Sir John Clerk’s great mansion at Penicuik was devastated by fire in 1889, and remained derelict and dangerous for over a century. It was consolidated by the Penicuik House Preservation Trust in 2007-2014, and is now a thriving visitor attraction and education centre. The Trust will soon turn its attention to another of its stated conservation aims: ‘preserving and restoring the historic built structures within the Designed Landscape’. Excellent news!
The first of the ornamental structures in line to be restored is the Tower on Knight’s Law; a fitting choice as it was Sir John’s earliest addition to his estate in 1749-51 (although it had been a decade in the planning). Long before William Morris made the phrase ‘beautiful and useful’ famous, Sir John intended that the tower would be ‘an ornament to my Country as well as my estate’ whilst being ‘beneficial to my family as a Dovecoat’. Conscious of his privileged position in society, he also felt it his duty to find work for the ‘Masons, Wrights and other workmen’ of the neighbourhood. Above the door he had cut the date MDCCL and the inscription TIBI SIT PRUDENTIA TURRIS, which has been translated as ‘Let wisdom be your tower’.
Whilst the doves are gone, the Trust plans that the tower’s ornamental role as belvedere will be revived and hopes eventually to enable public access to the rooftop viewing platform.
From the south-east front of the house (above) an avenue leads to the Chinese Gates and a view across the dramatic valley of the Esk. The vista is terminated by the Ramsay Monument, on which the Trust hope to start work in around 18 months. This wonderful quirky feature takes the form of a square pedestal with an arch supporting an obelisk pierced with three oval openings.
The monument celebrates the life of Allan Ramsay, the Scottish poet, dramatist, and key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, who was a friend of Sir John. An inscription inside the arch records that Sir John’s son and heir, Sir James Clerk, erected the eye-catcher in Ramsay’s memory in 1759. No architect has been identified, but Sir James may have been inspired by lines from The Country Seat, a poem published by his father in 1727, when he placed the obelisk:
That Avenue will most delight the Sight
That on some beauteous object shapes it way
Regular readers will know that The Folly Flâneuse does appreciate a good cup of coffee after an afternoon of strolling, and she was not disappointed at the Penicuik cafe. It’s all very much a work in progress on the estate at the moment, but well worth a visit – and many more as work progresses. More here https://www.penicuikhouse.com