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The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Reason for Inclusion

An early 19th century landscape design by Thomas White, Jnr. (1764-1836) incorporating a 16th century castle, gardens, early 18th century designed landscape and industrial complex. It is a multi-period landscape of some complexity and includes the archaeological remains of the Fordell waggonway, first established in 1756.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Mid 18th century, 19th-century, 20th-century

Site History

Lands at Fordell were granted to a Flemish family called de Camera, along with a keep, said to have been built c. 1210. In 1220, Richard de Camera presented 13 acres of his lands, between Dalgety and Leuchat, to the Monastery of Inchcolm. These lands became known as 'St Thereota's lands', where there was a chapel by 1510.

In 1511, the Hendersons who had acquired Fordell Castle in the early 16th century, acquired a charter of barony from James IV. The castle was enclosed with walls, had a portcullis gate and drawbridge. Following a fire the castle was rebuilt c. 1580, by James Henderson, a favourite of James VI. The modified barmkin wall forming the castle enclosure is probably part of this work. During the late 16th century, the Hendersons began working coal from outcrops near Broomieside Farm, starting the exploitation of the rich coal seams on the estate which, in the future, came to form the basis of their wealth and the estate economy.

Henderson's eldest son, John, was knighted by James VI. In 1650, Sir John's son, Sir John Henderson II of Fordell, rebuilt St Thereota's Chapel which had fallen into ruin. In the late 17th century, the Henderson family acquired the lands of Pittadro, which extended along the west banks of the Fordell Burn, thereby joining them with their own lands to the east to form the Fordell Estate.

A new house, built on higher ground to the south-east of Fordell Castle, is said to have been built in 1721 (Millar 1895, p.186). However, this house is not depicted on mid 18th century plans (Roy 1747-55; Winter 1756). Knowledge of the configuration of the landscape in the mid 18th century from contemporary sources shows that the East Avenue existed. By 1756 the Fordell waggonway or track, to transport coal from the pits at the north end of the estate, southwards to the coast, was in existence (Winter 1756).

Sir John Henderson 5th Baronet, M.P. for Fifeshire (d.1817), inherited the estate in 1781. Two estate plans depict the layout of the estate at this period (1796, Bell; 1808, Bell). A walled garden at Pittadro used during the mid 18th century (Winter 1756) still existed as a productive garden, while the walled garden around Fordell Castle was used as a kitchen garden. A ha-ha, that still survives, separated Fordell House from pleasure grounds situated to the south. Beyond the pleasure grounds, the park was enclosed by a sinuous line of trees, the remnants of this scheme largely survive (1854, OS 25'').

Following Sir John Henderson's death, his brother Sir Robert Henderson inherited the estate and title. He in turn died childless. The estate devolved on Isabella, Sir John Henderson's daughter, who married Admiral Sir Philip Calderwood Durham, KCB. They commissioned Thomas White to prepare 'A Design for the Improvement of the Grounds of Fordel' in 1818. He proposed extending the 1808 design northwards to incorporate old field boundaries and woodland belts, and reinforced the existing parkland planting with clumps and a scatter of trees. Comparison of White's scheme with the 1st edition OS 1854, show White's design was implemented and is, largely, extant. Sir Philip actively developed mining on the estate; re-laying the waggonway and replacing the wooden rails with iron ones. Although the rails have been removed the line of the waggonway is clearly visible running through the estate, to this day.

During the mid 19th century the estate passed to the Mercer-Hendersons. On the death of George William Mercer-Henderson in 1881, the estate passed to his sister, Edith Isabella Mercer-Henderson. She married, in 1866, the Hon Hew Adam Dalrymple, second son of the Earl of Camperdown, who added Mercer-Henderson to his name. In 1887 the castle was described as a 'picturesque ruin' with 'a handsome flower garden of beautiful design' (Gardeners' Chronicle 1887, p.835). A measured survey of the flower garden was prepared by L. Rome Guthrie and published in 1902 (Triggs 1902; for Rome Guthrie q.v. An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, Supplementary Volume 2: Highlands & Islands p.38). This illustrates a series of formal compartments within the walled flower garden, the layout corresponding to both the account in the Gardeners Chronicle and to a series of photographs of c 1885. A bowling green, parterre, rose garden, knot garden with box hedging, box-edged walks, formal walks lined with yews and geometric bedding schemes indicate a number of different phases within the garden, all incorporating specimen trees, some of considerable antiquity.

In 1902, the estate passed to Georgina Wilhelmina Mercer-Henderson, married to Sydney Carr, 7th Earl of Buckinghamshire. Following her death in 1937, the estate was inherited by her son, John Hampden Mercer-Henderson, 8th Earl of Buckinghamshire (1906-63). He divided the estate, selling land to the west of Fordell Burn in 1953. The walled garden at Pittadro was sold for use as a commercial nursery and, in 1961, the castle and 73 acres were sold to Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. Sir Nicholas demolished ruined Fordell House in 1962, and restored Fordell Castle as the principal residence. The gardens retained their basic late 19th-century formal layout, which were replanted and renewed, to include a new water garden.

People associated with this site

Designer: Thomas White the Younger (born 1764 died 1836)