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Issue 15 - Hopetoun House - A special house of hope and glory

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 15
July 2004


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Hopetoun House - A special house of hope and glory

Charles Douglas visits the oft-ignored Hopetoun House, just north of Edinburgh

As the most spectacular William Adam mansion in Scotland, Hopetoun House has set the pace for Scottish stately homes since it first opened to the public more than 45 years ago.

Located near Edinburgh, at South Queensferry, within view of the great rail and road bridges of the Firth of Forth, this magnificent building is not, however, as obviously accessible as might be imagined since it lies within splendid grounds to the west of the Forth Road Bridge. Often as not it is overlooked as traffic speeds north from Edinburgh towards the Scottish Highlands.

The Hope family descend from John de Hope who first appeared in Scotland in the 16th century when Magdalen de Valois arrived from France to marry King James V.

An enterprising man, he set himself up as a merchant in Edinburgh and soon prospered to the extent that his son was financially independent enough to become a member of the first Protestant General Assembly in 1560.

Thereafter his grandson, Sir Thomas, was appointed Lord Advocate of Scotland under Charles I, and things really took off when Sir Thomas’s son, Sir James, Master of the Mint and a Lord of Session, married an heiress, Anne de Foulis, who inherited the profitable lead mines of Leadhill in Lanarkshire.

It was the extension of these mining interests which brought the family to West Lothian. In 1678, John Hope, son of Sir James, bought the lands of Abercorn upon which his son, Charles, began to build the great house which exists today.

John Hope is believed to have saved the life of the Duke of York in a shipwreck in which he himself died, and this is the reason given for Charles being created 1st Earl of Hopetoun at the early age of 22.

He married the sister of the 2nd Marquess of Annandale, who inherited the great collection of paintings, books and objets d’art which still feature in the house. The 4th Earl was a distinguished soldier responsible for the British embarkation of Corunna in 1809, and who later fought in the Peninsular War. It was he who entertained George IV at Hopetoun during the monarch’s visit to Scotland in 1822.

It was, however, the 7th Earl who was created 1st Marquess of Linlithgow, having first served as Governor of Victoria, then as the first Governor
General of the Commonwealth of Australia. The 2nd Marquess, who died in 1952, had an equally distinguished career first as as Viceroy, then Governor General of India between 1936 and 1943.

It was that great Scottish architect Sir William Bruce who was commissioned in 1699 to work on the house, with enlargements made after 1721 by William Adam whose two sons, Robert and John, were charged with decorating the interior.

Today visitors often gasp aloud as they approach up the front drive and see the stately mansion silhouetted against the skyline with its two wings outstretched like welcoming arms.

They climb up the imposing steps at the front into the entrance hall with its fine decorations and portraits of the 1st and 2nd Marquesses.

White marble reliefs set into the wall are from the collection brought from Italy in 1720 by the 2nd Marquess of Annandale. There are two libraries off the stairway hall housing a fine collection of books. Over the fireplace in the Large Library is a charming portrait by David Allan
of Jemima and Lucy Hope, the two youngest daughters of the 3rd Earl.

The Garden Room was the entrance from the gardens of the original Bruce house, and the early 18th century stone porch, supported on each side by twin columns, still exists.

The room has the original wood panelling with pilasters, and the furniture dates from the mid-18th century. Over the fireplace is a portrait of the 4th Earl in the uniform of the Royal Company of Archers, and around the walls are silver sconces bearing the family arms.

The Bruce Bedchamber was created for the 1st Earl, and the formal floral and leaf paintings on the walls are by James Norrie. The gilt four-poster bed with its red silk damask hangings was designed by Mathias Lock in London and supplied for the Grand State Bedroom in 1768.

The staircase with its pine-panelled walls leads to the West Wainscot Rooms and remain just as Bruce designed them.

Back on the main floor is the magnificent Yellow Drawing Room furnished by the cabinet-maker and upholsterer James Cullen, a contemporary of Thomas Chippendale. The walls were are covered in yellow silk brocade made around 1850. The next room in this series of state apartments is the Red Drawing Room with its elaborate Robert Adam ceiling. Paintings include the 3rd Earl with his brother and their tutor painted in Rome by Nathaniel Defoe.

The State Dining Room, which occupied the north side of the house, was converted in about 1820 from the State Bedroom.

The contents and decoration of this room are therefore largely early 19th century and it is interesting to note the wonderful needlepoint restoration on the dining room chairs undertaken by voluntary conservators of the Hopetoun Preservation Trust.

One of Hopetoun House’s most impressive features is the South Pavilion, which serves as the Great Ballroom, with the adjoining Dining
Room, now used as a restaurant. Here there are fine 17th century French Aubusson tapestries depicting scenes from Virgil’s Aeneid.

At the end of your visit to the House, if weather permits, a visit to the roof platform will reward you with breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, the Forth Road Bridges, and across the Firth of Forth to the hills of Fife.

Then there are 150 acres of parkland to explore with expansive lawns, a walled garden, and a choice of walks – the Sea Walk overlooking the
deer park, the Spring Walk with its ever-changing carpet of seasonal flowers, and Hope’s Walk with its breathtaking displays of rhododendrons, and views of Abercorn Church.