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A Repton celebration

This year is the bicentenary of the death of Humphry Repton, the acclaimed landscape designer of the late 18th and early 19th century, whose only commission in Scotland was to improve the Valleyfield Estate, seat of the Preston family until 1907 when it was sold to the Fife Coal Company.

To celebrate his work at Valleyfield along with his impact on landscape design across England, Scotland’s Garden and Landscape Heritage Group recently held a study day at Broomhall House, Charleston.

The day started with a virtual tour of Broomhall House by Lord Bruce, who not only put the house into historical context but also touched upon the exploits of the Elgins in the Middle East. This included a reference to the famous Elgin Marbles, replicas of which line the walls at Broomhall.

His introduction to Broomhall was followed by an illustrated talk by Patrick Eyres, an authority on Repton’s nine commissions across Yorkshire, Wentworth House being perhaps the best known example.

The morning finished with a talk on the Valleyfield Red Book by Christopher Dingwall (Repton is famous for having conveyed his proposals for an estate in a red leather-bound book, beautifully illustrated with before and after watercolours).

Christopher is recognised as an authority on the designed landscape at Valleyfield, having formerly been Conservation Officer for the Garden History Society in Scotland and more recently lecturing for the National Trust for Scotland’s School of Heritage Gardening, in this role using Valleyfield for fieldwork with his students.

With Valleyfield only a short drive away from Broomhall, the day concluded with a guided walk around Valleyfield with Christopher assisted by John Le Marie, who for a number of years has researched the Prestons of Valleyfield.

A highlight of the day was the chance to view Alexander Nasmyth’s three oil paintings of Valleyfield which are hung at Broomhall. The attention of attendees was drawn to his view from the NE which clearly shows the house and the nearby court of offices, with a 3-stage doo’cot in its centre. Then during the walk they were able to view the hexagonal outline of foundation stones for the former doo’cot, unfortunately mistakenly identified during a recent archaeological excavation as the site of a fountain. It is clear in fact from a sketch by Rev. John Sime that the stones were in fact the first stage of the doo’cot, albeit enclosing a water feature of some kind.

After an enjoyable day, the thoughts of the study day attendees was on the mixed fortunes of the two estates, the Valleyfield mansion house having been demolished in 1944 and the former designed landscape now in a ruinous condition while Broomhall lives on, having become a successful functions venue.

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