Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (


Date Added
Supplementary Information Updated
Local Authority
Orkney Islands
Walls And Flotta
ND 27175 89364
327175, 989364

An early 20th-century Arts and Crafts style garden and landscape which forms the setting for a category A listed house and plays a very important role in the scenery of the Orkney Islands.

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

The gardens at Melsetter have high value as a work of art in their present form.


Level of interest

Melsetter has high historical value due to its associations with the Moodie family and with W.R. Lethaby and William Morris.


Level of interest

The garden at Melsetter has little horticultural value although the trees are of silvicultural interest due to the exposure of the site.


Level of interest

The designed landscape at Melsetter has outstanding architectural value as it provides the setting for category A listed buildings, and is the only complete example of W.R. Lethaby's work in Scotland.


Level of interest
Not Assessed


Level of interest

The designed landscape at Melsetter, in particular the house, boundary walls and woodlands, are of outstanding scenic interest.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

The woodlands of Melsetter are of high nature conservation value due to the rarity of woodland cover on Hoy.

Location and Setting

Melsetter House is situated at the head of North Bay at the south end of the Island of Hoy, Orkney. The town of Stromness lies some 11 miles (18km) due north on mainland Orkney whilst mainland Scotland lies some 9.5 miles (15km) due south across the Pentland Firth. The B9047, the main route across Hoy, forms the eastern boundary of the designed landscape. To the north, the landscape rises gently beyond Melsetter Hill to a height of 479' (146m) at Ward Hill. Melsetter occupies one of the most sheltered parts of the island. The immediate surrounding landscape is rolling farmland which is important to the setting of the house. Also important to the setting is North Bay, a sea loch which lies beyond the B9047, between the islands of Hoy and South Walls.

From within the Melsetter policies, fine views can be gained north across Hoy and east down to Longhope Bay; from the Burial Ground on the top of Melsetter Hill, views can be gained across the Pentland Firth to the Castle of Mey and the Scottish mainland. Melsetter is highly significant within the landscape looking south from the B9047; the buildings are seen on the skyline and the garden is visually exposed on its east-facing slope.

Melsetter House stands in the lee of Melsetter Hill within 25 acres (10ha) of designed landscape which is enclosed on all sides by walls and extends to the B9047 in the east. The kennels and gamekeeper's house stand on the shore to the north-east of the policies. Published documentary map evidence of the designed landscape is confined to the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map of 1882 and the 2nd edition map of 1906. Comparison of these shows that the extent of the designed landscape has remained constant into the 20th century. There are two access drives; a main south drive to the house, and an access road on the north boundary.

Site History

Melsetter House was built in 1898 and incorporated features of an earlier house which are known to date from 1738. The layout shown on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map of 1882 remains today although the gardens were replanted for Thomas Middlemore in circa 1900.

An earlier house at Melsetter was built in the 16th century for William Moodie of Melsetter. His family was responsible for the earliest remaining parts of the current house and gardens which date from 1738. (The house was sacked by the Jacobites in 1745.) Robert Heddle of Cletts purchased Melsetter from the estate of Major James Moodie in 1818. The Ordnance Survey Gazetteer of 1883 notes the owner to be John George Moodie-Heddle. In 1898, Thomas Middlemore acquired the island and subsequently carried out many improvements in the course of which he commissioned W.R. Lethaby (a friend of his brother, Sir John) to extend the house. Lethaby was a pupil of Richard Norman Shaw and a follower of William Morris, and Melsetter remains as one of the most important surviving examples of Lethaby's work. Local people were responsible for the construction of the house and local craftsmen assembled the furniture, some being made in Kirkwall.

Many well known personalities of the Arts and Crafts movement and the Bloomsbury Set, including May Morris and Duncan Grant, were regular visitors to Melsetter; May Morris described it as 'a sort of fairy palace on the edge of the northern seas'.

The house was occupied during both World Wars; during the Second World War, the house was requisitioned by the Admiralty as the residence of the Admiral in command at Scapa Flow. Whilst still requisitioned, the widow of the owner died and, after the War, the ownership of the estate changed. Restoration work to the house and gardens were taken forward in the later 20th century.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Melsetter House was built in 1899 to the design of W.R. Lethaby and it is reputedly Lethaby's only complete work in Scotland. Lethaby's design incorporated the south wing of a former house built in 1738. Measured drawings were made of the house in 1943 by J. Brandon-Jones FRIBA. The Chapel was built by Lethaby in c.1900 to the southwest of the house. The walled garden, incorporating a tea house and doocot is thought to date from the 1738 phase of the design. The walls of the walled garden are thought to have been heightened in the 1900 phase of work. The steading and outbuildings are by W.R. Lethaby circa 1900. The walls which form the boundary of the designed landscape are important features in the landscape. There is a mid 19th century, single storey South Lodge. The gates and other ornamental ironwork are distinctive by their Arts and Crafts design. A sundial stands in the flower garden.


The park lies to the east of the house between the gardens and the B9047. There are no park trees today although old photographs in the Moodie family collection show large trees in the parkland in the mid-19th century.


Reference to the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map shows that by the 1880s, woodlands were established at Melsetter on either side of the south drive, along the edge of the park to the flower garden and in a small square to the west of the kitchen garden. By 1906, additional areas of woodland had been planted around the perimeter of the park and to the south of the walled garden. In the 1980s, some sycamore and ash which predate 1906 remained on either side of the south drive and in the square to the west of the kitchen garden. Other willow and alder were planted c.1900, followed by some natural regeneration during the 20th century. Some willow and alder remain in the southeast corner of the park by the lodge but the majority of the trees planted around the perimeter of the park have gone due to exposure to wind and sheep.

The Gardens

The gardens are divided into several compartments, mostly walled, and were originally planted in the Arts and Crafts style popularised by Gertrude Jekyll.

The house and chapel are designed around a high-walled courtyard.

The shrub garden is enclosed to the south and west by the former drive. Its almost triangular form is completed by a hawthorn hedge which cuts the corner of the drive and separates the garden from the formal lawn beyond. Sycamore forms a woodland canopy along the boundary of the garden within which fuchsia, olearia and laburnum are well established.

An area of lawn lies to the south of the house. Photographs taken in the Second World War show a walk along the north side of the lawn edged with miniature cannons. A high wall encloses this compartment on its west side. The plantings of spring bulbs, snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells provide an outstanding display in the gardens in season.

The formal garden lies to the immediate east of the house and north of the formal lawn and is enclosed by low walls. It was designed to be viewed from the drawing room window above. Photographs taken during the Second World War show a layout of rectangular flower beds in grass. These beds have gone, replaced by lawn within which specimen trees and shrubs have been planted, mainly after 1945, although some may date from earlier periods. Shrub and flower beds line the edge of the garden. They have been planted for colour and the effect is extremely attractive. A fuchsia arch overhangs the gate in the north wall through to the kitchen garden.

The rose garden is situated in a square enclosure formed by farm buildings to the west of the house.

Walled Gardens

The kitchen garden is situated to the north of the formal garden and northeast of the house. It is surrounded by low walls and some old fruit trees remain. Restoration work began in 1984. The garden is now partially stocked with vegetables. The original greenhouse does not survive, but has been replaced.

The large walled garden, thought to date from 1738, lies to the south of the house beyond the chapel. The east wall runs along the edge of the former drive. It is divided into two main sections: An apple house is incorporated in the southeast corner of the north section and, above it, a summerhouse from which splendid views can be gained of the whole garden. Access to the summerhouse is by a steep flight of steps on the outer wall. The north section has been cultivated in the past. The southern section was planted as a shrubbery and contains large flowering shrubs.




The Times, Oct 31st 1949

Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer 1883


NMRS, Photographs

Ordnance Survey maps, 1st edition, 2nd edition

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.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

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 selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

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Printed: 22/04/2024 01:05