Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott

Keeper of Abbotsford

Born: 8 June, 1923, at Abbotsford

Died: 5 May, 2004, at Abbotsford, aged 80

LIKE her great, great, great, great grandfather Sir Walter Scott, Jean Maxwell-Scott chose to die at Abbotsford. Sir Walter had insisted upon hearing the Tweed at the end of his garden once again and Dame Jean was taken there from Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and died peacefully knowing that she had preserved and fostered the scholarship and love of Scott’s novels throughout her life.

Abbotsford was her pride and joy and she was the last direct descendent of Sir Walter. She lived at Abbotsford and took an intimate interest in running the castle - often showing guests round, answering questions with skill and displaying a wide knowledge of both the man and his writings.

Jean Mary Monica Maxwell-Scott was the daughter of Major-General Sir Walter Constable-Maxwell-Scott and was educated at a strict convent in Kent. She served as a Red Cross nurse throughout the Second World War at Keir in Perthshire.

Her father died in 1954 and she and her sister, Patricia, inherited Abbotsford and became custodians of the Scott flame. Both devoted themselves to improving facilities at Abbotsford and revelled in preserving the traditions of Scott and maximising the commercial assets of the considerable grounds. The unique nature of the castle turned it into a Mecca for visitors and the sheer beauty of the setting made it a stopping off point for parties on the way north or south. In recent years, the number of tourists had fallen away after the foot-and-mouth and terrorist scares, but Dame Jean remained convinced that Abbotsford should be run as a family concern.

She spent most of her life there and never ceased to enjoy it. Scott scholars and bus parties were welcomed with equal grace and generosity. She would take people off to her private apartments, give them tea and allow them to browse the many other objects and artefacts she had on display there. Her extensive private library was available to students and they were often to be seen poring over the books with renewed enthusiasm. The treasures had all been carefully preserved by the family since the house was built in 1812, and Dame Jean was always helpful and on hand to assist with extra aspects of the great man’s life.

Dame Jean was well aware that the students and scholars were a vital part of making sure the Scott novels were read by the younger generation. Abbotsford itself has numerous items on display just as the author left them when he died. She would point out Scott’s tiny round spectacles on the writing desk in the study and the 9,000 books he amassed on the shelves close by his desk. She took particular pleasure in pointing out Rob Roy’s gun and Montrose’s sword, which Sir Walter had collected. She was more than the guardian of Abbotsford; she was a Scott enthusiast herself.

From 1959, Dame Jean was a lady-in-waiting to Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester and was often on hand to assist the duchess at public and private functions. Dame Jean insisted that all arrangements were made well in advance and public visits invariably went off like clockwork. She was a stickler for detail and was always available to ensure the appropriate people met Princess Alice. The duchess herself was the daughter of the Duke of Buccleuch, so she and Dame Jean had a shared interest in the Borders and the countryside going back to childhood.

Another close connection was through the King’s Own Scottish Borderers regiment, of which the duchess is colonel-in-chief. Indeed, Princess Alice used to pay an annual visit to Abbotsford until she was 100.

The Walter Scott Society chose Dame Jean as their president for the current year and it was a great sadness to them that she was not well enough to deliver the presidential address two months ago. She was created a CVO in 1969 and a DCVO in 1984.

The future of Abbotsford is in some doubt. No decision will be taken, it is thought, until after the funeral on Friday, and legal advice has been considered. The National Trust for Scotland "helped" at Abbotsford, but it is not under their care.

Dame Jean was keen that a member of the family should continue to run it - there are about 40 of them scattered around the world - and she was recently quoted as saying that the NTS "have been very nice to me but I do like the idea of family here".

Dame Jean, who never married, was predeceased by her sister in 1998.