“One of the Best Men I Ever Knew”: Remembering James Hope-Scott

29th April 2023

On the 150th anniversary of his death, Collections and Interpretations Manager Kirsty explores James Hope-Scott's life at Abbotsford.

150 years ago, James Robert Hope-Scott passed away at Number 7 Hyde Park in London, now the Chapel of Tyburn Convent. His first wife was Sir Walter Scott’s granddaughter, Charlotte, who had passed away in 1858 from the lingering complications of contracting influenza, already severely weakened from recent confinement and childbirth. The couple had been married for eleven years and suffered the pain of a stillbirth and miscarriage.

In the wake of Charlotte’s death, James Hope-Scott also lost two of his sickly infant children, Walter Michael and Margaret Anne, and found himself a single parent of a six-year-old daughter, Mary Monica, the sole surviving direct descendant of Sir Walter Scott. Although he would remarry Lady Victoria Fitzalan Howard, the eldest daughter of the Duke of Norfolk in 1861, Abbotsford remained one of his principal residences until his death as he prepared his daughter for her weighty inheritance.

Charlotte Hope- Scott

It was at Abbotsford that Hope-Scott agonised over matters of faith, eventually deciding to leave the Church of England “because I was convinced that she never, from the Reformations downwards, has been a true Church.” 

Saint John Henry Newman

Hope-Scott’s knowledge of the Church was substantial; he had been educated at the University of Oxford and become a devoted member of the Oxford Movement; a group of scholars keen to see a return to the liturgical roots of the pre-Reformation Church.

As a practising ecclesiastical lawyer, Hope-Scott had also witnessed a string of legislative changes that threatened the revenues, estates, and structures of the Church.

Following in the steps of his lifelong friend and confidante St. John Henry Newman, James Hope-Scott converted to Roman Catholicism in 1851 and Charlotte followed suit.

James Hope-Scott had little time or inclination for literature or politics, but he was extremely proud and conscious of the legacy of the family he had married into. He was described as follows by a nun who stayed with the family at Abbotsford for several months in 1854:

"Mr. Hope-Scott was the beau idéal of an English gentleman, and a model Catholic devoted to the service of the Church, doing all the good that lay in his power, far and near. There was a quiet dignity about him, and at the same time he was full of gentle mirth, full of kindness and consideration for others; and for every one with whom he came in contact, high and low, rich and poor, there was a kind word or a generous act. He was tall, largely built, with massive head, dark hair beginning to turn grey, sanguine, embrowned complexion, very dark eyes, fine, soft, yet penetrating…"

His biographer Robert Ormsby considered the best portrait of him to be “an excellent one of him about the age of thirty-two, painted by Richmond for Lady Davy, and now at Abbotsford, of which an engraving was published by Colnaghi.”

James Hope-Scott enjoyed building and landscape renovations at Abbotsford and at Dorlin House, his Highland estate. The Hope-Scott Wing, the landscaping of the north terraces and the sunken passage that runs between the South Court and the East Court gardens at Abbotsford were all developments superintended by him, some offering labour schemes for members of the local community.

Hope-Scott’s Catholic faith was his key driver and comfort in life and he set about building churches and schools in the Highlands and in the Borders. The most important was the Church of Our Lady and St. Andrew at Galashiels, constructed to serve the substantial Catholic population of the textile manufacturing town.


{December 30th, 1857}

James Hope- Scott

I hope that ten days or so will render [the church] fit for use in a rough way; and I hope it will be so used…the shell I am well pleased with. It is massive and lofty, no side aisles, but chapels between buttresses—and no altar-screen—more like a good college chapel than a parish church. Some day perhaps I may finish it, or some one else instead; and to keep us in mind that more is to do…”

Church of Our Lady and St. Andrew, Galashiels. © Copyright Stephen McKay 

Hope-Scott lived to see it finished as he desired in the months preceding his death in 1873. It is estimated the works cost him around £10,000. The last cheque he signed with his failing hand was one discharging the last debt on his beloved Church of Our Lady and St. Andrew.  

Mary Monica would grow up inspired by the faith and charitable community spirit of her father and remain a close friend of St. John Henry Newman, who was all but an uncle to her. After her father’s death, Newman wrote to her exclaiming “he was one of the best men I ever knew”.

Newman’s sermon, preached at Hope-Scott’s funeral on 5th May 1873 is considered by many to be his finest of all his Catholic sermons and was later published as ‘In the World, but not of the World’.