Abbotsford restoration turns into a voyage of discovery for builders

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ORNATE floors, an ancient well and part of Abbotsford’s private gas works are among the architectural treasures that have been unearthed at Sir Walter Scott’s home as it undergoes a major transformation.

Kelso building company M&J Ballantyne is carrying out the conservation and refurbishment of the historic property where Scott wrote many of his best-selling works.

As the work develops, the firm will call on the expertise of more than 40 of its staff to restore the home’s famous rooms, develop new offices and an education suite and convert the Hope Scott wing of the house into five-star visitor accommodation.

The decorative floors discovered under carpets outside Scott’s former study are painted in a marble effect and are thought to be part of the original decorative scheme commissioned by Scott from David Ramsay Hay, who later decorated Holyrood Palace for Queen Victoria.

Tradesmen have also uncovered part of the private gas works at Abbotsford. The house was one of the first in Scotland to have gas lighting, although the fumes from the works are thought to have contributed to Scott’s poor health in later years.

M&J Ballantyne has also discovered a well inside the house which appears to come from the period before Scott purchased the estate at Abbotsford in 1811, when the site was occupied by Clarteyhole Farm.

Abbotsford curator Matthew Withey said: “We always hoped that the restoration work at Abbotsford would yield some fascinating finds and we have not been disappointed.

“They offer a wonderful insight into the history of the property and help tell us much about the way Scott lived and his love of craftsmanship and innovation. We’re greatly looking forward to seeing what other secrets will be uncovered as the project progresses.”

Grant Davidson, of M&J Ballantyne, added: “We have a great deal of expertise gleaned from our work on numerous historic properties such as Floors Castle and the Ednam House Hotel in Kelso, and are pleased we can use our experience to help develop one of the most significant restoration and conservation projects the Borders and Scotland has seen in recent years.”

The main house at Abbotsford is closed to the public but will reopen in 2013. A new visitor centre is under construction and is scheduled to open this summer.

The Abbotsford Trust, which has so far raised 75 per cent of the £14.5million required to safeguard the long-term future of the house and the estate, is now seeking to raise the remaining £3.7million.

Donations can be made via the Abbotsford website or by contacting the trust on 01896 752043.