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Millburn Tower


The garden now consists of shrubberies and a large central lawn surrounded by a circular path. There is also a walled garden with irregularly-shaped walls, which still contains a dividing hedge with trellis work in it. The 19th-century water features have all but disappeared.

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

Millburn Tower is situated on the western outskirts of Edinburgh, some 10 miles (16km) from Edinburgh Airport. Although it is very close to the A8 and to built up areas, it is well screened by shelterbelts, and sent in agricultural land. Views of the urban edge can only be obtained from the east side of the shelterbelts.

The site covers approximately 30 acres (12ha) along a narrow plot of land, of which the axis runs from NNE to SSE. The grounds have previously been divided into two plots and now under one ownership. The original design incorporated two circular open areas set in woodland. The Stables are at the north end of the grounds and there were three lochs linked by the Mill Burn which initially flows at right angles to the road and before turning south. Two lochs were at the north east corner of the estate and one due east of the house. From the historical map evidence, it would seem that the pattern of the layout has changed very little over the years and that it has always been secluded and screened from the surrounding shelterbelts.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Millburn Tower was designed by William Atkinson in several phases from 1805. A thatched cottage was the first building on the site followed by a two-storey tower. The single storey section to the south followed in 1815 and 1821. The building is unusual in having all its principal rooms on the ground floor. Other architectural features are the Walled Garden, Stables, South Lodge (perhaps based on scheme by the Latrobe for the round house drawn up in 1800, see under Site History) and North Gates.

Drives & Approaches

The principal drives and approaches are to the north with a bridge over the Mill Burn and to the south.

Paths & Walks

A number of paths and walks are shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map but some are now overgrown. The main walks were in the area of the lakes at the north of the site, and in the wooded area due west of the house.

Avenues and Vistas

The two approaches to the house from the north and from the south initially followed straight lines and were flanked by beech avenues. As they approached the house they both took a curving route, the north drive circumventing a large lawn and the south around the walled garden, keeping the visitor in suspense by shielding the view of the house until the last moment when it was revealed. The north approach led the visitor over a bridge which crossed the Mill Burn. The large belt of trees around the estate prevents many outward views although there is a clear vista to the east from the apex of the tower which is focussed on Edinburgh Castle.


There are dense woodland areas surrounding the house and central lawns and flanking the driveways. Some of this may be contemporary with the development of the garden and house. Documentary evidence shows that the Listons carried out intensive tree-planting here and at Listonshiels and Bavelaw to the south of Millburn.

Water Features

Two lakes at the north end of the estate and one due east of the house are still visible in outline although they have silted up. That to the east of the house was engraved and is illustrated in Taylor (1990).

The Gardens

The garden was designed by Captain George Parkyns in 1804-5. It had been planned when the Liston were still travelling in the United States and the West Indies. The design was based on the principles established by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown with serpentine driveways, lakes, one with an island and peripheral belts of trees. At the centre was what was initially a cottage orné but which later expanded into a small scale Gothic style house. The American Garden which was probably located to the north east of the walled garden may have consisted of an informal scheme of beds but this does not survive. The lakes have silted up and little remains today of unusual plant material. There are some conifers and rhododendron planted to the west of the house as well as some American specimens such as hickory.

Walled Gardens

The walled garden lies due south of the house. It was developed after 1811. It is unusual in that it is approximately D-shaped. The driveway from the south follows the curve of the west wall thus enhancing the approach to the house by keeping the latter from view until very close. Part of the wall could be heated. The garden and the boiler room and bothy remain to the south.

The walled garden contained the American Winter Garden with tender plants. A drawing for the design of this by the gardener John Hay survives among the Liston Papers in the National Library of Scotland. The 1893 edition (published 1895) Ordnance Survey 25 inch map shows a substantial conservatory with a round section at the east end placed against the north wall of the walled garden, east of the entrance which accords with the position suggested by another sketch in the collection. A smaller glasshouse was situated to the west of the entrance but may be more recent date.

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:

Millburn Tower is a significant early 19th-century informal designed landscape. Its importance lies in the historic horticultural collection including American and continental specimens. These specimens, though now mostly gone, were gathered and cultivated by the first owners, Sir Robert and Lady Liston. This landscape is also significant for the wealth of historical data about the formation of the collection, for its design by the landscape theorist and garden designer George Isham Parkyns (only one of two in Britain connected to his name), and for the visitors it attracted in the early 19th century.

Site History

The designed landscape today corresponds in basic structure to the layout shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed 1852, apart from the loss of the loch features. (On the map two lochs north of the house are shown - but not that to east of the house).

The estate was purchased at some point before 1804 by Sir Robert Liston whose ancestors held land in this area (indicated by the local names such Kirkliston and Newliston). Sir Robert was a diplomat who served initially in Europe but in February 1796 he was appointed British Minister to the newly formed United States of America, the same year in which he married Henrietta Marchant of Antigua (1751-1828). During the period in the United States the Listons became friendly with George Washington and other high ranking officials as well as George Isham Parkyns, the landscape theorist, writer and garden designer. Liston retired in May 1804.

When the Listons acquired the estate, the main features were the Gogar Burn running in a wide circle around the estate and the Mill Burn running through it. Roy's map of 1752-55 shows two features in this area: 'The Old Mill' and 'Dam Hedd'. Initially the estate was conceived as a small simple rural retreat. The 'little cascade' above the Old Mill was thought to have potential as a garden feature but this was not carried forward. (NLS MS 5608). The first design drawn up for the house was a round structure designed by the architect Benjamin Latrobe in 1800 who met the Listons in the United States. This was not executed and the first building on the site was a thatched cottage. The present tower was added to this and the cottage subsequently demolished as the house was developed over a number of years.

The overall design of Millburn landscape was drawn up by George Isham Parkyns who visited the site in August 1804. Some inspiration came at least in part from friends of Lady Liston, Thomas and Jane Johnes who between 1783 and 1788 had laid out the grounds of Hafod, Cardiganshire in line with 'Picturesque principles' fashionable at the time, with circuit walks allowing the visitor to enjoy a succession of views and experiences. It included an American garden. The Millburn planting scheme, which was a collaborative effort between the clients and Parkyns, survives in outline. Lady Liston had made a collection of transatlantic plants while she was in the United States. Parkyns had practical experience of gardening in the United States where he designed various gardens including Mount Vernon for George Washington.

Sir Robert resumed diplomatic duties in Constantinople in 1811 but continued to develop the estate which was managed by Sir Robert's nephew, Alexander Liston Ramage. A large conservatory was constructed for the American winter garden about this time. The Listons returned to Scotland in 1820. Thousands of trees were planted in the park. They acquired further land at Bavelaw and Listonshiels and intensive tree planting was carried out there in the early 1820s as well.

The Listons had no family and Sir Robert's grand-niece Henrietta inherited from him. She married Sir William Foulis of Woodhall, Baronet in 1843 and was succeeded by their son Sir James. The house was tenanted in the mid-19th century and the photographer William H Talbot lived there from 1861-63 and conducted many of his photoglyphic experiments there. During Second World War the house was used by the Norwegian Consulate and amongst its recorded visitors were Rudolf Hess and Amy Johnson. In 1981 the then owner put the house and eight acres of the grounds on the market and removed to the converted stables. Some alterations to the grounds were made while this owner lived at the house; the cottages forming the southern end of the courtyard were demolished and replaced by a raised garden. The walled garden was cleared apart from some fruit trees and a central hedge along the west-east axis (now gone). Some trees have been replanted. At the time of writing (2015). the current owner has restored the house and has future plans for re-establishing the gardens.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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


  • House (featured building)
  • Description: The house was designed by William Atkinson in 1805, following a design for a round house by Benjamin Latrobe in 1800 which was not executed.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Shrubbery
  • Lawn
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


Part: standing remains



Open to the public





  • Historic Scotland