Mavisbank House

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Mavisbank House through the trees - geograph-3517677.jpg
Mavisbank through the trees
Grid reference: NT288651
Location: 55°52’28"N, 3°8’21"W
Built 1723-1727
For: Sir John Clerk of Penicuik
by William Adam
Country house
Condition: Derelict

Mavisbank is a country house in Midlothian, to be found outside Loanhead, south of Edinburgh. It was designed by the architect William Adam, in collaboration with his client, Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, and was built between 1723 and 1727. [1]

The first Palladian villa in Scotland,[2] it is described by Historic Scotland as "one of Scotland's most important country houses".[3]

The house was altered in the 19th century, but suffered decades of neglect in the 20th century. The interiors were gutted by fire in 1973, and the house remains a ruin. Plans are being promoted to restore the building, and to manage the estate as a community asset.

Design and construction

Mavisbank in Vitruvius Scoticus

Sir John Clerk's father, the first Baronet of Penicuik, planned a house on the Mavisbank estate in the late 17th century, for which a drawing of 1698 survives. Sir John Clerk, 2nd Baronet (1676–1755) was a Member of the Parliament of Scotland, and, after the union of 1707, of the Parliament of Great Britain. He was also an artistic patron, a composer of music, and an amateur architect. In 1722, he inherited his father's estates, and began planning the new house. Around this time, William Adam was engaged on his first major commission, the remodelling of Hopetoun House for the Earl of Hopetoun.

Clerk and Adam collaborated on the design of Mavisbank, which was based on the 1698 proposal. Each claimed the greater part of the credit for the design. Clerk wrote in a letter that he designed the house "under the correction of Mr Adams, a talented architect", while Adam credited the design to himself in his book, Vitruvius Scoticus. It is clear that Adam enjoyed an unusually close relationship with his client, despite their differences of opinion.[4] Clerk certainly criticized some of Adam's suggestions, although surviving correspondence suggests Adam got his way on a number of points.[5] The foundations were laid in 1723, with construction entrusted to the mason and contractor John Baxter Senior, with stone carved by William Sylverstyne.[3] However, William Adam himself was later appointed to complete the works.[6]

Later history and decline

The house passed out of the Clerk family in 1815.[7]

In 1840, the house was extended, possibly to designs by Thomas Hamilton, the symmetrical additions including a ballroom.[3] The building became an asylum in 1876.[7] Additions were made to the front of the pavilions in the 1880s.[3] Further extensions were made in the 1920s, but in 1946, Dr W. M. Harrowes, Medical Superintendent for Edinburgh purchased the property, and demolished all the additions made since the 18th century. His intended restoration of the house went unrealised, however. In the 1950s, the forecourt was used as a car park for cars both used and scrap by local man Archie Stevenson, and neglect set in.

The building was gutted by fire in 1973, destroying the roof and interiors. In 1986, Mr Stevenson was evicted from Mavisbank along with several other people who stayed in caravans on the property.[7] Ownership of the house remained uncertain, however, as Stevenson had sold portions the property to three possibly fictitious persons in the United States.[8] Historic Scotland has considered compulsory purchase of the building,[9] as has the local council.[10]

Restoration proposals

Previous stabilisation work was carried out in the 1980s under emergency powers, following the threatened demolition of the structure. The Mavisbank Trust, a subsidiary of Edinburgh & Lothians Greenspace Trust, was formed in 2002 to explore longer-term solutions for the restoration of the house and grounds.[11] In August 2003, Mavisbank was featured in the BBC Television programme Restoration, in which the public were invited to vote for restoration proposals. (Mavisbank reached the final round, but lost out to Manchester's Victoria Baths.)[12]

In 2008, Historic Scotland were examining two options: stabilisation of the building as a ruin; or creation of a "developer's shell", which could be sold and completed by a third party.[13] The Mavisbank Trust continues to work with the community, Historic Scotland, Midlothian Council and Edinburgh & Lothians Greenspace Trust to find a sustainable future for Mavisbank which respects its natural and built heritage value whilst providing greater access to the local communities. A local campaign group, Friends of Mavisbank, has been formed with the aim of promoting some limited architectural intervention, while improving public access to the estate. [14]

Outside links


  1. "Removal of shrubs reveals ancient Roman fort paths". Edinburgh News. 
  2. Dan Cruickshank (1985). A guide to the Georgian Buildings of Britain & Ireland. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. pp. 226–7. ISBN 0-297-78610-5. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Mavisbank House, Listed Building Report". Historic Scotland. Retrieved 2009-05-28. 
  4. Fleming, p.44
  5. Gifford, pp.90–94
  6. Colvin, p.258
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Mavisbank House, Lothian". Simpson and Brown. Retrieved 2009-05-28. 
  8. "History and Architecture". The Mavisbank Trust. Archived from the original on 2008-01-12. Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  9. "Minister announces stabilisation programme for Mavisbank House". Midlothian Council. Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  10. BBC News – ‘Deal to save Midlothian Mavisbank Country House signed’
  11. "The Mavisbank Trust". The Mavisbank Trust. Archived from the original on 2007-10-08. Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  12. "Mansion homes in on top prize". The Scotsman. 21 August 2003. Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  13. "Historic Scotland Board, Mavisbank House". Historic Scotland. April 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-19. 
  14. "Mavisbank - The Alternative". Friends of mavisbank. Retrieved 2009-06-19. 
  • Colvin, Howard, (1978) A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600–1840, John Murray
  • Fleming, John (1962) Robert Adam and His Circle, John Murray
  • Gifford, John (1989) William Adam 1689–1748, Mainstream Publishing / RIAS