An early Edwardian garden landscape was created within the park and woodland setting of Old Fairnilee House and, featuring restored walled and formal gardens with period flower bed arrangements. The walled and formal garden grounds at Fairnilee comprise an excellent example of Edwardian design, restored and maintained to a very high standard. There is good physical and documentary evidence for the history of the site, while the mature woodlands around the house and gardens contribute to the scenery of the local upland valley landscape.
Type of Site
An early Edwardian garden landscape created within the park and woodland setting of Old Fairnilee House and featuring restored walled and formal gardens with period flower bed arrangements.
Location and Setting
Situated above the River Tweed, the designed landscape of Fairnilee is located just over a mile downstream from Caddonfoot and approximately 4 miles (6km) to the south west of Galashiels. Its character is determined by the strong relief of the upland valley in which the flat valley floor gives way to the steeper, enclosing slopes and interlocking spurs of the valley sides. Views from the designed landscape, which extends up from the north bank of the river, encompass the smooth undulating profile of the surrounding uplands and the extensive canopy of Yair Hill Forest opposite. The designed landscape covers a total of 154ha (380ac). It is bounded by the Tweed to the south and west, woodland plantations and shelter strips to the north and east, and a drystone dyke at Calfshaw to the north east. The higher ground to the north is drained by Calfshaw burn, which flows through the designed landscape from north to south.
Fairnilee, built 1904-6, is considered to be one of the best domestic house projects by Glasgow architect, John James Burnet. The house is of a striking, pale cream harled whinstone with contrasting red sandstone dressings. Stylistically, the elements are Scottish Baronial, with a show of Baroque in the carved details (Cruft et al. 2006: 273). Wall-head dormers, corner towers and crow-stepped gables enhance the effect. The substantial whinstone rubble ruins of Old Fairnilee House, built c.1600, stand a short distance to the west. The surviving portion, consolidated and repaired c.1904, comprises roughly the north-western third of what was originally a long, narrow, rectangular main block of 3-storeys plus attic with corner turrets. The principal elevation faced south west, towards the river. Described in 1649 as one of the principal houses of Selkirkshire, it fell into disrepair in the 19th century and was roofless by 1882. Burnet linked the two structures by a high screen wall interrupted by a large and elaborate set of cast iron gates between urn-topped gate-piers. A further screen wall from Fairnilee divides the entrance forecourt from the walled garden and garden ground, immediately to the south-east of the house. A pale cream, ogee-roofed pavilion with archway in the north-west corner gives access to the upper terrace walk, bound on one side by the north coped stone wall, which is lined with red brick. Other estate features designed by Burnet include an L-shaped range of stables incorporating various work rooms and accommodation. A segmental-archway through a screen wall signals arrival from the east drive. Adjoining the screen wall to the south-west is a gardeners house, while to the north-east, a further gateway leads into the woods, and is flanked by impressive drystone gatepiers. Other 19th to 20th-century estate buildings at Fairnilee include Bogle Lodge and East Lodge at the two main entrance points, a sawmill by Yair Bridge, Robin's Nest cottage, remodelled in 1927, and an attractive cluster of farmhouse and steading buildings at Fairnilee Farm.
Drives and Approaches
There are three entrance drives to Fairnilee. Two were associated with Old Fairnilee. From the south, impressive veteran beech and old stumps line a route that ascends through the lower parks, and which may partly trace the tree-lined approach depicted by Roy in his Military Survey of the mid 18th century. From the north west, the second old drive enters at Bogle Lodge and ascends towards Fairnilee through Crow Plantation. It terminates at Burnet's impressive gate-way that leads into the gardens, while an added sharp S-bend provides access to the main entrance forecourt of Fairnilee House. The east drive, meanwhile traverses a longer, straighter and flatter route. A contemporary of the Edwardian construction project, this drive is flanked by beech, horse chestnut, oak, lime and maple with an understorey of Rhododendron. Passing under a segmented arch, the drive leads past the garden wall.
Remnant parkland featuring a sparse distribution of individual mature and veteran trees extends along the river bank at Fairnilee Haugh and across the large enclosed field to the north of Fairnilee Farm. In this latter area, a roundel of oak and fir bounded by a circular drystone dyke forms a key scenic element in views from both the east drive, and the older, beech-lined south drive. Other impressive individual specimens include a veteran ash and several oaks. In the eastern part of the designed landscape, field boundaries intersect at a central roundel of Scots Pine, larch and beech. Remaining veteran beech along the field divisions have been supplemented with young saplings and new hedgerows.
Historic maps by Blaeu (1654) and Moll (1745) that depict tree cover and refer to 'Fernyly' wood suggest the longevity of woodlands here, while allusions to the 'fine old woods' in late 18th to 19th century descriptions suggest their importance in picturesque landscape views (NAS: GD113/5/60d; Edinburgh Magazine 1801). Copious bluebells, particularly within the north-west part of the Drive Wood, also indicate the early origin of these woods (Dean, pers. comm. 2009). Today, the structure of the plantations mainly follows a layout established by the mid-19th century. Crow and Calfshaw Plantations to the north of the house comprise larch, spruce, pine and beech. The woods by Fairnilee Farm include ash, beech and larch while the small pockets of trees in the eastern part of the landscape include birch, larch and spruce. In places, the impressive crowns of broadleaf veterans protrude above the canopy. A large veteran sycamore, located in the woods to the south east of Fairnilee House, is probably the most exceptional example. Other notable veterans include a couple of sizable oaks within the curving strip of woodland by the south drive, and some fine old oaks along the river-bank.
Woodland now conceals some former elements of the designed landscape. To the north and east of Fairnilee House, the original Edwardian shrubbery has now matured into mixed woodlands fronted by impressive conifer specimens, although some of the former stone-lined paths, Rhododendron and Azalea bushes are still in evidence. Similarly, by the remains of the old curling or skating pond at the bottom of the slope to the south-west of the house, woodland has grown up around the remnants of a former modest water garden. Observable traces of this derelict garden comprise a wooden gate, overgrown Rhododendron bushes, clumps of bamboo and some evidence for stone-lined channels and pools.
The impressive garden grounds at Fairnilee are made up of a restored walled garden and, below, a level area of lawns with island beds and trees. The framework of the scheme is contemporary with Burnet's house project of 1904-6 and is a good example of Edwardian garden style. The long rectangular walled garden, bounded by a brick-lined stone wall along its northern edge and accessed from the house via a corner pavilion, slopes gently towards the south. Paths divide it into four distinct rectangular areas, each with its own layout and planting arrangement, established by the present occupants c.2001-2008. Nearest to the house, a rose garden of hybrid tea roses backed with fuchsia is arranged in a classical design around circular yew beds. An adjacent, intricate herb garden features the grey foliage of cotton lavender (Santolina chamaecyparissus) and small cypress trees. Vegetables and soft fruit are cultivated in neat, symmetrical beds in the other two plots, while visibly older elements of the garden include wall fruit trees and gnarled espalier and cordon-trained apples and pears along the axial paths. Some of these may be survivors from the 'large enclosed orchard' mentioned in 1897 (Anderson 1897).
On the far (east) side of the garden, a complex of early 20th century glasshouses are currently undergoing restoration. The original glasshouses, boiler room and potting shed were probably built at the same time as Fairnilee House (Dean pers. comm. 2009). However, much of the present arrangement can be attributed to a phase of alteration and building in 1911-12, designed by Mackenzie and Moncur, and which included the demolition of an older conservatory, and the erection of new features including a peach and fig house (Mackenzie and Moncur 1911 plans and specifications).
Below the intricate walled garden, the simpler lower lawn retains its essential Edwardian structure of gravel walks, central steps and mown grass. Dahlia beds provide a splash of colour, while recently planted ornamental trees have replenished a former orchard area to the south. Near the ruins of Old Fairnilee, a square, levelled piece of ground bears witness to an Edwardian tennis court.
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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
The walled and formal garden grounds at Fairnilee comprise an excellent example of Edwardian design, restored and maintained to a very high standard. There is good physical and documentary evidence for the history of the site, while the mature woodlands around the house and gardens contribute to the scenery of the local upland valley landscape.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
17th to 19th century, 1904-1920s
Although the Edwardian house and gardens take centre-stage in the present designed landscape, Fairnilee boasts a much longer history. The name itself is mentioned in historical documents of the 1500s and the lands were originally associated with the Kers before their acquisition by the Rutherfords in the 17th century. The standing ruins of Old Fairnilee House are the most visible sign of the past designed landscape and research into the surviving fabric suggests a probable construction date of around 1600 (Cruft et al. 2006: 274). By 1649, the Renaissance mansion was described as one of the principal houses of Selkirkshire (ibid) which, by the early 18th century, was surrounded by ''fine orchards, avenues, parks and planting very pleasant' (Hodge 1722). The former prominence of the house in the local valley landscape is suggested by 18th century maps and a sketch of 1798 that depicts open park extending from the principal south front down to the river-bank, an area that was later planted with trees (Cockburn 1900: 184).
By the start of the 19th century, the old designed landscape was gradually falling into neglect (Edinburgh Magazine 1801). However, the older woodlands and the increasingly ruinous Fairnilee House acquired a new prestige through the eyes of observers who sought out and praised picturesque and dramatic landscape views (e.g. Black and Black 1859). The house had also acquired historic value through its association with Alison Cockburn, née Rutherford (1712-94), the lively socialite and poet said to have composed the lyrics to the Border ballad 'Flowers of the Forest' during her youth there. Later, the ruinous house also became the inspiration and setting for Andrew Lang's popular fairy story, 'The Gold of Fairnilee' (1888). The estate belonged to the Pringle family during this era, and subsequently the Pringle-Pattisions in the late 19th century.
Despite the ruinous state of the chief residence, the lands nonetheless comprised a sizable sporting and productive estate. The prosperous Edwardian age signalled a new lease of life for Fairnilee as the new proprietor, mill-owner Alexander Roberts, commissioned a new house in 1904 together with gardens and ancillary structures from the Glasgow architect, John James Burnet. Fairnilee house was built to the north of the older ruin, while the 'old enclosed orchard', described in 1897, formed the site for a new Edwardian walled garden and lower lawns (Anderson 1897). Old photographs and surviving plans show that by 1910-11, the sparsely wooded ground north of the house had been planted with shrubs and bushes, while the famed hothouse builders, Mackenzie and Moncur had been consulted for new glasshouses. Remnants of a water garden in the woods at the bottom of the slope to the south-west of the house indicate another, fashionable component of the Edwardian designed landscape.
During the earlier 20th century, visitors to Fairnilee were charmed by both the old and new aspects of the designed landscape. The line of old yews along the north side of Old Fairnilee was observed with curiosity by visitors from local naturalist societies, while the new gardens were considered 'trim, neat and lovely' (The Border Magazine 1917: 62; Royal Forestry Journal 1936: 136). After the death of Alexander Roberts, Fairnilee was sold in 1929 to Alexander and Margaret Shaw, the grandparents of the present owner. At this time, the gardens were maintained by a team of five gardeners, supervised by Mr Bruce, the head gardener.
A survey of the walled garden in 1999 demonstrated that despite a long period of neglect during the second half of the 20th century, a significant number of fruit-trees endured, and that the basic framework of paths, borders and rectangular plots remained intact (Dean 1999). Historic photos and a plan of the gardens, c.1905, form important documentary evidence for the nature and content of the gardens in the early 20th century. Fairnilee was let on a long-term lease c.2001 and the present occupants have invested significant effort in restoring the gardens and creating new planting arrangements within the original plots.
Early 20th Century (1901-1932)
- Features & Designations
Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- Key Information
Domestic / Residential
Early 20th Century (1901-1932)
Open to the public
Galawater and Lauderdale