Robert Mitchell, 1791-1800. 2-storey classical country house with attic and basement, 7-bay corps-de-logis with 1?-storey, 3-bay links flanking and terminating in 1?-storey wing pavilions. S elevation with horseshoe stair; N elevation with circa 1822 portico. Ashlar with rusticated ground floor quoins, architraved windows and projecting sills; mutuled cornice. Ashlar balustrades, Coade stone ornamentation to S elevation.
S (FORMER ENTRANCE, NOW REAR) ELEVATION: advanced corps-de-logis: 2-storey on regularly fenestrated 5-bay rusticated basement. Main house: 7-bays consisting of 3-bays to centre with horseshoe stair leading to door at 1st floor centre with windows to flanks and above (door to basement within horseshoe); pedimented centrepiece with pilasters flanking windows and supporting triangular moulded pediment, circular window to centre, paired regular fenestration to flanks; balustraded parapet and bracketed cornice concealing roofline. To left and right returns, links adjoining at piano nobile with pedimented tripartite window to S bays; 4 regularly placed bays to upper floor (all blind with the exception of 3rd bay on left and central bays on right). Links: single storey on rusticated basement, symmetrical 3-bay consisting advanced central bay with classical Coade stone decoration above, paired columns and pilasters to flanks supporting rectangular plinth, reclining figure of ancient warrior surmounting. Pavilions: single storey, 5-bay with blind panels above, all on rusticated basement. Regular fenestration with pilasters flanking round arched central bay, bracketed cornice, balustraded parapet to centre with square clocks, open cupolas and weathervanes surmounting; vases to flanks (only single vase to E of E wing remaining), irregular plans and windows to E & W returns forming modern accommodation around service courtyards.
N (NOW PRINCIPAL) ELEVATION: 2-storey, 7-bay corps-de-logis with attic and rusticated basement: circa 1832 advanced square porch with architraved triangular pedimented entrance adjoining central bay of piano nobile, single bay returns to ground floor and basement; architraved arched windows flanking portico with architraved rectangular windows to 2 outer bays; 7 regular bays to upper floor. Bracketed cornice and balustraded parapet with raised solid central parapet containing 3 small windows, 3 windows to upper floors of each return. Links (adjoining to centre of returns at piano nobile): 3-bay, single storey on basement (double width link to E) partially concealed behind single storey curved wall adjoining pavilions to main house (each wall with door entering courtyard adjacent to main house). Wings: originally 2-storey, single bay consisting architraved tripartite window with projecting sill and lintel, smaller rectangular window above; bracketed cornice with central rectangular pediment, decorative urn surmounting. Both wings 5-bays deep; E wing later extended to regularly fenestrated 5-bay N elevation, W wing irregular L-plan. Later additions and alterations to internal courtyards.
12-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows to piano nobile and above, 9 and 6-pane sash and case to wings and basement. Piended and platformed grey slate roof with lead ridging. Concealed lead rainwater goods to most. Tall ashlar stacks to main house (paired wallhead stacks to returns of corps-de-logis and pavilions with projecting neck copes and tall cans.
INTERIOR: many formal rooms to piano nobile. Hall and staircase: white and guilt decoration, open ironwork balustrades of Greek design, screens of Corinthian columns, Coade stone female figures in classical drapes holding lamps, double-height hall with 1st floor gallery, arches filled with fan-shaped lunettes support circular lantern; scheme elaborated circa 1830 with pendentives of dome and open spaces on upper walls painted with arabesque ornament and groups / landscapes in the style of Watteau. Interiors by David Roberts (1830) and Wallace & McFarlane (drawing room, 1860). Original door-cases, ceilings (musical instruments and allegorical paintings to drawing room), cornices and fireplaces of white marble. W and E wing rooms largely stripped (due to rot) and replaced to form later modern accommodation.
Statement of Special Interest
Part of an A-Group with stables, temple, gazebos and walled garden and Lion's Gates. Set within a designated designed landscape. Originally a circa 1700 house built for Roderick Mackenzie (Lord Prestonhall) with 1740 additions by William Adam. A door from this house may be incorporated into the walled garden; a roll-moulded door surround with a 1690 lintel is inset into the SE corner. The house and estate were bought, in the mid 1780s, by Alexander Callander, a wealthy Indian nabob who owned the Crichton estate. The lands were already set out as pleasure grounds and rides but Prestonhall had become structurally unsound and was to be replaced, not repaired. Robert Mitchell (originally from Aberdeen, but practised in London) planned the new house and estate buildings, most of which survive. The old house was demolished and the foundation stone for the new structure was laid, with some ceremony, on Friday 18th March 1791. The front elevation was viewed by many contemporaries as being dated in its formula. The corps-de-logis is similar in style to a plate in Robert Morris's "An Essay in the Defence of Ancient Architecture" (1728). The rear elevation, on the other hand, was a neo-classical astylar composition of differing rectangles, each appearing separate from its neighbour. Many believed this composition was due to Callander leaving the country during the mid part of the century. On his return, he favoured a style he remembered for the front elevation, whilst Mitchell was given a freer hand in the design of the rear of the property. It has been suggested the pavilions are in fact the work of William Adam and survive in a cut down and remodelled form from the older house that stood on the site (these have later been extended and altered). The house was re-orientated in 1832, with the plainer north elevation becoming the main elevation. A formal porch was added and the horseshoe stairs became the garden entrance to the rear; a door beneath leads directly to the basement service rooms. Within the policies of the hall stood another large house, Briery Bank, which appears on estate plans to the north of the hall. Since demolished, it shared the north gates to Prestonhall, which are still standing. They are believed to have been part of the original estate from the early 1700's. The house remains the most important building by Robert Mitchell.
Robert Mitchell, PLANS AND VIEWS IN PERSPECTIVE WITH DESCRIPTIONS OF BUILDINGS ERECTED IN ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND (1801) various plates and pages. VITRUVIUS SCOTICUS, Plates 107 & 108 showing William Adam addition to older house on site. Thomas Carfrae, PLAN OF THE LANDS OF FORD WITH PORTIONS OF PRESTONHALL AND CRICHTON (1842, Edinburgh) a lithographed estate plan of Prestonhall showing layout of parks and gardens, SRO Register House Plan 269. Ordnance Survey 1st Edition map, 1854. Rev. Dickson, CRANSTOUN: A PARISH HISTORY (1907) pp136-137. Mark Girourd, PRESTON HALL, MIDLOTHIAN Parts I & II (Country Life, August 31, 1961) p54 onwards. C McWilliam LOTHIAN (1978) pp395-398. James Macaulay, THE CLASSICAL COUNTRY HOUSE IN SCOTLAND, 1660-1800 (1987) pp182-185. Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Scotland, PRESTON HALL, MIDLOTHIAN box showing plans and photographs of the site. J Thomas, MIDLOTHIAN (1995) pp106-108. Howard Colvin, A BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF BRITISH ARCHITECTS 1600 - 1840 (1995) pp658-659.
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