Location and Setting
Stevenson House is situated within gently rolling landscape approximately 1.5 miles (2.5km) east of the town of Haddington. The River Tyne flows almost west/east through the northern edge of the policies forming a gentle valley. Soil conditions are good, with deep loam overlying clay.
The surrounding landscape is relatively open, enabling views out to the agricultural land of East Lothian. Traprain Law, which lies at a distance of approximately 2 miles (3.5km), is significant in the view to the east whilst the Lammermuir Hills can be seen in the distance to the south. The woodlands of the designed landscape are of some scenic significance when viewed from the A1(T) which lies 0.5 miles (1km) to the north of the house and from the minor roads which form the southern boundaries of the policies.
Stevenson House lies within a designed landscape which extends north to the River Tyne, south to Stevenson Mains, west to Lady's Wood and east to the curling pond. Documentary evidence of the development of the designed landscape is provided by General Roy's map c.1750, the 1st edition OS map of 1863, and the 2nd edition OS map of c.1900. Comparison of these maps indicates that the designed landscape was extended north beyond the River Tyne between the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries to the form which remains today. Much of this land was, however, sold in 1907 as a result of which the policies today consist of some 53 acres (22ha).
The earliest known references to Stevenson date from between 1225-1336. It is found in the Register of the Charters of the Priory of St Andrews where it is recorded that William de Gullane was granted permission for an oratory in the 'Mill at Stevenstoun'. Soon after, in 1245, the lands passed to the
Cistercian Nuns of Haddington. In the record of this transaction, the lands are described as 'two borders of land in the old garden at Stevenstoun and the lands lying between the old garden and Haddington and an acre of land next to Stevenstoun Mill'. In 1359, Robert II gifted the lands to William de Douglas of Straboc. The present house dates from 1560, traces of the previous structure remain, verified by Mr Richardson in 1950, but the house was made uninhabitable in 1544 during the punitive raid ordered by Henry VIII under Lord Hertford. It was rebuilt in 1560 and from then on inhabited.
In 1624, the Sinclair family acquired the property through John Sinclair, an Edinburgh merchant who was the son of the 9th Laird of Longformacus. He rose to election as Lord Provost of Edinburgh and in 1636 was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia. The 3rd Baronet, Sir Robert Sinclair, was responsible for improvement work to the house and some planting in the estate, therefore contributing to the designed landscape indicated on Roy's map of c.1750. The regular layout at this time was later altered in the informal style by the 8th Baronet, Sir John Gordon Sinclair RN, between c.1820 and 1863, the year of his death. Comparison of General Roy's map with the 1st edition OS map survey in 1863 indicates the extent of his improvements which appear to have included the layout of the parks and construction of the present walled garden.
The 9th Baronet, Sir Robert Sinclair, who succeeded in 1863 made some minor additions to the landscape. He left no issue and, some years after his death, the estate was broken up, leaving the mansion house with a smaller acreage of policies. In 1931, this property was sold to Mr William Brown Dunlop who was, at that time, resident at Seton Castle, Longniddry. The house was occupied by the Army during World War II which caused some considerable damage to the fabric of the building and the grounds fell into neglect. Dr John Dunlop inherited the property on his father's death in 1946. With his wife and two sisters, Miss Isabel Dunlop and Mrs Jean Ronaldson, he commissioned an improvement programme which included the restoration of the house and estate buildings. The work was acknowledged by the Civic Trust in 1959 and received its official award in 1975. In 1958 the estate passed to the Brown Dunlop Country Houses Trust together with an endowment for its future maintenance. The landscape was almost completely overgrown, and was restored in accordance with modern maintenance resources with the help of Mr Archibald Brockie, Head Gardener at Stevenson from 1959-74.
Stevenson House, statutorily listed, is thought to date originally from c.1560 and is one of the few surviving examples in Scotland of the 'Grange Plan' which typically formed a four-square frame around a central courtyard with the main entrance on the south side. Additions and alterations in the Georgian style were made in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and further alterations were made in 1820. In both cases, the architect is unknown. The post-war restoration work of the house was planned and supervised by Dr Dunlop with minor changes later but the other estate buildings (Little Stevenson, The Coach-House, The Steading Trust Cottage, etc) were the work of Mary Tindall ARIBA.
Little Stevenson, listed category B, was originally the laundry wing of the mansion house and dates from at least the 16th century. It was restored as a home for Mrs Jean Ronaldson in 1952. The Coach-House and Stables were converted as another independent residence in 1956. The South Lodge, statutorily listed, is situated on the south drive at the edge of Lady's Wood. The North Lodge, outwith the policies since 1907, has recently been demolished. Trust Cottage, a former gardener's bothy dating from 1856, is set in the east wall of the kitchen garden and has been converted for holiday rental to members of the National Trust for Scotland. The Gardener's Cottage, built c.1900 is situated to the north-east of the walled garden and was also the subject of improvements in the 1950s along with Traprain Cottage and Steading Cottage. Particular care and consideration was given in all the restoration work to the use of traditional materials for the exterior finishes. In 1975, European Architectural Heritage Year, the Civic Trust Award was conferred on Stevenson for outstanding achievement in conservation.
In the garden around the house are two statues, Summer and Autumn, which were brought from Seton Castle in 1948. Two lions which stand on either side of the path on the south front of the house came from Preston Lodge. The Gates into the walled garden are adorned by double-headed eagles, the Dunlop family crest, which were also brought from Seton Castle.
The Parkland at Stevenson lies to the west and north of the house on either side of the River Tyne. The layout is thought to date from c.1820 and forms the setting for the approaches to the house although, since 1907, the area to the north of the river has been outwith the policies. Access to the house today is by the south drive which is indicated as an avenue on General Roy's map of c.1750. This avenue has recently been replanted with Acer species including A. 'Drumondii', A. 'Crimson King' and A. 'Worlei', and the remaining trees of the earlier avenue will be felled once the new ones reach an effective height.
Reference to the 1st edition OS map indicates that the parks were well stocked with trees. These have been felled in the area north of the river which is now outwith the policies but, otherwise, the parks remain well stocked with timber dating mainly from the 1820s although some older trees remain in the area between the river and Lady's Wood which was also woodland up until the early 19th century. Species include oak, ash, and elm although the latter are being replaced with other hardwood species. A feature of the park to the south-west of the house is an oak tree which is thought to be at least 600 years old.
The woodlands of the designed landscape appear to have been established by 1750 and, although a large proportion is now outwith the policies, all remain important to the overall design. The largest area, Lady's Wood, lies to the west of the south drive and appears on General Roy's map to extend as far as the River Tyne and a broad ride was indicated running diagonally through it.
The 1st edition OS map indicates that the northern edge of this wood had been reclaimed as parkland by 1863. Lady's Wood is composed of mixed deciduous species which have been coppiced in the past. It is presently used for shooting cover. The wood to the east of the house around the curling pond is also deciduous with poplar a dominant component. It was extended to its present form in the latter 19th century when the curling pond was constructed. A conifer shelter strip runs between the garden and the south boundary of the policies. Between the house and the walled garden is an area of ornamental woodland which dates mainly from c.1820 onwards and consists of lime, sycamore, elm, oak, willow, yew, box and elder. Aconites and snowdrops carpet the woodland areas in season.
The gardens at Stevenson lie to the south and east of the house and have been completely restored since 1946. Reference to Roy's map of c.1750 indicates a formal garden layout in this area which appears to have been lost before the 1st edition OS of 1863. In suitable weather conditions, the outline of this garden can be seen on the grass surface. The post-war layout has been designed with lawns and attractively planted spring and summer borders of shrubs and herbaceous material arranged by colour. The rose garden of eight sections in circular pattern is situated amid the lawn to the east of the house. There is a rock garden to the south of the house, and the herb garden lies to the north of the lawn east of the house.
The walled garden is thought to have been built in the course of improvements made between 1820-63. The original layout of the garden, which extends over some 1.75 acres, appears to have been traditional with two intersecting paths forming four equal compartments enclosed by box hedges. During World War II, it became completely overgrown and, in 1946, it was cleared and used for growing tulips on a commercial basis. By 1959, this practice had ceased and the garden was redesigned by Dr J.C.H. Dunlop with the help of Mr Brockie, the Head Gardener. The mature weeping ash was retained as a centrepiece and, whilst most of the garden was grassed, the grass path between the entrance in the west wall and the centre was retained. The original herbaceous borders which lined the path, backed by espalier apple trees were retained. In later years, the path and borders were widened and new espalier apple trees were planted to replace the older ones. The original greenhouse on the south wall of the garden was restored for use. On the lawn, specimen trees and shrubs have been established informally; species include red sycamore, variegated oak, weeping ash, cherries, acacias and various ornamental maples and conifers. A small area was retained for growing vegetables against the east wall of the garden.
'Lady Sinclair's border' was situated on the south-facing outer wall of the garden; its design was lost many years ago and poplars were planted along its length for extra shelter. This area is now the private garden for a new house built outside the south- east corner of the garden and it is separated from the surrounding fields by a mature hawthorn hedge.