Stately Homes and Castles - Scotland, Borders and East Lothian

Manderston House, Berwickshire

One of the last great stately homes to be built in Scotland with no expense spared

This is a splendid Edwardian House built between 1903-5 for Sir James Miller, a nouveau-riche baronet who married into the English aristocracy.  Sir James was the perfect Edwardian gentleman; a great sportsman, an excellent shot, a horse racing enthusiast and a soldier. He wanted a house to reflect his new status in society and instructed the up and coming Scottish architect John Kinross to spare no expense in creating a home of glittering style. It had to be large enough for the army of servants necessary for Edwardian comfort and grand enough for entertaining. His wife had grown up at Keddlestone Hall in Derbyshire and some of the rooms mirror those at Keddlestone. Money was no object from the silver staircase to the gilded gates into the gardens.

Sir James inherited a square mansion built at the end of the C18th. Work began on a Georgian style stable block, gamekeeper’s cottage, kennels and home farm. The house followed. A new north front was built with a portico and a new wing provided accommodation for guests. The gardens were redesigned. 

Unfortunately Sir James died three months after the house was completed. As he had no children, the estate passed to his brother and then his sister, who was the great grandmother of the present owner, Lord Palmer.

No photography is allowed in the house. There is little information in the house about the rooms and their contents, although there is a lot of detail on the web site. There are few room stewards around to answer questions.

The front of the house is very plain, almost austere. The back of the house overlooking the gardens is much more attractive with its bowed front.


The drive leads up to the elegant ionic portico with a carved frieze running along the top. At the base of the pillars are gun metal lions' heads with rings to tie up horses.


Two of these were actually bell pulls which could be worked by hand or the horseman’s boot. A flight of steps runs up to the front door with a coat of arms with the family motto.

The ENTRANCE HALL is a splendid room with a large cupola adding light. The marvellous plaster work is painted pale green and white with a slate grey, beige and white marble floor. There are fluted pillars and a classical mantle over the fire place. Archways with black marble pillars lead off.

The DINING ROOM leads off the right front of the entrance hall. This was the last room to be finished and has an elaborate Adam’s style plaster ceiling. In the centre is Mars with dancing muses and vase patterns in the lozenges that radiate from him. The round tables and chairs look lost in the huge bay window. In the centre of the room is a huge oval mahogany table with a silver planter and jugs.  Around it are reproduction Chippendale chairs.   In an alcove is a serving table with gilt legs carved with lion’s heads. On this and on top of the marble fireplace is a display of Blue John. On a semi-circular wall table is a display of glass crystal. The pictures aren’t family ancestors but were bought to give that impression. 

To the left of the entrance hall is the BILLIARD ROOM. This was originally intended to be the library and was the first to be decorated. It has luxurious crimson silk damask curtains and wall coverings. There are gold leaf filigree borders  round the walls.  The solid mahogany doors set beneath a decorative plaster lintel, have panels with a carved rim and decorative metal door handles. In the centre of the room is the billiard table. There is a large bookcase on two walls with busts of American presidents above (copied from Kedlestone).

Double doors lead from the billiard room into the BALLROOM, a splendid room with gold silk damask with a raised velvet pattern on the walls. The gold silk curtains gleam as they have a pure gold thread woven through them. There are gold pelmets above the windows and a gold leaf filigree frieze round the walls. The plaster ceiling has painted panels with classical scenes. Round the walls are red or tapestry upholstered chairs with gold arms. The white marble fireplace has pillars inlaid with different coloured marbles. With two crystal chandeliers the room must have glowed.  Unfortunately Sir James only gave one ball here before his death.

Doors lead from the ballroom into the DRAWING ROOM, which is one of three rooms to have survived from the original house, although it was redecorated to match the splendour of the newer rooms. A large mirror on the opposite wall makes the room feel bigger than it is. It has a turquoise, pale green, blue and pink plaster ceiling and gold pelmets above the windows. It is lined with white or gold chairs with tapestry upholstery worked by the ladies of the family. There are large glass fronted display cases with china. Two wall cupboards have a brass design on the doors of small children playing musical instruments.

The MORNING ROOM is a delightful room at the back of the house overlooking the gardens with a doorway from the entrance hall and also from the side rooms and their corridors. It is a circular room and another survival from the old house. The ceiling and chimney pieces are probably the originals and less elaborate than those in the rest of the house. The walls are painted deep plum and have a gold leaf filigree border round the edge and a green frieze round the tops. There are beautifully carved alcoves above the doors with radiating ribs forming a shell pattern. There are white marble topped tables with gilt legs which have large flower decorations on them. There are family photos on the other tables.

This leads into the TEA ROOM, inspired by the C18th fashion for ’chinoiserie’ and is furnished with Chinese style furniture. The walls are covered with gold silk damask. A round centre table is surrounded by Chinese Chippendale chairs with black and gold upholstered seats. Chinese style inlaid display cupboards contain china or figurines. A dark wood and gilt chest with drawers on gilt legs is inlaid with designs of figures, trees, bridges, birds … even the Grandfather clock is decorated with a pattern of Chinese scenes with pagodas, figures and trees.

A doorway leads out into a corridor with the famous SILVER STAIRCASE with its silver plated banisters and stair rod holders. Before the First World War, it took three men three weeks to dismantle, polish and reassemble the staircase. Now it is cleaned by volunteers three times a year. The beige marble staircase is a copy of Madame de Pompadour’s staircase at the Petit Trianon, Versailles. In winter it is carpeted.  There are big panels on the walls with a carved border, painted a deep creamy beige to match the colour of the marble. A cupola set in the ceiling provides extra light.

The panelling continues along the wide CORRIDOR on the first floor which has another cupola. At the end of the corridor by the stairs are fluted pillars and a plaster frieze. A door leads to the bachelor’s wing as single men guests were kept segregated by Edwardian society rules. There are big display cabinets along the walls with blue and white china and figurines.

At the far end of the corridor, a round archway leads to two large bathrooms. The corridor turns a right angle and on the window ledges are blue and white jugs and wash bowls.

The first bedroom to be visited is the NORTH BEDROOM which has turquoise walls and a plain white ceiling. The bed has a gold and silk damask head and foot board with a gold rim. There is similar upholstery on the chairs. The bed cover and curtains are crimson damask.  The fireplace is set in a marble surround with Wedgewood china and crystal chandeliers on the mantle piece. There are bell pulls on either side marked either ‘up’ or ‘down’. ‘Up’ called a maid from the top floor, where all the female staff lived; ‘down’, a manservant from the basement.

The adjacent NORTH DRESSING ROOM has a collection of samplers dating from the mid C18th bought as a collection when the house was being furnished. This is now another bedroom with gold and beige upholstery. There is a rich cream lace and embroidery bed cover and large embroidered floor standing screens. 

At the far end of the corridor is the PORTICO BEDROOM, a huge room with yellow and white panelled walls with a frieze around the top. Curtains are green with a pattern of pink flowers and butterflies.  The big bed with gold wood has a carved wyvern and flowers on the head and foot board. This has picture tapestry upholstery as do the chairs scattered round the room. Furniture includes a large glass fronted wardrobe built especially for the room to reflect light. Apparently it is very unflattering to the figure.

Stairs and a lift lead to the SERVANTS' QUARTERS. The lift was installed in 1960. Before that everything from coals to hot water had to be carried. On the walls are military prints and two large oil paintings of wild white cattle.  

The BASEMENT is almost unchanged and lined with white tiles which were easy to keep clean and helped reflect the light. Along the walls are huge great pipes and water hoses. Built in cupboards have displays of china, crystal and coronation mugs. High on the wall is a long line of bells, 56 in total, each with a different tone. The housekeeper could tell them all apart.

The HOUSEKEEPER’S ROOM is a large and very comfortable room representing the status of the housekeeper. In 1905, she had a staff of three laundry maids, six housemaids, three scullery maids and one cook. There is a big table covered with a green chenille cloth with tassels. The walls are painted deep plum and splendid floor-to-ceiling cabinets housed the best porcelain and china. There is a small desk, piano and big settee. By the fireplace are two easy chairs and a coal scuttle with an inlaid pattern of poppies and humming birds. She also had a radio, treadle sewing machine and a big screen helped stop draughts.

The SERVANTS’ HALL is a big room where all the indoor staff ate. Now it is a display room decorated in primrose and white, the racing colours of Sir James. There are racing pictures on the walls and a collection of horse brasses. Oil paintings include successful racehorses owned by him. Bookcases line one wall and contain 20 volumes of the General Stud Book and every copy of the Racing Calendar from 1773-1989 (the most recent one to be published). In a small room off is a big collection of Huntley and Palmer biscuit tins from the late C19th to the late 1930s. (Lord Palmer of Huntley and Palmers is the current owner of Manderston.)

The BUTLER’S ROOM is painted green and is a small plain room with a small brass bed and a chamber pot in the bedside cupboard. There are two wardrobes, dressing table, wash stand and an easy chair in front of the fire.

The STAFF LAVATORIES are very grand with flush toilets, huge marble top sinks, white tiles with green paint above.

The KITCHEN has a large open fire on one wall with a log box. In the centre is a huge central oven and hob with massive hot plates and a selection of copper saucepans. There is a large scrubbed wood table with drawers containing smaller items of kitchenware. Wall shelves have copper jelly moulds and food covers, as well as earthenware storage jars.

Next to it is the SCULLERY with coal fired oven and hot plate. There is a selection of lead lined and earthenware sinks and a large wooden draining rack on the wall. There is another scrubbed wood working table, a wall unit with jam jars and storage tins. On the floor are aluminium and wooden storage bins. There is a series of PANTRIES with marble shelves used for pastries, cooked meat and cheese, raw meat, a preparation room for shell fish which had a marble work surface with drainage holes. The game room had racks to hang birds shot on the estate and a wooden table to prepare them.

Stairs lead back to the shop at the end of the visit.

Manderston is surrounded by 56 acres of formal and informal gardens. In front of the house is a large lawn covered with daffodils in the spring and surrounded by trees. The back of the house faces south and overlooks the terraced gardens reached through a metal gate at the side of the house. These are very pleasant with trimmed box hedges around rose beds with yews and hosta and  a small pond with a fountain. Grassland drops down to the lake with its Chinese bridge and surrounded by woodland and a bank of Rhododendron ponticum. 


The car park is by the stable block still in use with stalls with the horses name above them. The tea rooms are here.

Manderston is described as one of the great stately homes of the Borders. The rather plain exterior hides a sumptuous interior with gold and scarlet wall coverings and furnishings as well as the glorious silver staircase. It is well worth visiting.

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