed in I am safe’), signalling Scott’s attitude to Abbotsford as a place of safety from the outside world.

Due to its symbolic recurrence throughout Abbotsford, the Portcullis Gate is considered by many to be one of the home’s most important features. It not only serves as an image of grandeur for guests arriving at Abbotsford, but also symbolises Scott’s intentions for Abbotsford as a place of retreat from the chaos of the outside world. The gate was so iconic that it was photographed by Henry Fox Talbot in Oct 1844 for his book The Sun Pictures of Scotland.