Memories of Abbotsford - Joyful, Optimistic, Dynamic

13th May 2019

Historic houses give us an insight into the lives of those who built and lived in them over the centuries. We believe that the stories we tell should not only be informed by what we find inside these houses but by the visitors, friends and communities surrounding them. Their memories are just as cherished and important to our history but often hidden away.

In our ‘Memories of Abbotsford’ series we share personal anecdotes and stories of friends and visitors of the two women who have shaped Abbotsford like no others, and who are still fondly remembered today: Mrs Patricia and Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott poured their heart into their home for almost five decades, holding the Lairdship of Abbotsford until 2004.

Dame Jean (second from left) and young Guillaume (right)

Guillaume contacted us after our call for submissions on International Women's Day to share his fond memories of a very special godmother - Dame Jean Maxwell Scott. Here he shares his family's connection with the ladies as well as how his stays at Abbotsford led to a lifelong love of Scotland.

'During the Second World War, my mother's brother, Prince Marie-André Poniatowski made brief stays at Abbotsford, which is how our connection began. Back then, he was in the Polish armoured division of General Maczek who was preparing for the Battle of Normandy, and Abbotsford is the only place in which my uncle accepted to be invited.

I have been to Abbotsford at least six times in my life. My godmother Jean had many qualities: joyful, optimistic, dynamic. She was very fond of animals and in the early morning I often saw her in her raincoat and boots feeding her pets and looking after her horses. She even won prizes [at the 1988 Summer Olympics] in Seoul with her racehorses. Jean loved French food and whenever we came to visit her in Scotland, her cook made French dishes in our honour. In the mornings and afternoons during our stays, I would see her show tourists around the house or welcome them to the shop. While Jean was at court – she was a lady in waiting to Princess Alice – her sister Patricia took care of Abbotsford and greeted visitors.

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Guillaume (right) and his family with Dame Jean (second from left on the couch) during their last visit to Abbotsford

I remember the nights spent there when I was a child: I did not feel very safe (due to my fear of encountering ghosts) but it seems Sir Walter Scott was wandering only in his library, and therefore unlikely to visit my room. I also vividly remember the big golden book that passed through centuries and which sat in my godmother’s living room: It had signatures of various famous personalities, among them those of General de Gaulle and the current Queen of England.

Each year, my godmother would send me calendars and records of Scotland by post, which all contributed to my desire to return to this beautiful country. However, my last stay at Abbotsford was nearly 20 years ago. Still, during that visit something special happened: My eldest son walked for the first time in his life.'

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

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