Marchmont House is lovingly restored to its former glory

Marchmont House
Marchmont House

Accolades keep on coming to the Burge family for the sensitive manner in which they have restored the Grade A listed Marchmont House, at Greenlaw, back to its former glory.

A commendation in the 2017 Historic Houses Association/Sotheby’s Restorations Awards for Marchmont follows its special award for conservation and design in the 2016 Scottish Borders Design Awards.

Marchmont House's entrance hall.

Marchmont House's entrance hall.

The Restoration Awards recognise and celebrate the work undertaken by members of the Historic Houses Association throughout the United Kingdom. The projects chosen reflect the dedication of owners to the care and sympathetic restoration of the incredible buildings they own.

The 18th century Marchmont House at Greenlaw, was commended for the restoration of the Georgian state rooms, old kitchen, meeting rooms, apartments and estate offices, which was completed earlier this year.

In restoring and finding new uses for one of Scotland’s most important but least known country houses, the aim was to involve local firms and individual craftsmen as far as practicable, and over 85% came from south-east Scotland.

Overall project management was done by Hugh Garratt from the firm of Smith and Garratt, chartered surveyors based in Ladykirk, who identified a majority of the principal craftsmen from within quite a small radius - stonemason Stuart Whitton, wood restorer Graeme Watson, main joiners G. and J. Waddell, finishing joiner Ken Archibald, all from Greenlaw; decorator Billy Cowe and plumber Paul Lyons, both from Duns; Ali Young from Coldstream and John Grandison from Peebles, dealing with the plasterwork and decorative plasterwork respectively; and Charles Taylor from Dalkeith was lead joiner and cabinetmaker.

Marchmon't grand drawing room.

Marchmon't grand drawing room.

The restoration was completed in early 2017.

Work on building the house began in 1750 for the third and last Earl of Marchmont. a late design by architect James Gibbs. In 1912 it was acquired by a wealthy lawyer, Robert Finnie McEwen and remodelled by Sir Robert Lorimer, the leading Scottish architect of the day.

The two principal interiors from the Georgian phase are the saloon and drawing room, both with magnificent ceilings by the leading mid-18th century Scottish plasterer Thomas Clayton.

Lorimer’s alterations bequeathed a number of impressive interiors, especially the vast oak-panelled music room, dominated by an imposing organ.

The dining room at Marchmont.

The dining room at Marchmont.

McEwen’s younger son was created a baronet but a succession of death duties in the period after World War II led to the widow of the third baronet selling the house to the Sue Ryder Foundation in 1987 for use as a care home.

The charity took good care of the building, but its size and isolated location, not to mention the costs of upkeep, meant that this could never be a long-term solution.

Meanwhile in 1988 Oliver Burge, managing director of Marchmont Farms, had purchased 3,000 acres of the estate (a further 2,500 acres followed separately in 2007), and in 2006, when the Sue Ryder Foundation moved out, Mr Burge and his son Hugo, a fellow director, decided to take it on.

The house was acquired in basically sound structural condition, but institutional use had inevitably degraded the condition of the interiors.

Marchmont House's beautifully restore saloon.

Marchmont House's beautifully restore saloon.

The Burge family decided that the best way forward was to divide the building into functionally separate units without compromising its architectural integrity.

These would comprise the Georgian state rooms on the piano nobile, including large and small dining rooms; meeting rooms for conferences, including the music room and a film room; one main apartment that could be rented separately; self-contained flats for a housekeeper and caretaker; various estate offices; and, on the top floor, an eight-bedroom apartment that could be let to shooting parties and others.

In the south pavilion (which originally contained the kitchens) the old kitchen has been restored as a gallery - a key room in the complex, offering lower-key dining facilities for guests and tour groups, as well as housing a collection of arts and crafts furniture and art.

The owners worked closely with Historic Scotland who appreciated the need to find a long-term realistic solution for the house.

Planning permission for the proposed work was granted in 2007 but the financial crash took its toll and after a prolonged period of little progress, work began again in earnest in 2012. During those five years the owners took the opportunity to refine their ideas and focus on acquiring the furniture and works of art that they felt the quality of the interiors demanded to augment their own inherited collection.

This has resulted in the principal interiors being filled with furniture, paintings and objets d’art that are appropriate to the different periods of the rooms and are, in many cases, of museum quality.

Special award for conservation and design: Marchmont House, Polwarth.

Scottish Borders Council, design awards

Special award for conservation and design: Marchmont House, Polwarth. Scottish Borders Council, design awards

In some cases it has been possible to re-acquire items that were originally at Marchmont.

In addition the entire Lorimer attic floor now houses a collection of arts and crafts furniture knowledgeably assembled by Hugo Burge, with outstanding pieces by Ernest Gimson, Sidney Barnsley, Gordon Russell and Lorimer himself.

Works by sculptors as diverse as Hepworth, Moore, Chadwick, Paolozzi, and William Turnbull are displayed throughout the house and its immediate surroundings.