A couple of weeks ago now I went with the Collingwood Society to visit Paxton House – who first got in touch in the Collingwood festival year to say that they had a portrait of Collingwood, and didn’t know why! They still don’t – there’s no direct connection – but it’s a lovely house from the right period, and as well as the portrait they have connections with two admirals, as we found out.
I went down quite early in the morning to prowl around Berwick, where I hadn’t been for a while – there’s a nice lot of history about it, and I like it. I started off walking around the walls, which are mostly Elizabethan, as are the fortifications on the coast side.
The church down here was built during the English Commonwealth, although it was changed later – it felt (and smelt!) to me more like a Scottish than an English church, when I went in.
The barracks, though, are early Georgian, from 1717-21, and some of the earliest to be purpose built. They now belong to English Heritage, after being the home of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers for years – I didn’t have time to visit properly, but would like to.
They do have a very impressive gate, as well as an impressive courtyard inside.
This is the powder magazine for the barracks, built away round the back, and with thick buttressed walls and a high outer wall to keep out intruders.
The walls on the river side of the town are 18th century, rebuilt on the medieval line, and coming up back up towards the bridges and the centre of the town there are a lovely line of Georgian houses just inside the wall.
The guardhouse was originally on the main street, but was moved away, closer to the barracks, when the main street was widened in 1816.
This is my favourite of the Berwick bridges, the old bridge built in 1634 to replace a wooden bridge which was in poor repair and felt to be inadequate after the Union of the Crowns. (I do have a soft spot for the Royal Border Bridge too.)
And an unexpected find just down from the bus stop, on the wall of what is now the Wetherspoon’s pub! (The bus came, so I slipped back and took the photo while waiting for the train home, as you can see by the clock.)
Paxton is only a few miles from Berwick, but back over the Scottish border – I kept forgetting that I wasn’t still in England, though. We gathered in the tearoom, which obviously wanted us to feel welcome.
We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, sadly, but the outside was impressive too – one central block for the family, and a kitchen wing on one side and stable wing on the other.
The house was built around 1760 for Patrick Home, and then sold to his cousin Ninian in 1773. Patrick had lived at the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia, and one of the exhibits in the house is a fabulous costume he wore in some kind of extravanganza there. Ninian had lived in the West Indies, and returned there later, but he had the house furnished with Chippendale furniture, as well as having two ceilings designed by Robert Adam.
As well as all the grand exhibits, each room had a little teddy bear furnished in appropriate costume – apparently they were a trail for children, but I had great fun spotting them too! Some of them were beautifully dressed, but my favourite by far was the bear in dressing gown and nightcap in one of the bedrooms.
The house later passed to the Milne family, and we were shown documents from the archives relating to two admirals – David Milne, who served in the Mediterranean at the same time as Collingwood, and his son Alexander, who worked for several years in the Admiralty, despite changes of government.
We were trying to find a connection to the Collingwood family which might explain the portrait – one possibility is that both Milnes were born at Inveresk, where Alexander Carlyle, who was married to Sarah Collingwood’s aunt, and was one of Collingwood’s regular correspondents, was the minister.
Another naval connection was a portrait of Samuel Brown, who designed the Union Chain Bridge over the Tweed, not far upstream from Paxton, as well as introducing chains instead of hemp ropes for ships’ rigging. I think he was another family connection, as although Wikipedia says he married a Mary Horne, the Edinburgh Annual Register thinks she was Mary Home.
The setting of the house reminded me of Abbotsford – and reminded me that I was in Scotland after all – and we had a bit of time for wandering afterwards where I went down to the Tweed, but although the old boathouse was interesting, there isn’t a view as far as the bridge.
It was a good day out – and one of the first really nice days of the year, which helped!