Paxton House 2579

Berwick upon Tweed, Scotland

Brief Description

Paxton House is set on a ridge above the Tweed and the walled policies contain two streams flowing in wooded glens. The designed landscape comprises well-preserved mid-18th-century parkland, woodland gardens with some contemporary specimen trees, mixed deciduous woodland and informal mid-19th-century gardens around the house.

History

Paxton House has been part of the Home of Wedderburn estate since the 15th century. The origins of the designed landscape can be firmly traced to the mid-18th-century when up-and-coming members of the Home family aspired to a new, secluded and fashionable country-house estate. The renowned architect, John Adam was chosen to draw up plans for a Palladian-style house, while landscape designer, Robert Robinson, was paid in the late 1750s to devise a scheme for the arrangement of the policies. In 1988, Paxton was gifted to the nation by John Home Robertson.

Visitor Facilities

The site is open daily between April and October. For details see: http://paxtonhouse.co.uk/visitor-info/

Detailed Description

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:

http://portal.historic-scotland.gov.uk/hes/web/f?p=PORTAL:DESIGNATIONS:0

Type of Site

An attractive 18th-century picturesque/improvement landscape incorporating some 19th-century additions. Originally designed by Robert Robinson around the newly constructed Paxton House, the key components of this landscape include parkland, woods, a woodland glen along the Linn Burn, and a range of estate buildings. The house and much of the policies are now owned and managed by the Paxton Trust and are open to the public. There is a strong amenity focus through the restoration of historic landscape features, riverside, garden and woodland walks, and the development of wildlife projects and facilities.

Location and Setting

Paxton House is located just within the Scotland-England border on the north bank of the River Tweed, some 5 miles (8km) upstream from the coastal town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. The local topography is distinctive. The house itself, sited on a prominent river bluff, occupies one of the highest points within the policies. To the south, the ground shelves steeply away towards the river bank, which has traditionally formed a good site for net salmon fishing. To the north of the house, the gently undulating parklands are deceptive. Concealed by the trees and canopy of the woodland glen, the deeply incised valleys of the Nabdean, Paxton and Linn Burns form shady natural ravines that are largely secluded from other areas of the grounds.

The wider setting for the policies is the agricultural heartland of the Lower Berwickshire Merse. Paxton House itself proves an excellent vantage point for views across the Tweed lowlands and southwards towards the Cheviot Hills. Views towards the policies, meanwhile, are characterised by an enduring picturesque quality. Although woodland screens much of the house from some formerly key viewpoints, the broadleaf canopy and the parkland grounds around the house continue to provide considerable scenic interest, particularly when combined with views of the Tweed.

According to historic maps and plans of the 18th century, the designed landscape originally extended as far north as Paxton village. Today, while the river continues to demarcate the southern and eastern boundary, the northern boundary is better defined by the minor B6461 road. A sandstone rubble policy wall along the road, the river-bank, and the western edge of the perimeter woods further defines the extent of the designed landscape, which encompasses a total of 79ha (195ac).

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Paxton House is a prominently-sited Palladian villa built from locally quarried, warm pink sandstone to designs by John Adam, drafted c.1756. There is conjecture that an earlier earthwork platform associated with Charles I's encampment of 1639 might have determined the precise choice of site (Jefferson-Davies and Snow 2008: 16). The recessed central block of the main, 7-bay, north elevation of the house features a Doric columned portico with wide flight of steps, while additions made by Robert Reid for George Home in 1811-14, linked this block with the flanking, U-shaped pavilions and created a 2-storey library and picture gallery on the south front. The quarry used for the house is located within the designed landscape boundary in the woodland to the south-west of the house. The principal drive to the house enters the policies through an impressive stone portal that consists of substantial, flanking gate-piers, crowned by recumbent coade-stone lions, connected via a classical screen c.1789, to Palladian-style south and east lodges. Two spans of the flanking screen were removed in 1988 to improve access through the gateway. A sandstone, round-arched bridge, by Nisbet in 1759, spans the Linn Burn. On the bank below one of the arches, is a well-preserved, domed, late 18th-century ice-house, which despite its shady location, experienced only mixed success in its first decades of use. To the north-west, the sizeable, almost perfectly square walled garden, begun in 1761, features walls of the same, local pink sandstone with brick linings to south-facing walls. The remains of former flues, hearths, ancillary buildings and the roof-line of demolished hot-houses remain visible in and around the walls. A former estate quarry by the Linn Burn and the secluded valley of the watercourses form a sheltered enclave known as 'the Dene' that contains notable mid to later 19th -century houses built to accommodate estate workers; Dene Cottage, Garden Cottage slightly to the north, and the Dower House, by the Nabdean burn. The latter is of particular architectural merit. Built c.1871 in Swiss cottage style, it features decorative half-timbering and a zig-zag frieze of stencilled circles and quatrefoils along its string course. In the woodland south of Garden Cottage there is a massive sandstone boulder, one of a number of geological specimens collected by David Milne Home in the 19th century. Meanwhile, a recent project along the burns of the woodland glen has uncovered significant material remains associated with the water-supply system of the estate. Substantial boundary walls of pink sandstone rubble enclose most of the designed landscape including one arched water-gate where the burn joins the Tweed. A second arch at the mouth of the Linn burn has collapsed. The riverside path passes a new fish-store, built into the bank, and a pan-tiled, rubble boat house. The latter was reconstructed by Bain, Swan Architects in 1995 and now houses a display on traditional fishing techniques. Adjacent to the stone-paved walkway west of the boathouse, a shelter associated with an earlier 'ring-net' fishery is cut into the bedrock (Home-Robertson pers.comm. 2009).

Drives and Approaches

The principal tree-lined approach, which adheres to Robinson's original 18th century scheme, follows a directly straight line from the imposing entrance gates towards Nisbet's stone bridge over the Linn Burn. From here, entering parkland, it curves to the right and sweeps in a gentle S-bend towards the main front of Paxton House. A further service track, evident on the first Ordnance Survey edition (1855-7, OS 25'), enters through a minor gate to the north-west of the policies and provides access to the former estate buildings along the woodland glen. It continues across a stone-arched bridge over the Paxton Burn to join the main driveway at the north end of the main bridge.

Paths and Walks

The paths through the woodland glen are well-maintained and allow visitors to experience something of the original landscape design created within this part of the policies. From the mid-18th century onwards, the naturally occurring outcrops and ravines formed by the converging and tumbling watercourses provided an arena for the creation of a particular kind of pleasure garden. Woodland planting, the management of the burn by sluices and dams to control the flow of water, and the establishment of a network of small pathways, viewing points and even a Chinese Bridge in the later 18th century, created a secluded, shaded environment alive with the sound of cascading or trickling water. Today, the bridge no longer survives on top of the dam, and some of the original paths, known through cartographic evidence, are difficult to trace on the ground. However, many of the intended effects endure and new wooden bridges allow access over the water. On a more practical note, the burns also provided power to pump the water supply for the estate. At the time of writing, a project designed to investigate and survey the Georgian and Victorian water systems is ongoing.

Parkland

The planting of clumps and specimen trees in parks around the house was an integral part of the initial design as conceived in the mid-18th century. While none of the original broadleaves survive, there remains a good age-range and species-mix of trees extending from the house on its north, east and west sides. Horse chestnut, lime and beech flank the entrance drive, while copper beech, sycamore, oak and lime specimens around the house provide colour and texture. Although some of the original parklands are now used for agriculture, and the area of trees is slightly reduced in comparison with previous centuries, the general character of the intended 'pastoral idyll' of the 18th century persists. (The first and second Ordnance Survey editions indicate that formerly, there was a greater density of trees, further parkland on the slopes towards the river, and in the 1850s at least, sizeable clumps in the west park, (1855-7, OS; 1896-8 OS). Curving lengths of rubble-built ha-has around the parks ensure that views encompass not only the planted areas around the house, but also extend, uninterrupted, across the grazing field of the Tweed Braes and beyond. In this field, a ring of ten Scots pine was planted in celebration of the Millennium. Also of note is the precise design of the ha-has constructed around the Tweed Braes and Linn Park; projections extending towards the River Tweed and Linn Burn, respectively, ensured that grazing animals had access to water (Home Robertson pers.comm. 2009).

Woodland

Mixed deciduous woodlands shelter the parks around the house. The structure of the design, which includes thick perimeter strips around the western and southern boundaries of the designed landscape, and a continuous swathe of trees along the course of the Nabdean and Linn Burns, results mainly from 18th and 19th-century planting projects, with some ongoing natural regeneration and colonisation, particularly by sycamore. Today, the woodlands are the focus of a variety of management and nature conservation projects implemented by the Paxton Trust. Thinning and selective replanting will encourage the diversity of ground flora and ensure the preservation of the woodland canopy. A surviving, but at-risk red squirrel population, closely monitored and encouraged since the 1990s, forms a key attraction in the designed landscape today.

Woodland Garden

Further paths lead into the woodland garden. Occupying sloping ground to the south-west of the house, much of the original planting took place during the earlier-mid 19th century with an eastward extension c.1900. Two large cedars of Lebanon are by far the most impressive survivors. In more recent years, the paths through the garden have been restored and the original collection of Victorian rhododendrons, which had largely reverted to R..ponticum by the 1980s, has been extended with varieties such as R..pachysanthum. The paths extend through mixed woodland and along the bank of the Tweed, passing a bird-hide, and encompassing views of the striking Union Chain Bridge, erected 1819-20.

The Gardens

Terraced lawns edged with colourful and well stocked borders extend from the south and west fronts of Paxton House. Early flower beds were initially created c.1817-19 following the completion of George Home's picture gallery extension, while the lawn terraces were added in the mid to later 19th century. Before this time, the park extended right up to the house from the River Tweed with the exception of an area on the edge of the woodland garden indicated as a bowling green on the 1st edition OS map (1855-7, OS 25'). A circular, brick-edged lily pond to the south-west of the house was a wartime addition (1939); while nearby informal shrub beds feature cotoneaster, Japanese maple and ornamental conifers. Descending the slope towards the river, a renovated garden space known as the 'Well Garden', centres on an old well. During the 1950s and 60s, the Home-Robertson family planted azaleas and ferns here and today, it remains an attractive garden, incorporating meandering paths, minor water features, a modern brick folly and a range of spring flowers and ornamental shrubs.

Walled Garden

Located alongside the main entrance avenue, the large walled garden is presently grassed over and used for grazing cattle. Recently published research, however, has documented a long and richly-detailed history of gardening within this space (Jefferson-Davies and Snow 2008). Originally built and planted from 1761-4, the interior was divided into quadrants by intersecting paths. The garden soon produced an impressive array of vegetables and espalier fruit. From the Home of Wedderburn archive, Jefferson-Davies and Snow detail the range of produce cultivated in subsequent years and elaborate on the influential individuals behind the drive to grow more exotic fruit and flowers, such as the determined Agnes 'Nancy' Stephens who forged ahead with the development of 'hot-pits', a grapery, and even the planting of yams in the opening decade of the 19th century (2008: 45-6). Today, only the blocked-up remains of flues and the roof-lines of old glasshouses on the walls bear physical witness to the grandeur of the Victorian walled garden, which was furnished with improved heating systems, a fashionable Mackenzie and Moncur glasshouse (albeit only a half-range), and restored 'hot-pit' structures behind the west wall. After a number of years run as a market garden in the mid 20th century, horticultural production ceased c.1960, and the garden was sown to grass. The Paxton Trust now uses a small area dedicated to the polytunnel propagation of plants and flowers.

Features
  • Mansion House (featured building)
  • Description: Paxton House is a prominently-sited Palladian villa built from locally quarried, warm pink sandstone to designs by John Adam, drafted c.1756.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Avenue
  • Description: A mixed deciduous avenue along the entrance drive that was part of the original 18th-century design.
  • Ornamental Pond
  • Description: A circular lily pond with three informal shrub beds in front of it.
  • Earliest Date:
  • River
  • Description: River Tweed.
Specimen Tree, Riverside Walk
Access & Directions

Access Contact Details

The site is open daily between April and October. For details see: http://paxtonhouse.co.uk/visitor-info/

Directions

Paxton House is signposted on the B6461 three miles from the A1 Berwick upon Tweed bypass. The 'Paxton House Bus' runs daily from Berwick.
History

Detailed History

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:

http://portal.historic-scotland.gov.uk/hes/web/f?p=PORTAL:DESIGNATIONS:0

Reason for Inclusion

Paxton forms a major example of 18th-century landscape design that retains many original and important features. The remarkable Home of Wedderburn archive provides outstanding historical value for this site. The parks and woodlands, meanwhile, contribute to the Tweed valley scenery and form the setting for proactive nature conservation projects implemented by the Paxton Trust and volunteer groups.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Late 1750s-1820, 1850s-1880s

Site History

The historical development of the Paxton landscape is now well documented. Newly-published research into the Home of Wedderburn archive narrates an excellent and comprehensive history of the policies for the first time, and builds on an earlier account (Jefferson-Davies and Snow 2008 and Rowan 1967, respectively).

The origins of the designed landscape can be firmly traced to the mid-18th-century when up-and-coming members of the Home family aspired to a new, secluded and fashionable country-house estate following the uncertainties and losses of the Border conflicts and Jacobite uprisings. The Homes had not faired well during these unstable times. After the 1715 rebellion, in which George Home had taken part, the lands of both Paxton and Wedderburn (q.v.) were saved from forfeiture only through the wile and economic machinations of George's kinsman, the Rev. Ninian Home of Billie. He succeeded in both entailing the property back to George's children, and via marriage to the eldest daughter, in fathering the next heir, Patrick Home (1728-1809).

The impetus for the development of the designed landscape was largely a romantic and aspirational one. Patrick, who had inherited in 1744, and who had been sent to Europe a few years later, gravitated towards the Prussian court of Frederick the Great where he fell in love with Sophie de Brandt, one of the Ladies in Waiting. Although the encounter never progressed to marriage, Patrick's immediate plan was to create a new house and landscape garden suitable for his proposed bride.

Early maps surveyed by Roy and Cockburn in the mid-18th century show an open stretch of outfields on the north bank of the Tweed. The proximity of the river, the undulating ground, and the deep tributary burns, however, formed promising terrain. The renowned architect, John Adam was chosen to draw up plans for a Palladian-style house, while landscape designer, Robert Robinson, was paid in the late 1750s to devise a scheme for the arrangement of the policies. Work at Paxton got underway. While some elements of Robinson's design were not carried out, (a monumental obelisk, a small lake at the confluence of the two main burns, a menagerie, the precise location of the walled garden etc.), other key elements were, such as the entrance avenue, bridge, manipulation of the Linn Burn, and general overall form of the parks and plantations.

Disillusioned by the failure of his liaison, Patrick sold the unfurnished house and semi-completed grounds to Ninian, the eldest son of his half-brother. Despite long absences from Paxton, Ninian maintained a close interest in the ongoing project from his West Indian plantations in Grenada, and his surviving correspondence proves a valuable source of evidence for contemporary ideas, concerns and influences. In 1795, following Ninian's violent death during an uprising, his brother George inherited. George continued to promote the development and improvement of the grounds along with influential family and household members, (most notably an 'adopted' daughter, Agnes 'Nancy' Stephens and long-serving head gardeners). By the time of George's death in 1820, the walled garden was producing a range of standard and exotic produce, while paths through the grounds led strollers through parks, maturing woodland, flower gardens and the shady glen; a contrasting series of contrived environments.

Succeeding generations of Homes made further adaptations in accordance with particular fashions and life-styles of the age, especially in the latter decades of the 19th century. Victorian tastes for grandeur, colour, and exotic specimens demanded, for example, Mackenzie and Moncur hothouses for the walled garden, and the acquisition of rhododendron and conifer specimens for the new woodland garden. In common with most estates, however, the two World Wars of the 20th century brought this era of abundance to an end. Trees were felled for the war effort, while the house accommodated a boarding school evacuated from Edinburgh (1939-1944). Post-war economic imperatives led to the pursuit of market gardening and the division of the house into separately let apartments. The grounds and gardens were looked after by the family with a much-reduced team of estate workers.

In 1988, Paxton was gifted to the nation by John Home Robertson. Since then, Paxton has been managed by a charitable trust that has successfully restored the picture gallery and opened the house and to the public. In addition to creating new visitor facilities, such as car-parking and a children's playground, the Paxton Trust focuses on promoting educational, research and nature conservation initiatives. The 'Well Garden' has been comprehensively redeveloped and other work has sought to restore and enhance pre-existing elements, thus ensuring the survival of the main 18th century structure of the landscape design.

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References

References

Contributors

  • Historic Scotland