17th Jul 2018
The beginning was far from easy but then, nothing worth doing is; the ongoing struggle of preservation and conservation unites everyone in heritage. Big plans were made, funds were applied for, timelines were drawn up – over 3 years, every single object was removed from the house, assessed and catalogued, while the bricks and mortar of Abbotsford underwent much needed TLC.
A lot was achieved in this time and even more has been achieved since. There’s no time to rest on our laurels but nevertheless, we want to take a day to look back on some of our highlights from the past 5 years.
On the 3rd of July 2013, Abbotsford was officially reopened by the Queen. Even more incredibly, the day marked the first time that all of Scott's direct descendants were gathered in one place, including the Canadian and Australian branches of the family. We welcomed the group of more than 50 descendants from overseas and the UK, and, to our delight, they included Scott’s oldest living descendant, Scott’s great-granddaughter, Aurea Williams from Toronto.
Since then, the family has been represented on Abbotsford's board of trustees, first by Lucy Maxwell Scott and now by another one of Scott’s direct descendants, Matthew Maxwell Scott.
It would be another 6 months of hard work until the next achievement for the Trust, and longer for it to become an established part of the Abbotsford offering.
For almost 200 years, Abbotsford was first and foremost a home. Even the professional operation of the visitor attraction continued to be managed from the private rooms of Dame Jean and Mrs Patricia, and many a visitor was welcomed into their inner sanctum for a cup of tea.
When the Trust took over, it was the trustees’ wish to conserve the air of friendly hospitality that the ladies home had always exuded, and so, the idea of the Hope Scott Wing, self-catering accommodation at Abbotsford, was born. The personal touch was retained, their furniture, paintings and photographs returned to their home and, from then on, many a visitor’s home away from home.
Today, the Hope Scott Wing welcomes families from all over the world, not only for their holidays but for celebrations from school reunions to weddings; we’re certain the comments in our visitor book would delight both Dame Jean and Mrs Patricia.
Decanting the house meant everything had to be recorded and transferred to a safe storage unit while necessary conservation work was carried out on the building. The process, as stressful and long it might have been, also unearthed many delights.
Most notably Sir Walter Scott’s grandfather clock, made entirely of sandstone, was found. With the help of the public, the trust raised funds to restore it with an authentic Georgian movement and give it pride of place in the visitor centre exhibition. In late 2017, the clock chimed again for the first time in almost 150 years.
With such wonderful support, the Trust continues its efforts to research Scott’s vast collections and share the stories of pieces previously hidden away. As part of this, another project was introduced very recently: Adopt A Book. Members of the public can now choose to ‘adopt’ a book of their choosing from the Abbotsford library by contributing to the costs of its conservation. In return, they get a 1-2-1 consultation with the Collections Team and their book. Talk about touching history!
With the completion of the work on the house, the Trust turned its focus to the outdoors. Scott’s estate, which had once spanned over 1000 acres, now encompassed 120 and every single one of them needed attention.
Scott’s own paths, expertly laid out in the 1800s, had become overgrown, and in early 2017, the gardens and estate team embarked on the ambitious journey of restoring the author’s vision of a Romantic designed landscape along the River Tweed. With the support of funders and local experts, we have given special consideration to the public’s enjoyment of the estate and access for all was at the heart of the operation, just as it was in Scott’s time.
Over a year later, just in time for Easter, the paths were reopened and we have seen an incredible increase in walkers since. Families, runners and dog walkers alike have followed into Scott’s own footsteps, enjoying the viewpoints and sounds of the Tweed that inspired him so many times during his lifetime.
Did you know? With the restoration of the historic house, 2 new rooms were opened to the public – the narrow religious corridor with its heavenly grotesques and the ladies’ breakfast room. This room was originally used as a study by Scott but only until the one you see today was finished. Now this small room has been given a new lease of life, housing seasonal exhibitions.
Over the past few years, our Collections and Interpretations Manager Kirsty has worked tirelessly to tell some of the lesser known stories of Scott’s life and collections. From Rave Reviewer, which featured items from the National Library of Scotland, and Rob Roy on Stage and Screen, for which we borrowed items from the V&A in London, to our current exhibition Turner & Scott: The Painter and the Poet, for which we enjoyed the wonderful opportunity to exhibit items from both the Tate and the Ashmolean, every exhibition reveals another untold story. Even more amazingly, we have not only reached the point of confidently working with major national institutions to tell Abbotsford’s stories, we now also support other institutions and academics researching Scott’s life and collections.
Over the last year alone, we have welcomed university students from around the world, have helped deliver an online course on the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie with the University of Edinburgh and the National Museum of Scotland, and, most recently, supported research by a private art collector to reveal a lost Turner watercolour.
Many of our achievements would not have been possible without the support of the local communities, our volunteers, friends and patrons as well as the many organisations we have been able to collaborate with. Continuing to work with others is what we are especially looking forward to over the next years. With Scott’s 250th birthday in 2021, there will be much more cause for celebration that we can’t wait to share.
We look back today, on 5 years of achievements, yet we haven’t mentioned the best part: We’re only getting started.