the story of
THE LOST GARDEN OF PENICUIK
HOME OF THE COMMUNITY FOOD PROJECT TO
RESTORE THE LOST WALLED GARDEN OF 1875
An initiative of Penicuik Community Development Trust
Download a fuller 48-page A4 large format version of the Lost Garden Story here ;
THE LOST GARDEN OF PENICUIK
An initiative of the Penicuik Community Development Trust
FEBRUARY 2012: THE PROJECT BEGINS
The story of the Lost Garden of Penicuik has been presented at intervals during 2012 and the display updated to show the Garden’s relation to arboriculture and to the Year of Natural Scotland 2013. It was re-presented on 5, 6 and 12 January 2013 at the Trust’s Saturday Open House and Sunday Cinema in Penicuik Town Hall.
LANDMARKS IN THE LIFE OF THE LOST GARDEN
In the 1760s Sir James Clerk the 3rd Baronet created an unusual semicircular walled garden at Eskfield, south-west of Penicuik House, at the bottom of the hill beside the river Esk. Never lost from view, this is sometimes now known as the Old Garden.
The Cornton Burn flows through the Old Garden and joins the river Esk immediately to the south. Inside this 18th century Garden is a two-storey pavilion by John Baxter, of brick with stone dressings and a pedimented gable with vases. For the next hundred years and more this riverside garden at Eskfield continued to provide the estate’s needs. This Old Garden remains visible in the Penicuik House Estate landscape unlike its 1875 successor the Lost Garden which has become hidden from public view.
JOHN CLAUDIUS LOUDON (1783-1843) AND HIS MAGAZINE
By the time of the great Scots-born garden and landscape writer John Claudius Loudon the Old Garden had been fitted out with an extensive range of glasshouses, which Loudon recorded before his death in 1843.
No matter what steps were taken to warm the houses, the Old Garden’s location was still beset by cold air drainage from the Pentlands along the Esk valley floor. This problem was to be rectified by the creation of the New Garden here further uphill north-northeast of the House and stables in the time of Sir George Douglas Clerk the 8th baronet in the 1870s. This new garden is what eventually became THE LOST GARDEN OF PENICUIK
Ever since gardener Joseph Paxton’s extravaganza of the Crystal Palace in 1851 there had an intensification of interest in horticulture. New forms of Patent Glass House had been springing up in the 1860s, and in Scotland elaborate growing arrangements were being put in place by wealthy patrons like sugar merchant James Duncan in his fernery at Benmore, Dunoon, municipalities like Edinburgh with elaborate glasshouses at West Princes Street Gardens, and commercial market growers like William Thomson with Britain’s best-known vineries at Clovenfords alongside the Peeblesshire Railway.
Blackwoods of Edinburgh published Wm Thomson’s THE GARDENER in the 1860s & 70s.
It was imbued with John Claudius Loudon’s practicality and graced with his JCL initials (around the spade above)
In Penicuik by 1881 the house in the Old Garden was being looked after by the Penicuik Estate’s young forester, 27 year-old James Martin from Echt in Aberdeenshire. The Mungall boys (William Mungall 26 from Muiravonside, James Jackson 24 from Deeside, Tom Stark 24 from West Linton, Archie Salmond 17 from Linlithgow and John Mungall 20 from Muiravonside) were beside the Old Garden in their portable sawmill. All the gardeners were to be found elsewhere, at the New Garden.
DESIGNED TO FLANK A NEW DRIVE FROM TYMPANY LODGE & LOWRIES DEN
The New Garden had been built around 1877. A very detailed overall plan for it
/ or M A-
was made in 1873, and the garden was laid out to almost exactly this pattern in
the following few years. The
design was geared to horticultural production on a very big scale: vegetables,
flowers and fruit. Plans
for the stairway to connect the two main levels were drawn up by John Leslie in
1875. With its imposing
gates, grand staircase and hot-houses ranged along the skyline the New Garden
would be an astonishing ornament to a newly diverted drive across a new bridge
from Tympany Lodge.
Then, after a hundred years of productive life, it would begin to
disappear like a mirage. This
is the Lost Garden of
now started to restore, and our project could last another fifty years.
THE LOST GARDEN OF PENICUIK: PLAN OF 1873 (click here for pdf view)
Designed by a confident, experienced and perhaps older hand, someone maybe based in England (the word “brook” is used), the originator remains a mystery to us until more research is done. In 1873 the country’s prominent designer, who had had the support of the late John Claudius Loudon, was Robert Marnock, with his assistant and successor Joseph Meston.
Here in the late 1870s then, in a much less visited part of the estate north of Penicuik House and flanking the west bank of the Siller Burn, appeared the magnificence of the great new walled Garden with its 110 yards of continuous glasshouse.
See the two chimneys in the picture -they correspond to the position of stoke holes on the plan. The nearer one on the right was attached to the range of buildings flanking the glasshouses, beside the live-in gardeners accommodation. The other, just to the left of it, is further uphill next to the Garden’s main north gate (of which only the rabbit-proof stone baseplate remains), beside the vanished Manure Yard and Hot Pits for cucumbers, melons, forcing and propagating. As designed, the main range of glass seen here consisted of a central conservatory flanked by two pairs of vineries, a stove house and greenhouse in symmetrical formation, with a peach house beyond forming both ends of the range.
The stonework of the new Garden’s construction was possibly supervised by the stairway designer John Leslie, or more likely by Penicuik builder James Tait. The steps of the massive Grand Staircase are truly magnificent.
The much more extensive brickwork was probably made and laid under the supervision of local specialist John Dennis of Eskbridge –no stranger to chimneys. Both these men later adorned the local bench of magistrates and were to be guests at the eldest Clerk son’s coming of age party.
JOHN DENNIS OF ESKBRIDGE BRICKWORKS AND DALKEITH
Buried in style at New Cockpen, his home at Brixwold, Bonnyrigg, was later reincarnated as Dalhousie Courte
The new Garden’s hothouses and their heating pipes may have been fitted out at the start by local specialists Mackenzie & Moncur of Balcarres Street, Morningside, who certainly prepared plans to improve some of them in 1896.
Balcarres Street was itself a nod to the Lindsay Earls of Crawford and Balcarres, coal and ironmasters of South Lancashire and South Wales, whose interests in astronomy, alchemy and homeopathy were well-known and whose Wigan Company was perhaps the biggest industrial, chemical and transport undertaking of the age. Parts of Balcarres’s extensive Haigh Hall greenhouses are shown below. The Wigan Company had employed John Young the Dalkeith gas specialist in coking experiments at Aspull from 1868, he was back in Midlothian by 1873. John Dennis was Young’s executor when he died in 1886.
Among the extensive heated greenhouses at HAIGH HALL, WIGAN, now no more
At Penicuik the straightforward iron perimeter estate fencing (some can still be seen in front around the main gates and on the west side towards the garden gasworks) was by Thomas Gibson and Sons of Bainfield House Foundry, Edinburgh, at Gibson Terrace where Fountainbridge Library now stands. Some of Gibson’s simple fencing still graces the perimeter of The Meadows and Edinburgh’s Bruntsfield Links.
THE LOST GARDEN OF PENICUIK : Main Gates & Gibson Fencing long ago
Gibson’s fencing provided a rabbit-proof outer defence around the full enveloped area outside the gardenof the Garden and divided the sections both around and inside the big walled square. As set out, the Penicuik walled square was quartered around a raised-edge fountain pond. This was a familiar pattern, seen on a large scale at Sugnall
Penicuik’s quadrants were edged with fencing, paths and fruit trees, and each quadrant was to be divided into three broad bands separated with more lines of fruit trees. But Penicuik lacked one element of its 1873 plan. The need for economy was already evident while the garden was still under construction in 1877. In that year Stuart Neilson WS of North Charlotte Street reported to Sir George Clerk “on the amount of labour required to lay out the new gardens at Penicuik House... and afterwards the staff required to properly cultivate and keep them in good order”. Perhaps as a result of this it appears that an important second and lower line of six glasshouses along the north side of the square, three on each side of the foot of the Grand Staircase, was never built. The Fig House, Plum House, Cherry House, Apricot House, Late Peach House and Orchard House “for choice pears” appear to have been left out to trim costs as the full expense of the walled garden investment began to be felt.
Taking up residence in the purpose-built detached two-storey Head Gardener’s House just west of the top of the gardens was overseer Charles Buchanan, a young man in his twenties born in Luss, the Colquhoun estate on Loch Lomondside. His wife Annie and her Devine relatives were from Carnwath, Lanarkshire. Perhaps she had been at the great estate where Charles had gained highly-regarded experience, or perhaps he had himself been employed near New Lanark or Carnwath where there were extensive conservatories on the estates of wealthy patrons like Charles Walker and Norman Macdonald Lockhart of Lee.
Charles Buchanan later rose to become the factor of Penicuik Estate. The factor -or more correctly Land Steward- in 1881 was Charles S. France, a council member of the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society, who lived at Bank House just inside the Penicuik Estate’s lodge gates at Penicuik Station. In later years France left Penicuik estate for Bridge of Dee, and Bank House later became the home of Penicuik’s famous minister-novelist S. R. Crockett (right) friend of R.L. Stevenson and author of The Lilac Sunbonnet , The Raiders, The Black Douglas (which so influenced JRR Tolkien) and many other transatlantic best-sellers of the day
Penicuik’s Factor Charles S. France was highly respected in the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society, which soon developed a wide membership from all over the world. He had been elected a Life Member of the Society as early as 1866. He later became factor to the Earl of Mansfield at Scone Palace, Perthshire. Sir George D. Clerk of Penicuik was elected a Life Member in 1872 and Charles W. Cowan of Valleyfield and Loganhouse in 1876.
had been founded in 1854 and the English Royal Arboricultural Society founded in 1882. The profession of forestry set up seats of learning at Edinburgh, Cambridge, Oxford, Aberdeen and Bangor in the late 1880s and early 1900s. Those who supervised the planting on the Penicuik Estate –men like Charles France, Sir George Clerk, and Charles Buchanan- made sure that the surroundings of the new walled garden and along the East Ramp and Siller Burn were planted with choice tree specimens as a Pinetum and Arboretum.
Not only at Penicuik, but in other great estates up and down the land, planting advisers like William Paterson at Balmoral Castle (left) or Andrew Peebles at Highclere in Berkshire (below) exchanged their planting ideas and expertise through their membership of the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society and their study of its journal.
Charles Buchanan took up his place in the Head Gardener’s House beside the New Gardens, and his wife ran a Sabbath School in the garden’s Fruit House in the furthest right section of the bothy buildings shown here. Charles became a keen curler, caught up in Penicuik’s well-known enthusiasm for the game. And when he had taken the time to establish his proper forestry credentials he was elected to the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society in 1885.
1885 was the year when the Society arranged the great International Forestry Exhibition in the fields and grounds around Donaldson’s Hospital for the Deaf with a timber station at Roseburn. The Caledonian Railway ran trains from their Edinburgh terminus at the west end of Princes Street. The Donaldson Hospital clerk and adviser was none other than Penicuik estate’s own clerk and adviser Stuart Neilson WS.
Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone was Penicuik’s Member of Parliament and was himself a keen woodsman, eager to make sure the International Forestry Exhibition was given all the resources that Whitehall to persuade other countries to take part. The great timber exhibition halls at Rosefield were filled with displays of forestry practice and innumerable forest products from Japan, the United States, India and elsewhere. The International Forestry Exhibition was a vast public spectacle –the California link helped to clinch a new system of cable tramways for Edinburgh which would be laid out on San Francisco principles –and the displays brought thousands of visitors to Edinburgh including the Prince and Princess of Wales
It was a chance for visitors to take a look at the Forth Bridge, the engineering wonder of the world -like a great timber bridge in steel- which was being built at the same time under the supervision of Kaichi Watanabe its Japanese site engineer. The Society made no secret of its intention to make Edinburgh the world centre of forestry education and excellence. Charles Buchanan rose to become vice-president of the Society in 1897 and took part in their official visit to Dublin that year. He was also to have a moment of fame in the press in 1899 as we’ll see.
Staying towards the middle of the new brick-built range of bothy buildings on the north side, with its 3 gardeners bedrooms, scullery and mess-room, was the Garden’s 6-man team, all of them single in the 1881 census. The Foreman was James Borthwick aged 26 from Ecclesmachan in Linlithgowshire. Under him were four journeymen: Elvin Jackson aged 27 from England, Andrew Porter aged 29 from Alvah, Banffshire, Thomas Wilson aged 18 from Newburn, Fife, and John Napier aged 19 from Penicuik. The apprentice gardener was Donald McKay aged 19 from Dingwall in Ross and Cromarty.
A Trust had been set up for the marriage of Sir George Clerk and his wife Aymee Napier-Milliken in 1876. But difficulties with some of the Scottish investment in American transcontinental railroad ventures were already causing unease in financial circles and led to the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank in 1878. A lot of Scotland’s much-vaunted sense of financial security now began to unravel, and respected Edinburgh accountant George Auldjo Jamieson was engaged as the man best able to take charge of the Glasgow Bank crisis and prevent the collapse of the other Scottish banks. Jamieson’s stabilising presence was seen as a way to gain time for the careful and creative responses needed to weather the storm. And he came forward to lead the Clerk Trustees in seeking solutions to Penicuik Estate’s now-pressing financial problems.
Although the horticultural climate was good at the new Garden, economically the next few years were disastrous, particularly for those who had borrowed heavily for grand projects on the back of doubtful speculations. Financial ruin faced many over-stretched families with the near-collapse of Barings Bank in the panic of 1890 and its subsequent rescue by the Bank of England.
The first ten years of the walled garden had already proved expensive and ideas were put forward to reduce running costs. A “Memorandum by the Penicuik Estate Trustees in January 1889 records that if “the Conservatory & vineries were to be allowed to go out of use and the new garden were to be cropped with turnips and potatoes the wages of two men or even possibly three might be saved”. It’s a provocative option. Turnips and potatoes were hardly likely to find favour with gilt-edged investors. It was thought in professional circles around this time that the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra (right) could be in the market for an estate near Edinburgh, and the Duddingston House Estate was at one time put forward as a possibility. The Memorandum shows that the Trustees were actively considering sale of the estate even in the 1880s. They had their sights set high. It was a question of finding the right moment. The Memorandum advised that “in the event of it being found necessary ultimately to bring the estate to sale, the Trustees are satisfied that the detriment to the value of the property by dilapidating the new Gardens... would be ten times as great as any saving that could be effected within at least the three years during which it is proposed to suspend the question of sale”.
Late in 1890, as the financial climate continued to worsen, the moment seemed to have arrived. The palatial Penicuik House and Estate, with the great new Garden, was put up for sale by the Trustees responsible for clearing the accumulated debts.
SOCIETY SMALL-TALK. …The splendid estate of Penicuik, in the counties of Midlothian and Peebles, is to be offered for sale at Edinburgh to-morrow. This property, which belongs to Sir George Clerk, extends to nearly eleven thousand acres. and the reserve price is two hundred and twenty thousand pounds. Penicuik House, a magnificent Grecian mansion on the wooded slope of the Pentland Hills, about nine miles south of Edinburgh, is one of the finest country places in Scotland. The house presents a most imposing appearance, especially on the north side, where there is a superb portico supported on eight immense Ionic columns, and approached by three stately flights of stairs. The principal drawing-room has an exquisite ceiling, painted by Runciman with subjects from Ossian's poems, and the cupolas surmounting the staircases are also painted in fresco. The demesne, which covers eight hundred acres, is beautifully laid out and very richly wooded, and is intersected by the Esk, and contains three most picturesque lakes. The ruins of the ancient castles of Brunstane, Ravensneuk, and Uttershill are on the outskirts of the Penicuik demesne, which contains the tower of Terregles, from which one of the finest views in the Lowlands is obtained on a clear day, The fruit and flower gardens, which extend to twelve acres, are among the best in the country, and there is an immense range of glasshouses. There is also a very pretty American garden near the house. The walks through the Den of the Esk are lovely. There are about thirteen hundred acres of woodland on the estate, which affords first rate shooting.
But in that difficult decade no buyer could be found and a series of leases were arranged. Then the darkest day for the estate arrived in 1899 while the house and grounds were being tenanted under lease to the prominent Edinburgh legal family of R. B. Ranken W.S.
Penicuik House, so well known for its Ossian Hall, was destroyed by fire yesterday. About 1 o'clock the butler saw smoke issuing from the roof, and the alarm was at once given. Mr Charles Buchanan, the estate factor, was early on the spot, and caused the house hose to be directed on to a bedroom in the north-east corner of the building on the top flat, where the fire was first noticed. Mr Buchanan promptly sent messengers to Penicuik and Glencorse Barracks, and telegraphed to Edinburgh for assistance. By two o'clock Penicuik Fire Brigade, shortly afterwards followed by the steamer from Valleyfield Mills, accompanied by Mr Alexander Cowan and Mr R. C. Cowan, and a large number of their workmen, and the fire picket of the Royal Scots, Glencorse Barracks, about 70 in number, under Captain H. E. P. Nash and Sergeant-Major Nash, appeared on the scene. Vigorous efforts were made to extinguish the fire, and at three o'clock a detachment of the Edinburgh Fire Brigade, under Firemaster Pordage, arrived, and did excellent work, but with a strong east wind blowing the fire was carried rapidly from room to room, and at six o'clock last night the whole building was gutted except the basement. Special efforts were made to save the Ossian Hall, with its rich mural decorations by Runciman, and the charter room. The fate of the former was watched with deep regret by a large number of the townspeople, and about four o'clock the roof on which the valuable painting was gave way with a crash. The charter room is understood to have withstood the flames, as it is strongly built with brick. Nearly all the furniture and other valuables were saved by the many willing helpers, which included clergymen and ladies and gentlemen in the locality. Penicuik house, the property of Sir George Clerk, Bart, of Penicuik, was in the occupancy of Mr Ranken, W.S., Edinburgh, and was one of the most imposing mansion-houses in the county. The central portion was designed and built in 1761 by Sir James Clerk, the third Baronet, after his return from a long residence in Italy. The two wings were erected in 1857, and the whole ground covered is 180 feet by 78. The central portion is three storeys in height, while the wings are four storeys high. The Ossian decorations, by Alexander Runciman, in the drawing-room were familiar to all students of decorative art, while the adornment by the same artist of one of the cupolas surmounting the staircase with scenes from the life of Queen Margaret was remarkable for its richness of tone and dramatic power of illustration. The building is believed to be insured. It is generally believed the fire originated through the overheating of the chimney.
The Ranken tenants returned home next day leaving Charles Buchanan to sort through the ruin and salvage. At first it seemed the house might be rebuilt. Local builder James Tait offered to rebuild and finish it for as little as £4,500. The insurers refused to pay the full sum covered, on the grounds that the house walls still stood. and without the insurance even Tait’s estimate was beyond the means of Sir George. Lady Clerk had come up to Scotland after the fire to take charge. She decided to convert the stables including the coach house, brew house and bakery to become the main family accommodation in 1902. James Tait got the job.
Steps had already been taken to ensure that the magnificent walled Garden, “among the best in the country”, would pay its way as a commercial enterprise. The Trustees could save on employment costs by leasing the Garden to a market gardener as a going concern. In 1900 a lease was drawn up with market gardener William Angus and an inventory prepared of all the plants under cultivation. This elusive inventory, once listed in the National Archives of Scotland as GD 18/1493/1, is not currently available. We are trying to track it down, though we have found a small extract in a partial 1900 list of the lost garden’s tender plants made by a researcher who saw the document in 1999.
William Angus seems to have considered himself mainly a flower grower. His early advertising in the Edinburgh Evening News confirms that the garden was already well stocked with Japanese Azaleas, though Portugal Laurels are more of a feature of the Lost Garden today. Through 1902-3 the newspaper also shows William Angus’s constant difficulty in obtaining strong, willing, cheap manpower –he placed regular ads for sturdy lads to drive the van (presumably horse-drawn; a motor van would have been mentioned) and to help with work in the Garden.
Just a mile away, in May 1905, thanks to the efforts of Provost Wilson, Penicuik’s fine public park was created. Leased from the Penicuik Estate Trustees and laid out by the Burgh Council, it was one of many civic improvements being made up and down the country. The public park was on what was known as The Garden Field leased from the Estate by Alexander Cowan nearly ninety years before as a place where fruit and vegetables could be grown by and for the thousands of Napoleonic prisoners of war interned at Valleyfield.
William Angus continued his award-winning ways with flowers. In 1910 he received the award of the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, then at the forefront of the development of city garden ideas, for his exhibit of Carnations, the flower of affection.
The world was changing and wider schemes were afoot. The years just before the First World War saw national and imperial strategic thinking on all topics from defence education and pensions to fuel and forestry. Statesmen brought up with an Edinburgh-slanted perspective like conservative Balfour and liberal Haldane were at the forefront of these ideas.
Thanks to Haldane’s Development Commission, there was the prospect of creating a national forestry training garden in Penicuik in the Titanic years after 1910. The Scottish Universities argued strongly for a complete forestry school here under Edinburgh University control. But they were slow off the mark while England and Ireland lost no time in scooping up the lion’s share of the Commission;s forestry funding allocation –by 1914 £84,300 to England, £139,700 to Ireland and only £17,500 to Scotland. The Scottish figure included £2000 to Edinburgh University to purchase a "forest garden”. But the area in view at Penicuik was never secured, The Great War intervened, and £9000 granted for the adaptation and equipment of buildings were used instead to fit out premises at 10 George Square and appoint an assistant lecturer in forestry there.
William Wilson ran the business as a family operation. In due course his son David and daughter Minnie joined him to work the Garden as they grew up. It was a highly effective team, producing quantity and quality of output with the help of the Garden’s benign microclimate, and with limited manpower in a way the Estate Trustees might have envied fifty years earlier. But it was hard work, and those ramps were a killer when you had a heavy wheelbarrow to push up.
Glasshouses and the warm brick walls inside and outside the square of the walled garden produced a big range of everyday and more exotic produce. September Blackcurrants, Rhubarb, Mushrooms, Chrysanthemums could all be produced in large quantities. To help with tilling the big square itself, a horse was borrowed from a local farmer to turn the ground over with a plough. Local farms and the stables of local businesses provided much of the garden’s manure requirements too.
David Wilson is seen here ploughing in the big square, and –dressed for town- about to drive the motor vehicle. His father can be seen through the glass. As well as serving the needs of Penicuik and vicinity, the Wilsons regularly drove the motor to Market beside Waverley Station.
Newly-married Michael Newton and his wife Annemarie were next to occupy the Garden from around 1948. The first of their family were raised there. Michael Newton found difficulties with diseases in what was now tired overworked soil in the big kitchen garden square, and rabbits had become a problem everywhere. They tried with some success to rejuvenate the Garden and re-establish it as organic along the lines advocated by Eve Balfour, founder of the vigorous new Soil Association which was gaining worldwide attention in the postwar years. The Newtons took up the more demanding biodynamic approach to organic gardening which had been advocated by Rudolf Steiner.
Organic growing was much in the news in 1949, when the Queen visited the Royal Highland Show –held that year on the banks of the Tay. The Soil Association was represented at the Show for the very first time and Eve Balfour was in attendance. One of the most impressive exhibits was of vegetables, fruit and fruit stocks grown in field conditions and picked for sale at the Show by James B. Miller of Ferrygate, one of the Soil Association’s local experts. The quality of produce and its resistance to the heat and dust of the four-day Show generated long queues of visitors and attracted the interest of the Queen, as The Scotsman reported. “Her Majesty had a long conversation in front of the Ferrygate Produce (North Berwick) stand with Captain R.G.M. Wilson, on the subject of compost as opposed to chemical and artificial fertilisers. The Queen was very interested in the use of natural organic manure and in the fine samples of vegetables it produced, as presented on the stand.” Growers like the Newtons were encouraged.
Under the hospitable Newtons, the Lost Garden became a mecca for singers, and for teachers and older pupils from the Steiner School. Annemarie Newton was much engaged with the Saltire Singers, who were often in the Garden and performed regularly at Penicuik House.
The Penicuik House gardener’s young teenage son Stuart Macintyre – later a distinguished military band musician – attended these concerts with Annemarie. He admired the marvellous long-stemmed primulas she grew in the Garden’s central hothouse, and helped her tend the tomatoes in the Vinery alongside. His mother remarked “I’ll never taste anything so good as a Penicuik tomato”. Stuart was given a south west corner of Garden outside the lower end of the west boundary wall in which to establish a delphinium garden.
With his father Stuart helped Sir John Clerk to establish a regular crop of Thomas Laxtons excellent Royal Sovereign strawberries in a field outside the Garden, which Mr Macintyre sold to passers-by from a stall on Carlops Road and Sir John drove in to market, everyone joining in with jam-making.
Around 1954 the Newton family left their Penicuik tenancy for Murieston, Livingston where Michael Newton’s father, a former Japanese prisoner-of-war, was able to provide him with a much larger farm-scaled and wholly-owned site. Here he established the first biodynamic organic farm in Britain. The Murieston Trust continues Michael Newton’s work by offering a bursary to young people to study organic methods.
The Whitfield family came next to occupy the Garden and its bothy cottage in the north range. Robert Whitfield and his wife Miriam -like the Newtons- followed the ideas of Rudolf Steiner and had been married at the community at Garvald, Dolphinton, where Robert tended the walled garden. Along with the Newtons and other local children like the Lockies, Scotts and Albert Watson, the Whitfield’s older children Jonathan, Sylvia, Monica and Katie attended the Steiner School. The youngest Whitfield children Peter and Fiona, were born at the cottage in the Garden. All of them had free range to play among the Garden and its nine glasshouses, with its sounds of skylarks and peewits, and tried to free birds that became trapped, usually in the big central conservatory. Monica Whitfield remembers all the red, black and white currants that grew in profusion along the wall east of the Grand Staircase. She can still see her father’s Austin Seven piled high with Garden rhubarb and watercress her mother had gathered from the Silver Burn, on its way to Rankin’s Fruit Markets, Edinburgh’s “By Appointment” fruit and vegetable supplier.. And Jonathan Whitfield vividly recalls his impression of the Garden as a lost and secret world: “Penicuik House Garden Cottage was one of the most primitive places to live, but amazingly I have the fondest memories of it. It was a rundown cottage attached to a huge walled garden on the old Scottish estate of Sir John Clerk outside Edinburgh. My dad took care of the garden and managed to support us as a family while he went to college. The walled garden was like the “Secret Garden” (Frances Burnett story) for us. It had 20-foot-high walls enclosing 2 acres. It contained a feast of fruits and vegetables that had been planted over the years. “The cottage that went with it was somewhat primitive. I would wake up in the mornings and the walls would have moisture on them from the condensation and dampness of the Scottish climate. Nevertheless, it was the greatest place to be because we were in the country. We had goats and hens and had the greatest times. We children were not aware of the fairly primitive conditions in which we were living. We enjoyed it immensely. I remember overlooking the property from a 70-foot fir tree that I climbed. I would sit at the top of it swaying in the wind, overlooking this huge garden. My mother would always be very alarmed to see me atop this giant fir! I'd dream about my future. I still have very fond memories of doing that.”
“The cottage consisted of a row of single rooms that were attached to huge greenhouses. After coming in the front door, if you turned right you went through the kitchen and my parents' bedroom to get to the children's bedrooms; if you went left, you had to go through a living room to the bedrooms. We had an inside toilet, running water, and a wood Rayburn stove with a bath behind a curtain. We took baths once a week. We had our first telephone, one with the separate earpiece. I still remember the number—Penicuik 119. My mother used to love to talk to her friends. It was a shared line. One great entertainment for the kids was to pick up the earpiece and listen to the neighbors' conversations.”
After the Whitfields left and the upper Walled Garden passed into the nineteen sixties and seventies, it became increasingly isolated and forgotten. It would soon enter a half century of wilderness and decay. Meanwhile Penicuik began to change as Wimpey laid out its enormous and revolutionary Cornbank development on land once part of Penicuik estate, and the town became Scotland’s fastest-growing urban area just as the papermills went into decline and closure.
The nineteen seventies saw a new role for the Garden. Food was being provided in new ways –Penicuik had its own small William Low and Co‑op supermarkets in the centre and a very successful larger independent supermarket run by Ian S. Mckay at the Edinburgh end of town. And Edinburgh fruit and vegetable suppliers? Those days are surely over. What’s the advantage of hothouses when exotic fruit and flowers can be trucked and flown in cheaply from abroad?
Even the Royal Botanic Garden had removed most of its range of Victorian planthouses in 1967. Why not get rid of those out-of-date Penicuik monstrosities? It was time for Penicuik’s garden to concentrate instead on supplying Christmas trees and barbecue charcoal for all the modern commuter families moving into the town. As they said at the time: “you know it makes sense.”
So while the lower square was planted with Christmas trees, the upper part of the Lost Garden was taken over by a forward-looking forest and charcoal business. The glasshouses were progressively demolished. The little vestibuled gardener’s house in the long range of buildings was taken over and made into the business’s offices and new windows were cut through the brick wall where the glasshouses had once been.
In Penicuik you would occasionally see their charcoal for sale and the Fraser Forestry Land Rover driving through Penicuik with a steel kiln on a trailer. Spruce trees were planted in the walled Garden square as a future Christmas tree crop. A new destiny was being created for the Garden. Digging on the terrace recently we uncovered a number of intact bags of Scottish Charcoal in 3kg and 12 printed plastic sacks. These bore the name of Jak Forest Fuels, a Penicuik and Silverburn-based enterprise operating between 1976 and 1984. The firm was also linked with the marketing of an Oxford-researched kiln to dry timber which had been used in reconstruction work in Magdalen College. This kiln was to be commercialised as the Jakrap Solar Kiln by Jak Forest Fuels for supply to countries in Africa, Asia and the West Indies in kit form with motors, fans, wired control panel, enough UV-inhibited polyethylene to replace the cover at least once, and assembly instructions. The results of projected trials in the tropical conditions of Tanzania and Dominica have not yet been found in US and UK international development literature.
While all this was going on in the Garden, the town of Penicuik itself saw its vast 250-year-old centrepiece of local employment reduced to rubble. With Valleyfield papermills demolished, a historic industrial complex with all the world significance of New Lanark was removed in its entirety in the speculative hope that new industry or a housing development might take its place.
Economic fortunes changed. Back at the Garden the trees were never harvested. The big walled area at the foot of the steps became shaded by their high dark canopy. The steps themselves –the Grand Stairway- became increasingly overgrown and impassable. The terrace around the bases of the old glasshouses became piled with unused plastic sacks of charcoal. Worse was to follow as asset strippers got to work. Lead and guttering was removed and the range of bothy buildings at the north end – offices and all – began to collapse hastened by neglect and lack of maintenance. The big Garden walls had their protective coping stones removed by human predators, the great slate paving slabs were pulled out of the ground, the old Mackenzie & Moncur heat and ventilation metalwork stripped out and large numbers of beautiful bricks began to be taken away. Nature took over all across the Garden. By the turn of the twenty first century, one of the finest places in Britain for growing fruit and flowers was now in every sense well and truly Lost.
Down the road, Penicuik Community Development Trust was formed in 2005 as a social enterprise to take over local assets in the public interest. It was prompted by a press report of the possible closure and sale of Penicuik Town Hall, which had been originally endowed to the townspeople in perpetuity as the Cowan Institute.
The Trust’s early efforts were directed at saving the building and restoring it to active community use (successful so far), starting a weekly Saturday Open House there to celebrate community life and identity (still running ten years later), re-establishing a public Penicuik Cinema there (running for eight years it soon moved from fortnightly to weekly), trying to save Jackson Street School for community use and prevent its needless destruction (tragically, we failed), beginning the Penicuik Food Project as part of a fifty year project to restore the Lost Garden (now in progress), and attempting to rescue Bank Mill as an active papermaking demonstration facility along the lines of the restored water-powered Vaucluse mill at Penicuik’s twin town in Provence. Although the important papermill project has stalled meantime, the Trust is currently finalising its purchase and improvement of the old Post office and Pen y Coe Press on Penicuik town centre’s southern approach at Bridge Street as a local museum and activity centre within a locally-valued working shop.
One of the Trust’s earliest supporters was the late Barrie Corlson, an old sea dog and land surveyor who lived in another part of the Penicuik estate where this story began. Barrie inspired us with his enthusiasm and organised some of the Trust’s first Open House displays from his extensive collections.
The Lost Garden of Penicuik restoration was first mooted at a public meeting as the Penicuik Food Project in spring 2009. The Trust put a prospectus to the Estate in June and pictures were taken of the garden’s lost condition in July that year. The Trust helped to form a Midlothian Growing Partnership with like-minded local food-garden groups. After lengthy negotiations to establish a lease of the Lost Garden the formalities were completed and the project started on site in February-March 2012.
Explore more about Penicuik Trust projects at the weekly Open House in Penicuik Town Hall where you’ll find on-the-spot exhibitions, on-the-spot hands-on crafts sessions for kids and adults, onsite visits and more… Or call in at our community shop Penycoe Press in Bridge Street Penicuik, Monday to Saturday 10am-4pm.
Penicuik Community Development Trust is a very active self-supporting voluntary community organization. It runs its own town centre retail and service businesses, a weekly cinema, a weekly open house and café, and is restoring the magnificent Lost Garden of Penicuik in a 50 year project. The Trust was awarded Social Enterprise of the Year in 2013.
The Trust is responsible for the Lost Garden of Penicuik (Penicuik’s Food Project supported by the Climate Challenge Fund), Penicuik Saturday Open House, Penicuik Cinema, the Bankmill Project (now dormant), Pen-y-coe Press a new Penicuik print and papermaking Museum next door, and Penicuik Vaults singers. Working groups have developed and launched freestanding proposals for a Penicuik Bakery and Storehouse (Penicuik Community Alliance Ltd) in existing town centre premises and are working on High Esk Hydro power generation using water engines alongside existing weirs. Launched at a public meeting in March 2005, The Trust is a charitable company limited by guarantee registered in Scotland with company number 380626 and OSCR charity number SCO37990. The Trust is governed by a team elected annually from the Penicuik community. The current Directors and Trustees are Roger Kelly (convener/chair), Roger Hipkin (secretary 20A John St. Penicuik EH26 8A), Jane MacKintosh (treasurer), and Dave Stokes, Mose Hutchison and Penny Wooding in a managing committee with John Scott (viceconvener), Cat Hill, Jane Kelly, Linda Sheridan, Lynda Smith, Lynn Niven, Marjorie Bisset, Paul Hayes, Peter Middleton, Sid Gardner, Simon Duffy, Ulla Hipkin. The Trust's last well-attended Annual General Meeting was on 6 June 2016. Paid-up Membership of over 200 is higher than ever; Patrons: author Ian Macdougall, actor Gerda Stevenson, Colonel Edward Cowan. Trust official website http://www.penicuiktrust.org.uk The Trust is a Member of Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS); has partnered students and staff Glasgow School of Art Architecture 3rd year in a major town centre improvement exercise, has worked with Greenspace Scotland’s PlaceMaking initiative, takes part every year in Doors Open Day, and works with support from Penicuik Community Council, Midlothian Council, Midlothian Voluntary Action, the Midlothian Growing Ideas Partnership (including Midlothian Garden Services, Mayfield & Easthouses Development Trust, and other garden and food projects in Midlothian associated with the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens and Trellis), from Health In Mind, Tiphereth Edinburgh, The Conservation Volunteers, New Caledonian Woodlands, Scottish Greenspace, and other therapeutic and educational partners. The Trust actively partners local business in Penicuik First Business Improvement District (BIDs) proposals for the town centre including the First Friday street market and Penicuik displays and booklets. The Trust’s Lost Garden works in partnership with Penicuik High, Cornbank, Cuiken, Sacred Heart and Strathesk Primaries in their joint Food for Thought growing project. Proposals were carried forward to float a new Penicuik Storehouse and Bakery; and to find ways to restore hydropower at the old weirs along the Esk. These projects have been envisaged as community enterprises backed by local share issue. The Trust was instrumental in initiating the MapaScotland restoration of the Great Polish Map of Scotland at Eddleston; and supported the papermaking tercentenary led by Penicuik Historical Society. The Trust acknowledges its host of dedicated local supporters, far-seeing help in its formative years from the late Fred Edwards, Barry Corlson, and Brennan Soane, its many International Helpers young and old over the years through the HelpX programme, and volunteer CO2 intern Abraham Sabido Marchena. It continues the work of long-standing local enterprise the Penycoe Press, and is inspired by a pioneering predecessor Penicuik Co-operative Association. It has personal and mutually supportive links with Penicuik Hunter & Lass Committee, Robert Smail’s Printing Works at Innerleithen, the Penicuik Community Sport & Leisure Foundation, Penicuik Community Arts Association, the Penicuik House Project, the Wojtek Memorial Trust, the Scottish Civic Trust, and the Saltire Society, with community groups and trusts in Aberfeldy, Broughty Ferry, Gorebridge and Moffat, with Penicuik’s twin town at L’Isle-sur-la Sorgue, Vaucluse, Provence, with Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec and with the Papeterie St-Armand in Montreal. The Trust can be contacted through the trustee-directors and at its main day-to-day business premises at Penycoe Press, 7 Bridge Street, Penicuik EH26 8LL telephone 01968 673767 Monday-Saturday 10am – 4pm. The Trust’s solicitors are Brodies LLP and its insurance brokers Keegan & Pennykid.
Dismantled remaining glasshouse for restoration and put it in a new purpose built store with help from CCF, Jonathan Gotelee our architect & engineer, and John Dennis & Co who consolidated the stone base after we’d removed some enormous tree stumps.
Having got growing well established in the terrace area, we’ve been tackling clearance of the lower tree-covered area and begun an impressive series of Hugel beds. Our own workdays and volunteer days from RBS staff have helped stack and preserve fallen bricks around the walled garden.
The story of the Lost Garden shows how by working with nature, using climate and landform and returning nutrients to the soil, big crops can be gathered year after year. And in the last three decades when the garden has lain fallow, wildlife has made the most of it, from mosses and lichens to fungi, insects, animals and birds. Our programme of restoration and organic methods will respect the natural beauty of the garden and the magnificent trees gathered from around the world in the days of Charles Buchanan and the Scottish Arboricultural Society. We’ll be giving practical demonstrations and explanatory walks to show the garden’s history and heritage, and to show how effective old ways like dead-hedging and hugelculture can add so much to the natural environment. In this we’ll be working with many partner organisations and reflecting Penicuik’s long-held place at the forefront of natural science research.
Dead hedges are the most primitive and ancient form of hedging. They are very effective windbreaks and superbly quick to make, but they are also important wildlife habitat for birds, hedgehogs and other visitors to our Lost Garden.
The www.lostgarden.co.uk dedicated website you see here was started in March 2012 by Roger Kelly, convener and co-founder of Penicuik Community Development Trust. Take my free walking tour of the Lost Garden on the first Sunday of the month at 2pm from the Penicuik House Estate carpark at Carlops Road