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Gosford House (also known as Wemyss House)


At Gosford House there is the unusual survival of a late-18th-century layout, including parkland and a pleasure garden incorporating ponds. There are 19th-century formal gardens around the house, of which the enclosing walls and temples survive. Part of the parkland is now used as golf courses. The house is open during the summer. Permits can be bought to walk around the ponds and part of the John Muir Way passes through the estate.

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:


Location and Setting

Gosford House is situated some 15 miles (24km) east of Edinburgh and some 2 miles (3km) north-east of Longniddry. It lies on the south shore of the Firth of Forth at Gosford Bay. The coast road, the A198, forms the western and northern boundaries of the policies. The south side is bordered by the B1377 minor road and the eastern side is bordered by estate roads. The house lies on a raised beach about 25' (7.5m) above sea level, which slopes gently westward to the wide Gosford Bay. The soils are light and sandy and the rainfall is low. The policies are protected from the salt-laden westerly and north- westerly winds blowing along the Firth of Forth by the Toll Belt woodland growing behind the stone wall. The woodland to the east of the house also protects the site from the cold north-easterly winds sweeping across the North Sea.

Gosford House appears to have been set so that its long axis is at right angles to the line bearing on Edinburgh Castle. Looking west, the Forth Railway and Road Bridges form part of the distant view which extends further to the Campsie Hills. Despite the flat setting there are extensive views to the south-west to the Pentland Hills, and to the north towards Fife and the Sidlaw Hills beyond. Along the coast road, the woodland canopy of the Toll Belt rises above the grey rubble policy walls and these, with the ornamented north entrance, greatly contribute to the surrounding scenery.

Gosford House lies towards the west side of the policies which extend for some 1,374 acres (556ha). The park lies to the west and south of the house. Behind the house on the east side is the pleasure ground or shrubbery which was laid out around a series of ponds.

Documentary evidence of the first designed landscape is based on a plan by Adair, dated 1736, and confirmed by General Roy's plan of c.1750. The present layout is first shown on a plan drawn by Forrest in 1799 and confirmed by a survey prepared by Ainslie in 1808. This is also shown on the 1st edition OS plan dated 1853. The policies were extended during the later part of the 19th century and this can be seen on the 2nd edition OS plan published in 1893.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Gosford House, listed category A, was built between 1790-1800 from modified designs by Robert Adam. The two wings were demolished at an unknown date subsequent to 1810. William Young reconstructed the house between 1883- 91, rebuilding the two wings in a much enlarged form. The entrance was altered from the east facade to the south wing where he designed an ornate courtyard and a magnificent marble hall. The central block was partly burnt in 1940 and most of the roof was removed from the north wing in 1948 following a severe attack of dry rot. The Coach-house and Stables, listed category A, were designed in the late 18th century; the clock was made by Veitch of Haddington in 1792.

The Mausoleum, which is statutorily listed, was built for the 7th Earl. It is a pyramid on a square base with four Roman Doric porticos. Two statues of Slaves with Flaying Knives at the entrance gate were copied from the Flayer of Marsyas, Uffizzi, Florence. The Ice House is 18th century with a rustic entrance. The Boathouse is probably 19th century with a pedimented roof; there is a stone sphinx on each side and until recently there was a lead statue of Perseus on the apex. The Curling House is faced with tufa- like stone and stores the curling stones. The Icehouse, Boathouse and Curling House are all statutorily listed. The Engine House was built in c.1890 and was used to generate electricity until 1920. Gosford is reputed to be one of the first houses to be lit by electricity in Scotland. The Walled Kitchen Garden, Gardener's Cottage and Bothy were all built by 1853 as they are shown on the 1st edition OS.

The North Lodges are late 18th century octagonal lodges, remodelled by R.W. Billings in 1857; they are statutorily listed. The West Lodge was also built by Billings in 1854 and has a dramatic arch over the entrance; it is statutorily listed. The East Lodge could have been designed by William Young c.1886; bills for his designs have recently been found, including 'Lodges' unspecified.


The present park is likely to have been designed by James Ramsay at the same time as he laid out the 'Pleasure Grounds'. Forrest's plan of 1799 shows eight clumps of trees in the park, one north and seven south of the house, forming a shallow crescent facing Gosford Bay. Ainslie's plan shows the clumps reduced to seven but in the same formation. Tree varieties listed included 'Variegated Plains, Occidental plains, Scots Firs, Larch, Oak/Scots Fir, Horse Chestnuts/Scots Fir and Oak. The Great Clump was planted with Scots Fir/ Plane, Willow/ Scots'.

The clumps north and south of the house have now merged into the woodland. The next two have joined together across the Redhouse burn which divided them. The fifth clump has a few surviving Scots pines in it. The sixth (of Scots pine), which was felled about 1935, and the seventh have merged into Fernyness Wood. Recently several clumps in the southern park have been replanted, mainly with hardwoods and some conifers.

The policies were extended southwards in the mid-19th century. Two drives extended beyond the south boundary and ran through narrow shelterbelts to the South Lodge near Setonhill Farm some one and a half miles from the house. Between 1853-1898 (the dates of the 1st & 2nd editions of the OS plans) planting was undertaken in the policies; several of the narrow shelterbelts were thinned leaving some of the trees as parkland trees and some of these still remain.

The policy is enclosed on the western side, along the sea front, by a wall of local rubble; evidence for its building in 1800 survives. This wall formerly extended up the Lyars Road to where Longniddry Station now stands; but after the railway and station were built in 1846, this public road was shifted some way westward, the belt of woodland behind it being much widened, and a new buttressed wall of red sandstone was built along it, in keeping with the West Lodge, deeply recessed into the woodland, and dated 1854. Several carriage drives are shown on the OS plans winding through the policies. The railway cut through the estate just south of the southern boundary in c.1850.

During World War II, and for some years afterwards, the military occupied the policies. A considerable number of brick buildings, Nissen huts and other sheds were constructed. Most of these have gone, but some continue to be used by the farm or estate. These are situated in two main groups some way south- west of the house.


Large plantations of woodland and narrower shelterbelts enclose the policies. There are two main wooded areas: the larger lies east and north of the house and consists of the South Wood and the North Wood which adjoins the straight road to Aberlady, the designed pleasure grounds being enveloped between them. The smaller area, Fernyness Wood, occupies part of the western boundary, extending southward to Longniddry Station and Harelaw Farm. Most were planted with hardwoods during the 19th century by the 7th and 8th Earls. In all these woods, the natural regeneration of hardwood species is a notable feature. Part of Redhouse Wood was clear-felled in 1944 and was reclaimed for agriculture in 1986. The woods contain beech, oak, elm, sycamore, lime, ash and Scots pine, with smaller amounts of larch and several other species.

Behind the stone park wall, on the seaward western boundary, is the unique wind-cut woodland called the Toll Belt. The salt-laden westerly winds drastically prune the young growth as it reaches the top of the wall and the trees behind rise slowly at an angle like a roof. Originally it was planted with a wide variety of hardwoods including sycamore, ash, elm and small quantities of European larch. Recently there has been replanting of the small gaps and in some areas Corsican pine was tried but this has proved unsuccessful.

The Gardens

To the east of Gosford House and behind the old house, James Ramsay designed the romantic 'pleasure ground' for which he was paid in 1792. He used three ponds shaped in total like an oval to encircle the 'pleasure ground and bowling green' which almost made an island in the middle. In the 1890s, the south- western pond was joined with the larger one 'to improve boating'. Simple grass paths curve around the ponds to the central area. These are narrower than the wider lawns shown in the early photographs through deliberate planting of specimen trees and fostering of natural seedlings. The Boathouse and Summerhouse act as eyecatchers.

A fourth pond, just to the north of the others, is covered with water lilies and known as the Lily Pond. The ponds are fed with water from the Harestanes Burn by means of a sluice and an artificial ditch through the South Wood, terminating in a stone-built aqueduct near the Boathouse. Around the four ponds is a sunken fence faced with stone.

The Mausoleum is sited in a circle at the end of a vista through the woods, extending north-eastwards from a point on the drive which served the old house. This vista was planted with elms on either side and was enlarged to a circle about halfway along. Undergrowth had totally obscured the vista which was however opened up in 1943/44 as a direct result of studying Ainslie's survey. At present it is framed by large trees.

After nearly two hundred years the original design of the garden can be clearly traced on the ground. As the trees have grown, the design has gradually blurred but even so the pleasure ground is one of the most intact designs of that period in Scotland.

The Formal Garden

The formal garden to the west of the house was enclosed with a low stone wall as part of the William Young reconstruction. At the corners further from the house, small square temples were added at each end. A terrace was also added at the first floor level of the house.

The garden was divided into five sections by wide gravel paths, and the central one (much the largest) projects furthest into the park in a great semi-circle emphasised by the wall and centred on a pillar sundial. It corresponds to the Adam central block. This section, and the two which adjoin it, are sunk some 2' (600mm) below the general level in a conscious effort to give some shelter from the westerly winds. In these inner depressed areas, the planting was laid out with clipped box hedges filled with low growing plants, the section opposite the wings having the initials ' A. W.' for Anne, Countess of Wemyss, wife of the 10th Earl. Most of the planting was removed in the 1930s. The central section is now grassed down and the two flanking ones have been planted with rose beds to fit the shapes of the depressions.

On the east side of the house a similar terrace was added, but instead of the two flights, there is one central, wide straight flight of steps leading down from the original front door, and replacing the crescent-shaped carriage ramp. Below this Young used wide paths to emphasise the grandeur of the facade. A huge path, accented by two Venetian well heads, led from the steps across the Lawn Park to the Old House and Stables. This park was enclosed in the 1940s, but in 1987 it was ploughed up, unfenced, and re-seeded, thus revealing the wide path which had become grassed over.

Walled Garden

On the 1808 plan drawn by Ainslie, an enclosed garden is shown near the East Lodge. But by 1853, as shown on the 1st edition OS plan, a new walled garden has been completed about 1km north-east of the house. During the late 19th century it was enlarged and the east wall and several glasshouses were added. The gardens supplied produce to the house until about the 1930s; it was then let to a market gardener until about 1970. Since then, it has been used as a Caravan Park run by the Caravan Club of Great Britain.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

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 Gosford House designed landscape is outstanding artistically, historically, architecturally, scenically and for nature conservation values. It has existed since the 1600s, but today's structure can be traced to the late 18th century.

Site History

There was a designed landscape in the 17th century but the present layout was designed at the end of the 18th century. James Ramsay laid out the 'Grounds' c.1790. The park and policies were extended during the 19th century.

Throughout its early history the ownership of Gosford changed several times. In the mid-17th century it was purchased by Philip Wedderburn, who was later made a Lord of Session. It is likely that he improved the land by enclosing the large fields and planting the avenues shown on General Roy's plan. The property was purchased in 1781 by Francis Charteris, later the 7th Earl of Wemyss, who enjoyed the game of golf on the links of Gosford. He had inherited his maternal grandfather's surname and wealth including the estate of Amisfield near Haddington. By 1790, Lord Wemyss had commissioned Robert Adam to build the coach-house and stables attached to the north side of the old house of Gosford. Adam was also asked to design a classical mansion to house the Earl's pictures, about 300 yards (275m) to the west of the old house.

The new Gosford House, originally called Wemyss House, was completed in 1800, eight years after Robert Adam died. In 1823, J.C. Loudon wrote that James Ramsay 'laid out and planted' the grounds. His design is shown in Forrest's map of 1799 and in the survey by John Ainslie of 'Wemyss House and the Pleasure Grounds', one version of which is dated 1808.

Lord Wemyss never lived in his new house although the big rooms were used for hanging pictures. His grandson, the 8th Earl, who inherited the estate in 1808, disliked the house and he asked several architects including Robert Reid, Sir Robert Smirke and Lewis W. Wyatt to draw up alternative plans to remodel it. None were executed but the Earl eventually demolished the two wings. He continued to live in the old house and, in 1832, he commissioned William Burn to alter it. In 1853, Francis, the 9th Earl, inherited and wished to demolish the central block of the new mansion but was persuaded not to do so by his son, the 10th Earl.

The 10th Earl collected paintings, particularly early Italian and Dutch masters, and when he succeeded in 1883 he commissioned William Young to restore Gosford House. Young replaced the two wings and altered the front door to the south side. Gosford House in its present form was completed in 1890 and the 10th Earl and his family were the first residents, some 80 years after it was originally built. The old house was mostly demolished about 1885 and its ruinous remains in 1938.

Following the 10th Earl's death in 1914, the house was used only intermittently. Often the house was let, sometimes in total and at other times in portions, and for several years during the 1930s it was run as an hotel. The Government requisitioned the estate for military use in 1939 and built a large camp in the park. The house was used partly as an Officer's mess and a large section was accidently burnt in 1940, during a function. In 1951, the 12th Earl and his family returned to live in the South Wing. (The burnt portion is being permanently re-roofed (1987), after 47 years of temporary roofs.


  • 18th Century (1701 to 1800)
  • Late 18th Century (1775 to 1799)
Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland


  • Mausoleum
  • Icehouse
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Boat House
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • House (featured building)
  • Earliest Date:
  • Pond
  • Temple
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


18th Century (1701 to 1800)





Open to the public


Electoral Ward





  • Historic Scotland

Related Documents
  • CLS 1/373

    Historic Landscape Management Plan - Digital copy

    Elizabeth Banks Associates - 1991/2