THE public this week had their first glimpse of the purpose-built visitor centre that forms part of the near £15million transformation of Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford home.
The £4million architect-designed centre – which opened on Monday, is a short distance from the main house and free to enter – is part of a master plan developed by the Abbotsford Trust to create a world-class visitor attraction and centre of learning about Scott and his works. The centrepiece of the building is an exhibition about the world’s first best-selling author from his birth in Edinburgh in 1771, his family life, education and his successful literary career to his ruin during the financial crash of 1825-6 and his cultural legacy to Scotland and the world.
Books of ballads, poems, myths and legends from Scott’s library are displayed with paintings, engravings, letters, manuscripts and information panels telling about the man and the influences that led him to dominate world fiction and fuel a worldwide vogue for all things Scottish.
Many objects are on display for the first time and include the design books and accounts for the construction of Scott’s beloved Abbotsford home and visitors’ books containing the signatures of notable figures including Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte and Oscar Wilde who came to Abbotsford after Scott’s death.
Other items on show include the egg-timer Scott used to set the pace of his writing and increase production as he attempted to write himself out of a £126,000 debt – the equivalent of £10million today – after his publisher and printmaker collapsed in 1826. The visitor centre also includes an installation by Scottish artist Claire Barclay commissioned by the trust as part of its efforts to illustrate Scott’s story in a relevant and engaging way.
There is a shop and a dining space, named Ochiltree’s after a character in Scott’s novel, The Antiquary. It overlooks the main house, which is being refurbished and will reopen next year.
Trust chief executive Jason Dyer said that while Scott may have been the world’s first literary superstar in the 19th century, by the 20th century his reputation had waned and his books were rarely read.
“The new visitor centre is the first step in an effort to change that and remind people that Sir Walter Scott is a towering figure in literary and cultural terms at home and abroad,” said Mr Dyer.
Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “This is a major milestone in the transformation of Abbotsford into a significant tourist destination bringing visitors and income to the Scottish economy, while celebrating the life of a great national hero.”
More than £12million has been raised as part of the trust’s campaign to save Abbotsford. Major funders include the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Scottish Government and Historic Scotland, Scottish Borders Council and Scottish Enterprise, as well as private individuals and charitable trusts.
Fundraising continues, with £2.5million still needed to guarantee Abbotsford’s future.
The new building is conceived as a modern version of a gate lodge to Abbotsford, welcoming visitors and guarding the entrance to Sir Walter Scott’s intimate world.
The two-storey building’s lightweight glazed and timber construction contrasts with the highly decorated style of the main house and is in harmony with its woodland setting.
The building’s simple rectangular shape was designed to let in as much natural light as possible to reduce the need for artificial lighting; it also allows large parts of the premises to be naturally ventilated. The building is super-insulated and provides a high level of air-tightness. Other environmental features include; mechanical ventilation heat recovery, rainwater-harvesting, under-floor heating and a ground source heat pump that fulfils a significant proportion of the building’s heating and hot water needs.
The car park and the landscape were designed to retain as many trees as possible and to enhance the site’s biodiversity through the re-planting of native species and the use of a sedum roof.