Portmore is a large, intact and recently restored designed landscape notable for its outstanding architectural and archaeological value. The grounds provide the setting for Portmore House, a category A-listed, mid-19th century mansion, and contain the scheduled archaeological remains of the prominent prehistoric fort and settlement, Northshield Rings. Meanwhile, surviving historical evidence in the form of a mid-18th-century map and early 19th-century notebooks and letters provide an excellent source of evidence for understanding the development of the landscape.
Type of Site
A 19th-century country residence set within a larger agricultural estate and comprising a mansion-house, parks, extensive woodlands, and a large, attractive walled garden with glasshouses and grotto, recently restored to a high quality.
Location and Setting
Portmore is set within the upland valley landscape of the Eddleston Water, less than a mile north of Eddleston village. This is a landscape characterised by the narrow, straight channel of the watercourse, flowing from north to south towards the Tweed, and moderate to steep enclosing valley sides. These hillsides ascend from the pasture and arable lands of scattered farms towards the heather moorland and unimproved grass of the surrounding Moorfoot and Cloich Hill uplands. Part of a larger estate, the designed landscape occupies a stretch of the west-facing valley side where the undulating ground is incised by several narrow tributary valleys. The house itself occupies a higher spur of land while the surrounding parks and perimeter woodlands give way to larger expanses of forestry above. Views from here extend along the Eddleston corridor and towards the more distant Meldon Hills to the south west, and the Pentlands, to the north west. Distinctive features of the higher ground include the scheduled late prehistoric fort and settlement of Northshield Rings, with its complex ditch and rampart defences, and Portmore Loch, a large reservoir created from an existing body of water in the 1870s. The designed landscape encompasses some 465ha (1149ac) and is bounded to the west by the A703 road between Edinburgh and Peebles, to the north-east by Portmore Loch, and elsewhere by the outer edge of woodland plantations.
Portmore is a red sandstone mansion built in Scottish Jacobean style by David Bryce from 1850, with some preliminary draughtsmanship by William Burn, 1833. The main, L-plan structure comprises 2 storeys on a raised basement with principal entrance in the west elevation. Projecting above the crow-stepped gables of the roof are tall octagonal chimneys, a 3-storey square tower with balustraded viewing roof, and a 4-storey, octagonal, ogee-roofed tower in the re-entrant with the gable. Following a fire, the whole interior was remodelled and a family wing added to the north end (John Bryce 1883), while further substantial remodelling work took place after another fire in 1986. To the north, the rectangular walled garden features a MacKenzie and Moncur range of glasshouses along the north wall, erected in 1898. From here, an opening leads to a grotto, developed after 1911 with tufa or clinker decorated walls and glazed lean-to roof. Harcus House, a whinstone rubble courtyard farmhouse range to the south-west of the house served as the main residence of the estate prior to the construction of Portmore. A T-plan, crowstepped lodge, and a mid 19th century gateway with imposing, tall, square gatepiers, mark the start of the long entrance drive from the main road (A703).
Drives and Approaches
The entrance drive to Portmore leads from the A703 in the southern part of the designed landscape. From the lodge and flanking gatepiers, it follows the shaded tributary valley of the Harcus Burn through mixed woodland, past Harcus, before turning to ascend towards the house. The latter stage affords views into the large park to the south of Portmore before re-entering woodland; this time around the house and gardens. To the west, a roughly parallel track leads past the walled garden and onwards through the higher forestry towards Portmore Loch. It traces in part an older route that led north east through this hilly landscape, past the old 18th-century village of Northshield towards Dalkeith, Midlothian (NAS RHP14510; Roy 1747-55; Edgar 1741; Armstrong 1775).
Paths and Walks
A network of paths created during the Victorian era allowed walkers to stroll through woodlands, with occasional open views out towards the Pentlands and Moorfoot hills (NAS GD1/1138/11). In more recent years, the present owners have redeveloped some woodland walks, planting them with rhododendron, azaleas and shrub roses.
The present parkland structure was established by the earlier 19th century, probably as a result of Colin Mackenzie's major programme of improvement and planting in the opening decade of that century. The principal parks, enclosed by thick swathes of curving woodland, surround the designed landscape core of house, gardens and main wood and feature sizable clumps of trees. In addition to these mixed broadleaf and conifer clumps, historic maps suggest that formerly, a greater number of individual specimen trees also stood within the sloping parks to the south of Portmore House (Thomson 1821; OS 1856, 25').
Ambitious planting campaigns in the early 19th century succeeded in establishing the extensive woodland cover that remains in place today. Colin Mackenzie's notes from 1807 to 1808 quantify the hundreds of thousands of seedlings that were to be transplanted from the nursery and established through the estate, with species ranging from the typical hardwoods of oak, ash, elm, and beech, through to spruce, walnut, plane, Oriental Plane, Weymouth pine and Scots pine (NAS GD293/6/4; NAS GD293/6/5). Today, mixed broadleaf woodlands, which extend around the house, gardens and principal parks, continue to provide shelter and an attractive environment for woodland walks. Elsewhere, other parts of the original Portmore woods have long been given over to commercial plantations. This is most notable in The Camps where a large swathe of zoned coniferous forestry extends over the hillside to the north east of the house from Gallow Law and Kennel Park to the west bank of Portmore Reservoir.
Neat lawns fringed by mature policy woodlands and attractive specimen trees extend from the south, east and west fronts of Portmore House. The structure of the Victorian sunken terraced gardens, established by the mid-19th century, remains very much in evidence, with recently-established, concentric hedging to the east of the house following the straight lines of the terrace edges. These terraces step down on three and sometimes four levels. Although this rectangular garden underwent some modification in the late Victorian to Edwardian era, recent work has recreated the original square-ended line of these terraces. More recent garden elements introduced during the renovation work of the late 20th and early 21st century include a parterre, tucked along the east front of the house, and a long rectangular pond, excavated in the centre of the east terraced garden.
The restored walled garden is perhaps the most impressive component of the designed landscape. Having fallen into serious neglect by the 1980s, it is now an attractive and well-ordered space, carefully designed and planted by the present owner, Mrs Reid. Situated to the north of Portmore house, the large, rectangular enclosure is accessed by gravel paths that enter the garden from the south. Inside, a grassy central path, flanked by colourful herbaceous borders and hedging leads the eye towards a restored, late 19th-century MacKenzie and Moncur glasshouse range. An intersecting central grass path and a perimeter gravel walk, meanwhile, provide access to eight distinct square compartments, secluded from one another by hedges, and including a herb garden, rose garden, potager and hawthorn walk. Soft fruit are also cultivated while the glasshouses provide excellent conditions for fruit trees and flowering plants such as roses, geraniums and fuchsias (King and Lambert 2008: 477). One of the most distinctive features of the garden is an Edwardian grotto, accessed from the glasshouses, and recently described as 'enchanting'dripping, cool and fern-filled' (King and Lambert 2008: 477).
Cruft et al. suggest the present walled garden to be a contemporary of the house, built c.1850 (2006). If so, it may be seen as a direct successor to the garden initiated by Colin Mackenzie in the early 19th century. Mackenzie invested considerable effort and money in the construction and planting of his walled garden during 1807-1809. His sketch shows a rectangular form with rounded corners on the same orientation as the present garden, while accompanying notes chart debates over construction techniques and hothouse specifications. Many fruit varieties were selected, with a list of 1807 documenting nectarine, peach, apple, pear, cherry, plum, apricot and greengage cultivars. In the end, the expense may have seemed overwhelming, for by May of 1809, he exclaimed in a letter 'I have already paid £1900 for my garden, of which £820 for the hothouses. I hope £2000 will finish it, but I am none to sure of calculating for certain' (NLS MS.20471).
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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
A large, intact and recently restored designed landscape notable for its outstanding architectural and archaeological value. The grounds provide the setting for Portmore House, a category A-listed, mid-19th century mansion, and contain the scheduled archaeological remains of the prominent prehistoric fort and settlement, Northshield Rings. Meanwhile, surviving historical evidence in the form of a mid-18th-century map and early 19th-century notebooks and letters provide an excellent source of evidence for understanding the development of the landscape.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
1807-1830, 1850s, late 20th to early 21st century
A good range of historical documents shed light on the development of the estate and designed landscape of Portmore during the early 19th century. Most relate to Colin Mackenzie, an Edinburgh legal man and old friend of Sir Walter Scott, who set about building, garden and planting work across the estate in 1807, and whose notebooks and surviving correspondence form an interesting snapshot of contemporary aspirations for a country residence.
The wider estate of Portmore had originally been established during the 18th century when the Earls of Portmore purchased a sizable tract of the Blackbarony estate c.1735. This hilly ground was surveyed in 1759 and the resulting map shows fields, meadows and crofting land connected by paths and tracks, and a small village called Northshield (NAS RHP14510). The village is depicted as occupying the site of the present house and gardens, and is shown with a short, main street flanked with houses, plots and yards. It was evidently cleared away during subsequent years. In the closing years of the 18th century, Portmore estate, along with its farms and fields, was bought by Colin Mackenzie's father, Alexander Mackenzie W.S.. Up until this point, there is little evidence for any form of designed landscape set out for aesthetic or recreational purposes, and it seems that it was Colin Mackenzie, inheriting a few years later, who began the task from scratch.
Surviving archives suggest an energetic and diligent man, engaged with questions of woodland planting, the best hedging species, how to cope the new garden walls, the number of bricks needed to line them and the sort of fruit and climbers that should be cultivated (NLS MS.20471). Evidently his plan was to build a cottage while work on a new mansion-house got underway. Although Portmore House was not built until many years after his death, Colin Mackenzie was nonetheless responsible for establishing the wider parkland and woodland design at Portmore. His notebook for 1807 lists and quantifies hardwoods and pines to be planted and transplanted in their thousands from the nursery, and the numerous varieties of fruit ordered for the garden walls. His sense of humour shines through in later letters, remarking in 1809, 'I am plunging up to the neck in farming and planting ' pray for my good deliverance as both occupations have the effect of draining my purse' (NLS MS.20471).
Colin Mackenzie was succeeded by his son, William Forbes Mackenzie in 1830, who went on to serve as a Conservative MP for Peeblesshire and later, the city of Liverpool. During these decades, plans were drawn up for Portmore House, and the sandstone Jacobean mansion was eventually begun in 1850. The first Ordnance Survey maps, surveyed and published in the late 1850s, reveal in more detail the character of the designed landscape soon after the completion of the house. They show not only the building and the surrounding established parks and plantations, but also details such as terraced gardens around the house, the walled garden with glasshouses along the north wall, woodland paths, and a curling pond in Oak Bank Wood to the north-west of the house (1856 OS 6' and 25').
These elements, together with later Victorian developments such as accommodation for estate workers, a lodge and gateway at the entrance, and a new glasshouse range built to replace the older structure, fitted the model of a typical Victorian country residence. A major house fire in the early 1880s proved only a temporary setback, as Portmore was immediately rebuilt, and a further wing added. On the death of William Forbes in the 1860s, his son, Colin James Mackenzie had inherited the property. Thirty years later, however, the Mackenzie family had left Portmore. A rental book from 1890 onwards records the lease of not only the farms and wider estate lands, but also the 'Mansion House of Portmore (Furnished) and Shootings' (GD293/6/1), while in 1896, the house, grounds and wider estate were up for sale (NAS GD1/1138/11).
Aerial photographs taken in the 1980s show that while the essential structure of the designed landscape endured during the 20th century, the core garden areas fell into disrepair. The sale of the estate in 1979 marked a turning point, however, and in spite of another damaging fire in 1986, the overall trend from the late 20th century onwards been one of repair and restoration. The original Victorian terraced lawns have been tidied up, and a central pond added, while the walled garden has undergone a radical transformation. Designed by the present owner, the garden now forms the main attraction for open days organised under the Scotland's Gardens Scheme.
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Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- Mansion House (featured building)
- Description: Portmore is a red sandstone mansion built in Scottish Jacobean style by David Bryce from 1850, with some preliminary draughtsmanship by William Burn, 1833. The main, L-plan structure comprises 2 storeys on a raised basement with principal entrance in the west elevation.
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