Friday, October 29, 2010

Scotch Gothic

Today I went on a class field trip to the hinterlands of Edinburgh. We went to Rosslyn Chapel, Melrose Abbey and onto Abbotsford. In the context of my course, Abbotsford is a prime example of the nineteenth century Gothic Revival style. Sir Walter Scott, the patron behind Abbotsford took elements from both Rosslyn and Abbotsford to create his distinctly 'Scotch Gothic' domain.

You're not allowed to take photographs inside Rosslyn Chapel. It's a tremendously popular spot, on this wet and grey day in late October, the compact chapel was packed with visitors. A lot of its appeal may be owed to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and the legends of the Knights Templar/Mary Magdelene, and more bizarrely, Elvis, apparently some people (read: crazy conspiracy fiends) believe he's buried in the sealed crypt! One of the striking features of Rosslyn were the stained glass windows, but stained glass wasn't a feature here until the nineteenth century and some windows are even more contemporary, like this one (my favourite), of an airman -

Photo credit.
"In 1950 [Anthony Hugh Francis Harry St Clair- Erskine, 6th Earl of Rosslyn] added a first stained glass memorial window in the baptistery. The design of William Wilson, it is dedicated to his brother Pilot Officer The Hon. Peter St Clair-Erskine who died on active service in 1939, and to his stepfather, Wing Commander Sir John Milbanke, who died in 1947 from injuries also received during World War II."

Then on we went to Melrose Abbey, where blessedly the rain had ceased.

Melrose Abbey from the back, including graveyard where Sir Walter Scott is buried.

(Hannah's photo)

A view of Melrose village from the top of the Abbey, it was a precarious climb I can tell you and it brought this painting to mind -

The Meeting on the Turret Stairs (1864), Frederic William Burton

Although nothing quite so romantic occurred on this particular crowded, dense turret stairs!

Afterward my friend Hannah and I wandered around on the look-out for Scott's grave and took some more light-hearted photos -

A Gothic heroine awaiting her byronic hero?

Does anyone remember the Scottish Widows adverts?

I like how minimal some eighteenth century gravestones are and admirable for how much information they managed to neatly cram onto one stone, getting value for money!

(Photo credit: Hannah)
Candid photo of me fiddling with my point and shoot camera!

The final and most anticipated stop on our journey was Abbotsford, two or three miles from Melrose Abbey.

The novelist, poet and antiquarian Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe, Rob Roy) began his grand Gothic dream in 1811 when he bought a small farmhouse and its surrounding lands, for the site of what was to become his home, Abbotsford. As well as needing a home for himself and his family, Scott needed a place substantial enough to house and display his ever-expanding collection of antiquities and curiosities, everything from furniture made from the rafters of Rob Roy's home to a lock of Lord Nelson's hair! His furniture was either custom made for him in the Gothic style but after the death of his cabinet maker, a couple of his friends went about London seeking antiques to keep to the authentic feel of the house.

Heraldry was central to Scott's vision for his home and by choosing Gothic for his design, he was firmly establishing himself and his ancestry in a medieval Scottish past. As well as his collections of antiquities (both ancient and contemporary) it houses thousands of books, which Scott employed as reference texts in the writing of his novels and poems, the income from which paid for his fantastical home! Scott is an interesting character as he oftentimes went to extremes to acquire unique objects for his collection. It is said that after the battle of Waterloo Scott traveled to the site and went about by himself picking up whatever armory or military loot he could find, to display in his home.

Then, as now, Scott's home had a constant flow of tourists. It also had its critics, Ruskin and Virginia Woolf for example.

(Photo credit: Hannah)
Heraldic window, Armory room, painted by his friend Daniel Terry's wife.

(Photo credit: Hannah)
Needle point of Scott (in his armory?), in the library.

(Photo credit: Hannah)
The library, with Jamaican cedar bookcases, daubed 'oak' ceiling, and trompe l'oeil 'drapery' above bookcases.
See bust of Scott in his fifties at the end, apparently some tourists have commented on his resemblance to Russell Crowe!

(Photo credit: Hannah)
Only some of the regalia in the entrance hall.

Scott's personality is stamped in every corner of this house. One must consider what an incredible individual he must have been, considering that much of his collection of curiosities were gifts from friends and admirers.

Sadly though, the last Lady Scott died five years ago now, so the family parts of the house lie unoccupied at the moment. I was told that perhaps the National Trust are considering taking it over. Watch this space.

All in all, an exhausting but fulfilling day. It ended on a high note when we found some rather risqué postcards in the gift shop...! And I bought a packet of the Border dark chocolate and ginger biscuits I am now enamored with.


  1. I love the 'gothic heroine' picture of you!


  2. Love love love places like this... interesting AND beautiful - this post is full to the brim with lovely photographs. Glad you enjoyed yourself! x

  3. what a lovely post! i adore gothic artwork; it's so haunting and magical yet artistically sophisticated at the same time =)

  4. Thanks for sharing, suits the Halloween theme I think :) You have great shoes btw.. xx

  5. I absolutely loved this post! Great to see such interesting gothic images and your coat is just beautiful too! :)

  6. so cool of you to share these pictures and histories...I'm always amazed to see parts of the world ive never been!

  7. Abbotsford is lovely, I went last year with the Scot Lit department. Also, not to sound like a crazy stalker or anything, but I totally spotted you on University Gardens last week. But you were with someone and I'd been rained on so I didn't dare approach you! x

  8. I want to go to places like this so badly! Scotland looks fantastic