The Abbotsford Pavilion Restoration Project

16th August 2022

Collections and Interpretation Manager, Kirsty Archer- Thompson, discusses the 2022 restoration of Sir Walter Scott's pavilion glass house.

“I have looked at it for forty years & for thirty years of the time with anxious regard for its safety-I think within the last four years it is decidedly getting much worse & I do not think it can stand many years more”…

These are the words of Sir Walter Scott, 200 years ago in 1822, as he agonised over the disrepair and instability of the ruins of Melrose Abbey, a building he considered to be “the most elegant specimen of pure Gothic architecture in existence’” and the site that had launched him to literary stardom with The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805).

Thanks to his tireless campaigning and project management - and the support of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, - the remains of the structure, including its famous east window, were repaired by a team of stonemasons working with traditional materials from a giant timber scaffold. By this point in time Scott had substantial experience directing such building work, having superintended the transformation of Abbotsford from an ugly duckling into a swan. Excitedly he exclaimed that… “I will have great pleasure in acting occasionally as inspector, having some experience now in overseeing mason work”.

Here at Abbotsford, Scott’s passion for historic buildings and his pioneering attitude to what we now know as the science of conservation forms the bedrock of our continuing restoration work on his estate. As he did, we know that “the progress of decay…can yet be arrested”. 

Standing at the highest point in our walled gardens, this late-Georgian glasshouse - known in more recent times as the Pavilion in honour of its resemblance to a medieval campaign tent - is thought to be the last structure built at Abbotsford during Sir Walter Scott’s lifetime.

1950s photograph of ‘Peach House’, courtesy of our friends at the Corson Collection (University of Edinburgh Library)
Pavilion interior before restoration works began.

Although there is some evidence the design process was underway by 1823, we know that this Gothic structure was built in the summer of 1825 by the talented local mason, John Smith of Darnick. It was the culmination of a period of extensive work in the gardens, encompassing changes to the garden walls and the creation of other new structures for cultivating fruits and tender plants, all of which are now lost.

Furnace House interior.

The interior of the Pavilion was originally heated around its perimeter by hot air rising from a coal-powered cockle stove. This was situated in the sunken Furnace House on the other side of the garden wall, a space used in the Maxwell-Scott era for storing vegetables harvested from the Kitchen Garden. The coal chute is still there, as are the footings of the furnace, helping us determine something of its form and original scale. 

This summer the Abbotsford Trust begins important work to stabilise and repair this rare survivor of its type, so that our visitors can enjoy it much as the Scott family would have done; as an oasis of calm, shelter and light from which to enjoy the beauty of the kitchen garden and to find creative inspiration.

Visitors to Abbotsford during this time may see stonework dismantled or replaced, panes of glass removed and meticulously cleaned, and a range of conservation professionals working from scaffolding both inside and outside the building and along its abutting wall.

After this phase of building work is complete, we will begin work on installing a new element of the visitor experience based in the Furnace House behind the Pavilion, revealing the extent of Scott’s interest in hothouse technologies and bringing the process to life in an imaginative way in 2023 and beyond.

Works underway on the pavilion, image courtesy of Simpson and Brown Architects.
Pavilion map with surving original glass marked in blue, courtesy of Simpson and Brown Architects.

We know from the original trade accounts that the Pavilion construction cost £210  /  5s  /  5d - about £25,000 in modern money, though the current financial climate makes this a very moveable feast! Fittingly, this is now our fundraising target to secure all the remaining funds required to repair and reimagine this beautiful structure for the next 200 years of its life as we continue to write the next chapter of Abbotsford’s story. Thank you to each and every person who has donated to our Appeal so far. If you love this building as much as we do, you can still contribute to our campaign.