31st July 2018

Historic houses give us an incredible insight into the lives of those who occupied 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 by the community: Mrs Patricia and Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott poured their heart into their home for almost five decades, holding the Lairdship of Abbotsford until 2004.

Mrs Patricia Maxwell-Scott

Today, Ian Skinner recalls a fateful visit to Abbotsford in the 70s. Back then, the house was laid out rather differently than today – only 6 rooms were open to the public, with the entrance to the historic house through the basement door and up a narrow spiral staircase. Today’s big visitor centre and lofty café would have never come to mind just as nobody would have ever thought about Mrs Patricia and Dame Jean not being behind the counter welcoming visitors.

‘In the 1970s, living and working in Edinburgh my knowledge of the Borderland beyond Peebles was essentially zero. The Borders was that bit you went through to get to England, usually by the East Coast through Newcastle or West via Carlisle. I was aware that there were some mill towns like Selkirk and Hawick with formidable rugby teams but I would have been very hard pressed to locate any of them on a map.

Then an Australian friend of my wife’s came to visit us with her daughter. The daughter said she would like to visit Abbotsford as she’d been reading Scott at school in Australia and my own daughter wanted to come for the ride. So, on a cheerful spring morning the two girls and I set off down the A7; I think the Mums had planned to go shopping in Edinburgh. We drove through Galashiels, back then still a forest of factory chimneys, and made our way to Abbotsford. Following signs from the car park and along the sunken path we entered the house through a basement door to find ourselves in a small, low ceilinged room with an elderly lady behind a desk. This was Mrs Patricia who made us very welcome – an Australian accent worked wonders. She told us what to look for upstairs and off we set up the spiral staircase.

After the tour we returned to Mrs Patricia to thank her and asked if she had any suggestions for a nice pub lunch, nothing in Gala having appealed. Without hesitation she replied “Burt’s in Melrose, best in the Borders!”

Twelve years later we moved from Edinburgh to a permanent home in the Borders and we have continued to follow Mrs Patricia’s advice many times.’

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