Mellerstain, Earlston, Scottish Borders: designs for the house, interiors, and an unexecuted memorial tower for the Hon. George Baillie, c1768-78 (19)
Mellerstain once contained a tower house known as Whiteside, and was bought in 1642 by a wealthy merchant’s son, George Baillie of Jerviswood. The estate was inherited first by Baillie’s son Robert, who was executed for treason in 1684 and the estate was confiscated, but on the Glorious Revolution in 1688 the estate was restored to Robert’s son, also George Baillie. It was this George Baillie who first sought to rebuild the house. In The buildings of Scotland, Cruft, Dunbar and Fawcett have noted that Baillie’s brother-in-law, the 2nd Earl of Marchmont, had employed William Adam (1689-1748) to make unexecuted designs for Marchmont House in 1724. It was probably through this connection that William Adam became acquainted with Baillie, and was commissioned to design a new house for Mellerstain. Drawings for William Adam’s three-block scheme survive at the house, but it was only partly executed. The pavilions were built in 1725-29, but not the central block. The pavilions remained unconnected for nearly 40 years while the family lived in the east wing, with service rooms and stables in the west wing.
In 1738 William Adam’s patron at Mellerstain died, and was succeeded by his grandson, also George Baillie. The Hon. George Hamilton (1723-97) was the second son of Charles Hamilton, Lord Binning and his wife Rachel Baillie. He took the name of Baillie on inheriting his maternal grandfather’s estates at Jerviswood and Mellerstain. Baillie’s older brother, Thomas Hamilton, succeeded their paternal grandfather in 1735 as 7th Earl Haddington.
In the late 1760s, this younger George Baillie commissioned Robert Adam to incorporate William Adam’s wings at Mellerstain into a complete house, by the addition of a large new central block. This is a long, thin, E-shaped block; built in the castle style, it is comparable to Adam’s work at Alnwick Castle. The choice of the castle style may have been in the interest of economy as it permitted the use of rough stone rather than expensive carved stone dressings. We can see from Adam’s elevation of the principal (north) front of the house (Adam volume 43/42) that he had intended to remodel his father’s wings in the castle style so as to match his central block, but this remodelling work was not executed. The new central block and older wings were connected by short single-storey links.
Adam’s central block was built on a slope so that the basement storey on the principal (north) front is at ground level on the garden (south) front. For the purposes of clarity, however, the principal storey – above the basement – will be referred to here as the ground storey. The new central block was completed in 1770, and Adam continued his work at Mellerstain by designing interior decoration for rooms including the entrance hall, dining room, library, and drawing room on the principal (ground) storey, and an unusual bathroom with dolphin-shaped spouts in the basement beneath the dining room. The decorative paintings were produced by John Bonnar, the carving by James Adamson, and the plasterwork by an unknown craftsman named Powell. Further to his work on the house itself, Baillie also commissioned Adam to make designs for a memorial tower in the park, dedicated to his great-grandfather Robert Baillie, who had been executed for treason in 1648. This was not executed.
Baillie’s grandson, George Baillie-Hamilton, succeeded his cousin as 10th Earl of Haddington in 1858, and Mellerstain remains in the ownership of the 13th Earl. Few alterations have been made to the house. A new front door surmounted by a small pediment were added to the principal (north) front at the turn of the twentieth century to designs by Sir Reginald Theodore Blomfield (1856-1942), but otherwise the exterior of the house remains unchanged. The interiors by William Adam survive in the east wing, but the stables and service quarters in the west wing were converted to domestic use in 1971-73 to designs by Walter Schomberg Scott (1910-98). Much of Robert Adam’s interior decorative work survives within the central block, and the house is open to the public.
There is a collection of Adam drawings at the house.
A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Chapter 34, pp. 252-262, and Index p. 22, 61; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, pp. 78-79; D. Stillman, The decorative work of Robert Adam, 1966, pp. 71-72; D. Yarwood, Robert Adam, 1970, pp. 29, 40, 161-162, 207-208; G. Berwickshire, Mellerstain, 1976, pp. 1-16; G. Beard, The work of Robert Adam, 1978, pp. 48-49, 63; J. Ingamells, A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy: 1701-1800, 1997, p. 40; S. Astley, Robert Adam’s Castles, 2000, p. 34; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume 1, pp. 156, 160-162, and Volume II, pp. 228, 245; K. Cruft, J. Dunbar, and R. Fawcett, The Buildings of Scotland: Borders, 2006, pp. 529-532; E. Harris, The country houses of Robert Adam: from the archives of Country Life, 2007, pp. 118-123; ‘Mellerstain House, Earlston, Scottish Borders’, British listed buildings online