Arch, architecture, Borders, eyecatcher, Folly, Lodge, Well

Spottiswoode, near Lauder, Borders

Spottiswoode House, was described in 1846 as a ‘stately and elegant edifice in the old English style of architecture’. The estate had been ‘possessed, time out of mind, by the Spotiswoodes’ and was the childhood home of Alicia Anne Spottiswoode. It became her retreat in widowhood and the place where she was remembered for having ‘a weakness for erecting curious stone archways and other little monuments here and there’.

Alicia Anne (1810-1900) was one of the children of the Laird, John Spottiswoode, who built the new house to designs drawn up by William Burn in 1832. Alicia Anne lived a life typical of the age and was educated at home in the arts of literature, drawing, singing and conversational French. But she was also passionate about botany, geology, history and archaeology, and loved to be outdoors.

Sir Muirhead Bone (1876-1953). Undated watercolour of Spottiswoode House. Image courtesy of Chiswick Auctions.

In 1836 she married Lord John Douglas Montagu Scott, second son of the 4th Duke of Buccleuch. After his death in 1860, Lady John, as she was known, seems to have developed what were generally described as eccentricities, although one article suggests she was seriously disturbed by her husband’s death, and continued to live as if he were alive – writing him letters and having a place laid for him at the dinner table.

In her widowhood Lady John lived mainly at Spottiswoode, and the property became hers for her lifetime following the death of her mother in 1870. She then became known as Lady John Scott Spottiswoode to meet the terms of her father’s settlement. Her motto was Haud Fast to the Past and she had a passion for local history, and supervised a number of archaeological investigations on the estate.

David Octavius Hill (1802 – 1870) and Robert Adamson (1821 – 1848), salted paper print of Lady Alicia Anne (Spottiswoode) Scott, c. 1843-47. National Galleries of Scotland. Creative Commons CC by NC

Best remembered today for the song Annie Laurie the ‘most popular of Scottish melodies’, Lady John deserves to be better known for the curious works in architecture with which she bedizened the estate. These included two curious arches which, by map evidence, were constructed between 1857 and 1897. One stands in the tiny hamlet called Pyatshaw (named for the burn, or stream, that passes by).

It has inscribed stones built into the base, of which only one is even vaguely legible today. That which can be read (with difficulty) can be identified as one of the riddles, or ‘ænigmas’ put to Zadig and others in Voltaire’s 1747 novel of the same name. Zadig is asked:

‘What is this thing we receive without being thankful for it, which we enjoy without knowing how we came by it, which we give away without knowing where it is to be found, and which we lose without being conscious of our misfortune’.

Zadig is the only one who can solve the philosophical conundrum – the answer is ‘Life’. A second riddle solved by Zadig describes ‘Time’, and perhaps this was the inscription now eroded from the other stone? Sadly no local historians seem to have transcribed the plaques, although in 1912 a Mr Bradley wrote that one of the estate lodges had ‘a stone bearing a Latin description’. But to the Folly Flâneuse’s great disappointment he continued that it was ‘not worth recording’.

The Bruntaburn Arch, comprehensively covered in ivy, with only a hint of pinnacle peeking out of the foliage.

The second arch is close to the Bruntaburn (again named for a watercourse) Lodge, but is easy to miss as it is almost totally engulfed in ivy.

Sadly Lady John’s motive in erecting the arches is not known, but she is remembered as a great philanthropist and they may have been built to create employment locally. If they commemorate individuals or events then that association has long been forgotten.

At one of the entrances to the park stand two matching buildings known as the Eagle Lodges, or the Clock Lodges. The eagles which gave the lodges their name (seen in the postcard below) are no longer in situ, but the ‘clocks’ remain.

Although the lodges are thought to be late 18th century in origin, Alicia Anne is credited with giving them the embellishments which make them so fascinating today. Each lodge has a crenellated gable wall which carries a dummy clock – one always gives the time as 1.53 and the other 11.11 and the story is told that these were the times that the mail coach arrived at Spottiswoode. Each cottage carries two boards giving the distances to postal towns as near as Edinburgh and as far as Portsmouth.

Undated early 20th century postcard with the eagle-topped gate piers still in place. Courtesy of a private collection.

Only a few years after Lady John’s death the antiquarian Alexander Curle, Secretary of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland, visited Spottiswoode and noted the clock lodges and, more vaguely, the many ‘evidences of Lady John’s eccentric tastes’. Not known to survive today, but also a great curiosity, was Lady John’s coach which Curle described as ‘a great clumsy vehicle’ which was modelled on Napoleon’s.

Postcard sent in 1925. Courtesy of a private collection.

Lady John died without issue in 1900, and Spottiswoode House passed to a grand-nephew. The place was not maintained and by 1912 was already looking ‘forlorn’. Spottiswoode was sold in the 1930s, when it was said that ‘time has played havoc with its wide domain’, and the house was pulled down in 1939. The stable block was converted into a residence in 1996 and a new house built in the grounds at the same date.

Happily the ornaments erected by Lady John survive. The arches are both listed at category C, and the Clock/Eagle Lodges are category B. All can be seen from public roads.

Top marks to anyone who spotted the non-indigenous wildlife in the top image. Here’s the friendly little fellow who adds further charm to the hamlet of Pyatshaw.

If you can add to the story, or wish to share any thoughts, please scroll down to the comments box. Thank you for reading.


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6 thoughts on “Spottiswoode, near Lauder, Borders”

  1. Sally Paque says:

    What a charming article & hurrah – a new word (for me, at any rate).
    “Bedizen” – I shall try to slip that into conversation over Christmas, an appropriate time!

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Sally. I collect words that I like the sound of and await a chance to use them in a weekly story. Christmas seems the perfect time to bedizen your vocabulary! Very pleased to hear that you enjoyed the story of Spottiswoode.

  2. Gwyn Headley says:

    When I attempted to transcribe the remnants of the inscription over a quarter of a century ago I had no way of tracking down its source. Lacking education and energy, I left it at that. Thank you for solving the problem!

    1. Editor says:

      Good afternoon Gwyn. My key tools: tenacity, time and t’internet.

  3. Emily Reynolds says:

    Do you know when the cottages at Cambridge (just before one of the arches) was built?

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Emily. I didn’t find anything about the cottages when I was researching Spottiswoode I’m afraid.

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