Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape


Status: Designated


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Date Added
Local Authority
East Lothian
NT 41761 75099
341761, 675099

The category A listed Seton House, designed by Robert Adam, is the main surviving feature of this designed landscape. Only the walls of the famous formal gardens of the 16th and 17th century remain and the woodland still has some scenic qualities.

Artistic Interest

Level of interest

The records of the Dell and the 16th century garden walls give it some value as a Work of Art in the past.


Level of interest

Seton Palace was famed in its day and its association with the Seton family gives it outstanding Historical value.


Level of interest

There are a few plants of interest remaining in the Dell giving it a little Horticultural value.


Level of interest

The designed landscape provides the setting for an A listed building designed by Robert Adam and has outstanding Architectural value.


Level of interest
Not Assessed


Level of interest

The policy woodlands and garden walls give Seton some Scenic significance.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest

The Dell and the area of relatively undisturbed woodland habitat to the east of the North Garden give Seton a little value for Nature Conservation.

Location and Setting

Seton House is set on the site of the former Seton Castle. It lies 0.5 miles (1km) south of the shore of the Firth of Forth at Cockenzie and Port Seton. Prestonpans is 2 miles (3km) to the west. The surrounding landscape is relatively flat, with a gentle slope northwards to the coast. There are three burns flowing northwards through the policies, which converge at Seton Mill. The A198 forms the southern boundary of the site and the policies of Seton House are enclosed by woodlands to the north-west and east, and by the original screen walls of Seton Castle to the south. The walls and woods are visible from the surrounding roads, but they tend to screen the house and chapel from view. There are views of the Forth from the house and North Garden.

The extent of the designed landscape remains the same today as that shown on the 1st edition OS map of 1853 and on survey plans of c.1807 drawn up by John Ainslie for the Wemyss Estate. It is enclosed by the former castle walls and by the woodlands. The estate map shows the North Garden of 5.39 acres (2.18ha) divided into compartments and the South Garden of 2.84 acres (1.15ha) also planted in this style. Later maps represent the walled gardens as orchards. An avenue to the kirk from the east is also shown on the early plans. The surrounding lands appear to have been cropped rather than grazed as designed parkland, although the field north-east of the chapel is described as the Kirk Park. There are approximately 30 acres (12.1ha) in the designed landscape, of which 8 acres (3.2ha) are walled gardens.

Site History

The garden walls date from the 16th century; however there are no available plans of the garden layout at that time. The Palace was demolished in 1790, and Seton House was then built to the design of Robert Adam. A survey of the Mains of Seton was carried out by John Ainslie in 1807.

The Seton family received a charter for the lands of Seton and Winton in the 12th century and later became one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Scotland. When the Palace was originally built is unclear, but it was restored after a fire in 1544. It is thought that it was built on an L- plan with a tall, square tower. 17th & 18th century views and 16th century records show that Seton was esteemed to be much the most magnificent castle in Scotland at that time. The gardens and terraced walks, as well as its splendid interior, were the delight of Kings. Queen Mary, James VI and Charles I were all entertained at the Palace.

After the 1715 rising, the then 5th Earl of Winton's estates were forfeited and when William Mackenzie purchased Seton from the York Building Company the Palace was in a ruinous condition. The Palace itself was pulled down in 1790, to make way for a new house, but the Chapel and outlying garden walls were retained. The new house was designed by Robert Adam for Alexander Mackenzie, who also moved Seton village further away from the Palace walls. The gardens remained and they are thought to be one of the largest early gardens in Scotland. Mackenzie moved to Port Seton and the Wemyss Estate bought Seton House and farms and leased the house to several families over the years. The present tenants have lived at Seton House since World War II.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Seton House, listed A, was built in 1790 by Robert Adam in his 'castle style' and is one of the few large houses in Scotland that Robert Adam designed and also supervised the building of both exterior and interior. The main block of the house is joined by thick screen walls to the wings, and an entrance court is enclosed by a further fortified screen wall linking the two wings. It has classical interior details, and is accorded high value.

Seton Palace Garden Walls date from the 16th or 17th century and have circular lookouts at their southern angles; they are statutorily listed. Seton Collegiate Kirk is a 15th century church in ruins and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It probably existed as early as 1390 and was altered and restored in the 15th and 16th centuries. It has a distinctive shaped spire, and is listed A.


The woodlands to the east of the policies contain a mixed age range of deciduous species, dating from around 1790 onwards. There are a lot of old elm trees on the eastern boundary of the North Garden and the woodland here has been left to natural regeneration. To the south, in the area east of the Kirk, there are old yew, lime, horse chestnut and elm, recently planted with sycamore and elder.

The Gardens

The drive approaches Seton House along the west side of the South Garden and enters the outer courtyard which is laid out with lawns and gravel paths. To the east, on the opposite side of the burn, is the Collegiate Kirk. Rosebeds embellish the front of the house and an area of the east lawn has been made into a rock-garden planted with small conifers and hardy shrubs which will resist the attentions of the peacocks which roam in the gardens.

The gravel drive leads through the massive screen walls which are draped with climbing ivies and clematis, into the inner courtyard which centres on a large urn. The inner faces of the screen walls are decorated with niches and share the profuse covering of climbing plants, including roses.

To the north of the house is an area of lawn and a grass bank. It is not thought that a more elaborate garden treatment ever existed. A track leads across a bridge to the north of the Castle and above the Dell to the north garden. The Dell is a fairly steep- sided gorge and is bridged over the canalised section of one of the burns which flows through the policies. This area was planted up before World War II as an ornamental garden with flowering trees and shrubs including Magnolia and Davidia leading down to the water's edge. It is now rather overgrown although patches of bamboo can be distinguished and maples and Rhododendrons continue to grow there.

The North Garden, once a formal garden, is a relatively large walled garden, and views can be obtained from it across to the Firth. It has recently been planted as an orchard. A woodland walk leads along its boundary into the shelter woodlands to the east.

The South Garden lies adjacent to the main A198 and is enclosed by the original walls built at the time the Palace was in use. Before World War II it was the main kitchen garden for the house and has been in use as a market garden for many years. There used to be a large glasshouse range, and the garden still contains early features such as the apple-house.




Printed Sources

G.E. Green, East Lothian, 1907

John Fleming, CL, May 30th 1968

C. Mcwilliam, Lothian, 1978

The Scotsman, Jan 24th 1928

John Ainslie, Book of Estate Plans, 1807-08 (at Gosford House)



NMRS, Photographs

Historic Environment Scotland Properties

Seton Collegiate Church

Find out more

Related Designations

  1. Seton Collegiate ChurchSM13368

    Designation Type
    Scheduled Monument
  2. Battle of PrestonpansBTL16

    Designation Type

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)

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: 08/02/2023 23:48