Lennoxlove is a delightful stately home set in parkland with specimen trees just south of Haddington. It is poorly signed and gets few visitors. We nearly missed the turning. It is only open three afternoons a week, so you have to make an effort to come here. It is increasingly going down the route of corporate events and weddings.
There has been a house here since the 13thC, called Lethington Tower. The oldest part of the present house is the sturdy 15thC keep with walls 11’ thick. This was built for defence as these were troubled times. The main entrance led to a narrow, easily defensible turnpike stair with slit windows. The original owners were the Gifford family but it passed to the Maitlands in 1345. During the 16thC, William Maitland played a prominent role in Scottish politics as he was secretary of State to Mary Queen of Scots and married Mary Fleming, one of her attendants.
The Maitlands were created Dukes of Lauderdale and they extended the house in the 17thC turning it into a comfortable family home suitable to their rank. Their family vault is in St Mary’s Church in Haddington.
In 1703, Frances Stuart, Duchess of Lennox bought the estate and changed the name to Lennoxlove. She was a great beauty and caught the eye of Charles II but resisted all his advances and gifts. She is now famous as she was used as the model for Britannia.
In 1912, the Edinburgh Architect Sir Robert Lorrimer was commissioned to oversee an extensive refurbishment. Much of what you see now is his work. The house and estate was bought the Dukes of Hamilton in 1946 when Hamilton Palace in Lanarkshire had to be demolished due to subsidence. They brought some of the furniture and fittings with them. The family still live here.
It is a large and simple stone house with the original tower house in one corner and smaller square tower joined by the main entrance. The front door has a shield with the date 1912.
The ticket office and guided tours begin round the back of the house. I was the only person for the tour which worked well as I asked the guide to miss out on all the details of the family portraits which I find boring (the present owners three times removed great uncle…) and concentrate on the history and furniture. Unfortunately photographs are not allowed in the house.
The tour begins in the Main Entrance Hall which has yellow walls with a carved plaster surround round the fireplace. There is a marble topped table with eagle legs, mirrors in gilt frames with the Hamilton crest and the usual family portraits.
This leads into the Lorrimer Room which has oak panelled walls with brown leather above with gold tooled spiral motifs with the ducal crown. The plaster ceiling has cherub heads and initials of the different families who have lived in the house (a typical Lorrimer touch). The are blue upholstered settees, grand piano a marquetry cupboard and long bookcase on one wall. Stairs lead to a landing with a Van Dyke painting. This has blue walls with white ceiling and woodwork. There are glass fronted display cases which contain a 1730 set of armourial china from the 5th Duke of Hamilton. Now that really is a statement. In another case are the coronation robes worn by the 14th Duke and his Duchess for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The Duchess didn’t like real fur and her robes are trimmed with fake fur.
The Black Bedroom has lovely views across the gardens. It is very stylish with ebony furniture with a gold inlay. The four poster bed is inlaid with ivory, tortoiseshell and mother of pearl. The three panels on the bed head have inlaid mother of peal designs of vases of flowers and Chinese style birds. Under the canopy are tortoiseshell and ivory panels. The black theme continues through chairs with wicker seats and even the candlesticks are black and gilt. The only colour is from the patterned pink wallpaper on a beige background.
Next to it is the Display Room with glass fronted cabinets full of chine or miniatures which were designed by Lorrimer to fit the room. The table is set with white china with a gold pattern and the armourial crest and motto of the Dukes of Hamilton. Round the table are black chairs with wicker seats. Robes of the Order of the Garter of the Duke of Richmond and Lennox are on display as well as the robes of the Order of the Thistle. There is a coronation chair from George VI and also Elizabeth II. These could be bought after the Coronation and are often seen in stately homes.
The Blue Room is a sitting room with blue wall paper, carpets and curtains with gold upholstered easy chairs and French chairs upholstered in blue. Furniture is French. There is a display case full of crystal glassware. There is a harp and also a grand piano with a lovely box inlaid with ivory.
The Ante-room contains the 10th Duke’s desk inlaid with rosewood with a huge armchair with a cushion with his arms on it. The wallpaper is most unusual as it is gold silk damask with embroidered designs appliqued on to it. There are flowers, turkey, bear, elephant, figures… In a small room off is the marquetry desk inlaid with ivory which was one of the gifts from Charles II to Lady Lennox.
The Yellow Drawing Room is full of French furniture and includes a big marquetry cabinet. It has a marble fireplace with a yellow upholstered sofa and red armchairs. The walls are covered with pictures including a Van Dyke all in beautifully carved frames. I must confess I found the frames more interesting than the pictures. There are small semi-circular wall tables including one with a huge Chinese bowl on it.
This leads into the Stuart Room with red and grey wallpaper. In a protective case is a grand red chair with gilt thread embroidery and applique belonging to the 10th Duke when he was an ambassador in St Petersburg. Next to it is a smaller chair in pink which belonged to the Duchess. The pièce de résistance in the room is the 17thC Antwerp ebony and tortoiseshell cabinet given by Charles to Lady Lennox. It failed to impress her… There is a grand piano and a marble topped table with gilt legs carved with fruit and flowers.
The tour now goes into the oldest part of the house with stone floors and very thick walls. On the wall is the framed original of the Act of State confirming the 2nd Earl of Angus as regent to the young Mary Queen of Scots with lots of impressive seals round it. The first room contains artefacts of Mary Queen of Scots. There is her death mask although her ing and casket are currently away on exhibition.
This leads into the Great Hall which is now used for function. It has a barrel vaulted ceiling and the three ducts used to remove smoke when there was a central hearth. The massive stone fireplace was put in by Lorrimer in 1912 and includes the coats of arms of the different families who have lived in the house with their initials. At the top is a big painted coat of arms of the Hamilton family. Above the door is the original coat of arms of John Maitland dated 1590.
A new and much wider spiral staircase put in by Lorrimer leads down to the original entrance into the castle, still with its iron yett. Beneath is the undercroft which serves as a chapel and has a wooden eagle lectern, small altar with brass candlesticks and a wood cross. The only natural light is through two tiny windows. The well in the corner was important in times of siege. The walls have been whitewashed but it feels cold and damp.
A small doorway leads to the dungeon. It was low and dark with an uneven floor so I passed on this one.
The corridor leading back to the reception area has three large hatchments on the walls and the Royal Coat of Arms. The Billiards Room was off this but is now used as a conference room. It is full of family memorabilia including the propeller and face mask used by the 14th Duke in 1933 on the first flight over Everest in a Westland plane. There are cups, medals and decorations won by the family. There are two Epstein busts of the 12th Duchess and Lord Fisher, Admiral of the Fleet. There is also a large painting of him. Apparently he was a great friend of the Duchess after the death of her husband….
There are attractive flower gardens and grass around the house, reached through a wrought iron gateway. There is no tea room as the house is only open for a limited time each week.
This is a very interesting house and I found the tour enjoyable and entertaining. In spite of the lack of a tea room, it is well worth visiting.