Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Local Authority
Kinglassie, Leslie (Fife), Markinch
NO 26344 1703
326344, 701703

A rare survival of a 17th-century formal garden design of this period, with a well documented history. The wooded policies provide an important green space for the town of Glenrothes.

Type of Site

17th-century formal garden and designed landscape, with 18th–20th century modifications.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Late 17th, 18th, 19th century

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

Despite some late 18th century and 19th century modifications, the late 17th-early 18th century formal gardens at Leslie House combine with the designed landscape to give the site high value as a Work of Art.


Level of interest

The well documented history of the Rothes family, especially its associations with John, 7th Earl and 1st Duke of Rothes, and the rarity of the formal gardens, as a surviving late 17th example of formal gardens give Leslie outstanding Historical value.


Level of interest

The woodland gives this site some Horticultural value.


Level of interest

Leslie House, the estate buildings and structures, including the formal garden terraces have a well-documented architectural history. This together with the importance of the architects associated with the property and their patron, give the site outstanding Architectural value.


Level of interest

The site of the water garden has archaeological potential and a landscape and tree survey would be of value in documenting the landscape development and its features. Leslie can be considered to have outstanding Archaeological value


Level of interest

The surviving wooded policies are an important amenity and have outstanding Scenic value in relation to the town of Glenrothes.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

Extensive tracts of long-established woodland within the Leslie policies and along the River Leven give this site high Nature conservation value.

Location and Setting

Leslie House is situated at the eastern end of Leslie High Street in the town of Leslie, now a suburb of Glenrothes. The house lies on the south side of the A911 above the River Leven.

The designed landscape was laid out within a sheltered valley formed by the River Leven. Principal views from the house extend south, over the terraced gardens to the River Leven and its tree-clad south bank. Long-distance axial views extend along the East and West avenues. The suspension road bridge allows views east and west over the policies, and towards Leslie House.

Roy's Survey (1747–55) corresponds with a 1775 estate plan (Bell 1775) in showing extensive policy woodlands and parks south of the River Leven, and parks to the north. During the 19th century there was little change in the extent and configuration of the designed landscape (Martin 1810; 1893-4 OS 6").

In 1948, Glenrothes Development Corporation was established to develop Glenrothes New Town. Consequently, in the early 1960s, the south parks were developed for housing with a public park, 'Riverside Park', laid out within a major part of the designed landscape south-east of the house. As residential areas of Glenrothes have been built, so the ornamental policy boundaries have contracted. Nevertheless, the underlying structure of the mid/late 17th-century gardens survive together with some of the major features of the deigned policies, especially along the River Leven.

Site History

Sir Norman Leslie acquired Fythkil c. 1282 and renamed it Leslie after his family estates in Aberdeenshire. In 1457, George Lord Leslie of Leven was created 1st Earl of Rothes, with estates in Fife, Perth, Aberdeen and Elgin. The earliest evidence of a house on this site dates from 1667–72, when John Mylne the younger and Robert, his nephew, with advice from Sir William Bruce designed the 'Palace of Rothes' (Defoe 1724-7, p.778-9; Gifford 1992, p.306-7; Colvin 1995, p.677-8). It was built for John, 7th Earl and 1st Duke of Rothes (d. 1681) a distinguished statesman and close supporter of Charles II, he carried the sword at the coronation of Charles II in Scone and was taken prisoner after the Battle of Worcester. The quadrangular house was attributed to Sir William Bruce by Defoe who described it as 'the Glory of the Place, and indeed of the whole Province of Fife'. Said to be similar to Holyrood Palace, it was built around a court, with a gallery.

Evidence of the palace's designed landscape shows it situated on a haugh with the River Leven flowing to the south and the Lothrie Burn to the north (Roy 1747-55). Formal gardens included a series of terraces, grass platts and a water garden, leading from the house south to the River Leven. Woodland, extending over the area known as South Wood (1913, O.S. 6"") along the south banks of the Leven, was cut by diagonal and transverse paths. Beyond, a series of square parks were laid out between avenues and rides, directed north-south. To the north of Leslie House a series of parks were laid out between two avenues orientated east-west.

Macky' s description accords with this map evidence and amplifies our knowledge:

'It stands in the middle of a park, surrounded with a stone wall, of six miles in circumference, on a point of land where two rivers washeth it on each side, and join in one at the end of the gardens: It is extremely well planted with full grown trees, that at a distance seem to be a large wood; there's a noble parterre to east, cut out into green slopes, adorn'd with evergreens, that reacheth to the point where these two rivers meet. And from this parterre on the south of the house, is a long terrace walk, and under it five several terraces, to which you descend by stately stairs, to another square garden by the river side, with a water work in the middle, and round which the present earl designs to carry the river. You enter the palace by two spacious courts, with a pavilion at each end of the first court; the house is a large square with a paved court in the middle ' (Macky 1723, p.72).

Following a fire on 28th December 1763, the north, south and east ranged were demolished and the west wing was reconstructed between 1765–7 for John, 11th Earl of Rothes (d. 1773), who inherited in 1767. The present house consists of this reconstructed west wing, a much smaller residence.

A 1775 estate survey depicts the landscape as modified by the 11th Earl, and when inherited by Countess Jane Elizabeth Leslie (d. 1810), his eldest sister (Bell 1775). The pavilions, described by Macky, flanked an outer entrance court leading into the West Avenue. The latter postdates the 1750s and was laid out to complement the reconstruction of the west wing as the house (Roy 1747-55). The West Avenue terminated in a rond point with a central feature, possibly a statue, before turning northwards, through a plantation, to meet the road leading eastwards from Leslie. The 'Back Court' overlay the East Parterre, although it did not reach to the 'point where these two rivers meet' (Macky 1723, p.72). The East Avenue extending to Cowdam, a hamlet on the boundary of the designed policies, was a prominent feature (Roy 1747-55). A major component of the formal gardens, lying to the south of the garden terraces on the south front was the water garden – 'a water work' as described by Macky. By 1775 an expansive walled garden had been built to the north of the house, on the north banks of the Lothrie Burn. Comparison of surveys suggests that this is attributable to the 11th Earl (Roy 1747-55; Bell 1775).

There appear to have been few landscape changes during the ownership of George William, 13th Earl of Rothes (succeeded in 1810, d. 1817) or his eldest daughter, Henrietta Anne, Countess of Rothes (d. 1819). The impetus for 19th-century estate improvements seems to belong to George William Evelyn, 15th Earl of Rothes (1809-86), who inherited the estate in 1819. Sometime between 1810 and the 1890s, the West Drive leading to the West Lodge was extended and informalised; other lodges were built (Forester's Lodge, Mains Lodge) or improved (South Lodge, East Lodge). The East Avenue was extended to form a new drive leading in from the outer policies. Other estate farms and land improvements date to this period (1893, OS 25"").

Following the death of the 15th Earl in 1886, the estate was inherited by his daughter, Henrietta Anderson Morshead, Countess of Rothes (1832-86), and then passed to her aunt, Mary Elizabeth (1811-93), 17th Countess of Rothes. In 1919, Leslie House was sold to Sir Robert Spencer Nairn, who gifted it to the Church of Scotland in 1952, for use as an Eventide Home. During his residence Nairn carried out considerable building work, including estate cottages in the vicinity of Leslie Mains; the Duke's Lodge and work to the West Lodge. Within the gardens, along the top terrace and below the Long Walk, flower-beds enclosed by low rubble walls were built.

Despite the loss of the South Parks for Glenrothes' housing, some of the estate's place-names survive and have been transferred to housing estates, e.g.'South Parks' and 'Macedonia', which were estate farms (Martin 1810) 'Auchmuty' and 'Cadham', which were hamlets (Achmuty, Cowdam, Roy 1747-55)

Glenrothes trunk road system has fragmented the designed landscape; the junction of Leslie Road (A911) with Western Avenue (B969) has truncated the East Avenue and bridging the River Leven has divorced Forester's Lodge and East Lodge from the core landscape. The 'garden by the riverside, with a waterwork in the middle' has reverted to boggy haughland. Nevertheless, the core structure of the designed landscape is relatively intact; the stone walls of the West Court survive, as do the main framework of the East Parterre, the Long Walk and the formal terraces south of the house. Currently, following the closure of the nursing home the house is being marketed by the Church of Scotland (2004).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Leslie House, is a 13-bay classical house comprising 3-storeys and basement. The 19th-century Conservatory to the rear, covers part of the foundations of the early house. On the south front are three Garden Terraces with rubble retaining walls. Pedestrian gateways with timber and cast-iron gates lead onto 17th-century staircases descending the terraces.

The West Lodge (Duchess Lodge) on Leslie High Street is probably late 17th-century with mid 19th-century and later alterations. The Duke's Lodge to the east of it, is a single-storey and attic, 3-bay, T-plan castellated lodge of 1906. Close by are Gate-piers dated 1670, which are rusticated with ball finials, the latter probably later additions. The piers originally stood at the east or west forecourts and were removed in the late 18th century. The early 19th-century Forester's Lodge, now isolated from the core of the designed landscape, lies adjacent to the hospital on Lodge Rise. There are coped ashlar Gate-piers with ball finials and adjoining rubble boundary walls. The Mains Lodge is a mid 19th-century, single-storey, 3-bay cottage with Doric columned porch and piended roof. The pyramidal coped gate-piers terminate high whinstone rubble walls, which form the north wall of the Walled Garden, which lies north of the house beyond the Lothrie Burn. There are extensive coped whinstone rubble Estate Boundary Walls.

3 and 4 Leslie Mains are mid-to-late 19th-century 2-storey cottages. 5 Leslie Mains, also known as the Keeper's House, is a 1950's reworking of an earlier building. The Lothrie Burn Bridge within the policies is a simple, single-span, arch bridge, which leads from the 'East Parterre' to the walled garden. Rubble walls flank the brae down to the bridge. Other bridges over the River Leven include Lady's Bridge, to the south of the house, and Cow Bridge on the west side of the A911. East Avenue Bridge is a single-span, rubble bridge with modern, metal fence parapet. The new Suspension Bridge over the east avenue was built in 1994.

Drives & Approaches

The main entrance to Leslie House is directly from Leslie High Street via the West (Duchess) Lodge. The drive curves downhill towards the house, through unmanaged woodland, including some coppice beech on the northern side. This area was known as 'The Grove' (Bell 1775). The last two-thirds of the drive straightens, returning to the 18th-century axial approach, planted with an avenue of Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) in the 19th century. Some yews (Taxus baccata) on the south side of the drive are large enough to be 18th century plantings. The West Lodge entrance is no longer used due to the road realignment.

The eastern approach is planted with beech (Fagus sylvatica), oak (Quercus robur) and some larch (Larix sp.) introductions, but none are likely to be the original plantings.


The greater part of the Leslie parks have been developed by the New Town, in particular the South Parks. Housing in the latter is hidden from Leslie House, due to the steep riverside banks of the Leven, which encloses views to the south. South-east of Leslie House, Riverside Park laid over the earlier parkland in a bend of the River Leven, retains its essential naturalistic character. The park is well-known for its paddling pool with hippos by Stanley Bonnar.


Macky observed Leslie to be 'extremely well planted with full grown trees, that at a distance seem to be a large wood'. The area retains its woodland character, which are well related to the local topography. This ensures that Leslie House retains a degree of enclosure and privacy. South Wood, a mixed deciduous woodland with a predominance of beech, on the south banks of the Leven, has been continually wooded since the 18th century. The 18th century path network (Roy 1747–55) has been superceded. The woodland also extended to the north of Leslie village green, including St Andrew's mount to the north of Leslie Kirk.

The Gardens

East of the house is a flat expanse of lawn. At its centre is a monumental carved stone urn on a plinth, with the remains of three seated supporting figures. A fluted stem with ivy-leaf decoration supports the basin. The surrounding grass platts are planted with specimens of both golden yew (Taxus baccata 'Aurea') and yew clipped into low domes. The paths are made of concrete slabs. A low stone wall running north–south divides this lawn from a series of raised parterres, the 'noble parterre to the east, cut out into green slopes, adorn'd with evergreens,...' seen by Macky. These 'green slopes' still survive and consist of four rectangular, broad, grass terraces, with sloping banks, divided east–west by an axial path. The terraces are graded to slope towards the house. Those north of the axial path are planted with some old overgrown yews, which may be some of the 'evergreens' described.

The central path, laid out on the axis of the east front, leads to the East Avenue, now disused. Some sweet chestnuts (Castanea sativa) along its length survive from an early planting scheme, but for the most part the avenue consists of beech and oak (Quercus petraea).

A Long Walk extends along the south boundary of the East Garden, turning to lead against the south façade of the house and continuing along the south side of the entrance court. Documentary sources detail the planting of apple trees along here. Andrew Brown, the gardener in 1761, was instructed to remove those 'which do not bear' and replace them with 'good kinds of peaches, figs, apricots, nectrines, pears and plums' (see Taylor).

On the south front the gardens consist of three terraces, descending the slope below the Long Walk, divided by high rubble walls connected by flights of stone stairs. The terraces are planted with mixed shrubs in rectangular beds. A bed formally planted with box (Buxus sempervirens) and golden yew runs the entire length of the lowest terrace.

Further directions for the gardener in 1747 included: 'He is to finish the Bowling Green in the Court, the Grand Walks and borders on which he is to plant a Lawristinus hedge,'. In 1761, he was 'To supply the place of all the dead trees in the grove and in the east side of the Avenue,' and 'Next autumn it will be necessary to trench all the borders in the long walk and the flower garden'(see Taylor).

Walled Gardens

The walled garden, to the north, lies on the north banks of Lothrie Burn. It is part walled with a north wall of whinstone rubble with brick buttressing and large stone slab coping. There is a shallow terrace below the wall. The garden is now unused but perimeter paths and a cross-path are still extant.



Maps, Plans and Archives

1747–55General Roy's Military Survey, 1747–55

1775 William Bell, 'Plan of the Parks of Leslie belonging to the Rt. Hon. the Countess of Rothes': SRO, RHP 19

1810 Alex Martin, 'Plan of the Estate of Leslie belonging to the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Rothes': SRO, RHP 3595

1893 survey, 1st edition OS 1:25000 (25”)

1893-4 survey, 2nd edition OS 1:10560 (6”), published 1896

1912-13 survey, 3rd edition OS 1:10560 (6”), published 1920

Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, National Monuments Record of Scotland: Photographic collection; (Leslie House)


Printed Sources

Historic Scotland on Behalf of Scottish Ministers, The List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest

Colvin, H. A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, 3rd edition (1995)

Gifford, J. The Buildings of Scotland: Fife (1992)

Defoe, D. A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain divided into Circuits or Journies, vol II, (1724-7, repr.1968)

Macky, J. A Journey Through Scotland, 1723

Taylor, Dr W. 'Notes from Garden Accounts of 1732, 1747, 1761, 1763', undated typescript, National Monuments Record Office Scotland

About the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

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Printed: 15/01/2021 23:53