Glorious Gardens in East Lothian (GGEL) an update

Jan 8, 2024

When we gathered with volunteers after the summer, we began with an overview of the sixteen or so reports already completed and were encouraged to see how well they were developing. We discussed and noted the pros and cons of the toolkit, and some of the problems encountered. These ranged from uncooperative owners to marking the boundaries of the designed landscapes as they exist today. We decided to set up a WhatsApp group as a forum for seeking and sharing information.

Stephanie Leith, Heritage Officer for East Lothian Council, reminded volunteers to send her their site photographs and any relevant unpublished material, so that this could be added to the John Gray Research Archive. We don’t always realise that what we collect is worth sharing.

Fiona Gordon is co-ordinating the editing of the reports and has a small team of co-editors to help her. When completed, they are sent to Stephanie, who checks the archaeological material and finally Bea Dower adds the Statements of Significance.

After lunch Bea gave a presentation which summarised the frameworks for national, regional and local recognition of the values of designed landscapes, underlining the importance of the contribution of the volunteers in recording individual sites.

We finished the afternoon with two examples of successful detective work: Philip Smith shared six old but undated drawings of Letham House which, when compared with old maps, shone more light on the garden’s history. Marion Shawcross and Fiona Gordon discovered that a J.M.W. Turner sketch of ‘Seacliff’, dated 1818, could not have been of that house as it was not built until 1856. Instead, they postulate that it was, in fact, of Auldhame Castle.


Auldhame Castle 1 from J.M.W. Turner’s East Lothian sketch book 1818 Creative Commons

The format for our two subsequent meetings has been to have a discussion in the Star Room at the John Gray Centre Haddington in the morning and then to visit one of our sites in the afternoon. We have also been joined by three new volunteers. In October (and in pouring rain) Philip Smith led us around Newbyth estate showing us some of the original avenues and the early 19th century house which replaced an earlier neo-classical house, sometimes attributed to William Adam.

Roy’s map shows a formal canal in the grounds. Its present informal shape probably dates from the late 18th century

At our November meeting our topics related to specifically to the writing up of reports and after lunch we headed to Tyninghame where the author showed some of the relevant early maps and explained some of the early monastic history before setting out to see the evidence on the ground.

The neo-classical stable block, now a private house

The dates for 2024:

Volunteers’ meetings are all Thursday mornings, from 10.00 – 13.00 and all are in the Star Room at the John Gray Centre, Haddington, on:

8th February

28th March

30th May

25th July

26th September

28th November