Sunday, 9 October 2016

Future of Scott's Abbotsford now seems secure


Only a decade ago one of the best known stately homes in the Scottish Borders faced an uncertain future following the death of novelist Sir Walter Scott's last direct descendant.

But now the fortunes of Abbotsford House where Scott penned many of his best known works appear to have been completely transformed following a £12 million regeneration project funded by national agencies, and the reopening of the Borders Railway which is already bringing hundreds of extra paying customers to the imposing house on the banks of the Tweed.

The latest set of accounts for The Abbotsford Trust, tasked with looking after Abbotsford since the death of Dame Jean Maxwell Scott shows that for the second year running 40,000 individuals paid to go round the house and garden in 2015, almost double the numbers in some of the years 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 says: "This was helped considerably by the opening of the Borders Railway on September 9th 2015 and associated national publicity by VisitScotland, Scotrail and Scottish Borders Council".

In 2014 the Trust reported a large overall surplus of £791,000. The impressive financial performance was repeated in 2015 with a recorded surplus of £784,000.

The Trust's subsidiary The Abbotsford Trading Company, which operates the Abbotsford 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 headed Future Plans, 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 from around the world 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 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 £3.845 million. 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".

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