Just a decade ago, one of the most famous stately homes in the Borders faced an uncertain future following the death of novelist Walter Scott’s last direct descendant.
But now, the financial fortunes of Abbotsford House, where Scott penned many of his best-known works, appear to have been transformed with the completion of a £12m regeneration project – and the opening, in September last year, of the Borders Railway.
The latest set of accounts for the Abbotsford Trust, tasked with looking after Abbotsford since the death of Jean Maxwell Scott, shows that, for the second successive year, 40,000 individuals paid to go round the house and garden in 2015 – almost double the numbers before the ambitious renewal scheme began.
And according to the trustees, an estimated additional 30,000 visited the free exhibition and wider estate.
The annual report, signed off last week, states: “This was helped considerably by the opening of the Borders Railway and associated national publicity by VisitScotland, Scotrail and Scottish Borders Council.”
In 2014, the trust reported a large overall surplus of £791,000, and that impressive financial performance was repeated in 2015 with a recorded surplus of £784,000.
Trust subsidiary the Abbotsford Trading Company, which operates the gift shop, lettings, weddings and corporate events, also achieved a profit of £16,873, “thereby continuing the trend of improvement, and beginning to show some positive return on the trustees’ investments”.
In a section of the report looking to the future, the trust writes: “The trustees seek to improve and adjust the visitor experience, notably in the garden and grounds, which could not be achieved in the main capital project, as well as seeking to maximise the opportunities from the reopening of the Borders Railway.
“The trustees believe there is now a firm foundation of visitor numbers to build on.”
Many of the visitors who flock to Abbotsford come to view the outstanding collection of heritage assets housed there.
These include statues, paintings and valuable historical artefacts collected by Scott during his lifetime.
The 2015 report reveals there was an important addition to the collection last year.
This was a harp which originally belonged to Scott’s daughter Anne and was purchased following a donation received for the purpose.
Anne Scott (1803-1833) took charge of the Abbotsford household after her elder sister married. Anne, reportedly afflicted by a weak constitution, cared for her mother Charlotte who died in 1826, and is said to have been profoundly affected by her father’s passing in 1832.
The accounts put the market value of Abbotsford and its environs at £3.845m.
But, the report acknowledges: “Due to the historical connection, it is likely the property could realise significantly more than this if it were to be sold on the open market”.