Abbotsford Entrance Hall

Abbotsford Entrance Hall

Saturday, 20 August 2016

We're Moving!

Over the last few months we have been working hard on developing a new look for Abbotsford's website. We're delighted to announce that you can head over to now to keep up to date with our latest stories, news and events - including the latest from the Heritage team as we post updates to the new integrated blog.

All that's left to say is a huge thank you to everyone for supporting Walter Scott's Treasures of Abbotsford over the last year and we hope to see you on the other side!

Kirsty and the Heritage team

Monday, 6 June 2016

A Tale of Two Harps

Our collections here tend to be fairly static because of their very nature; we are not a Walter Scott museum and don't buy filler material on a theme or on the man as a general rule. We exist to showcase the Abbotsford collection, care for this building, repatriate items that may have been lost over the years and to share our passion and celebrate our commitment to caring for Scott's legacy. For this reason, new acquisitions are somewhat rare. And they don't get much more unusual than a stunning Regency period harp! Those of you that have visited us before might be scratching your heads right about now, muttering under your breath that you were sure that there was already a harp at Abbotsford...and of course you would be right. Here she is, a gilt and black Sebastian Erard harp with neoclassical decoration, manufactured in 1820 according to her unique serial number and purchased by a Mrs J. Lockhart (nee [Charlotte] Sophia Scott):

Sophia Scott's 1820 harp
We know that Sophia was playing the harp with considerable skill long before 1820 (she was born back in 1799, the eldest child of Walter and Charlotte Scott), and she was doing so much to the great pleasure of her father and to the delight of many a guest to grace these 'halls' as Scott affectionately termed them. This, clearly, cannot be the instrument that Sophia played so enchantingly for her audience, one of whom proclaimed that the spectacle seemed almost an  'act of religion.' This young woman, keen to showcase her refined capabilities in her formative years, seemed capable of melting hearts. And this is rather apt, for this particular instrument is far more likely to be piece purchased in her name by her husband, perhaps as a wedding present in 1820. During their two-year courtship, John Gibson Lockhart would have spent many an evening listening to musical entertainment in the Drawing Room of the original Cartley Hole Farmhouse (we must remember that the Drawing Room as we know it today had not yet taken shape). Perhaps it was in the throes of musical sentimentality that Lockhart fell for Sophia a la Mary Crawford in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park:  

"A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man's heart." 

Or perhaps I am getting carried away..!

Lady with a Harp: Eliza Ridgely", portrait by Thomas Sully, 1818
Regardless of the intricacies of their romance, we can say definitively that there must have been another harp. Mr. Pole was the 'harper,' the tutor who taught both of Scott's daughters for many years, indeed tried to offer Scott money when he found himself in serious financial difficulties in 1826. Anne's musicianship is, I think, so often overlooked simply because scholars have tended to cast Anne in the role of a poor substitute for her artistically merited sister, and made much of the green-eyed monster that rears its head in some of the episodes or choice comments that have survived in letters:

"Sophia is rather too much with her harp... I wish she would take example of old times and hang it up." 
Anne Scott
Portrait of Anne Scott in the Abbotsford Drawing Room
I have yet to find any reference to Anne's aptitude at the harp but she certainly did play, so it's not as if she is condemning musicianship itself. What she does seem to have, without a shadow of a doubt, is distaste for her sister's love of the limelight! When the girls are mentioned playing music together at Abbotsford, there are a number of instrument combinations mentioned: harp and guitar, harp and viol and piano and harp. It is very possible that Anne could play a number of different instruments capably, and was less devoted to the harp in particular because this was so much Sophia's speciality and every sibling naturally strives for a measure of individuality. Having said that, competition amongst siblings is just as natural...

So without further ado, enter stage left: harp number two! This piece was discovered in Oxfordshire in the hands of a private owner who thoughtfully approached the Abbotsford Trust in March 2014 with details of the piece and its supposed connection with Anne. Further research by our team using the serial number on the harp traced it through the company archives to its original purchase for Anne Scott in 1818. It's another Erard double-action harp, but it is distinct in its design. Although the applied plasterwork with it's Grecian assortment of caryatids, winged lions, gryphons, Greek masks and acanthus leaves is a constant, the soundboard decoration is very different and the colour of the the harp's body, a luscious green now sun-bleached in places, is beautiful. We were fortunate enough to be able to purchase the piece through the kind donation of a benefactor, and this donation has also enabled us to send both harps off for treatment with furniture conservator, Sarah Gerrish.

The arrival and unveiling of Anne Scott's 1818 harp

The majority of specialist treatment was reserved for the new piece, with Sophia's instrument undergoing a full conservation clean, using a combination of dry brushwork, white spirit on the areas of copper alloy and 5% Tri-Ammonium Citrate and water on the gilding. The body of the harp was then waxed with a micro-crystalline product to protect the finish. Anne's harp needed a lot more in the way of 'consolidation' work, i.e., stabilising the piece, particularly the gilt on the soundboard and body of the harp. Rabbit glue was used on the many loose elements (animal glues are always used in conservation repairs) and the decorative losses on the soundboard were 'tinted in', meaning that instead of attempting to actually recreate the decoration itself to fill gaps which is not really what we want to be doing, Sarah uses water-based acryllic paint to infill the gaps to match the surrounding base colour. This makes areas of loss less visible and the surrounding areas less prone to flaking without trying to reimagine the piece. The two harps arrived back at Abbotsford last week and the difference in their appearance was astounding.  The important thing now is to ensure that we minimise the danger of light damage to Anne's harp by closing the shutters in the Drawing Room whenever we can and positioning the piece in such a way that its delicate soundboard is protected.  

The soundboard of Anne's harp before and after tinting

Now, having already established that the black and gold harp is not the one Sophia played here when she was an adolescent, we are left with a bit of a conundrum. In 1818 when the green harp was purchased, Sophia was 19 and Anne, 15/16. It is implausible that there was no harp at Abbotsford preceding this date and this missing instrument would have presumably belonged to Sophia. This lost harp may even have been exactly the same model as Anne's 1818 instrument, although whether a doting father would have opted for that course of action is open to debate! The whereabouts of this third harp are now unknown but it was presumably replaced by our elaborate 1820 harp purchased in the year of Lockhart and Sophia's marriage. The most likely scenario is that Anne received the green harp as a sixteenth birthday present and perhaps Scott was further encouraged to make this purchase by Lockhart's simultaneous arrival on the scene, heralding the countdown to the spiriting away of his favourite musical entertainer, Sophia. The supposition is that following her marriage, Sophia initially keeps her 1820 black and gilt harp at their Great King Street residence in Edinburgh before the family move to London in 1825, when it is decided the 1820 instrument will be stored at Abbotsford for use during the family's summer vacations. Perhaps she took her original harp, the mystery third instrument, with her to London, or perhaps it was sold off at this point. Anne would have then found herself with the 1820 harp at her disposal for the majority of the year whilst nursing her father through his financial strife and final years of ill health. There would have been no need for her 1818 instrument and it could well have been sold on or gifted to somebody at this point. How it ended up in Oxfordshire all those years later is a mystery, but at least one with a happy conclusion.

The two harps on display together
Placing Anne's instrument underneath her beautiful portrait in the Drawing Room was actually incredibly moving. This was presumably more 'her' room than any other member of the Scott family, considering Sophia had already married and moved out by the time that the 1822-4 east extension was completed and her mother had died shortly after this in 1826. I feel very privileged that this process of bringing the harp to Abbotsford has concluded under my watch and that through this story we can help Anne Scott to step out from her sister's shadow.

Thanks for reading!

Kirsty Archer-Thompson
Collections and Interpretation Manager  

Monday, 28 March 2016

Rave Reviewer: Kirsty on the Evolution of an Exhibition

My apologies for going completely dark; the closure season seemed to go past in the blink of an eye! We achieved a great deal over the winter, hand-cleaning all of Scott’s books, waxing all of the wooden fixtures and fittings (whilst being sensitive to Scott’s intended finishes), and deep cleaning at height in the Library, Chapel and Entrance Hall, alongside our annual artefact and furniture cleaning programmes.  I simply couldn’t have done it without my intrepid team of volunteers and I am indebted to them all the more as time goes by.

Delicate cleaning using fine brushes and cotton buds has made the detail in this gorgeous ebony armchair sing
A close up of the cuirassier's helmet in the Entrance Hall from the tower scaffolding
The Library in the final few days before reopening! 

The work in the house over the last three months isn’t the only thing that has been keeping me busy. We are in the final stages of preparing to launch Rave Reviewer: Scott on Frankenstein, Emma & Childe Harold, our 2016 season exhibition brought to visitors in partnership with the National Library of Scotland (NLS). Those of you keen to see the exhibition can do so with an Abbotsford house admission ticket from 2nd April 2016 and purchase exhibition catalogues in the shop with enhanced detail, transcriptions and photography of each display item (a steal at a mere £3 a copy!). In amongst the frantic activity that always defines the days leading up to the launch of any exhibition, I thought it was worth offering you a window on the process up until this point, particularly as creating displays such as this is a key part of the work of heritage teams across the country.

It was an unseasonably sunny day in November 2014 when I first sat down with David McClay to have a look at some of the jewels of the John Murray Archive at NLS, and to discuss how the material in their care might help us tell stories about the relationships between Scott and the literati of his day. Although I’d only been at Abbotsford for a couple of months at that point, as a keen consumer of classic literature I was particularly interested in the reading and writing community of the early nineteenth century; in part because of the phenomenal array of household names writing at the time also in the hope that fascinating stories might be told through examining their correspondence with one another.

Lord Byron's seal. Byron and Scott first met one another in April 1815 at John Murray's premises in London

 These days, for many, Walter Scott is not familiar name in the manner of Jane Austen or Lord Byron who seem to have transcended literature altogether (probably because of celluloid and sheer notoriety respectively!), although I do think Scott’s star is now in the ascendant and his achievements in literature and many other areas are being recognised once again.  Despite the difficulties some have with Scott’s prose and the blank faces others give you when you mention his name, we must never forget that these sentiments would be completely alien to the reading public of the nineteenth century to which he would have been nothing less than an institution. My thought process was very much that the manner in which other famous writers pay homage to Scott in their own writings might help cement this idea, and give visitors a way in to understanding Scott’s mass appeal as an author and poet. I came away from that November meeting with ideas flitting around in my head, having been introduced to a novel concept by David McClay – that this complex world of authors in dialogue might be brought to life by exploring a key cultural feature of this period: the review periodicals.

A wonderful image of Scott's son-in-law, J.G. Lockhart as editor of the Quarterly Review

I am indebted to David for signposting me towards this lesser-known story about Scott, because consequently I have found myself spirited away by the intrigue and crafty manoeuvring of Walter the reviewer whilst we have been working hard on the co-curation of the exhibition. In a nutshell, we are focussing on his career as a prolific contributor to the periodicals, a thread of activity that runs in tandem with his two legal appointments in Edinburgh and Selkirk and the blossoming of his own writing career. We have cherry-picked moments within this twenty-year period during which Scott engages with significant writers as an anonymous reviewer, including mercilessly reviewing the first part of his own series, Tales of My Landlord, which was attributed to a fictional pseudonym when published. 

Title page of Tales of My Landlord, 1816, complete with mention of the fictional editor Jedediah Cleishbotham

We have by no means covered everything and this is the challenge of small-scale exhibitions where you want to inspire and enthuse your audience to find out more without trying to cover too much ground and sacrificing the detail, which is often where the charm is to be found. And this is precisely what we have tried to do here, particularly in selecting the items going on display from the John Murray Archive. You’ll see a tactful letter from Mary Shelley to Scott, correcting his assumption that the author of Frankenstein is male, manuscript reviews of articles on Byron’s poetry and Southey’s edition of Pilgrim’s Progress that reveal something of the process of writing and publishing a review, not to mention rare first editions from the Abbotsford Library of the works sent to Scott to elicit articles for John Murray’s Quarterly Review. Even just comparing the handwriting of Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and Scott is electrifying if you are a lover of classic literature.

The signature of Mary Shelley. The exhibition showcases a letter in her hand. 
If I was asked what the appeal is of an exhibition about reviewing culture, particularly in relation to Scott, I would say this; Scott sometimes has a somewhat unwarranted reputation for being dry, both as a man and as a writer. To me, in everything I’ve read either by him or about him and everything I understand about his home, he is anything but this; he is warm, affectionate, compassionate and exceptionally quick-witted. This comes across in his anonymous reviews just as much as it does in the Waverley Novels, where the presumed stuffy, cautious and conservative Scott pens the only sympathetic, even progressive review of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a review that went very much against the grain but stands alone as being the one that still resonates with us today.

Scott's review of Frankenstein, published in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine

Yes, he presumed the author was Percy B. Shelley, but I think this more likely to be a blunder of speed-reading a letter rather than a comment on the shortcomings of female authors. He lauded Jane Austen’s ability to capture and distil the rhythms and interactions of life with the skill of a Flemish painter, and hailed Ann Radcliffe as a pioneer of the Gothic. In his review of Austen’s Emma he makes a stand for novel reading and writing, attempting to erode some of the distaste for the medium still prevalent in high society at the time.

Portrait of Jane Austen
 Scott is also a complex character, ever sidestepping and evading ownership of his own words, partly for the sheer fun of it and partly because he detested a fuss being made when it was in his honour. This is brought vividly to life when you see his anonymous review of his own anonymous work in Rave Reviewer, proclaiming the tale to be ‘unoriginal’ and ‘impotent in its conclusion’.

Sometimes when the philosophical mood takes me, I think the ‘tangled web’ Scott weaves is a deeper comment on the nature of history itself. Whose story is it? History is a cacophony of voices and stories which may find their way on to the page through one man’s wizardry, but this strange genre of historical fiction that finds its mouthpiece in Scott is a strange beast. The writer of historical fiction attempts to weave a narrative from original source material, anecdotes of a first-hand or often, a second-hand nature and perhaps even folkloric tradition. In Scott’s case, this material was often reaching him through antiquarian friends with their ears to the ground. Perhaps after all of this is taken into account he felt as if these historical novels simply could not belong to one man. A similar effect was created through re-imagining Cartley Hole Farm as Abbotsford, creating a fascinating conglomeration (or ‘strange jumble’) of other buildings, design ideas and relics from sources both genuine and spurious – a place where stories come together and clamour to be heard and you’re never quite sure which one is true!

If you were then to ask me what the challenge is with an exhibition like this, where fantastic manuscripts, books and letters are going on display, I would say quite simply that any exhibition of a literary ilk can struggle with visual appeal, purely because the displays consist of the paper-based ephemera that tells the story and light levels need to be relatively low to protect the original documents from deterioration. 
We’ve tried hard with Rave Reviewer to create visual interest elsewhere in the interpretation panels, captions and catalogue, giving it its own visual identity. This is Abbotsford’s first truly collaborative exhibition and we do hope it will be the start of many more to come, so do help us spread the word and encourage people to come and dip their toe in to the waters of early nineteenth-century literary criticism.  We want to capture some of the intrigue of this world of presumptions and guesswork, and will be asking visitors to review the exhibition under a pseudonym of their choice. You can help us here by visiting the exhibition and reviewing your own thoughts using the hashtag #RaveReviewer2016, and by following it in turn to see what others have to say.

 Let’s create another community of rave reviewers!

Thanks for reading. I shan’t leave it so long next time.

Kirsty Archer-Thompson
Collections and Interpretation Manager

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Winter is Coming...

As we have a good old British grumble about the first chilly spell of the winter, I couldn't resist naming this post after the famous phrase from George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, better known to many as Game of Thrones. After all, Martin has claimed that Scott's Waverley Novels, particularly Ivanhoe, had a great influence on his work. But more on this another time...

Ser Loras Tyrell rides in the joust at the Tourney of the Hand in Game of Thrones. The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood refers to the saga that has taken the world by storm as 'Ivanhoe with the rape and gutting scenes included.' Gritty would have been a gentler turn of phrase!

The arrival of winter heralds a time of change for Abbotsford, and oddly it isn't a case of closing everything down at the end of November as our seasonal opening times may suggest. Visitors are still enjoying the house and collections as I sit here typing this and it couldn't be a more beautiful example of a crisp and still winter's day, but underneath the calm water we are paddling away ferociously!

A lot of people approach me and ask out of genuine curiosity what goes on here when the house closes to the public, and indeed why it has to close at all. I have no doubt that, although the number of intrepid visitors would be small in the colder months, we will always have people keen to come and explore Abbotsford, no matter what the weather. And so, this post is an attempt to try and explain to those of you that might not know, why so many historic houses tend to close in the winter and what is going on behind those closed shutters. 

Abbotsford with a beautiful dusting of snow last winter

Of course some houses and stately homes are family-owned and close in the winter so that the occupiers can 'reclaim' particular wings or key rooms in the house, particularly as Christmas approaches. With Abbotsford in the hands of a charitable trust, this isn't something we have to worry about, although we do have an 1850s wing of the house dedicated to private holiday accommodation which is open year-round for bookings. Sometimes historic houses close because of the risk posed by adverse weather conditions and the difficulties of ensuring access and safety around the gardens, the approach to the house and even out on the wider estate. This is certainly something we are not immune from here at Abbotsford, even though the site as a whole is more bijoux than many of the other stately homes in the area. Locals will know that the winters in the Borders can be extremely harsh and becoming snowed in in this little riverside hollow is not unheard of!

The primary reason that we close between December 1st-February 29th is in order to conduct an intensive period of museum housekeeping across the interiors of Abbotsford known as 'conservation cleaning'. In a nutshell, this signifies a very different type of cleaning than you or I would conduct in our homes - it isn't a case of applying liberal amounts of elbow grease and coating everything in Brasso and detergents! This approach  is a method of cleaning interiors and artefacts that focuses on non-invasive techniques, thereby protecting vulnerable historic decoration and antiques from harm. This means we always have to steer away from traditional chemical cleaning agents and use an entirely separate kit designated for the Scott-period interiors at Abbotsford. Some examples of the type of things you would find in our kits are: HEPA filter museum vacuums of various sizes complete with specialist attachments, a battalion of brushes with different types of natural bristles, including goat hair and pig hair, deionized water, microcrystalline wax polish, cotton swabs, gauze and an awful lot of powder-free gloves! 

We cannot wait to eliminate the layer of dust that has settled on the tops of the helmets in the Entrance Hall! 

Although our daily housekeeping routines tackle the dust and dirt that can build up around floor and shoulder height, the closure of the house allows us to work through the rooms from ceiling height downwards in a circular motion to ensure that the dust we disturb falls downwards and is removed as we go. One of the main reasons we have so much to do here in the winter months is the sheer amount of material here in Scott's 'museum for living in'.  Put simply, dust has no shortage of surfaces to settle on! Abbotsford's ceilings are not as high as in many other historic houses but reaching the cornicing and the tops of paintings and shelves still requires building the tower scaffolding and using a mid-range platform for cleaning the wall-mounted items. We approach the very high areas on a rotational basis and this year it is the turn of the Chapel and Library, along with the Entrance Hall which always requires cleaning at height due to the position of the room in the house and the array of collections items it contains. 

Tackling the picture frames and the cornicing in the Chinese Drawing Room in February 2015

I'm sure there will be many people out there who are thinking that Scott certainly didn't dangle around at perilous heights cleaning all these artefacts on the walls and that in all probability he wanted it to look dusty and antiquated, and I'm sure there is an element of truth in that, judging from the brief he gave David Ramsay Hay for artificially aging the paintwork in the Entrance Hall. But this isn't about aesthetic principles, although all of the team involved in the closure work would love for their work to be noticed and commented upon; sadly because our work does not make everything gleam, this tends not to be the case! Our main aim is to protect the collections items by eradicating any impacted dust and grime. In our own homes, we may well see a little dust as no harm whatsoever and certainly in museum environments, there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn't over zealously clean surfaces, but in actual fact a buildup of dirt attracts two things that we try and avoid at all costs: moisture, which can be harmful in itself, and insect pests that seek moist environments and live by feeding off the proteins in dust, amongst other foodstuffs. 

One of the joys of conservation cleaning: a different view of something we know so well - Henry Raeburn's 1809 portrait of Scott
When I mention museum vacuums to people, even some of our volunteers, they often give me a  withering look as if they suppose that the prefix 'museum' when used in equipment purchasing has the same effect as the word 'wedding'! In some cases this is most certainly true and you can find fantastic substitutes that are not branded for museum or conservation work for a fraction of the cost, as long as you keep a careful eye on what things are made from. However I think these vacuums are fantastic pieces of kit, offering complete adjustment of suction so that you can hoover carpets and hard floors comprehensively alongside delicate textiles, books, plasterwork and carved wood, all with the same appliance. They come with many fine brushes and nozzles so that you can reach and remove the dirt ingressed around the spines of books and in the crevices of carvings and gilt frames. Not to mention the fact that one of them is a backpack museum vacuum for working at height, affectionately known by our  team as the 'Ghostbuster vac'! When we are using one of the vacuums on delicate objects, particularly books and textiles, we always start on the lowest suction setting and cover the end of the narrow tube with a square of gauze or fine netting secured with a plastic band. This is a method used to examine whether the cleaning is removing more than just dust, such as detached leather fragments or textile threads. If this is the case the item cannot be vacuumed and must be hand brushed or in some cases, left well alone if it is simply too fragile to be handled. 

Our largest Museum vacuum or the 'Ghostbusters Vac'.

The 9,000 or so books in the Abbotsford Library are all hand cleaned over the winter, some using direct appliance of the museum vacuum and others, perhaps of a significant age or with a binding in a state of deterioration, are hand brushed into a box with a hole in the side for the vacuum attachment. This way the dirt is contained and picked up without risking harm to the book. With many of the key insect pests that can cause havoc in museums enjoying devouring a good book, so to speak, this is also the time to visually check each volume and note down alterations in condition or areas of concern. It's a huge task and one in which we have to be extremely careful to preserve the order of Scott's books on the shelves, just as he left them in 1832. This preserved order is of course one of the most famous attributes of the Abbotsford Library. Last year the books took our team just under four weeks to complete and this year we're hoping to beat that record!

One of the trickiest areas for book cleaning is the Study Gallery. 

Of course cleaning isn't the only thing going on here over the next 2-3 months. We are also completing essential maintenance works across the site and planning ahead for the changeover of the Visitor Centre exhibition books in early January. I'm also working on a very exciting project for our new 2016 exhibition in the historic house, launching at the beginning of April. Blog readers will get the first news about this hot off the press in due course...

I shall be photographing our behind the scenes activities over the next few weeks to share with you all in a winter roundup early next year, so do keep checking the Abbotsford Collections blog or sign up for updates to receive a prompt when the next post goes live.          

Thanks for reading and wrap up warm!

Kirsty Archer-Thompson
Collections and Interpretation Manager

Friday, 30 October 2015

Things that go Bump in the Night

‘The ghost nowhere makes his appearance so well as with you.’
So declared the first Englishman to translate Leonore, Gottfried August Bürger’s blood-curdling tale of a bereaved fiancée inadvertently lured to her end by the phantom of her beloved. William Taylor’s praise was directed at the young Walter Scott who had been inspired by Taylor’s work to produce his own translation from the German as soon as he was able to secure a copy of the original text. 

An 1896 Kirchbach illustration of Leonore

The Chase and William and Helen was Scott’s first publication, and how fitting that the subject matter echos the supernatural ballads about fairies, witches and ghosts that he would go on to collect and publish in The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and later invoke in various guises in many of the Waverley Novels. Consider the supernatural tales from the days of the Covenanters ringing in the ears of Jeanie Deans as she clambers up Salisbury Crags to meet Effie’s captor in Heart of Midlothian, or the gypsy incantations and prophecies of Meg Merrilies in Guy Mannering, or the visitations of the spectral White Lady in The Monastery.  

In the bottom right of the illustration is the toadstone amulet at Abbotsford. The stone, thought to grow inside the toad, was believed to ward off evil spirits and protect the vulnerable, particularly infants, from being kidnapped by fairies. 
That Scott had a lifelong passion for the history and evolution of folk beliefs is beyond dispute. The Abbotsford Library contains around 250 works on sorcery, witchcraft and demonology dating from 1477 to 1832, from the infamous witch-hunting manual Malleus maleficarum to Bowdler’s The Devil’s Cloven Foot. His own beliefs are far trickier to pin down. Certainly he is careful not to demonstrate contempt or disregard for belief systems in a post-enlightenment world, and regards the bathos sometimes apparent in the conclusions of Gothic stories as insulting to the reader.    

A stealthy step behind the arras, may doubtless, in some situations, and when the nerves are tuned to a certain pitch, have no small influence upon the imagination; but if the if the conscious listener discovers it to be only the noise made by the cat, the solemnity of the feeling is gone, and the visionary is at once angry with his senses for having been cheated…’
This particular critique appears in his prefatory memoir to the collected works of Ann Radcliffe, one of the most influential early pioneers of Gothic literature. This collection was printed posthumously by Ballantynes in 1824. This castigation seems to be directed as much towards other unnamed writers of the Gothic tradition as to Radcliffe herself, whom Scott believed for the most part to be a ‘genius’ and ‘mistress of her art.’

The novelist Ann Radcliffe
For Scott, musing over the difficulty of concluding a tale of wonder in a way that satisfies the reader, he draws attention to the conundrum facing a writer of supernatural tales: the consumer is always torn between the childlike impulse to account for all unnatural occurrences, and the sheer delight of an enduring mystery, allowing the imagination to explore what remains unsaid. The phrase he uses is beautiful, so much so that it deserves to stand apart. These imaginative revellers are described as:
‘men that walk for pleasure through a moonlight landscape.’

Melrose Abbey by moonlight by J. M. W Turner
So, which appetite did Scott decide to appease in his own ghost story, ‘"The Tapestried Chamber,” one of three short stories in The Keepsake of 1829, a literary annual published for Christmas? You can read the full text of the story here. The appearance of the apparition in the chamber, slowly advancing towards the General’s bed, ghoulishly grinning all the while, really does make your skin crawl. The assessment of the night’s events in the cold light of day is particularly interesting:

Strange as the General's tale was, he spoke with such a deep air of conviction that it cut short all the usual commentaries which are made on such stories. Lord Woodville never once asked him if he was sure he did not dream of the apparition, or suggested any of the possibilities by which it is fashionable to explain supernatural appearances as wild vagaries of the fancy, or deceptions of the optic nerves, On the contrary, he seemed deeply impressed with the truth and reality of what he had heard; and, after a considerable pause regretted, with much appearance of sincerity, that his early friend should in his house have suffered so severely.
Here, there are no aspersions cast on the eyewitness testimony of the General. After subsequently recognising the old hag in a late seventeenth century portrait, we learn that the phantom is a ‘wretched ancestress,’ responsible for ‘infanticide and unnatural murder,’ very much a real entity in all her decomposing glory. I should imagine insomnia would become a common affliction in the Woodville pile after this upsetting turn of events...(!)    

Outwith the literature, there are two tales of supernatural occurrences here at Abbotsford during Scott’s lifetime that are worth exploring in the light of this discussion. The first is relatively well-known and goes some way to explaining why Abbotsford often sneaks on to the lower rungs of the ‘most haunted’ lists in Scotland.

In April 1818, work was still underway with the first extension to the Cartley Hole farmhouse, creating the original Study, Armoury, Dining Room and Conservatory (now lost). The cabinet-maker George Bullock had been engaged to create the fixtures and fittings, and indeed it was Bullock who had persuaded Scott to fit up one of these new rooms as a dedicated Armoury for his ever-growing collection of armour, weaponry and ethnographic objects from around the world. 

Section of the Abbotsford Armoury
On two consecutive nights at the end of April that year, Mr and Mrs Scott were woken at 2am by what sounded like heavy furniture being dragged across the floor in the Armoury below their sleeping quarters. On the second night, Scott crept downstairs, brandishing the Killiecrankie broadsword of his great-grandfather, Beardie, to find nothing amiss. In his letter to Daniel Terry of April 30th, 1818, he recounts events of the nights before and dismisses ghostly interventions in light of the fact that the house is 'exposed' during the period of building work. Scott was as yet unaware that as his letter landed with the Terrys in London, news was breaking of Bullock's sudden death in the early hours of the morning. From this point onwards the presence of the cabinet-maker's spirit at Abbotsford will be felt, making itself heard during periods of renovation and restoration. At least we don't have a malevolent ghost; at least not one that we know of... 

The second incident is related in the memoranda of Mr. J. L Adolphus, English lawyer, author and a friend of Scott, and interestingly it is a story that J. G. Lockhart suggests Scott did not encourage bringing up in conversation. When he does recall the episode of encountering Byron's ghost in the medium of print during the course of his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, he uses the thin veil of writing in the third person although the setting is unmistakably Abbotsford: 
 " Not long after the death of a late illustrious poet who had filled, while living, a great station in the eye of the public, a literary friend, to whom the deceased had been well known, was engaged during the darkening twilight of an autumn evening in perusing one of the publications which professed to detail the habits and opinions of the distinguished individual who was now no more. As the reader had enjoyed the intimacy of the deceased to a considerable degree, he was deeply interested in the publication, which contained some particulars relating to himself and other friends. A visitor was sitting in the apartment who was also engaged in reading. Their sitting-room opened into an entrance -hall, rather fantastically fitted up with articles of armour, skins of wild animals, and the like. It was when laying down his book, and passing into this hall, through which the moon was beginning to shine, that the individual of whom I speak saw, right before him, and in a standing posture, the exact representation of his departed friend, whose recollection had been so strongly brought to his imagination. He stopped for a single moment, so as to notice the wonderful accuracy with which fancy had impressed upon the bodily eye the peculiarities of dress and posture of the illustrious poet. Sensible, however, of the delusion, he felt no sentiment save that of wonder at the extraordinary accuracy of the resemblance, and stepped onwards towards the figure, which resolved itself, as he approached, into the various materials of which it was composed. These were merely a screen, occupied by great-coats, shawls, plaids, and such other articles as usually are found in a country entrance-hall. The spectator returned to the spot from which he had seen the illusion, and endeavoured with all his power to recall the image which had been so singularly vivid. But this was beyond his capacity ; and the person who had witnessed the apparition, or, more properly, whose excited state had been the means of raising it, had only to return into the apartment, and tell his young friend under what a striking hallucination he had for a moment laboured." 
Portrait of Lord Byron. He died in 1824 aged only 36, probably of septicaemia.
The rationale here is that the phantom is nothing more than a figment of the imagination, summoned up through our very own literary's friend's choice of highly suggestive reading material on that dusky autumnal evening. Scott was no stranger to the concept of optical illusion and will discuss this at length elsewhere in the Letters, his rational study of the occult published in 1831.  He was an associate and neighbour of Sir David Brewster, author of Letters on Natural Magic, a treatise on how science had been manipulated by religious and political authorities to delude and scaremonger.

Brewster was also the inventor of the kaleidoscope and an authority on the trickeries possible through light and false perspective. However, the eyes remain easier to trick than the ears. I wonder if Scott attributed the same rational explanation to the hammering and thumping he heard during the witching hour of April 28th and 29th 1818. Something tells me otherwise...

I hope you all have a thoroughly horrible Hallowe'en. 

Thanks for reading!

Kirsty Archer-Thompson
Collections and Interpretation Manager

Monday, 21 September 2015

Restoring a Great Unknown

"We laid her there, the Minstrel's darling child"...

This blog post supports the monument campaign of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club. 

On the anniversary of Scott’s death, it feels like the right time to explore one of the key concerns he had regarding his legacy - the fate of his children. It is well documented that Scott died attempting to pay off the massive debts he was saddled with following the collapse of the publishing firms he had invested in. His creditors were finally appeased on 2nd February 1833, a mere six months after his death. The price of this settlement was high, sacrificing the profits accrued from the sale of all his copyrighted material.  It is less well known however, that as his health failed Scott grew increasingly anxious about the fate of his four children after his death, especially his younger daughter Anne, who had stayed at home unmarried in order to look after him following the death of her mother in 1826. Anne's devotion to her father is captured strikingly in Allan’s 1834 painting ‘The Orphan,’ now owned by the Royal Collection and held at the Palace of Holyrood House

'The Orphan by Sir William Allan

Although the Trust set up for the benefit of his creditors claimed most of his literary earnings, the income from his court salary, his journalistic work and the proceeds of some of his other writing, such as the Tales of a Grandfather series, were his own. Thus, Scott divided his time accordingly, redoubling his literary output in an attempt to repay his debts and provide a legacy for his children.
Sadly none of his family survived long enough to enjoy their inheritance. His much-loved grandson, Little Johnnie, for whom he wrote Tales of a Grandfather, predeceased him by eight months: ‘The boy is gone who we have made so much of’, as Scott wrote from Naples in his Journal; Anne Scott died in June 1833 of a ‘brain fever’, just nine months after her father; Sophia, his eldest child, in May 1837 aged only 38; Charles in 1841 and Walter in 1847. Inheritance through the female line is a recurring feature of the family’s fortunes down the years. 

A portrait of Mr and Mrs Lockhart painted after Sophia's death in 1837. The prominence given to Sophia's wedding ring suggests the portrait is intended to commemorate their marriage. This portrait is the property of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Following her father’s death, Scott's youngest daughter Anne moved to 24 Sussex Place in Regents Park, London, to live with her sister Sophia and brother-in-law John Gibson Lockhart, who had relocated to London from Scotland after becoming editor of the Quarterly Review in 1825. Together, the sisters worked on collating material for Lockhart’s Life of Scott, published in 1839. 

Sussex Place, Regents Park, overlooking the boating lake c.1827

 Both daughters died in London, and were buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, the ‘New Cemetery in the Harrow Road,’ together with Sophia’s son, John Hugh Lockhart. Sophia’s burial service was presided over by the Very Reverand Henry Hart Milman, an historian and dramatist in his spare moments and a friend of the Scott family. So moved was he by observing the mourners that day that he penned some verses to commemorate the event. On hearing the auspicious song of a lark, this particular stanza references Sophia’s spiritual home in the Borders:

We laid her there, the Minstrel's darling child.
Seem'd it then meet that, borne away
From the close city's dubious day.
Her dirge should be thy native woodnote wild ;
Nurs'd upon nature's lap, her sleep
Should be where birds may sing, and dewy flowerets weep?

Worn inscription of the grave in Kensal Green. You can just make out the names of Charlotte Sophia Lockhart (known as Sophia) and her son,  John Hugh Lockhart.

Sophia and Anne’s forgotten monument  was discovered a few years ago by a volunteer researching on behalf of Abbotsford. It is dirty, uneven, overgrown, and the inscriptions are almost illegible, bearing almost no resemblance to the graves of Sir Walter Scott, his wife Charlotte Scott, and J. G. Lockhart, buried in the north transept (or St. Mary’s Aisle) of Dryburgh Abbey. 
The north transept of Dryburgh Abbey
The graves of Sir Walter Scott, first baronet, and his eldest son, also Sir Walter, Lieutenant-Colonel in the Fifteenth Hussars. The commemorative stone in the foreground was erected by his son's widow, Jane Jobson. 

Lockhart died at Abbotsford in 1854 in the care of his daughter, now Mrs Charlotte Hope-Scott. This goes some way to explaining why this loving husband and wife were buried 350 miles apart even though six plots had been purchased by Lockhart at Kensal Green, presumably so that his family could be together in death. Kensal Green was consecrated in 1833, so the bodies of Anne and little Johnnie were buried prior to the purchase of the plot and were consequently exhumed and reburied with Sophia. Sophia and her little boy actually share the same grave.   

Falling into disrepair - the Kensal Green grave monument
Scott would surely be saddened if he could see the dilapidated and forgotten Kensal Green graves today. It is estimated that a mere £2,449 could help restore the monument to its former glory. If you would like to help restore the memory and legacy of Sophia, Anne and Scott’s beloved grandson, 'Hugh Littlejohn Esq', please contact

Thanks for reading!

Kirsty Archer-Thompson
Collections and Interpretation Manager


Saturday, 15 August 2015

A Birthday to Remember

There is always a buzz amongst staff and volunteers at Abbotsford on Scott's birthday. It's a particularly beautiful day today, and, having just hosted a wonderful outdoor theatre performance of Shakespeare's The Tempest in his honour, we're now poised to welcome archers, re-enactors and visitors for all manner of family fun at the annual Abbotsford Arrow tomorrow.

The Tempest in the Sunken or 'Morris' Garden
 In the mist of all of this celebratory activity, I stopped to look through the journal and see if Scott ever acknowledged his own birthday. I had a suspicion that he wouldn't, as squirreled away in our collection stores, we have a wonderful little notebook where Scott actually notes down the birthdays of his children and close relations (including, poignantly, the nameless infant who did not survive). With delicious eccentricity, he duly adds his own name and birthday to this list, as if it might easily slip his mind! Leafing through the journal, he is almost always writing on his birthday in these later years, which, considering his literary output and the financial challenge he faced, isn't surprising. In August 1826, he spends the 15th beavering away writing portions of The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte and Chronicles of the Canongate and suffering from 'oppression' of the chest, proclaiming:
I will never relax my labour in these affairs either for fear of pain or love of life. I will die a free man if hard working will do it.
As far as birthdays go, this day of toil, anxiety and palpitations probably wasn't a particularly pleasant one. However, in 1822, the situation was somewhat different. By this time, Scott had become much more than just a writer; he was a phenomenon, a man that seems to encapsulate the essence of Scotland and speak on her behalf.

The day before his birthday that auspicious year, Scott had famously been branded by King George IV as 'the man in Scotland I most wished to see,' on the deck of the HMS Royal George in the driving rain. The arrival of this ship marked a momentous occasion for a Scotland still nursing deep wounds stemming from the Jacobite rising - a British monarch was to step on Scottish soil for the first time since 1650. The pressure was on Sir Walter Scott, the nationalist unionist, to heal this rift and banish the bad blood, rekindling a sense of pride in Scottish nationhood. He had only three weeks to plan and stage manage a theatrical spectacle the likes of which Edinburgh had never seen.

The entry of George IV into Edinburgh from the Calton Hill by John Wilson Ewbank.
The 300,000 or so spectators lining the streets of the capital on the 15th August 1822, sporting springs of thistles and heather and clasping St. Andrews crosses, eagerly awaited the progress of the king. This procession from the king's landing to Holyrood Palace took just over two hours and commenced and ended with the firing of a royal salute. Pomp and pageantry was very much the order of the day, with a bonfire on Arthur's seat, presentation of the keys to the city and even the erecting of a large illuminated crown on the chimney of the Edinburgh Gas Works that seemed to float above the building. Once inside the palace, he was presented with the Honours of Scotland, the crown jewels long buried within the vaults of Edinburgh Castle and 'recovered' by our very own Sir Walter Scott in 1818. Then, mid-afternoon, he departed for Dalkeith Palace with a party of Scots Greys to spend the evening as the guest of the young Duke of Buccleuch.

Oil painting of The Regalia of Scotland. Gilt frame with 2 shell decorations, by Andrew Geddes (1783–1844), Scottish portrait painter and etcher.

In this first 24 hours, Sir Walter Scott had achieved a tremendous amount. The king had proclaimed that the crowds represented 'a nation of gentlemen' full of 'patriotism and valour.' Of course, Scott had ensured that all those in proximity to his esteemed guest wore their flower pins and carried their crosses and medals to denote their loyalty to the Hanoverian monarch. That particular day, the king was in naval uniform but he is also famed for sporting rather lurid tartan regalia during the state visit. This choice of clothing was a masterstroke dealt by Scott to re-establish the legitimacy of Highland dress, even if some spectators saw more of the kilt-wearing King than they were intending to!

David Wilkie's portrait of George IV in Highland dress. Wilkie has kindly lengthened the cut of the kilt on the rather portly monarch and removed his infamous pink tights!
As his birthday drew to a close on the 15th August 1822, Scott must have reflected on the first hours the king had spent in Scotland and savoured the success of his rigorous planning (even if the rain had slightly muted the effect of his flaming beacon!). Fast forward to the 29th August after a fortnight of jubilation and the king leaves Scotland armed with a gift from the great writer that really encapsulates all the symbolic and historic threads of a proud nation acknowledging their monarch. This 'compound relic' was a snuff box made from eleven varieties or sources of wood associated with Scottish legends, history, events and song. This little snuff box could be viewed as a symbolic message illustrating how the diverse strands of Scotland's past might be reconciled and brought together in the hands of a just ruler who never dismisses the proud heritage of her people. Talk about loaded gifts!

An example of a Mauchline Ware wooden snuff box, made of segments of wood from ten different trees/woods by Daniel Craig of Helensburgh,the man responsible for making the snuff box gifted to King George IV.
It must have been an electric day, one that propelled Sir Walter Scott and Scotland to the forefront of the British conciousness. So, on that note, a very happy birthday to Sir Walter and thank you for reading.

Kirsty Archer-Thompson
Collections and Interpretation Manager