Mavisbank is Scotland’s most important small country house: the primary example of the ‘villa’ built within commuting distance of a town or city.
Mavisbank has been in a ruinous state since the 1970s and for many years now has been at the top of the list of the world’s most at risk buildings.
Historic Scotland, owner of the Mavisbank Policies, and Midlothian Council are currently working in partnership with the Mavisbank Trust to develop plans and seek funding to conserve Mavisbank House and open up the grounds for the public to appreciate and enjoy.
Mavisbank House was commissioned by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik one of the leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment and designed by Clerk with William Adam, father of the Adam brothers and the leading architect of early eighteenth century Scotland. It was constructed in the 1720s.
Mavisbank is Scotland’s most important small country house: the primary example of the ‘villa’ built within commuting distance of a town or city. Conceived by an antiquarian, it was both an exemplar of ‘Roman’ living and a beacon of the new post-Union Scotland. It was a cabinet of paintings and sculpture for the intellectual elite of its day, and a haven of private family tranquillity.
Mavisbank House represents the shift from the prevailing Baroque style of the period to the Neo-Classical style and had a profound influence on Scottish architectural history. It inspired a new generation of country houses with symmetrical plans, curving wings and classical ornamentation.
Mavisbank continued to be owned by members of the Clerk family until 1814 and alterations to the House and Policies were undertaken in the early 19th Century. In 1877 the House, with numerous additions and extensions, was used as a lunatic asylum. The hospital closed in 1953 and was bought by its last medical superintendent, Dr Harrowes.
Mr Archie Stevenson subsequently bought Mavisbank in the late 1950s and it was gutted by fire in 1973. After his death, ownership was uncertain and, sadly, it has remained derelict ever since.
The creation of the Mavisbank landscape went on in parallel with the building of the house and continued until 1748 when Clerk confided to his journals that Mavisbank was ‘complete’.
Clerk utilised the natural land form of the valley of the North Esk, creating wildernesses, parks and gardens on the raised terraces which he separated with densely wooded slopes.
The designed landscape was organised around a central axis on the upper terrace that ran from the summit of a low rounded hill, bisected the valley and faded out at the rim of the valley. Mavisbank House was sited at the western end of this central axis at the foot of the low hill, facing north east. The lower terrace contained open parkland for grazing livestock and two walled gardens sheltered by a woodland plantation. One walled garden was a large horseshoe shaped structure that may have been a tree nursery, and the second a small rectangular enclosure complete with summer house that may have been a flower garden.
Mavisbank House was approached from the north along a serpentine drive that plunged down from Loanhead through oak woodland onto an open grassy parterre at the heart of the upper terrace from where the house and designed landscape could be observed. To the south west stood Mavisbank House, backed by the earthwork that Clerk had named the ‘Roman Fort’. To the north east the designed landscape stretched out along the central axis and two secondary axes that fanned out from the grassy parterre forming a goosefoot or pate d’oi of allees.
Also in the policy grounds and included in the Category A listing are the doocot, dairy, walled garden, ‘ice house’, game larder and East Lodge. The Policy grounds are currently in the ownership of Historic Scotland.
If you can help in any way please contact the Mavisbank Trust
“Repeats its Love” a monograph on Mavisbank by Dr Peter J. Gordon
Peter’s short films about Mavisbank House [please click on each image to play a different film]
The following gallery of images are from the period when Mavisbank became an Asylum (1878-1949). After 1907, Dr Batty Tuke renamed Mavisbank “New Saughton Hall”, howvever, when Dr Bill Harrowes bought Mavisbank he restored the name Mavisbank: