Abandoned mansion saved for the nation with £5.3m grant

Mavisbank House, near Loanhead, has been at the centre of a decades long campaign to save it from demolitionMavisbank House, near Loanhead, has been at the centre of a decades long campaign to save it from demolition
Mavisbank House, near Loanhead, has been at the centre of a decades long campaign to save it from demolition
One of the finest Scottish country houses of its kind, which has had no known owner for decades and was almost destroyed by fire in the late 1970s, is to rise once again.

Mavisbank House near Lasswade was built nearly 300 years ago by celebrated architect William Adam for Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, a signatory of the Act of Union, but has slowly decayed following a fire in 1973 which almost destroyed the property, which was latterly used as a mental hospital. As the Grade A -listed building stands in a perilous state, a huge breakthrough by campaigners determined to save the building from demolition has been made.

The Landmark Trust has been awarded £5.3m from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to preserve the house and bring it back into use, partly as holiday accommodation.

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Dr Anna Keay, trust director, described the award as a “once in a lifetime” moment.

She said: “Mavisbank has hung by little more than a thread for so long, with demolition seriously contemplated on more than one occasion. The Landmark Trust is absolutely thrilled that through this grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and the support and expertise of many others, we can start the process of saving it.”

The Landmark Trust and Midlothian Council will now pursue Compulsory Purchase before restoration begins. The end use is expected to be a mixture of accommodation for short residential stays and public access, including regular free open days.

Anna Eavis, National Heritage Memorial Fund panel chair, said: “Mavisbank House is a building of outstanding importance to Scottish and UK national heritage and the National Heritage Memorial Fund is delighted to make this award to save it from being lost forever.

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“This funding will enable the Landmark Trust to acquire Mavisbank House and safeguard the historic fabric of the Category A building, laying the foundations for a sustainable and brighter future.”

Mavisbank is considered to be a pioneering example of neo-Classical style which William Adam’s son Robert - and others - developed for Edinburgh’s New Town. The £5.3m award is the major piece in a funding package with the last £1.16 million still to be raised to complete the project.

The house fell out of Clerk family hands in 1815 and was turned into a mental hospital for the wealthy where reforming Doctor John Batty Tuke developed compassionate approaches to mental illness, including through exercise and gardening.

The hospital closed in 1953 and was bought by its last medical superintendent, Dr Harrowes. Bought my Mrs Willis Stevenson in the late 1950s, it was gutted by fire in 1973. After her death, ownership was uncertain and decline set in.

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Demolition was ordered by the local authority in the mid-1980s but a vigil of local people prevented the work going ahead. Despite numerous attempts to raise the funds to repair it, all schemes have been unsuccessful – until now.

Mavisbank also won tens of thousands of public votes in BBC2’s ‘Restoration’ and reached the finals of the 2003 series.