Penicuik House stands within some 500 hectares of designed landscape, established in the early 1700s by Sir John Clerk, 2nd Baronet of Penicuik – a great product of its time and a noteworthy aspect of the culture of the Scottish Enlightenment
A Place of Peaceful Enjoyment
The designed landscape at Penicuik represents the transition from Baroque regularity to a more naturalistic treatment of the landscape and was, at the time, a trend-setting interpretation which delighted and impressed the many visitors to the Estate, including the poet Allan Ramsay whose death in 1758 was commemorated by Sir John’s son, Sir James Clerk, with the Ramsay Monument, one of the key built structures within the Designed Landscape.
The designed landscape was created in stages during the first half of the 18th century and therefore precedes Penicuik House by a number of years. And while the 1st Baronet, Sir John Clerk arranged the fields and woodlands to form an attractive setting for the original Newbiggin House, it was his son, Sir John Clerk, 2nd Baronet, who must take credit for creating the outstanding Designed Landscape – subsequently completed by his son, Sir James Clerk, 3rd Baronet – that visitors enjoy today.
A trend-setting interpretation which delighted and impressed the many visitors to the estate
The 2nd Baronet, was perhaps the most advanced and articulate theorist on landscape gardening in Scotland during the first half of the 18th century. And although some of his ideas drew upon concepts that were being introduced in England at that time, much of his work is highly original and recorded in his long poem “The Country Seat” of the 1720s.
From around 1700 until his death in 1755, Sir John planted extensively across the entire Estate, recording in his memoires that he had planted over 600,000 trees. He enhanced the great beauty of the natural topography of the land and, from the 1730s, introduced formal walks and built structures within the landscape.
It was Sir John (2nd Baronet) and his son Sir James (3rd Baronet) who provided the vision for the 18 built structures within the Designed Landscape, as well as configuring a series of delightful walks and routes within the Estate for their own and their visitors’ enjoyment and entertainment.
Starting with the Roman Bridge in 1737, followed by the Hurley Cave, Knight’s Law Tower, the Chinese Gates and the Ramsay Monument, the fascinating stories behind the built structures reveal as much about the social and cultural position of Scotland and the Scottish Enlightenment, as they do about Sir John, Sir James and their shared passion for the enhancement of their natural environment.
Knight’s Law Tower was built between 1748 and 1751. Later structures were added, continuing this passion down through the generations, and include a number of bridges as well as the Spear Lodge and Gates which were completed in 1874. Today, many of the built structures require expert conservation and restoration work to return them to their original state, make them safe for visitors to explore, and to open up the walks and vistas which form such an important part of Sir John’s and Sir James’s design and vision.
In addition, Scobie’s Well, Eskfield Bridge, the Saw Mill, Bastion Wall, Ravensneuk Castle, Ice House, the Curling Hut by the Black Pools or Low Pond, the Bothy, Chinese Bridge and the Water Willie Fountain and Well provide focal points within the Designed Landscape. The 18th built structure, the Clerk Mausoleum, is not situated on the Estate itself, but within the churchyard of St Mungo’s, the Parish Church in Penicuik.