Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape

MERTOUNGDL00284

Status: Designated

Documents

Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/termsandconditions).

Summary

Date Added
01/07/1987
Last Date Amended
30/06/2011
Local Authority
Scottish Borders
Parish
Maxton, Mertoun
NGR
NT 61917 31634
Coordinates
361917, 631634

Distinguished by its impressive architectural features of the 16th-18th centuries, Mertoun is also significant for the scenic value of its woodlands and its role in nature conservation. The Tweed, which flows through the centre of the designed landscape, is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation on account of its ecological, conservation and habitat value.

Type of Site

An 18th-century country seat developed from an existing estate and featuring a house designed by Sir William Bruce (c.1630-1710). Older features, including a dovecot, 17th-century house and parish church were incorporated within the structure of the designed landscape. Mertoun also features a large parkland component, shelter belts, core policy woodlands and a sizable, well-maintained walled garden.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1703-30s, mid-18th century to early 19th century, 1912-c.1920, 1950s

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
High

The late 18th-early 19th-century landscape was admired and mentioned in verse by renowned poet and writer, Sir Walter Scott.

Historical

Value
High

The surviving built features from the 16th to 18th centuries provide good physical evidence for the development of the estate. The well-maintained walled garden, meanwhile, is a fine example of the kind of productive cultivation associated with large country estates during the 19th century.

Horticultural, Arboricultural, Silvicultural

Value
High

There is a wide range of specimen trees and shrubs around Mertoun House, while the walled garden contains a long-established and diverse plant collection.

Architectural

Value
Outstanding

The parks and woodlands were designed around the early 18th century Mertoun House, by William Bruce, which is recognised for its architectural merit through its category-A listed status. The well-preserved, early dovecot, is another exceptional feature, while further architectural interest is provided by the parish church and Old Mertoun House.

Scenic

Value
High

The policy woodlands are prominent in long, open views across the heavily-farmed Tweed lowlands. The meandering river and parks are attractive components in more local views around the estate.

Nature Conservation

Value
Outstanding

The Tweed, which flows through the designed landscape, is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation on account of its high ecological and conservation value and importance as a habitat for riverine flora and fauna.

Archaeological

Value
High

Visible earthwork remains associated with the old village of Mertoun, combined with the surviving components of the old parish church, churchyard and gravestones, are of high archaeological value for tracing the character of the post-medieval landscape.

Location and Setting

Located just over a mile (1.8km) north-east of St Boswells, Mertoun is set within the broad, lowland valley of the River Tweed. The landscape is characterised by the meandering river itself, which flows through the Mertoun parklands, and open, far-ranging views that extend along the fertile ground of the Tweed corridor and the Berwickshire Merse towards more distant higher ground. Broadleaf policy woodlands around the house are a strong scenic element in these views. North of the river, the ground is drained by the Maidenhall Burn. Where the burn meets the Tweed, a steeper wooded bluff formed by the meandering river gives a more pronounced profile to the Tweed corridor, while the two densely wooded islands enrich views along this water-course. Encompassing a total area of 197ha (487ac), the designed landscape of Mertoun is bounded by a long woodland shelter belt to the south, and minor roads to the north and east. Clintmains, the small estate village, lies just beyond the boundary to the north.

Site History

The structure of the present designed landscape was created during the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the first acts to redesign the old estate grounds of Mertoun was the laying of an inscribed foundation stone for a new house. Discovered during later alteration work, this stone recorded the date; 10th June 1703, and the names of the then owners and instigators; Sir William Scott of Harden and Dame Jean Nisbet, Lady Scott of Harden. Although Scott, and his heir did not live to see the completed house, which progressed slowly, successive generations continued to invest in projects to create pleasing, secluded and productive grounds appropriate for a Borders country seat.

The Scotts of Harden family had first acquired Mertoun from the Haliburtons in 1680. The old baronial estate had comprised a house, park, the 'kirklands' of the parish church, and the small hamlet of Myretoun or Mertoun, and today, glimpses of this former landscape derive from surviving material features, including a 16th-century dovecot, a 17th-century, crow-stepped house, and faint earthworks associated with the old village. Following the initiation of work on the house at the start of the 18th century, the attention of later members of the family turned to the grounds. In 1746, Walter Scott, MP for Roxburgh, inherited the property and despite the faltering estate finances of previous decades, was able to restart improvement work around the estate. Roy's Military Survey of this period (1747-55) depicts the house with two straight tree-lined avenues fanning out to the west and north-west, either side of a triangular plantation block. Perimeter planting is shown along the north, while the bank of the Tweed and course of the Maidenhall burn are depicted with tree-cover.

Over subsequent decades, the design was gradually modified. In keeping with contemporary landscape fashion, larger swathes of land were dedicated as parks featuring clumps, individual specimen trees, and more shelter belt plantations to the south of the Tweed. The old settlement of Mertoun was cleared away and the villagers moved to Clintmains in order to create the desired aesthetic of a pastoral idyll stretching from the house towards the river. Stables, offices and a new, large walled garden catered for the productive and logistical aspects of the estate. By the close of the 18th century, the tone of the new design, which embraced the scenic qualities of the Tweed lowlands and meandering river, had been referred to in the poetry of Sir Walter Scott, a relation and frequent visitor of the Scotts at Mertoun.

Ownership passed directly down the generations through the 19th century and until 1912, when the decision was made to sell Mertoun. The catalogue produced for the sale glows with praise, as one might expect, but is nonetheless a useful historical document in its description of the plants, hot-pits, and glasshouses of the thriving walled garden, the walks and paths of the grounds, and the composition of the woodlands. Mertoun was purchased by Lord and Lady Ellesmere, who immediately began work on remodelling both the house and the gardens, removing the small formal Victorian garden by the south-east wing, and bringing in new ornamental conifers and other trees for the grounds. The 5th Earl of Ellesmere, and later 6th Duke of Sutherland inherited in 1944, and continued with minor improvements and alterations to the gardens. Although the war years brought change, (some woodland was felled and partly replaced with conifers), the designed landscape at Mertoun escaped the drastic decline of other country estates. Late 20th-century projects included the excavation of a pond in the garden, and the ongoing collection and propagation of azaleas; the 'pride and joy' of the late Duke (Scran: BBC Radio Tweed Interview 1989). Today, the landscape remains in good condition and the walled garden is unusual in that it has remained under continuous cultivation for the duration of the 20th and early 21st centuries. The planting and maintenance of much of the core policies is now undertaken via the Mertoun Gardens Trust.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Begun in 1703 to designs by Sir William Bruce, Mertoun House is a classical, symmetrically-planned mansion of 2 storeys on a raised basement. Built from old red sandstone, now weathered to a warm pink, the house was not fully complete or habitable until the 1730s. Single-storey, flanking pavilions were added, probably c.1760s, while later additions and alterations, including a south wing by William Burn (1841-3) and a north wing (1913-16) were subsequently removed during a project by Ian Lindsay to restore the house to its original 18th century proportions (1953-4). The late 17th century Old Mertoun House is traditionally identified as its predecessor. An attractive, harled rubble building with gabled roof, it now serves as the gardener's house and is surrounded by the cultivated ground of the walled garden, built c.late 18th century to early 19th century, with sandstone, rubble walls. Downslope, the tall, beehive-form dovecot, also of sandstone rubble, bears the inscribed date 1576 on its lintel and is noteworthy for its age and good state of preservation. Closer to the main house, a semi-octagonal court of stables, reconstructed c.1912, survives from an originally more extensive 18th-century complex. Footbridges over the Maidenhall Burn lead to further ancillary buildings to the north. Mertoun Church, built 1658 of whinstone rubble with substantial late 19th-century alterations still features its original bellcote and inscribed sundial. The Old Churchyard to the east of the designed landscape comprises the now overgrown and derelict parish burial ground of the medieval church of St Ninian. Several carved 18th-century gravestones stand within the enclosure while surviving fragments of the church vault, converted into a mausoleum in the 18th century, are now in bad repair. A suspension bridge, built in 1880, spans the Tweed.

Drives & Approaches

The main drive to Mertoun House approaches from Clintmains to the north. Passing fields, it crosses the Maidenhall Burn and winds through the main policy woodlands where daffodils line its course during spring. Other access routes fork off towards the parish church, stables and other parts of the estate. The final parkland approach to the south front of house owes its present curve to early 20th-century landscaping work. The minor track from Broomhall that leads up through the core parklands to the south of the house passes faint undulations in the ground which mark the old field boundaries and cultivated plots of the former village of Mertoun.

Paths & Walks

The Victorian designed landscape featured a number of walks, some of which endure today. A riverside path extended along the north bank of the river west to Broomhall and round to Mertoun Bridge. The broken remnants of a statue of a shepherd in the woods above the Tweed is a reminder of how strolls through the policies were once punctuated by more deliberate ornamentation. The pedestrian suspension bridge, erected in 1880, served to link the two main parks, while circling back through the policies, further paths connected the house with the walled garden.

Parkland

The main area of parkland extends south west from Mertoun House towards the loop in the River Tweed and forms a critical element in the setting of the classical mansion. While documentary evidence suggests an early park at Mertoun, mentioned in 1649 (RCAHMS NT63SW 41), the present extent of this parkland dates from an expansion phase begun in the mid-18th century when the old village of Mertoun was cleared away (Cruft et al. 2006: 560). The principal Mertoun park boasts a good range of attractive mature broadleaf trees, supplemented in recent decades by the planting of younger saplings. Species present include veteran sycamore, oak and lime, with other trees consisting of more ornamental varieties, such as copper beech (c. mid-19th century), and horse chestnut, (earlier 20th century). The ha-ha that divides the park from the drive was constructed in the late 1950s using stone from the demolished wings of the house. Another large expanse of park to the south of the river was established and planted by the time of Crawford and Brooke's survey of 1843. Although now mostly farmed, the clumps and remnant planting in this area still enrich views along and across the Tweed corridor.

Woodland

Woodland extends around the north and north east of Mertoun House and partly along the north bank of the Tweed. Comprising mainly broadleaf species, the areas by the house also feature impressive conifer specimens, which project above the surrounding woodland canopy. As with the parkland, plantations had been established at Mertoun by the mid 1700s, although their original structure, depicted on Roy's Military Survey, was altered during the subsequent reorganisation and expansion of the policies. Apart from the tree-cover along the burn, which appears to have been a more enduring woodland element, the present pattern of woodland derives mostly from late 18th-century to early 19th-century projects. The long, curving perimeter strip at the southern edge of the designed landscape, was in place by the 1840s. Maintained as amenity forestry and woods, felled and replanted on a regular basis, this 'Long Plantation' still serves to enclose and seclude the expansive southern park of the designed landscape. Closer to the house, meanwhile, an understorey of rhododendrons together with the mixed lime, oak, beech, yew and Douglas fir around Mertoun parish church, testify to further Victorian woodland projects. Some hardwoods were felled during the Second World War and were replaced with conifers between the walled garden and the river. The Lombardy poplars along the burn and the birch between the house and church were established during the later 20th century

The Gardens

Enclosed by woodland and fringed by conifer specimens, a lawn with an informal, central pond extends to the north east of the house. The creation of the gardens in their present form began in the earlier 20th century, when the previous formal garden to the south east was grassed over, and the main area of focus shifted to the present site. A notable feature from this period are the two impressive Atlantic Cedars, transported to Mertoun by rail and then horse and cart (Tait 1996: 82). In the later 20th century, the 6th Duke and Duchess continued to improve the gardens and the fruit of their labour is now evident from the range of azaleas and other shrubs, the variegated maples and the broad, colourful herbaceous borders around the lawn. In a radio interview, the late Duke recalled how the lawn to the north-east had formerly seemed quite bare, and so on one winters day in the 1980s, he traced the outline of the pond using sawdust in the snow (BBC Radio Tweed Interview 1989).

The structure of the earlier formal garden to the south-east remains visible on aerial photographs of Mertoun. Leading from the side of the now-demolished south-east wing, and 'placed at a point of vantage for viewing the charming landscape' (Sales Catalogue 1912) this Victorian garden was criss-crossed by axial paths and ornamented by flower and rose beds.

Walled Gardens

The large, irregular walled garden was built and developed sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s around the older, 17th century Old Mertoun House. Unlike many similar gardens, it has been continually maintained to a high standard and is well stocked with a diverse range of fruits, flowers and vegetables. It occupies the sheltered south-facing slope of the glen formed by Maidenhall Burn, with the lower, steep slope navigated by means of a zig-zag path to a gate in the south wall. This, and the other paths through the garden, faithfully trace those of the 19th century, and it is likely that apart from a small sloping area, grassed over following World War II, the overall impression of colour, scent and foliage in today's garden remains largely unchanged. The 1912 Sales Catalogue forms a good source of evidence, mentioning the grape varieties grown in the vineries, and numbers a total of some 200 different fruit trees (Sales Catalogue 1912). In addition to Old Mertoun House, which serves as the gardener's house, the walled enclosure features glasshouses that have either replaced, or been restored from earlier ones. The very good condition of the walled garden is partly attributable to the long service put in by successive generations of the Breed family during the 20th century. Alfred Breed, who retired as Head Gardener in 2005, followed in his fathers footsteps and spent his entire working life overseeing the different aspects of the garden. He was subsequently awarded with an Associate of Honour by the Royal Horticultural Society in recognition of a lifetime of horticultural work (www.rhs.org.uk).

References

Bibliography

Maps, Plans and Archives

c.1636-52 Robert Gordon, 'A description of the province of the Merche'

1654 Johannes Blaeu, Mercia, vulgo vicecomitatus, Bervicensis/ auct. Timothei Pont. Merse or Shirrefdome of Berwick

1745 Herman Moll, 'The Shire of Berwick alias the Mers or March and Lauderdale/ by H. Moll'

1747-55 General Roy's Military Survey

1771 Andrew Armstrong and Mostyn Armstrong, 'Map of the County of Berwick'

1797 John Blackadder, 'Berwickshire'

1821 John Thomson, 'Berwick-Shire'

1826 Sharp, Greenwood and Fowler, 'The County of Berwick'

1843 William Crawford and William Brooke, 'Map embracing extensive portions of the Counties of Roxburgh, Berwick, Selkirk & Midlothian and Part of Northumberland. Minutely and accurately surveyed by… Crawford and Brooke'

1855-7 survey Berwickshire, 1st edition OS 1:2500 (25”) and OS 1:10560 (6”), published 1862

1896-8 survey Berwickshire, 2nd edition OS 1:2500 (25”) and OS 1:10560 (6”), published 1909

NAS RHP22530 Particulars of sale and plan of the estate of Mertoun, the property of the trust estate of Rt. Hon. Lord Polwarth, (1912)

RCAHMS: National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS) and photographic and manuscript collections

Sources

Printed Sources

ASH Consulting Group 1998, The Borders landscape assessment, Edinburgh: Scottish Natural Heritage.

Cruft, K; Dunbar, J and Fawcett, R 2006, Borders, London and New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press

Groome, Francis H 1894, Ordnance Gazeteer of Scotland, London

Historic Scotland on behalf of Scottish Ministers, The Lists of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest

Land Use Consultants 1987, Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland, Edinburgh: Historic Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage

Tait, William 1996, 'Borders bright', Country Life, 190, 16, 18 April, 82-5

Internet Sources

'RHS honours four with horticulture's highest acolade', Royal Horticultural Society Press Release, www.rhs.org.uk/news/pressreleases/rhsawards010705.asp [accessed 18 June 2009]

Scran: 'Interviews on life at Mertoun, St. Boswells', Recording of interview for BBC Radio Tweed (1989)

www.scran.ac.uk/ [accessed 18 June 2009]

SiteLink: Scottish Natural Heritage, Sites designated for their natural heritage value, www.snh.org.uk/snhi/ [accessed 18 June 2009]

Note of Abbreviations used in references

NAS: National Archives of Scotland

RCAHMS: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland

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.

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Printed: 12/11/2018 22:01