27th August 2018

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 (left) and Mrs Patricia at the Abbotsford Orangery

Today, Scottish Blue Badge Guide and long-time Friend of Abbotsford Margot recalls some of her encounters with the Ladies. Back then, Abbotsford was still very much a home and Dame Jean and Mrs Patricia ran operations from what is now the Hope Scott Wing self-catering accommodation. They were a big part of any visit to Abbotsford and could often be seen around the estate, tending to the gardens and chatting to visitors:

‘A family from the United States had contacted me to say that their grandmother had been the cook at Abbotsford and they had some menus from special dinners that she had catered for at the house. I thought this was particularly interesting and contacted Abbotsford to enquire if the ladies would be interested in seeing the menus. I received a very positive response that Mrs Patricia was indeed very interested and would love to meet the family, not only for a chat but to join her for afternoon tea in their private apartments.

The day arrived and, as usual, we had a wonderful tour around the house. We then met Mrs Patricia and she showed us around some of her own rooms in the wing, such as the room that today houses the small exhibition, back then Mrs Patricia’s dining room. When she saw some of the items on the menus she was very taken with the ‘cheese custard’ which was listed as a dessert and laughed that she should have her own cook make it for her to try. She also showed us upstairs into what was once Sir Walter Scott’s bedroom, which was a huge privilege. I remember thinking ‘what charming wallpaper’! She also showed us the old kitchen where the family’s grandmother would have cooked. They found the whole experience a delight, walking in the rooms that their ancestor knew so well.'

Another occasion was in 2001:

'I was expecting a religious group coach tour from New York for a city tour of Edinburgh and rang the organiser, John, in the south of England about the forthcoming tour to clarify their arrival time. He asked me if I was watching the television and said to phone back later. You can imagine what day it was – the 11th of September.

John later informed me that the group were in the UK and would be visiting Abbotsford en-route to Edinburgh. They had all been affected in some way by the terrorist attack; how could I continue a city tour with them? The group had decided that, as they could not get home and with flights being cancelled, they could do nothing but continue with their long planned trip around the UK and Scotland.

I met the group at their hotel the following morning, after they visited Abbotsford. The group leader was their priest, who informed me that when they arrived at Abbotsford, some of the group went walking in the garden and met a lady walking her little West Highland Terrier. She chatted to them and, Dame Jean as it was, then learned of their connection to New York. She was very moved that they could not get home to be with loved ones, so very kindly offered them the chapel to have a small service during their visit. Their priest was given vestments and they held an intimate service in the chapel. Afterwards they signed the visitor’s book.

I thought this was a wonderful act of kindness towards people who were very personally affected, losing family and friends. I know the group greatly appreciated her kindness and compassion.

Following on from this visit, a few months later I had two ladies from New York visiting Abbotsford and I told them about this September visit. One of the ladies informed me that her husband, a fireman, had lost his life at the Twin Towers. I told her the above story and the Abbotsford staff very kindly got out that specific visitors book so that she could read what some of her fellow New Yorkers had written.'


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