Marchmont House (from a Post Card postmarked 1911)

 

William Adam

Polwarth Church.

Wartime class photograph John Watson's School Marchmont

The present Marchmont House was built by the third Earl of Marchmont in 1750. The second Earl had originally commissioned the renowned Scottish Architect William Adam to draw up plans but the costs had proved excessive and the second Earl died before any work had commenced. It is now believed that the building was designed not by Adam but by Thomas Gibson but whether or not the house very much reflects Adam's influence. Of particular interest in the house is the decorative plasterwork by Thomas Clayton particularly perhaps the saloon which is decorated with family heraldry and military trophies while above are monograms of the 3rd Earl and his wife.

Prior to the commissioning of the present grand house the family and their predecessors had lived in nearby Redbrae Castle, now ruinous.

The earliest recorded family residing at Redbrae were simply styled as 'of Polwarth' passing into the hands of the St. Clairs through marriage around the end of the 14th. century. In the early years of the following century the estate fell into the hands of two very marriable heiresses. Their uncle not wishing to see the estate pass out of the family imprisoned them in his own castle Nonetheless their hands were sought by David Hume of Wedderburn and his brother with whom they were obviously previously acquainted and on whom they would seem to have looked favourably. The two Hume brothers arrived with a band of followers and forceably released the two heiresses returning with them to Redbraes where they were married. Nearly one hundred years later the Humes were to acquire the estates of Blackadder through forced marriage to the heiress.

The Marchmont Humes were strongly of the reformed faith and in 1675 the second baronet, Sir Patrick found himself imprisoned in the Tollbooth in Edinburgh for his activities in opposing the vicious suppression of the Covenanters by the Duke of Lauderdale. In 1683 he was suspected of involvement in the Rye House Conspiracy an alleged plot by leading Whigs to prevent the succession to the throne of the future James 11 who had openly converted to Catholicism. His life being very much in danger Sir Patrick put out that he had gone on a long journey whereas in reality he has immured in the crypt in the nearby Polwarth Church, a situation known only to his wife, his daughter Grizel and his servant, one Jamie Winter.

In this vault he languished for several weeks, food being smuggled to him at great danger to herself and the family by his daughter Grizel before he managed to make an escape to London, Paris and then to Holland.

In 1688 at the time of the Glorious Revolution he returned with William of Orange. William obviously had a high regard for Sir Patrick, not only immediately restoring him to his estates which had been forfeit but in 1697 appointing him Lord High Chancellor and Earl of Marchmont. He also showed his gratitude by allowing him to display an orange bearing the imperial crown on his coat of arms. The coat of arms can still be seen on the eastern gable of Polwarth Church.

Sir Patrick took a leading role in bringing about the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, dying in 1724 at the age of 83. He was succeeded by his third son Alexander who in turn was succeeded by his son Hugh, the third (and last) Earl of Marchmont. It was Hugh who built the present Marchmont House.

Sir Hugh was very much involved in politics being the member of Parliament for Berwick and was one of the opposition leaders in the House of Commons to Sir Robert Walpole. He was also a close friend of the poet Pope and was spoken highly of by Dr. Samuel Johnson. Sir Hugh was twice married and by each marriage produced one son. His son by his first marriage predeceased him and there was a bitter family quarrel involving his son by his second marriage so much so that Sir Hugh disinherited him and named as his heir his sister Lady Anne who had married Sir William Purves of Purves Hall who later assumed the name of Hume-Campbell.

Further alterations were carried out by the architect William Burn, the pioneer of the Scottish baronial style of architecture between1834 and1842. In 1913 the property was sold to Robert Finnie McEwen who instructed further changes to the design of Robert Lorimer who among other alterations added a top floor and converted the stable wing to a double storey music room.

During the Second World War the house was requisitioned for use by John Watson's School, Edinburgh. The pupils may have recognised some of the architectural features as their school in Edinburgh was one of the works of the above architect William Burn. In the 1980s the house was sold to the Sue Ryder Foundation for use as a nursing home.

The Property was closed as a Nursing Home in 2008 and has been acquired by the owners of Marchmont Estates.