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Ayton House, Berwickshire, designs for a cottage, for John Fordyce, 1791, unexecuted (3)

John Fordyce was born in 1735 the son of Thomas Fordyce, an Edinburgh lawyer, and his second wife Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Adam Whiteford, 1st Bt. of Blairquhan, Ayr. Fordyce succeeded to his father’s estates in 1755, which included the lands of Ayton, Berwickshire.

On 28 January 1767 he married Catherine, the daughter of Sir William Maxwell, 3rd Bt. of Moreith, Wigtown. Together they had six children, two sons and four daughters. Following the marriage of Catherine’s younger sister to the 4th Duke of Gordon, the Fordyces found themselves a central part of Scottish society.

In Edinburgh, at the age of twenty-four, Fordyce began his career in banking and would go on to become Director of the Bank of Scotland (1759-61). His own banking house Fordyce, Malcolm & Co. failed in June 1772 as a result of the financial crisis instigated by the collapse of Neale, Fordyce & Down, in which John’s relative Alexander Fordyce was heavily implicated. In 1766 John Fordyce had been appointed to the role of receiver-general of Crown land rents, however in 1783, with debts of over £90,000 he was removed from office and his property assigned to trustees.

In 1793 Fordyce was once again entrusted with an appointment, taking on the role of surveyor-general of Crown lands along with a further commission in 1795 for the liquidation of the Prince of Wales’s debts, maintaining both roles until his death in 1809.

In 1796 Fordyce was elected MP for New Romney, a seat he held until 1802. In the general election of 1802 Fordyce put himself forward as a candidate for Berwick-upon-Tweed. He won the seat, however the result was contested and eventually overturned on 5 April 1803. During the election Fordyce had been issuing tickets for entertainments in return for support, which was subsequently viewed as bribery.

In 1804 Fordyce was presented with a further commission in naval affairs. The appointment caught the attention of Whig politician Thomas Creevey who, in March 1805, began an inquiry into Fordyce’s personal finances. Fordyce was successfully defended by Pitt and with Fox’s help the investigation was quashed, with Pitt attributing Fordyce’s previous losses to misfortune. A further inquiry was considered in 1809, but it came to nothing.

John Fordyce died 1 July 1809 at the age of seventy-four. His estates passed to his son, but Fordyce’s affairs remained unsettled for several years after his death.

From 1166 the Ayton / Eyton family were associated with lands in Berwickshire. They are recorded in possession of an estate on the river Eye, residing at Castle Hall. From 1472 the lands of Ayton became associated with the Home family when George Home married into the estate. At this time Ayton was recognised as one of the most strategic and important fortresses between Berwick and Edinburgh. As a result, in 1498, Henry VII ordered the demolition of the great tower at Ayton, which was overseen by the Earl of Surrey.

In the Jacobite uprising of 1715 the Homes of Ayton sided with the Stuart cause. Subsequently the estate was seized by the Crown.

Ayton, along with a number of other forfeited estates, was purchased by lawyer Thomas Fordyce, later inherited by his son John in 1755. John Fordyce made a significant contribution to the estate, including the development of a new village. Noted as a ‘most spirited planter’, he was also largely responsible for the landscape of Ayton, which survives today.

Adam’s 1791 scheme for the Ayton estate forms a rustic, thatched cottage-style entrance lodge with a rusticated wall and wooden carriage gate. At 30ft in length the lodge is designed with rubble walls and a bow front. Bolton and King both note that the plan (SM Adam volume 46/156) does not entirely match the elevation (SM Adam volume 46/155). King also highlights that SM Adam volume 51/100 was not completed and suggests that this is due to error. The lodge was probably intended for the south or north approach to Ayton, which are recorded on a survey map of 1810. The south approach remains, but the north route was removed in the mid-nineteenth century.

Adam’s design is not known to have been executed. The architect had previously produced a scheme for a Palladian-style riding house for the client (SM Adam 21/116, 30/50-54), but there is no evidence for its execution.

The estate remained in the Fordyce family until 1838 when it was sold to William Mitchell-Innes. Mitchell-Innes undertook a significant project to rebuild Ayton after a disastrous fire in 1834. He constructed a red brick, Baronial-style castle, which was completed in 1851. The castle was famously visited by author Mark Twain, who was particularly taken with the dining room chimneypiece which he purchased. The chimneypiece is now in the Mark Twain house Museum in Connecticut.

Following the death of Alexander Mitchell-Innes in 1886 Ayton castle was sold to the Liddell-Gainger family who remain owners of the estate today.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 3, 11, 71; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 247, 257; J. Eaton, ‘The Aytons in Berwickshire and Fife’, www.aytonfamilysociety.org; J.M. Collinge, ‘Fordyce, John (1735-1809), of Ayton, Berwick’, www.historyofparliamentonline.org; ‘Ayton Castle’, www.portal.historicenvironment.scot; www.aytoncastle.co.uk; ‘Ayton Castle’, www.scotland.org.uk (accessed February 2021)

Anna McAlaney, 2021
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