Abbotsford, the Scottish Borders home of Sir Walter Scott - the novelist who penned works including Waverley, Ivanhoe and Rob Roy - has re-opened to the public following a multi-million pound restoration.
The opening is the culmination of a five-year campaign to save the historic property following the death of Dame Jean Maxwell Scott, the last of Scott’s descendants to live in the house. The Abbotsford Trust, a charitable trust, was set up in 2007 and has since raised over £12 million to pay for restoration and refurbishment work and to transform Abbotsford into a visitor attraction.
The award-winning Abbotsford Visitor Centre, featuring a special exhibition about Scott’s life and legacy, opened last year. Scott’s home will re-open to the public following a closure of almost two years. The public tour will include two rooms never previously on display.
Scott was the world’s first best-selling novelist and the creator of the historical novel. His works brought Scotland to the attention of the world for the first time and were translated into over 30 languages and read from Scotland, Italy and Moscow to the American frontier. He is also credited with influencing the work of other writers including Pushkin, Tolstoy, George Eliot and Charles Dickens. In addition to his literary works, Scott was responsible for the transformation of tartan into Scotland’s national dress through the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822 – an event he suggested and stage-managed.
Scott was also an antiquarian and his collections at Abbotsford include over 9,000 books, many arms, armor and other objects that inspired his works. They include Rob Roy’s broadsword, dagger, gun and purse and a pen and a blotter that once belonged to Napoleon, which contains a lock of his hair. Other curiosities include a fragment of oatcake picked up at the battle of Culloden and the keys of Loch Leven Castle, supposedly retrieved from the water following the escape of Mary Queen of Scots in 1568.
As part of Abbotsford’s much-needed restoration, crumbling stonework on the building’s exterior has been repaired and the rest of the fabric of the building has seen extensive renovation. In the historic rooms that will be on show to the public, over 4,500 objects within Scott’s collections have been returned to the house after months of cataloguing, cleaning and, in some cases, repair. They will be displayed as they would have been in Scott’s day, using as a reference, drawings made at Abbotsford by the artists JMW Turner and William Allan in 1831 and 1832. The decoration in the North Armoury has been returned to how it was in Scott’s time and elsewhere in the house, the décor has been thoroughly cleaned and some of it restored.
Two new rooms have also been added to the public tour. Scott’s original study will be used to house a series of temporary exhibitions, the first of which will feature objects including Scott’s Advocate’s robes, a chair from his former home at Ashiestiel and a manuscript from his poetic drama, Halidon Hill. Scott’s Religious Corridor has also been restored. The room was used by the writer and his family when retiring to the bedrooms upstairs and is filled with casts from the ancient stones of old ecclesiastical buildings.
A new Learning Centre is also being created at Abbotsford to further engage local, national and international audiences with Scott and his works and the Hope Scott Wing at Abbotsford, which was added by his descendants after his death, is also being converted into luxury self-catering accommodation providing guests with a unique way to interact with Scott’s heritage. Income derived in this way will help to safeguard Abbotsford’s future.
Major funders in the campaign to save Abbotsford include the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Scottish Government and Historic Scotland, Scottish Borders Council and Scottish Enterprise, as well as a number of private individuals and charitable trusts. Fundraising for the project remains ongoing, with an additional £2.5 million still required to create an endowment to secure the attraction’s future running costs. Donations made are being matched pound for pound by the Heritage Lottery Fund under its Catalyst Endowment Programme.