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Leith Hall, East Garden

Walled Garden (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Leith Hall, East Garden

Classification Walled Garden (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Leith Hall Policies; Walled Garden

Canmore ID 77076

Site Number NJ52NW 4.01

NGR NJ 54013 29923

NGR Description Centred on NJ 54013 29923

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Aberdeenshire
  • Parish Kennethmont
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District Gordon
  • Former County Aberdeenshire

Recording Your Heritage Online

The walled garden, recast 1900, contains two important Pictish symbol stones in a shelter, and a Chinese Moon Gate opening on to the old turnpike road.

Taken from "Aberdeenshire: Donside and Strathbogie - An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Ian Shepherd, 2006. Published by the Rutland Press

Archaeology Notes


Desk Based Assessment (June 2006)

The gardens have evolved over time. As discussed in the previous component, the earliest gardens (probably 1650 on) were located immediately around the House within an enclosure.They were then extended around the South -West of the Stables area as shown on the 1758 plan . By 1847 we can be certain that only the Stables Garden existed and the ones around the House had been removed. This was then extended by a second garden area 46m westwards between 1866 and1900, causing the one next to the Stables to be renamed the East Garden. The third and final part of the garden, containing the rockery, was added in the 1920s.

Garden Phase 1 – 1650 - 1758

There is now sufficient evidence from the Roy plan, the written archive and from confirmed elements of the 1758 estate plan, to be fairly sure that the early period gardens were around the house and that they were probably extended up to and around the stables sometime before 1758. This would account for a reference in a memorandum of 1772 which refers to an old and a new garden: The gardener William Lawrie records the following: “two tall Canadian Pears not for fruit in the new garden; one American Birch grown remarkable big in the old garden; two…walnut in the old garden [and] four Taccamahaccas or Balsam trees in the new garden.”

The types of plants being grown in the gardens at that time tell of the Estate’s horticultural heritage. There was of course a great fashion for planting of the exotic species collected and brought back to the UK by British botanists. Leith Hall appears to have been no exception with the planting of the Douglas Firs south of the house presumably in the 1820s and in the Laird’s Wood, as well as the edge planting of the Noble fir along the north road.

Garden Phase 2 – 1797 - 1812

The eighteenth century gardens were cleared away from around the House to create its new, fashionable parkland setting. However, it is unclear whether the new garden to the west shown on the 1797 plan, was ever built.

It would have been well away from the House and would have allowed the parkland to sweep around to the North of the House. However, no site evidence of walls or the buildings shown was found and it disappears from all later plans. For the 1797 layout to be a correct representation of the gardens of the early nineteenth century period, we need to believe that the Lairds cleared the gardens at the House and Stables, built a remote westerly replacement and then within forty years completely removed it and put back part of the earlier garden shown on the 1758 plan. This seems implausible. The contemporary shift in fashion away from picturesque landscapes to more gardenesque treatments would still not have justified this expense.

A more likely scenario is that a design compromise was effected after 1797 in this area: the formal enclosures around the House were removed and a parkland was laid out but with the West Drive, the North-South Drive, the Laird’s Wood, the garden at the stables and the western stables all retained. It is possible, though unlikely, that an eastern stables block could have been cleared at the same time as the gatehouse (s), as part of this compromise. The design logic for this would be that clearing the old landscape away as far West as the North-South Drive would allow the new fashionable parkland setting to be brought all the way around the House.

Phase 3 – 1834 - 1847

The 1847 estate plan, 1860 Drainage plan and the 1866 Ordnance Survey 1st edition all show the location of a garden west and south of the stable block, later becoming known as the East Garden. This is either the pre 1758 garden which survived the improvement period clearances or a new post 1830?garden on the same location.

The 1847 plan gives us more detail of the garden from this period. It shows a path running up from just North of the road junction in front of the house, towards the South-West corner of the garden, and then running North along the western garden perimeter. A ditch is also dug at this time running alongside the road before turning South-West through the Laird’s Wood and under the West Drive. Today there is a small wooden chicken-mesh covered walkway where the path runs across the ditch. The path is no longer in use. However, the photographic archive suggests that the path was still in use until at least 1935.

By the time of the Ordnance Survey 1st edition, there was a certain amount of Victorian formality about the garden, with the more curvaceous lines of the 1847 garden now straightened. The garden is characterised by a quadripartite path design, with a revetting ditch along the east boundary with the road. An avenue of trees is planted on top of the ditch as was fashionable in estate management at the time. The age of the present day ash trees have been estimated as being approximately 110 years old, which dates their planting to c.1896. The 1785 plan showed a tree belt where the Laird’s Wood now stands, and the 1797 plan also shows a clump of trees here. This is shown solid again in 1847. The tree survey corroborates this information, with one yew and the silver fir dated to approximately 1806 and the additional plantings, perhaps some 50 years later, of more yew and a Douglas fir.

Garden Phase 4 – 1866-1900, the East Garden extension

By 1900, the East Garden had been extended by some 46 metres westwards. The design of the original garden has changed too. The formality of the quadripartite structure is loosened considerably. There is no southern enclosure to the garden shown although the original garden still appears to have the dividing west boundary wall in place (drawn with a thick black line), with access to the western garden extension only at the north corner (highlighted in red). The middle section of the older part is also converted to mixed plantation, seemingly creating enclosed garden plots to the south and north of the trees. It may have become the family’s private pleasure garden. The new western extension appears to become the kitchen garden, with plots serviced by regular pathways, and kept free of trees, with only a mixed evergreen/deciduous border enclosing and protecting the garden plots. A comparison between the Ordnance Survey 1st and 2nd editions supports this, with the garden sheds moving in the main to the extended section, presumably facilitating garden

maintenance in the working garden.

Gardens Phase 5 - 1900 - 1928

The fifth phase appears more gradual in its development, as various elements are added incrementally. From the photo archive, the West Garden South wall is built around 1905. This is confirmed by a date on the gates; the glasshouses are erected certainly between 1900 and 1907; the rockery was completed by the early 1920s, with the rockery planting appearing well established by 1929 in the photographs; and finally, the West Garden planting is well established by 1933 as demonstrated by the photographs. Additionally, the perimeter wall to the North of the garden, in its semicrenulated, rusticated style, seems to have been constructed in the early 1900s. While we have been unable to pinpoint the exact year in which this feature was built, it shares the same style as the walls at the East and West gatehouses, the two bridges over the East Drive and the boathouse, all of which the archaeologists have dated to c.1900.

As far as the East Garden is concerned, it seems that this area continued in the same form as indicated on the Ordnance Survey 2nd edition, with the geometric path design and ornamental layout enduring. A photograph dating to 1908 shows the view North-West looking up-hill towards the Moongate, giving a sense of this ornamentality.

The heyday of the garden component came in the 1930s. In 1938, in the year before Charles Leith-Hay died, the periodical, Country Life, printed an article entitled: “The Garden at Leith Hall ~ The borders in this Aberdeenshire garden provide an excellent object lesson in pictorial gardening.” The garden’s fortunes then begin to change. The troubles begin following Charles’ death in 1939, The East Garden was let out as a market garden. In 1945, Henrietta Leith- Hay gifted the house and estate to the National Trust for Scotland. In the hard times following World War Two, the East Garden continued its downward trend throughout the 1940s and early 50s, with the area becoming overgrown with weeds and brambles.

Field Visit (June 2006)

The East Garden is enclosed by a rubble stone wall, with corner pillars and a number of entrances.

The north wall of the garden is features the Moongate (013) (NJ52NW 256).

The south wall (069) is 1.48m in height, heavily cement rendered, with flat concrete coping c50mm thick. Extend from pillar 065, on both sides of gate 070 and W to pillar 071.

Gate piers 070A, B in wall 069. Piers are 600mm square, built of grey granite blocks (unlike wall 069) with the corners chamfered. Height to base of pediment: 1.9m. Pediment 670mm high of buff/grey sandstone with three stepped blocks surmounted by a ball shaped finial on a collared neck.

Gate 070C: Wrought iron gate 2.17m high and 1.48m wide is hung on E pier with pivot at base and a collar at the top. Reciever for lock on W pier. Central spike with fleur de lys, side spikes spear headed.

This part of the garden first appears on the 1900 (1899) OS map, when a gateway is shown in this position. The overall appearance of this gate and the chamfered edges of the pillars is very similar to the main gate piers on the East and West Drives, but the ball finials have a different shaped neck.

The wall (075) between the East and West gardens ranges in height between 1.7m and 2m. Cement rendered rubble stone wall with rustic dressed red sandstone capstones. It rises in a straight angle from pillar 073 and climbs the slope of the East Garden in a series of steps. In it's centre, stone pillars (084A,B) flank the entry between E and West Gardens. Pillars are 550mm square with pediment of four sandstone slabs with pyramidal finial.

Wall 085 curves E from the pillars 084. It has a wooden gate in it and forms the S wall of an enclosed area used for nursery plants. The E side of this enclosure has the scar of an earlier lean-to shed. (087)

The Laird's Gate (153) connects the East Garden with the Laird's Wood to the south.

Gate piers 153A, B: Square sectioned granite piers, with blocks alternating with small stones end on ( cf piers of pedestrian gate on West Drive). Pediment of square block 80mm thick surmounted by ball finial on neck with squared base (490mm high).

Gate 153C: Wrought iron gate of this rectangular sectioned bar. Decoration withcorkscrew terminals. Painted green. Hung on E side with iron pivot at base and bracket at top.

Gate 154 opens on the road between Leith Hall and the Stables.

Piers 154A,B: Stone gate piers 420mm square with rustic dressed sandstone pediment 70mm thick surmounted by a roughly bun shaped terminal.

Gate 154C: Wrought iron. Painted black. Hung on N pier.

Wall 154D: There is a short section of stone wall on either side, curving out to gate. This extends 2.05m to N where the line is continued by a wire fence. To the S it extends 7.10m, reducing in height from the gate. This wall butts against wall 152 and partially overlies it at the join.

The East Garden also contains a number of statues (091, 144) and benches (083, 092, 095, 142, 143, 148)

(LEI06 65, 69, 70, 71, 75, 84, 85, 87, 153, 154)

Information from NTS (SCS) November 2013


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