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Issue 82 - St Mary's Pleasance, Haddington

Scotland Magazine Issue 82
August 2015


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St Mary's Pleasance, Haddington

A garden of contemplation

It was after it was by-passed in favour of Dunbar by the east coast railway line in 1846 that the East Lothian county town of Haddington, profitably located on the Great North Road between the capitals of London and Edinburgh, fell into a time warp. Once ranked fourth among the major towns of Scotland this oversight has perhaps proved a blessing as Haddington's centre remains unspoiled to this day. Fine period buildings in Market Street and Court Street, notably the Corn Exchange and Town House, remained indifferent to the period vandalism inflicted during the 1950s. And not least among the architectural treasures to survive are Haddington House, and its neighbour, St Mary's Parish Church, where, in a long ago century, the Protestant reformer John Knox served his apprenticeship.

Haddington House was built in 1648 for Alexander Maitland, Chancellor and factor to his kinsman the Duke of Lauderdale who lived on the nearby Lethington (now re-named Lennoxlove) estate. Remaining with the Maitland family until the early 19th Century, it was purchased by James Wilkie, the town's first Bank of Scotland agent and inherited by his daughters. Whether it was Maitland, his wife Katherine, or the two unmarried Wilkie sisters who began the garden on the slopes of the River Tyne, is not known. However, the leafy, sheltered 1.59 acres have long provided a haven of tranquillity for the townsfolk.

And no doubt that was why, with the sale of Haddington House in 1972, the 14th Duke of Hamilton, by then owner of Lennoxlove, purchased the ground, re-named it St Mary's Pleasance, and gifted it to the newly formed Haddington Garden Trust ‘for the enjoyment of the public, and to encourage the study of old Scottish gardens and gardening methods’.

With the Duke sadly dying the following year, the Duchess Elizabeth continued his work, employing the distinguished Scottish architect Schomberg Scott and Sir George Taylor, former Director of the Royal Gardens at Kew, to create a walled heritage garden. All of the plants were chosen to reflect a 17th Century Scottish garden with mount, sunken garden, a pleached allée of laburnum, boxed hornbeam walk, cottage garden, orchard and meadow, period rose border and raised herb beds.

With funding an ongoing challenge, the Trust has been fortunate in attracting support from East Lothian Council Community Partnerships, and the Big Lottery Fund. The Cottage Garden was restored with a grant from Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust and the Lothian Players Garden with a grant from Haddington Community Council.

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