Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape

MAVISBANKGDL00275

Status: Designated

Documents

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Summary

Date Added
01/07/1987
Last Date Amended
01/07/2012
Supplementary Information Updated
06/06/2017
Local Authority
Midlothian
Parish
Lasswade
NGR
NT 29083 65419
Coordinates
329083, 665419

The early 18th century landscape at Mavisbank marks the transition from ideas of formality to the beginning of the picturesque movement in Scotland. Its creator, Sir John Clerk was a major figure in Scottish cultural history. He introduced ideas into Scotland that were sweeping through his contemporary's gardens in England, including the ferme ornee, and was instrumental in laying the foundations of the Scottish Enlightenment. Clerk gave expression to his antiquarian interests through incorporating a pre-existing archaeological feature which he regarded as a 'Roman

Station', the landscape forming part of an innovative experiment to bring the villa suburbana ideal of Ancient Rome to the lowlands of Scotland. The exceptional survival of documentary evidence is significant, as is the physical survival of successive layers of garden making. The quality of

harmony achieved by Clerk between the house and designed landscape, gives Mavisbank a position of great importance in Scottish landscape design history.

Type of Site

A small country estate with surviving evidence of: an early eighteenth century ferme ornee with a pate d'oie or 'goosefoot' of allees and vistas, former wilderness, a canal, a 'Roman Station' and walled gardens with gazebo; modifications made in the late eighteenth century to create a landscape park with parkland, specimen trees and informal lochan; and later embellishments including Victorian shrubberies.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1724-46, late C18, 1815-40, modifications early C20.

Importance of Site

A site included in the Inventory is assessed for its condition and integrity and for its level of importance. The criteria used are set out in Annex 5 of the Scottish Historic Environment Policy (December 2011). The principles are represented by the following value-based criteria and we have assigned a value for each on a scale ranging from outstanding value to no value. Criteria not applicable to a particular site have been omitted. All sites included in the Inventory are considered to be of national importance.

Work of Art

Value
Outstanding

Through creating Mavisbank, an innovative designed landscape for its time, Sir John Clerk was influential in introducing ideas to Scotland that were sweeping through his contemporary's gardens in England, a style advocated by professionals such as Stephen Switzer and Charles Bridgeman, the ferme ornee. He gave expression to his antiquarian interests, through incorporating a pre-existing archaeological feature modified to a 'Roman Fort', part of an experiment to bring the villa suburbana ideal of Ancient Rome to the lowlands of Scotland. The landscape at Mavisbank marks the transition from ideas of formality to the beginning of the picturesque movement in Scotland. Despite its current condition, it has outstanding value as a Work of Art.

Historical

Value
Outstanding

The exceptional survival of documentary evidence is significant, notably Sir John Clerk's memoirs and his influential essay, 'The Country Seat' on how to build the perfect country retreat - a unique insight into the philosophy of the design – also celebrated by William Adam in 'Vitruvius Scoticus'. The quality of harmony achieved by Clerk between the house and designed landscape endows Mavisbank with great importance in the history of Scottish landscape design. Survival of remnants of the early 18th century ferme ornee layout and succeeding layers provide physical evidence of its development. The association with Sir John Clerk, a major figure in Scottish cultural history who was instrumental in laying the foundations of the Scottish Enlightenment, and William Adam, described by Clerk as 'The Universal Architect of Scotland', gives Mavisbank outstanding historical value.

Horticultural, Arboricultural, Silvicultural

Value
Little

The surviving plant collection at Mavisbank as little Horticultural value.

Architectural

Value
Outstanding

The designed landscape provides the setting for Mavisbank House, listed category A, thought to be the most important surviving small country house built in Scotland in the early 18th century, and for associated buildings and features, category A group, giving it outstanding architectural value.

Scenic

Value
Some

The mature parks and woodlands of Mavisbank policies make some contribution to the variety of the surrounding scenery.

Nature Conservation

Value
High

Mavisbank was named after the song-thrush and still has some value in this category through the diverse habitats provided by the unmanaged woodlands, lochan and river. The designed landscape is adjacent to the Bilston Burn and Hewan Bank Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Archaeological

Value
Outstanding

The presence of a large circular earthwork, garden archaeology, and the potential to discover related works and evidence, as well appreciation of how archaeological remains were viewed and adapted in the early years of the Scottish Enlightenment, give Mavisbank outstanding archaeological value.

Location and Setting

Situated 9km south-east of Edinburgh, the designed landscape occupies the north side of the River North Esk, flowing here on a south-west to north-east alignment through an incised valley. While the valley slopes rise steeply immediately on the south side of the river, on the north side a narrow low-lying flood plain rises through a short escarpment to a broad upper terrace north of which a wooded escarpment rises steeply to the valley edge, with flat agricultural land beyond. Mavisbank House stands at the south-west end of the site, commanding views to the north-east. Localised landform within the designed landscape, including the earthwork, the 'Roman Station', situated immediately south-west of Mavisbank House combines with natural topography to create a dramatic, compact and secluded setting. The designed landscape, which occupies some 146 hectares, is surrounded by urban development with Loanhead, 1km to the north-west, Lasswade, 2km to the east, and Bonnyrigg and Polton, approximately 1km to the south-east. These communities are set amid an agricultural landscape altered by former coal mining.

The designed landscape is defined on the north side by the garden boundaries of housing south of Lasswade and Braeside Roads and by the A768. The boundary continues down the west side of Kevock Road, incorporating residential properties including the Old Lodge (listed category C) then descends to the valley floor, continuing on the line of a footpath leading west, running parallel to and north of the River North Esk as far as the road bridge at Polton. From here the boundary follows the derelict retaining wall on the north side of Polton Road and then leads directly north, on the edge of the parkland west of the 'Roman Station' leading to the west side of the former carriage drive heading north to Linden Place. Views into Mavisbank are afforded largely from Polton, south-east of the house and from the A768 across the farmland along the northern boundary. There are long views across the valley from the top edge of the escarpment on the north edge of the designed landscape. The mature parks and woodlands of Mavisbank policies make some contribution to the variety of the surrounding scenery.

Mavisbank is one of a number of cultural landscapes established within the dramatic beauty of the River North Esk valley: Newhall (qv), an eighteenth century picturesque landscape laid out along the river glen, associated with Newhall House; Penicuik (qv), an influential and fine example of the early eighteenth century work and family home of Sir John Clerk, creator of Mavisbank; Roslin Glen and Hawthornden Castle (qv), a cultural landscape developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, epitomising the Scottish Romantic landscape as portrayed by numerous artists, historical and literary figures; Melville Castle (qv), where elements of the designed landscape dating from c1765 survive; and Dalkeith House (Palace) (qv), a formal design, modified to an informal layout in the late C18.

Site History

In 1695, John Clerk (1) acquired the Barony of Lasswade and purchased Mavisbank farm, and had plans to build a 'small' house from which he could supervise his local coal mining operations more easily than from the family home in Penicuik, however, the plans were not realised. In the previous year his son, John Clerk (2), had gone to Leiden to study law, latterly undertaking the Grand Tour (1697-1698) and learning French, Dutch and Italian and studying music in Rome. On his return, he was admitted to the Scottish Bar in 1700 and appointed Commissioner to the Union with England in 1705. Following the Union of Scottish and English parliaments in 1707, he represented Scotland in the first parliament of Great Britain and was appointed a year later as one of the Barons of the Exchequer.

In 1709, John Clerk (2) married his second wife, Janet Inglis, daughter of John Inglis of Cramond, whose father-in-law was Adam Cockburn, an influential early landscape improver and chief justice of Scotland. Two years later having acquired the Cammo estate (qv), he began to explore ideas of estate improvement and spent eight years laying out the designed landscape. From this time on a large number of encounters and visits, faithfully recorded in his memoirs, would have influence on his eventual approach at Mavisbank. For example, in 1717 William Stukeley, creator of antiquarian group, 'Equites Romani' or Roman Knights, visited John Clerk (2) at Penicuik, remaining in regular contact, Clerk being referred to as 'Agricola' in the subsequent correspondence. In 1720 there was an influential visit to the Earl of Glencairn's estate at Finlaystone in Renfrewshire, which may have influenced Clerk's approach to a rural form of gardening. A year later, while John Clerk (2) was managing the affairs of Duke of Queensberry at Drumlanrig, he would learn of the incorporation of an iron age fort in the Duke's landscape layout for Amesbury, in Wiltshire. Throughout this time, Clerk would also have known of the Roman Station at Cramond, part of his father-in-law's grounds.

The first baronet died in 1722 and Clerk (2) inherited the family estates, turning his attention to Mavisbank farm, acquired by his father 30 years earlier. Clerk, now second baronet, collaborated with William Adam to develop designs for a small villa at Mavisbank, at the same time shaping ideas for the landscape. The project, which indulged Clerk's love for Palladian architecture, would prove inspirational to both, giving full expression to Clerk's vision described in his poem 'The Country Seat' and celebrated by William Adam in 'Vitruvius Scoticus'. This house would be a summer residence, a pied-a-terre when working in Edinburgh, as well as a place to house Clerk's art collection and indulge his love of the classics. The Arcadian landscape of the River North Esk valley which echoed, in small scale, that of the Villa Adriana at Tivoli, gave Sir John Clerk the opportunity to realise his vision to bring the Roman Villa ideal to the lowlands of Scotland. Possibly the earliest use of the word 'villa', in the accepted eighteenth century context, occurs in a Latin inscription cut into one of the piers of the principal façade by Sir John Clerk.

The foundations of the house were laid in 1723, the site deliberately chosen by Clerk to integrate what he believed to be a 'Roman station' into the layout of the garden. The axis connecting both subsequently controlled the arrangement of the designed landscape, in this resembling similar layouts at Amesbury Court, Downton Moot, Wilton and Blaise. By 1724 the walled garden was built and fruit trees planted. Realising the villa to be too small, Clerk commissioned a south pavilion, for use as a stabling and coach house, which was completed in 1725. A year later the drive from Mavisbank to Loanhead was established, following the course of a former stream. By 1728, with building work virtually finished, the north pavilion completed the symmetry of the house, adding emphasis to the axis linking the 'Roman Station', Mavisbank House and courtyard and the arrangement of the designed landscape as a pate d'oie or 'goosefoot', north east of the house. This was expressed as three allees radiating from the front elevation of the house, controlling vistas to and from Mavisbank House, avenues of elm or lime trees flanking the allees, the wedges between planted densely with trees as wilderness. A doocot, epitomising the character of the rural idyll, was built in 1738, positioned in a prominent position on the rim of the valley, terminating the view along the central axis of the goosefoot. Similar features may have terminated the north and south allees.

Clerk continued to visit many estates including Wilton, Chiswick, Castle Howard, Houghton and Woolerton, keeping up-to-date with contemporary trends and approaches in garden making and seeking innovative ideas to explore at Mavisbank. The visits were faithfully recorded in his journals, which continue to provide a unique insight into his tastes and an understanding of the influences on Mavisbank. In 1746, Sir John Clerk recorded in his memoirs that Mavisbank was completed.

The resulting composition was an example of a ferme ornee, a style advocated in the 1720s and 1730s by Stephen Switzer, an early exponent of the English landscape garden, and Charles Bridgeman, pioneer of the jardin anglais which was spreading through Europe in the 18th century. In the ferme ornee the economic and pleasurable aspects of agriculture and garden making merged, pleasure ground and rural gardening combining within a formal structure. Parkland for grazing, woodlands for timber and shelter to the main house and water bodies stocked with fish, epitomised the functional benefits of the ferme ornee. The harmonious relationship of the designed landscape and the principle building gave full expression to the aesthetic beauty of this style. Emphasis was given to formal geometry of axial walks, regular enclosures and canals and the use of low maintenance functional elements such as hedgerows for ornament and interest, in contrast to labour intensive parterres. By the mid 18th century, the valley of the River North Esk was becoming increasingly industrialised with the establishment of the first Lasswade paper mill and the expansion of coal mining. Clerk advised his wife that she should 'at no time depend it for the chief residence of my family.' Sir John Clerk died in 1755, when the designed landscape was at its peak.

He was succeeded by the third baronet, his eldest son, James. After the death of his mother, James focused attention on Penicuik. In 1761, he passed part of the barony of Loanhead containing the Mavisbank estate to his cousin, Robert Clerk. On a plan of the Barony of Loanhead, dated 1786, commissioned by Sir John Clerk, Mavisbank house and policy are excluded. A painting of Mavisbank, dating from around 1786, shows the landscape in a state of transition. Although the central axis is still prominent, the enclosing walls of the courtyard have been removed, the courtyard parterre replaced by grass and an elegant looped drive introduced. The woodland and wilderness areas appear to have been thinned. In 1815 Graeme Mercer, who was the East India Company's resident surgeon and secretary to the Marquis of Wellesley in India, bought Mavisbank and took up residence on his return.

During the period 1815-1840, the changes begun by Robert Clerk's introduction of an elegant carriage circle in the forecourt of Mavisbank House, continued through easing the geometry of the ferme ornee and the romanticising towards a more naturalistic landscape park. The formation of an approach drive from the east, Kevock, end of the designed landscape transformed the experience of approach to the house. In contrast to the dramatic experience of Sir John Clerk's approaches from the north, of plunging steeply through woodland to a sunlit terrace and the microcosmic world and intimate harmony of Mavisbank and its landscape setting, the east approach was long and leisurely, through well established woodland affording glimpses and long views, building to the climax of arrival at the house itself.

Other changes may have accompanied the transformation from ferme ornee to romantic landscape: the canal was enlarged from a narrow rectilinear shape to a wider informal lochan; the wilderness between the lake and villa was cleared creating an arc of open ground affording open views to the lochan, framed by the introduction of parkland trees; extensive tree planting at the east end of the designed landscape; new stables were established south of the walled garden near the confluence of the River North Esk and Bilsten Burn; the south drive was realigned south of its original route; the introduction of apartments to the rear of the original villa required realignment of the north drive and the introduction of retaining walls to create flat platforms for the building extensions; the weirs within the North Esk may have been formed at this time. Mercer died unmarried aged 77 and Mavisbank was sold. End notes to the memoirs states that a George Clerk Arbuthnot, a Liverpool merchant, acquired Mavisbank in 1842.

By the Ordnance Survey (County Series) 1:10560 (6”), surveyed 1852, published 1854, there is little evidence of Sir John Clerk's three allees, new stables have been built, two new bridges adjacent to the stables over the North Esk established, the south approach skirts the walled garden and north and south wings added behind the house quadrants. Clerk Arbuthnot family photographs from the 1860s characterise a Victorian designed landscape and lifestyle: from the west, parkland rolling up to the villa, with short meadow grassland spattered with wildflowers and mature parkland trees; from the east, the sculpted slopes of the 'Roman Station' forming a grassy amphitheatre north and west of the villa; to the south and east the grass is shaved lawn and groups of rhododendrons suggest that John Clerk's wilderness had been replaced by a Victorian shrubbery by 1860.

In 1877 Mavisbank House was sold to 'Heritages Association Ltd' and then purchased by the Mavisbank Company Ltd. It became a private asylum and its name changed to New Saughton House. A contemporary plan, possibly part of a condition survey at that time, shows the modifications and alterations made to the house and designed landscape by the late 19th century including: various accretions around Mavisbank House; the north, south and east drives were still extant; a variation on the carriage circle is shown and the courtyard between two enlarged pavilions appears to be paved; the three drives meet east of the north pavilion, the final 100 metres on approach to the villa runs south of the north pavilion and a service road ran parallel but led to a courtyard north of the north pavilion; the lochan, fed by springs along its north bank, has been widened to the north, incorporating an island; the plan shows woodland densely planted on rough ground north of the lochan, some tree planting less dense, in rows, south-east of the lochan and some woodland, sparse, planted on rough ground north and west of the villa.

The Ordnance Survey (County Series) 1:2500 (25”), re-surveyed 1892-3, published 1894, shows that by the 1890s partially planted terraces had been constructed across the east front of the villa. According to the Mavisbank Company balance sheet, a large sum of money was spent on improvements, sanctioned by Sir John Barry Tuke, then a prominent figure in health care. The Ordnance Survey (2nd edition) 1:2500 (25”), revised 1905-6, shows a much enlarged Mavisbank House facing onto terraces framed by close mown lawns. The Ordnance Survey (County Series) 1:2500 (25”), re-surveyed 1893, revised 1912, published 1914, shows the landscape had been modified to accommodate extensive new wings, the terraces by then replaced by a gentle slope. The final approach was realigned to the centre of the slope, curving gently from the north, terminating in a circular turning head in front of the entrance steps, as today.

In 1953 the Mavisbank Company went into voluntary liquidation and the house was sold to Dr WM Harrows, the former superintendent of the asylum. He received a grant in 1954 from the Ministry of Works to demolish the mid 19th century apartments and former hospital wings. This restored the original appearance of the house and the original name of Mavisbank was reinstated. The house was sold in 1954 to Archie Stevenson. In 1971 a number of architectural features were listed including Mavisbank House, the walled gardens, gazebo and game larder. In 1973, Mavisbank House was gutted by fire, destroying the interiors and roofs and the landscape too fell into a subsequent decline. The shell of the house has remained in a derelict condition ever since. Mavisbank House and its policies were designated a conservation area by Midlothian District Council in November 1977 and subsequently enlarged in 1992 to include land on the south side of the valley.

In 1979 the house was sold to Mr Stevenson's daughter who, in 1981, further sold the house in three parts to three owners, while retaining ownership of 66 acres of land. In 1985, British Coal announced an intention to extract coal from seams lying near and directly under the house and Scottish Office engineers advised on the possible effects of subsidence. When, in 1987, Midlothian Council announced its intention to demolish the property, the Secretary of State issued an Emergency Repairs Notice under Section 97 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act. The condition of the buildings had deteriorated, due to the impact of mining subsidence. In April 1987, the Historic Buildings Branch of the Scottish Development Department made the house safe and in 1989 the Lothian Building Preservation Trust undertook a feasibility study to restore Mavisbank House. The policy grounds were acquired from Mr Stevenson's daughter in 1995 by Historic Scotland and in 1991 the earthwork, which had been previously been scheduled in 1935 as a fort, together with the remains of the house and its policies were scheduled.

In 1992 Historic Scotland commissioned the Debois Landscape Survey Group to record what survived of the designed landscape as a preliminary to a landscape management plan. In 2002, a Feasibility Study and Economic Market Analysis were commissioned by the Edinburgh Green Belt Trust, funded by the Architectural Heritage Fund and Midlothian Council. In 2005 the Mavisbank Trust, a subsidiary of the Edinburgh Green Belt Trust, commissioned and developed a detailed Project Planning Submission, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Architectural Heritage Fund and Midlothian Council, as part of an HLF bid to renovate the house for use as a public venue and to restore the designed landscape to its former glory. In 2011, Historic Scotland prepared a Landscape Management Plan 2011-2016 for the area of land under the ownership of Scottish Ministers as managed by Historic Scotland, which represents the core of the designed landscape excluding a number of peripheral areas now in private ownership. There are no formal arrangements for public access.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Mavisbank House is a Classical country house, built between 1723 and 1727, with alterations in 1840. It was built in Penicuik sandstone as a five by four bay square-plan corps de logis, with flanking quadrant links of a single arcaded storey over a basement, the screen walls curving forward and linking symmetrically disposed pavilions. The gable ends of the two storey pavilions are flanked by banded pilasters and above Venetian windows boldly scrolled chimney stacks are pierced by a central bulls eye, echoing the main house. The south pavilion took advantage of changes in ground level, and had a second basement and service yard. Much of the existing exterior of the house, although currently roofless, remains as it was originally designed by Sir John Clerk and William Adam (1689-1748). Only vestiges of the interior, which was laid out as a series of enfilades, the doors and windows arranged to control views to the landscape beyond, survive.

North-east of the north pavilion of Mavisbank House, a large barrel vaulted early 18th century structure, listed as an ice house but of uncertain function, is set into the bank. Constructed of dressed sandstone, the interior of double brick vaulting formerly lined with plaster may have been modified late 19th or early 20th century. A tall circular early 18th century Doocot stands on the north rim of the valley. In Sir John Clerk's time, this eye-catching feature would draw the viewer across the subtle formality of the villa and its gardens to the productive rural agricultural world beyond. The upper third of the doocot is partially missing and no evidence of nesting boxes survives. The building is roofless with a sunken doorway on the south west face and a full doorway and arch set above. Low flanking walls on either side of the doocot only partially survive. A small window or oculus on the south east face reflects similar features on the main house and the former Jointure House on Linden Place, Loanhead.

North of Mavisbank House, at the north west end of the north drive, is Mavisbank Jointure House, one of the oldest buildings in Loanhead. Built as a property to be enjoyed by a widow after the death of her husband, it was first occupied by Lady Clerk, Janet Inglis, in 1755. It seems she disliked its proximity to Loanhead, noting that she had to lift the hoops of her skirt sideways on entering and exiting the house, thus 'exposing' herself to local townsfolk. The building may have been used as an infant school in the 19th century and is now split into two dwellings. East of this, at the top of the north drive, is Mavisbank Gate Lodge, built around 1830 and now in private ownership. The Old Lodge on Kevock Road, at the east end of the policies, also appears to have been constructed at this time. In the mid 20th century, it was sold to a private owner.

The Dairy buildings stand south of Mavisbank House, at the west end of the south drive, opposite the remnants of the small flower garden and gazebo. Much of this handsome complex of buildings, built in the mid 19th century on the site of a former 18th century farm, survives with dairy, stabling and storage and walled yard with gate piers and gates. It has been converted into three dwellings. The Game Larder, 19th century, with associated icehouse below, stands on the wooded ridge between the house and the dairy, for optimum shade and ventilation.

Drives & Approaches

The north and south drives are the oldest, established in Sir John Clerk's time. The north drive served as the principal access and led into Mavisbank from Loanhead. The steep confined serpentine nature of this drive was dramatic, descending and concealing by turns what lay beyond until the climax at the upper terrace, the house and its designed landscape fully revealed. In the 19th century, the southern end of the drive was realigned to accommodate villa extensions. The drive is currently in private ownership. The south drive, which possibly pre-dated the Clerk landscape, traditionally provided the service access to Mavisbank to, for example, the stables in the south pavilion and the walled kitchen and flower gardens. In the 19th century the dairy, its ancillary buildings and yard were established at the south end of this drive. Although paved at its southern end, beyond the north side of the main kitchen garden, the drive survives as a grassy track fading into a field to the west of the 'Roman Station'. The shift in style from ferme ornee to landscape park in the early 19th century was reflected in a change of emphasis from the dramatic north approach to a lengthy and more leisurely approach from the east, where glimpsed views of the house were orchestrated by parkland trees and clumps. Used as recently as 1950, this drive became redundant with the sale of the east lodge and is now a grassy track eroded by springs and rivulets.

Paths & Walks

Documentary evidence identifies a number of paths and walks associated with the ferme ornee. The Debois report describes serpentine paths, of which some evidence remains, leading through the wilderness wedges and crossing the avenues, affording views towards Mavisbank House. West of the 'Roman Station' evidence of a path network, which explored the dramatic contours of this part of the designed landscape and thus the views, survives. Between the house and the woodland garden, a terraced walk dating from the 18th century remains evident. A walk through the woodland garden on the south-facing bank from the house to the kitchen garden was described by Allan Ramsay in his 'Epistle wrote from Mavisbank' in 1740 as well as paths leading down to the river. In the 18th century, in contrast to the formality of the three allees, sheltered circuit walks were orchestrated along the river and lower parkland, heralding the enjoyment of the 'picturesque', surviving today as an informal riverside walk, enjoyed by the local community.

Parkland

Two areas of parkland survive, the first extending north and east of the house as upper and lower parkland and the second is an area of undulating slopes, west of the house and 'Roman Station'. A tree report dated 2004, records a number of fine individual specimen trees in the parkland at Mavisbank, some from the 18th century layout and many surviving from 19th century plantings. North and east of the house, in the upper parkland, in an area formerly allees and wilderness, fine specimens of oak and occasional lime, beech and horse chestnut stand around the lochan, with well developed spreading canopies. In the 18th century, in the lower parkland nearer the river, it is thought that the plantings would have made a physical and visual transition between the dense wedges of wilderness tree planting and the more naturalistic wooded river valley. West of the house and 'Roman Station', an open parkland character remains with beech predominating, with some fine well formed specimens dating from the early 19th century. In general a large number of stumps testify to a history of gradual loss and depletion of individual specimen trees in the estate.

Woodland

Little survives of the early 18th century woodland planting, avenues of elm or lime trees flanking the allees and the wedges between as wooded wilderness. It is known that by later in the century Clerk had already modified the original layout to a more relaxed style, by thinning areas of wilderness. The late 18th century landscape park is now more in evidence, the undulating parkland framed by woodland on the steeper slopes. Two linear strips of woodland, which occupy sloping ground north and south of the parkland, are of mixed age structure and species. Although a few original trees survive, the loss of elms and self-seeding of sycamore combine with mature and overgrown laurel and rhododendron, changing the character and appearance of the woodland, growing over paths and impeding views. Specimens dating from the 19th century are scattered throughout the site but the presence of many large stumps testify to a history of loss and depletion. The present landscape is generally inward-looking, in parts intimate, enhanced by the woodlands, tree groups, avenues and parkland trees, all of which blend well with the rolling topography and valley character of the site. Some of the scrub and self-seeded trees, invasive in areas around the house over the last forty years, have been removed.

Water Features

The narrow irregular lochan, situated in the parkland north-east of the house and located on what was the central allee of the 'goosefoot', survives from the formal layout of the early 18th century ferme ornee. Originally a narrow rectilinear canal seamlessly married to topography and fed from a diverted stream, it would have presented a pleasing tableau of the house, reflected in its clear still sheet of water, looking back from the north-east. Garden archaeology research may reveal more about the full decorative nature of the canal. Its functional aspects may have included uses such as hydrological control, as a reservoir of water, for ice production and/or for the stocking of fish. In the mid 19th century the canal was enlarged to create a more naturalistic water body, more characteristic of a landscape park. This proved unsuccessful, the excavated soil dumped on the south side creating an awkward illusion of low water level in the lochan and natural topography restricting the extent to which the lochan could be extended.

Clerk also valued the wild natural scenery of the River North Esk as a contrast to the formality of the pate d'oie and canal. The dramatic river landscape added greatly to the variety of the garden experience and anticipated the desire for the picturesque and sublime landscapes which would emerge later in the century. This connection to the river was expressed, in the early 18th century, through, for example, a walk that was thought to lead from the house to the walled gardens by way of the river itself, a tradition that continues in the present riverside walk.

The Gardens

In the 18th century, the immediate setting of the house held two axial features which, in composition with the house, controlled the arrangement of the designed landscape: the courtyard north east of the house and the 'Roman Station' immediately south west. The introduction of pavilions in symmetrical arrangement gave added emphasis to the east front of Mavisbank House and shaped a courtyard which Clerk may have enclosed by walls. Documentary evidence suggests that this area was laid out either as a courtyard parterre anglais or as grass with gravel paths, reflecting the formality and symmetrical arrangement of the pavilions and that there was a change in level between the forecourt and the landscape beyond. Later modifications by Clerk, which heralded the shift towards a more informal style, would see this replaced by grass and an elegant looped drive, the enclosing walls removed. By 1894 the gently sloping bank between the parkland and the house had been remodelled into a series of terraces and planted banks, none of which survives today, with the area directly in front of the house currently grassed.

Rising steeply south west of Mavisbank House, a large circular earthwork, visible as a flat-topped mound, occupies the summit of a natural hill. As a sculpted feature, it is somewhat enigmatic, set within the parkland surrounding the house. Its close proximity to the house and its visual and physical relationship to the central axis of the house and to the former central allee of the goosefoot, identifies the mound as a key element formerly controlling the layout of the designed landscape. Documentary sources establish that the earthwork was a pre-existing archaeological feature, either a prehistoric enclosure dating from 1000BC to AD 400 or a medieval motte dating from AD 1100 to 1300. Clerk, a keen antiquarian, records that he made a deliberate decision to site Mavisbank House here 'for the sake of the round hill above it', believing it to be a 'Roman Station', thus fulfilling his vision to bring the Roman villa ideal to the lowlands of Scotland.

Clerk modified the pre-existing earthwork by creating or enhancing the terrace, now visible part way down its sloping sides. He integrated the feature into the garden by creating 'a winding ascent up to it, with hedges planted from the bottome to the top' providing direct access from the house to the summit. He also wished to enjoy a view of a Roman 'trench and agger' from his salon window. Commanding views from the 'Roman Station' to the north east would reveal the character of his Arcadian vision made real in the valley of the River North Esk. In 1739, Roger Gale and Doctor Knight, one of the founders of the Society of Antiquities, visited Mavisbank, Gale observing that 'you would think yourself rather in a valley near Tivoli than Edenborough.' Gradual colonisation of the north east bank of the mound by rhododendron species, planted mid 19th century, currently obscures the symmetrical ramped paths or 'winding ascent' and mature sycamore species intervene in views from the summit across the designed landscape.

Walled Gardens

The large early 18th-century oval walled kitchen garden, situated in a sheltered position south east of the house, between the south drive and the river, is now entirely under grass, with two mature yew trees, believed to be planted by Sir John Clerk, at the north-east end of a central walk. This walk is part of a surviving formal cruciform arrangement of paths, controlled by an axial alignment with the house, the whole connected by a wide perimeter walk. The central circular focal space, occupied in Sir John Clerk's time by a pool, fountain and bronze statue, is now vacant. Gateways to the north west, north east and south east survive as square plan ashlar sandstone gatepiers and wrought iron gates, a set of stone steps descending into the kitchen garden from the north west entrance. Old fruit trees survive, trained on the inner red brick skin of the long curving south-facing walls, which are part retaining wall on the garden side and free standing along the west drive, where the external wall is faced in ashlar sandstone, as that of the house, quarried in Penicuik. After World War II the garden was sold and used as a market garden and, later, as a nursery. The former lean-to potting sheds and vinery on the south side of the straight south wall of the garden have been rebuilt as a private residence.

Remnants of a smaller early 18th-century walled flower garden survive to the south-west of the kitchen garden. General Roy's map of around 1750 depicts the connection of the central axial walk through the large kitchen garden leading to a smaller rectangular walled garden to the south-west. The large kitchen garden was originally constructed as circular and possibly re-planned to an oval configuration in its southern half in response to alterations to the course of the River North Esk around 1850, alterations which also reduced the small rectangular garden to a triangular space. A small square-plan 18th-century sandstone gazebo or summerhouse, built by Sir John Clerk, has survived within the remains of this former flower garden

References

Bibliography

Maps, Plans and Archives

Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland: National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS) and photographic and manuscript collections : Mavisbank House

Roy Military Survey of Scotland, Sheet 7, 1747-1755

OS (County Series) 1:10560 (6”), surveyed 1852, published 1854

OS (County Series) 1:2500 (25”), re-surveyed 1892-3, published 1894

OS (2nd edition) 1:2500 (25”), revised 1905-6

OS (County Series) 1:2500 (25”), re-surveyed 1893, revised 1912, published 1914

Sources

Printed Sources

Building Design, 1979, April 27

Debois Landscape Survey Group, March 1992, Mavisbank: A Survey of the landscape

Dingwall, C, Scotland's Gardens (unpublished), chapter 3

Historic Scotland, 2011, Mavisbank Policies Landscape Management Plan 2011-2016

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

Mavisbank Building Preservation Trust, March 2005, Mavisbank House and policies: Project Planning Submission

Midlothian Council, 1992, Mavisbank Conservation Area

Scotsman, 1978, Feb 20

Sutherland, R, 1974, Loanhead: the Development of a Scottish Burgh, Macdonald

The Times, 1978, Feb 22

Historic Environment Scotland Properties

Mavisbank Policies

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/

Find out more

Related Designations

  1. MAVISBANK HOUSE, DOOCOTLB7386

    Designation Type
    Listed Building (A)
    Status
    Designated
  2. MAVISBANK HOUSE, GAME LARDERLB44164

    Designation Type
    Listed Building (B)
    Status
    Designated
  3. MAVISBANK HOUSE, ICE HOUSELB44165

    Designation Type
    Listed Building (B)
    Status
    Designated
  4. Mavisbank,(New Saughton Hall),house,doocot,policies & earthworkSM4921

    Designation Type
    Scheduled Monument
    Status
    Removed

About the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for the designation of buildings, monuments, gardens and designed landscapes and historic battlefields. We also advise Scottish Ministers on the designation of historic marine protected areas.

The inventory is a list of Scotland's most important gardens and designed landscapes. We maintain the inventory under the terms of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We add sites of national importance to the inventory using the criteria published in the Historic Environment Scotland Policy Statement.

The information in the inventory record gives an indication of the national importance of the site(s). It is not a definitive account or a complete description of the site(s). The format of records has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

Enquiries about development proposals, such as those requiring planning permission, on or around inventory sites should be made to the planning authority. The planning authority is the main point of contact for all applications of this type.

Find out more about the inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and our other designations at www.historicenvironment.scot. You can contact us on 0131 668 8716 or at designations@hes.scot.

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Printed: 20/11/2018 07:31