29th Nov 2016
You have helped and supported the ongoing conservation work at Abbotsford to preserve Sir Walter Scott’s unique historic home for future generations. However, often it might not be clear what projects exactly you have made possible, so this Giving Tuesday, we want to show you what steps we have taken with your help in the past, present and future.
You might have already read about our sandstone clock in our last post. It continues to fascinate everybody at the Trust, and truly, this piece is perhaps the most unusual we have dealt with so far. Stylistically, the carved architectural ornaments on the top imitate those found on Georgian longcase clocks made from woods such as mahogany and oak, however this example is entirely hewn from local sandstone. The skill of the mason must have been outstanding to complete the piece with such a high standard and install a working movement. Initially, the clock even had a stone door, comeplte with hinges maee from stone, however it has been damaged and remains in storage.
The clock’s history remains very mysterious and we are looking for locals who might have seen its pieces at Abbotsford over the past 50 years. Recent conservation work has already enabled us to draw some conclusions about its past and original location: The absence of any significant erosion leads us to believe that the clock was originally situated inside and, having been in pieces for well over 100 years, it could be part of the rooms that were demolished to make way for the Hope Scott Wing after Scott's death. Thus, the most likely explanation is that this quirky piece was housed in the original Conservatory of Abbotsford, or garden room.
We are delighted to showcase this piece but this is only the first step of its restoration. We are now working with a local clockmaker to get Scott’s unique sandstone clock ticking once again! Tragically its original movement has not survived, so if you would like to support our restoration work and help us fit a new movement to the clock, you can visit our Just Giving Campaign to donate.
Having an exhibition to celebrate Scott's antiquarianism is something particularly apt for Abbotsford and adding the Scott the Antiquary display to our visitor centre exhibition was a wonderful opportunity. Writers such as Walter Scott and Horace Walpole were amongst the very first celebrity pioneers to furnish their homes with antique furniture as well as antique objects, and Scott in particular broke new ground with his quest to salvage antique material under threat. He for example incorporated antique panelling and historic stonework in to the very fabric of his home and factored these “hawls” as he called them into the architectural designs for the rooms themselves. Prior to this point, it had been the norm to buy or commission new furniture for furnishing a house and this approach was very much an established way of signalling your wealth and status.
Still, the objective of the display is to look at the idea of antiquarianism in Scott's time and the way in which the theme is reflected in Scott's own work, such as 'The Antiquary' and his life. Often, the pieces Scott collected would later inspire his novels or the other way round, and of course, his friends were well aware of his interests. Scott was fortunate in his network of friends and fellow antiquarians who would provide so much source material for the Waverley Novels and many items in the Abbotsford collection were forwarded on to Scott by way of his reputation for being - in his own words - a “collector of grim cracks and rarities.” Looking at the items on display here, however, it also becomes evident that choosing to incorporate antique items in to a home was very much about affiliation with national history, social groups and movements, and a person’s own ancestry. Scott is making a number of statements, not the least with the skull of a female of the Macdonalds of Eigg; a stern reminder of the futility of feuds, war and bloodshed.
It wasn’t until the height of the Victorian period in the 1870s that people of more limited means were becoming interested in buying antique objects for their homes and collecting was seen as a legitimate and mainstream pastime, particularly for women. It seems not far-fetched to say that the rise of the cult of the antique, very much ignited as a result of what Scott achieved at Abbotsford.
These days, for many, Walter Scott is not as familiar a name as is Jane Austen or Lord Byron who both seem to have transcended literature altogether. Still, despite the difficulties some have with Scott’s prose, we must never forget that these sentiments would be completely alien to the reading public of the nineteenth century to which he would have been nothing less than an institution. This notion, which is very much in line with what other writers say about Scott, formed the basis for an exhibition that would give visitors a way to understand Scott’s mass appeal as an author and poet. Perhaps looking at Scott through the lens of literati of his day could help us tell stories about the relationships between Scott, them and the public. The John Murray Archive shared the interest and offered generous support to turning the initial idea into Abbotsford’s first truly collaborative exhibition.
In a nutshell, the exhibition focussed on Scott's career as a prolific contributor to the periodicals, with cherry-picked moments within the twenty-year period during which Scott engaged with significant writers as an anonymous reviewer, including mercilessly reviewing the first part of his own series, Tales of My Landlord. Though a small-scale exhibition can never cover everything, the challenge was set to inspire and enthuse the audience to find out more and keeping an eye on the details that could offer particular charm. Once the exhibition was officially open, it was especially fascinating to showcase a number of items that had not been on display before and dive into Scott's close relationship with Byron and his appreciation for Mary Shelley's outstanding creation of Frankenstein with a number of events during the year. Perhaps we even managed to inspire some visitors to become reviewers themselves.
For the past two years, Abbotsford had the immense pleasure to work with Cornerstone Connect in Galashiels, offering day-time activities around the house, gardens and estate. Cornerstone provides flexible and personalised day opportunities for Adults with a learning disability aged 18 to 65 in the Scottish Borders. They work closely with Abbotsford’s Ranger, Philip Munro, to make the most of the opportunities the outdoors provides and during every visit, the group has a full programme of meaningful activities, ranging from storytelling, crafting, walks featuring bird watching to planting their own fruit and vegetable in the walled gardens. It gives the groups and their carers the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful 120 acre estate and gardens at Abbotsford, basing activities on the outdoors to increase their knowledge, social skills, observation and fine motor skills. The complete programme will increase each participant’s confidence as they pick up new skills and develop existing ones - and above all, fun for everyone involved.
The Abbotsford Trust is currently embarking on an extensive project to improve the Abbotsford Gardens & Estates for the public. We have a unique 120 acres of woodlands, riverside meadows and parkland, planned and planted almost 200 years ago by Sir Walter Scott. Scott enjoyed nothing better than walking around his estate with friends and family. He recognised that the combination of companionship, being immersed in nature, and exercise was the best way to refresh his spirits and creativity. And for these reasons he created pathways, viewpoints to the Tweed and distant hills, and made features of the seasonal springs.
We now plan to open up more of the grounds for free access and enjoyment by the public, with pathways, benches, way marking, and orientation to create a series of easy short walks. A part of this work will include forest management, to ensure that the woodlands regenerate for years to come and make the most of this fantastic opportunity to shape the future of Abbotsford’s iconic landscape, ensuring that it can be enjoyed by more people, year round, whatever the weather.
Over the past year, your support has helped us achieve amazing things and we are now looking forward to continue to work with you and open up Abbotsford to even more people.
Thank you for reading,