New cultural era underway at former Scottish plague hospice which became art school

Its roots can be traced back to the 13th century when it was opened by monks as a plague hospice.

Now it is set to be reborn as a major new artistic, horticultural, culinary and heritage attraction for the east coast of Scotland.

The grounds of Hospitalfield House in Abroath, will be opened to the public this week following completion of the first phase of an £11 million revamp.

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Partly funded via the Tay Cities Deal agreed between the UK and Scottish governments, the five-year project is aimed at opening up access to Hospitalfield, which has an artistic heritage dating back around 200 years.

The inspiration for Walter Scott’s 1816 novel The Antiquary after a visit by the writer, Hospitalfield was remodelled and expanded by the artist Patrick Allan, who later put in place plans for Hospitalfield to become a residential art school after his death.

It has attracted many of Scotland’s leading artists since it opened in 1902, with James Cowie, Robert Colquhoun, Robert MacBryde, Joan Eardley among those to study and work there.

However the building and its grounds will be opening regularly for the first time to visitors from tomorrow, when a specially-commissioned sculpture trail by artist Mick Peter will be unveiled in the newly-landscaped garden.

The produce sold in a new cafe will be grown and harvested in the garden, where a 19th century fernery has been restored as part of the initial phase of work.

The sculptures by Mick Peter are the first of a series of new works to be unveiled at Hospitalfield this year.

Future developments will include new studio and residential facilities for artists, and a new gallery and visitor centre.

Hospitalfield director Lucy Byatt said: “We’re pleased to welcome visitors to enjoy the new outdoor artworks, freshly planted garden and lush fernery, ahead of settling down in our new cafe to enjoy something to eat.

"As we launch, we begin an ambitious five-year period of work to secure a dynamic future for Hospitalfield, allowing the organisation to continue to fulfill a unique role in the cultural life of the country.

“We’ll create ‘a campus’ around the original arts and crafts building that will enhance the arts and cultural programmes and in so doing, establish a world-class and fascinating destination for visitors whilst also creating an impressive facility for artists.

Kirsten Wilson and Cicely Farrer deliver ferns to the newly restored 19th Century Fernery at Hospitalfield. Picture: Lesley Martin

“Our aim is to invest in the extraordinary heritage at Hospitalfield and in a future that is at the heart of the intention of the original 19th century bequest - to support artists and education in the arts.”

Angus Council leader David Fairweather said: “Art is a very important part of the story of Angus but we’re also a very rural county, so this garden is a wonderful marriage of those things.

“We are excited to embrace the return of responsible tourism to Angus and Hospitalfield will be a major draw.

However, Hospitalfield is much more than a visitor attraction. It’s a fabulous resource for local people, community groups and schools with whom it has forged strong links and it’s still fundamentally a place of growth and learning.”

Mick Peter with some of the new work he has created for the grounds of Hospitalfield. Picture: Lesley Martin

Kate Forbes, the Scottish Government’s economy secretary, said: “This is a really important landmark for Hospitalfield House and the project to redevelop the site.

“This is a significant part of the commitment by the wider Tay Cities Deal to the culture and tourism sector, which is such an important part of the regional economy.”

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