Without doubt, one of the most important families in Scotland’s intellectual, cultural and scientific history, the story of the Clerk Family and Penicuik Estate dates back to 1654, when John Clerk, a merchant with an emporium in Paris specialising in fine art, bought Penicuik Estate with the original Newbiggin House.


 
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After his death in 1674, his son, Sir John Clerk, who was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia in 1679, inherited the Estate and, during a tour of the continent in 1676, acquired a number of items for Newbiggin and developed ambitious plans for the improvement of both house and lands.

Sir John Clerk, 2nd Baronet of Penicuik, and his son Sir James Clerk, 3rd Baronet, were instrumental in creating first the Designed Landscape and then Penicuik House as we know it today.

The Clerk Family, headed today by Sir Robert Clerk, 11th Baronet, now manage Penicuik Estate and, in partnership with Penicuik House Preservation Trust, oversee the running of the conserved ruin of Penicuik House and the restoration of the Designed Landscape, maintaining both for the benefit of the local community and numerous visitors every year.


A TALE OF FOUR CENTURIES


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JOHN CLERK, 1ST LAIRD OF PENICUIK (1611 – 1674)

1654: Acquires Penicuik Estate and Newbiggin House


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SIR JOHN CLERK, 2ND LAIRD AND 1ST BARONET OF PENICUIK (1649 – 1722)

1674: Inherits Penicuik Estate from his father

1679: Created Baronet of Novia Scotia by King Charles II

1687: Estate plan describes “The House of Newbiggin with gardens, park and other enclosures… surveyed and designed by John Adair” revealing the 1st Baronet’s extensive proposals for developing his land – one of the first ‘designed landscapes’ in Scotland


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SIR JOHN CLERK, 2ND BARONET OF PENICUIK (1676 – 1755)

1690s: Studies law at Leyden

1697: Begins two-year Grand Tour, visiting Germany, Austria, Italy and France, and spending 14 months in Rome

1703-1707: Becomes member of the last Scottish Parliament and the first Parliament of Great Britain

1706: Appointed Commissioner for the Union

1708: Appointed Baron of the Court of the Exchequer, under the Act of Union of 1707, to administer the financial affairs of Scotland

1722: Inherits Penicuik Estate from his father, the 1st Baronet, and decides not to alter Newbiggin to make a ‘very fine uniform house’ but instead to make improvements. Plants and builds on the Estate (including neighbouring Mavisbank, site of his famous villa) and develops coal mines in nearby Loanhead, providing employment to the local community.

1725: Elected to the Society of Antiquaries of London

1726-1727: Composes the long poem, “The Country Seat”

1720s: Built Mavisbank (with his architect William Adam) as his secondary seat, his true villa suburbana.

1729: Elected to the the Royal Society

1730: Begins formal work on the Designed Landscape with the excavation of Hurley.

I have always thought that my salary as a Baron of the Exchequer was publick [sic] money and a gratification I owed to my Country, and therefor [sic] I laid out the whole of it and some of my privat [sic] patrimony for the Improvement of my Country…


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SIR JAMES CLERK, 3RD BARONET OF PENICUIK (1709 – 1782)

1750: Takes over the management of his father’s, the 2nd Baronet’s, coal mines at Loanhead

1753: Adds a new library and other rooms at Newbigggin House

1761: Demolishes Newbiggin House and works with John Baxter the Elder to design Penicuik House

1773: Completes Penicuik House


1782: Inherits Penicuik Estate from his brother, the 3rd Baronet

SIR GEORGE CLERK MAXWELL, 4TH BARONET OF PENICUIK (1715 – 1784)


SIR JOHN CLERK, 5TH BARONET OF PENICUIK (1736 – 1798)

1784: Inherits Penicuik Estate from his uncle the 4th Baronet


THE RT. HON. SIR GEORGE CLERK, 6TH BARONET OF PENICUIK (1787 – 1867)

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1798: Inherits Penicuik Estate from his uncle at the tender age of 11.

1857: Works with architect David Bryce to extend Penicuik House to provide the additional rooms required for Victorian house party entertainment, made fashionable during – and due to – the age of the railway.


1867: Inherits Penicuik Estate from his father

SIR JAMES CLERK, 7TH BARONET OF PENICUIK (1812 – 1870)


SIR GEORGE DOUGLAS CLERK, 8TH BARONET OF PENICUIK (1852 – 1911)

 
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1870: Inherits Penicuik Estate from his father

1890: Puts Penicuik Estate up for sale as he and his wife Aymée are absent much of the time. Leases the house first to Lord Kinnear and then to the lawyer RB Ranken while awaiting a buyer

1899: The house is gutted by fire on 16th June while the Rankens are in residence

1900: The original intention to rebuild the house is scuppered by the insurance company who refuse to cover the estimates for restoration on the grounds that the walls are still standing. James Tait, a local builder, offers to rebuild and finish the house (apart from the top floor) for £4,500 but, without the insurance money, even this relatively small amount is beyond the means of Sir George.

1902: Under the direction of Aymée, Lady Clerk, the stable block is converted into a family home and remains so today.

It would be a very great mistake and misfortune to allow the walls of such a splendid and costly edifice to go to ruin or even to stand as they are under the temporary protection proposed.” James Tait, Builder


1911: Inherits Penicuik Estate from his father

SIR GEORGE JAMES ROBERT CLERK, 9TH BARONET OF PENICUIK (1876 – 1943)


SIR JOHN DUTTON CLERK 10TH BARONET OF PENICUIK (1917 – 2002)

1943: Inherits Penicuik Estate from his father

1985: Penicuik House Preservation Trust Established


2002: Inherits Penicuik Estate from his father

2014: Penicuik House Preservation Trust completes the restoration of Penicuik House

SIR ROBERT MAXWELL CLERK 11TH BARONET OF PENICUIK (b 1945)


The history of the Clerk Family has been superbly documented by Dr Iain Gordon Brown, FSA, FRSE, in his essay The Clerks of Penicuik: Portraits of Talent and Taste (©Iain Gordon Brown 1987) which he has generously allowed us to include in our archive. Dr Brown is formerly Principal Curator of Manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland, he continues to be Fellow of the Library, Curator Emeritus of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Consultant to the Adam Drawings Project at Sir John Soane’s Museum as well as a Trustee of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust. The following excerpt from Portraits of Talent and Taste is reproduced here with his kind permission.