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The Queen reopens Sir Walter Scott’s former home

Queen Elizabeth II during a tour of Abbotsford House. Picture: PA

Queen Elizabeth II during a tour of Abbotsford House. Picture: PA

  • by CRAIG BROWN
 

THE Queen met the extended family of literary giant Sir Walter Scott yesterday when she reopened his former home to the public following a £12 million restoration.

Some 60 members of the author’s family travelled from as far as Australia and Canada to Abbotsford House near Melrose for the official reopening.

The house has been closed for almost two years for the estoration. The Queen was met yesterday by staff and trustees of the Abbotsford Trust, the charitable organisation that runs the property.

Among those present were Michael Moore, Secretary of State for Scotland, local MSP Christine Grahame and Lord Steel of Aikwood.

The Queen toured the home and a new visitor centre devoted to Scott’s life, before unveiling a plaque to mark the official reopening of the house.

Scott, whose novels include Waverley, Rob Roy and Ivanhoe, wrote many of his works in the study at Abbotsford.

When he first came to the house in 1815, it consisted of a small cottage and farm steading. But over the years the writer added and changed its layout – work that carried on beyond his death in 1832.

The house first opened to the public in 1833, and his fame and popularity was such that many foreign leaders made it a priority to see during their tours of Scotland.

Queen Victoria also visited the home on her first trip to Scotland and was inspired to model Balmoral on the Scots Baronial architecture that she saw there.

The treasures on display at the home include Rob Roy’s broadsword, dirk, sporran and gun, a blotter owned by Napoleon containing a lock of his hair, and a silver urn gifted to the writer by Lord Byron.

The reopening of Abbotsford follows a long campaign to save the historic property and its contents following the death of Dame Jean Maxwell Scott, the last of Scott’s descendants to live in the house.

She and her sister Patricia took over the running of the house in the mid-1950s.

During the 1970s, visitor numbers reached a peak of 80,000 a year but by the time of Dame Jean’s death the property’s stonework was crumbling and visitor numbers were dropping.

The Trust raised more than £12m to carry out the restoration work and add the visitor centre, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Government, Historic Scotland and Scottish Borders Council.

Jason Dyer, chief executive of the Abbotsford Trust, said: “It’s fantastic to see the culmination of seven years of planning and hard work. It’s quite incredible to think that this day has come.

“It’s very important that the Queen carried out the re-opening, as it’s a testament to the standing of Sir Walter Scott, his reputation, what he did for Scotland, what he did for the UK and for literature globally.

“I think sometimes that we forget the massive impact he had on the world.”

 

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