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Yester House


Although the estate at Yester House was broken up in the late-20th century the structure of a mid-18th-century picturesque designed landscape can still be discerned. In addition to a remnant of parkland there are several specimen trees and hardwood plantations dating from the late-19th century. The walls and internal structure of the early-19th-century walled garden survive.

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

Yester is situated near the village of Gifford off the B6370 some 5 miles (8km) south of Haddington and some 18 miles (29km) south-east of Edinburgh. It lies on the northern foothills of the Lammermuir Hills in the valley of the Gifford Water, between Swallows Cleugh, Hopes Water and Gifford. The river terraces and the valley enclose the house. The rainfall is low. The climate is affected by the cold north- easterly winds blowing off the North Sea which hit the rising Lammermuir Hills just to the south. To the north the surrounding landscape is mainly farmed but on rising ground to the south it becomes moorland. From high points in the Park, there are long views south to the Lammermuir Hills, particularly Meilke Says Law, 1,755' (535m). In the late 18th century these long views were significant in the designed landscape. From the B6355, the deciduous woodlands contribute variety to the open scenery and from the minor roads to the south there are glimpses into the policies.

Standing on slightly higher ground, enclosed by the escarpments, Yester House lies in the north-eastern section of the policies, overlooking the Gifford Water to the east. To the north, the policies are bordered by the B6355 and B6370 and on the other three sides by the minor road between Gifford and Danskine. The designed landscape covers the valley of the Gifford Water and spreads over the gently rising slopes above the river escarpments. The narrow valley with the winding river leading from Gifford to the house was used in the designed landscape of both periods. In the 17th century design the axis was almost straight and the winding river was ignored; in the late 18th century the river was emphasised and the straight drive was made to curve.

Research into the Tweeddale records and estate plans has not been done for this study but the paintings of Yester House of about 1700 have been used. General Roy's plan of the 1750s shows the formal landscape surrounded by policies and the 1st edition OS plan of 1855 shows the late 18th century changes. The extent of the designed landscape which covers an area of some 2,150 acres (870ha) has remained the same since the early 18th century.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Yester House, listed category A, was built between 1699-1727 by James Smith and Alexander MacGill on the site of a 16th century tower house which was demolished in 1699. From 1729 to 1745, William Adam was involved. He was first called in to repair the leaking roof and he added a pedimented centrepiece to the north front. His sons, John and Robert were commissioned to decorated the saloon which is considered to be some of their finest work. In 1789, Robert replaced his father's centrepiece in the north front although he proposed to remodel the whole building. The West Pavilion was burnt down in 1797 but was quickly rebuilt. It was removed in the 1830s by Robert Brown who replaced it with a glass porte cochere and re- oriented the front door on the west side. In 1877, more work was done by R. Rowand Anderson for the 11th Marquess.

St Bathan's Chapel, listed category A, was originally built in the 15th century as the Yester parish church. It was rebuilt in the mid 17th century and became the family mausoleum in about 1710. In 1753, the Adam brothers built on to it a 'Rococo Gothic Frontage'. It represents one of Robert Adam's earliest 'Gothic fantasies'.

The Gifford Lodges and Gatepiers, listed category A (S) were built by John Adam in 1753, in red sandstone with 'grand square piers with coupled Ionic columns attached' and good wrought-iron gates. Danskine Lodge and Gates were built in the early 18th century and have contemporary gates. The ruined Yester Castle, listed category A, is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, built in the 13th and 15th centuries. The Stables, designed in the gothic style were built between 1820 and 1826.

The Walled Garden, listed category (S) was built by 1824 with curved brick walls. The wrought-iron gate is a good example of the late 19th century 'Arts and Crafts' work. The Gardener's Cottage, listed category (S) was built at the same time and had a two storey classical facade facing the garden added to it in the mid 19th century. It is known as the Bailiff's Cottage. The Kiosk in the garden, which is the clock case from the Caledonian Station in Edinburgh, was moved there in the 1970s.


The park was described by John Macky in 1714 as 'the best planted park I ever saw: the park walls are about eight miles in circumference: and I dare venture to say, there is a full million of full grown trees in it. In short it is larger, as well walled, and more regularly planted than Richmond in Surrey'. This park was planted by the 1st Marquess and part of it can be seen in the De Witt paintings of about 1690. The park or rather the enclosed fields can be seen on General Roy's plan, of 1750, and they extended on both sides of the roads from Gifford to Danskine. By the 1st edition OS of 1855, the park had been reduced to the area south of the house between it and the Castle. Today there are one or two large trees growing in the pasture to the south of the house probably dating from the early 18th century; they are the sole remnants of the great park.


Over 6,000 acres of woodland are said to have been planted by the 1st Earl and his son, the 1st Marquess. The 1st Marquess was a close friend of John Evelyn and extensive woodlands along the Gifford Water, Hopes Water and Swallow Cleugh can be seen in General Roy's plan of 1750 and in the 1st edition OS of 1855. The woodland consists mainly of hardwoods planted from the 1800s and clumps of conifers, mainly Douglas fir, which were planted from about the 1880s probably following the severe storm in 1881. In the southern section, the woodlands have been replanted with conifers by the new owners, Tilhill Forestry.

In the 18th century, there were romantic drives along the river valley passing the ruined Yester Castle and through the narrow gorge to Danksine Lodge. In the woodland between the house to Gifford on either side of the Water there are several tall copper beeches and other ornamental conifers, particularly Douglas fir and Scots pine planted about 1890. Attractive walks bordered by tall beech run along the escarpment through the woodland. Flights of stone steps cut into the banks lead down to the Water.

The Gardens

The Gardens created in the late 17th century are shown in a series of oil paintings by De Witt of about 1690. Contemporary commentators praised the gardens and mentioned most of the extravagant features shown in the pictures. John Macky in 1714 wrote:

'The parterre and garden behind the house is very spacious and fine. There is a handsome basin with jett d'eaux in the middle of the parterre, with four good statues upon pedestals in each corner. There is an abundance of evergreens, and green slopes regularly dispos'd; and to the west on an artificial mound is a pleasant summerhouse.'

In 1708, accounts for work on the pond, garden gates, summerhouse, bridges and grotto indicate that the gardens were still developing. The paintings show a rectangular flat walled garden divided into seven compartments lying to the south of the house. Beyond the small garden gate lay the 'Wilderness' which contained an exuberant cascade falling down a steep bank into a broad canal. Yester Mains can be seen on the hill above the cascade.

In 1751, John Adam suggested adding Chinese bridges and temples. In 1753, William Bowie, a nurseryman from Musselburgh, produced a nine point memorandum on the garden. Shortly afterwards the formal garden was swept away and in 1760 Richard Pococke described them:

'the lawn behind the house is fine with large trees interspersed where the sheep feed and there is a terrace round it, on one side is a hermitage and on another a summerhouse in a little island, beyond this the park'.

During the 19th century, flower beds and more statues were added and these can been seen in some early photographs. Most of the flower beds and tennis courts had been swept away by the 1950s. In the 1970s the gardens and the park were divided and are now managed by different owners. Recent planting along the boundary has increased their separation. On the west and east sides there are several large conifers and ornamental trees dating from the 1830s and the 1890s including two enormous copper beeches. The clock tower from the Caledonian Station in Edinburgh was placed to the west of the house as a summerhouse.

The entrance drive from Gifford village is marked by the remnants of a lime avenue leading from the road to the Lodges. This avenue was part of the 17th century formal planting. The drive continues up the east side of the Water and near the house sweeps across the culverted river to the front entrance. On the east side of the drive the banks are regularly terraced; it is not known whether these are natural or part of the formal 17th century design.

Walled Garden

The Walled Garden was built around 1750. Andrew Wood built a peach house in 1791. In 1824, Loudon commented on the quality of the garden. Further glasshouses called vineries were erected by Andrew Sheaver in the 1850s when the classical facade was added to the Bailiff's House or Gardeners Cottage. The walls are twin skinned with brick on the inside and stone on the outside. The fine wrought-iron gates in 'Arts and Crafts' style at the southern entrance could have been added in about 1900. The gravel paths dividing the garden into equal compartments still remain but most of the vegetable garden now grows 'Pick your Own' raspberries.

To the south of the Walled Gardens are the remains of the old shrubbery and flower garden; there are still one or two exotic trees and shrubs planted in the 1920s around a lawn.

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

Although much deteriorated, the picturesque style design structure of the mid-18th century can still be seen, and the scenic and architectural qualities of this landscape still make it significant.

Site History

The 17th century garden was swept away in the mid 18th century and was replaced by a 'picturesque' design. This was maintained throughout the 19th century until the estate was sold in the 1960s. Since then the design of the gardens and grounds have deteriorated.

In the 13th century, the Manor of Yester was granted to an Englishman, Hugh Gifford. The property remained in the hands of his descendants until the mid 20th century. In the late 13th century Yester Castle was built by Hugo de Gifford about a mile to the south-east of the house. He is also said to have constructed the subterranean Goblin Ha' (Goblin's Hall) by magic. St Bathan's Chapel near the house was the parish church for the adjoining village of Yester. The village was moved to Gifford probably in the 17th century.

The Gifford heiress married a member of the Hay family and, throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, the Hay family were at the forefront of Scottish affairs. In the mid- 17th century the 1st Earl of Tweeddale considered building a new house at Yester. The 1st Earl fought for the Royalists during the Civil War and was created Earl in 1646; later he changed sides and served as a Scottish representative in two Commonwealth Parliaments. Following the Restoration and under the Duke of Lauderdale, the 2nd Earl was appointed a privy councillor and commissioner of the Treasury. He supported William III and, as a reward in 1692, was appointed Lord High Chancellor of Scotland. Two years later he was created 1st Marquess of Tweeddale and died in 1697. His son married Lauderdale's only daughter Margaret.

From the 1660s, the 2nd Earl began planting at Yester. He was a close friend of John Evelyn. Daniel Defoe wrote, in about 1727, that from 1664 over 6,000 acres were planted. In 1670 Sir William Bruce was consulted on a new house by the 1st Marquess but it was his son, the 2nd Marquess, who in 1699 instructed James Smith to start work on the central block of the new house. Building continued until about 1728. However by 1676, the park had already been enclosed and by the 1690s, before the new house was built, one of the most ornate formal gardens and one of the largest parks in Scotland had been laid out around the old house. They can be seen on several delightful oil paintings by the Dutch artist, De Witt.

The 2nd Marquess was also a politician and was, for a few months, Lord High Chancellor under Queen Anne. He was a strong advocate of the Act of Union. He died in 1713. His son, the 3rd Marquess, died two years later before the building work had been completed.

John, the 4th Marquess, inherited as a minor. He became involved in politics and was eventually appointed Secretary of State for Scotland . In 1729 building resumed and William Adam was asked to add a pedimented attic to the south front and an Ionic centrepiece to the north front (later replaced by Robert Adam). Under the Marquess' supervision John and Robert Adam worked on the house throughout the latter part of the 18th century. By the 1760s, the magnificent formal gardens had been swept away and John Adam was proposing 'Chinese Bridges and Temples' on the lawns.

In 1824 Loudon described Yester in his 'Encyclopaedia of Gardening' as 'an elegant and magnificent structure of stone, with a park containing some very fine old trees and a good kitchen garden'.

George, the 8th Marquess, followed Wellington throughout the Peninsular War, fought at Waterloo and rose to the rank of Field Marshal. He was also a recognised agricultural reformer. In the 1830s the front of the house was reorientated to the west side, the double pair of curving steps removed and the glass port cochere built by the architects Robert Brown and Son.

At the end of the century George's grandson William, the 11th Marquess, modernised the house with the assistance of R. Rowand Anderson. By the 1920s, the grounds were described by Thomas Hannan as: 'beautifully laid out with flower beds, tennis court and numerous stone vases on pedestals with a fountain playing near the tennis court'. Photographs show the details of the colourful borders. David, the 12th Marquess died in 1967 and shortly afterwards the estate was sold.

Associated People
Features & Designations


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

  • Scheduled Ancient Monument

  • Reference: Yester Castle
  • Historic Environment Scotland Listed Building

  • Reference: The walled garden
  • Grade: C(S)


  • House (featured building)
  • Description: Yester House, listed category A, was built between 1699-1727 by James Smith and Alexander MacGill on the site of a 16th century tower house which was demolished in 1699.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Garden Wall
  • Description: Twin-skinned walls of the kitchen garden, built of stone one side and brick the other.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Specimen Tree
  • Plantation
Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


Part: standing remains



Open to the public


Electoral Ward

East Linton/Gifford




  • Historic Scotland