Manderston is the supreme country house of Edwardian Scotland; the swansong of its era. It is diffficult to believe that most of the house was built in the first years of the last century.
But Manderston, as it is today, is a product of the best craftsmanship and highest domestic sophistication the Edwardian era had to offer. It was built for Sir James Miller, a nouveau riche baronet who married into the traditional aristocracy and asked an up and coming Scottish architect, John Kinross, to create a home of glittering style to match his wealth and status as a country gentleman.
The first house here was a square mansion, built for Mr. Dalhousie Weatherstone in the 1790s, probably by Alexander Gilkie or John White. In 1855, the estate was bought by Richard Miller. On his death, it was bought by his younger brother, William Miller, who was the maternal great-great-grandfather of Lord Palmer, who lives here now.
William Miller made a fortune trading hemp and herrings with the Russians. After sixteen years as Honorary British Consul at St. Petersburg, he returned to become Liberal Member of Parliament for Leith and later for Berwickshire. Prime Minister Gladstone made him a baronet in 1874 in gratitude for his well contrived political dinners, although it is rumoured he never actually spoke in the House of Commons!
The Georgian house was a little old fashioned for Sir William, so in 1871 he asked architect James Simpson to add a pillared entrance porch and extra servants’ bedrooms hidden behind a new French Renaissance style roof. Sir William wanted to leave Manderston to his eldest son William, but he died choking on a cherry stone
at Eton in 1874.So, the estate, baronetcy and fortune all passed in 1887 to his second son, James Miller (1863–1906).
Sir James was a perfect Edwardian gentleman: a great sportsman; an excellent shot; a horse racing enthusiast and soldier. What’s more, as Vanity Fair pointed out in 1890, ‘being a good fellow, one of the most wealthy commoners in the country and a bachelor, he is a very eligible young man’. He was affectionately known by all his friends as ‘Lucky Jim’.
Three years later he was a bachelor no more. His wife was the Hon. Eveline Curzon, cultured daughter of Lord Scarsdale, head of one of the oldest families in the country. Her brother George became Viceroy of India. Lady Miller’s childhood home was Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, the architectural masterpiece of eighteenth-century architect, Robert Adam.
Sir James, eager to impress his father-in-law, at once accelerated the work of improving the estate, begun in 1890 with the new garden terraces and the horse-shoe stair on the south front of the house. To celebrate their engagement Sir James built for Lady Miller a boathouse in the form of an Alpine chalet, which was Architect John Kinross’s (1855–1931) first commission at Manderston.
Sir James chose Kinross again in 1895 to build the Georgian-style stable block, the Gamekeeper’s Cottage and Kennels and Buxley home farm. When Sir James returned in 1901 from fighting in the Boer War, Kinross was called back to tackle the complete remodelling of the house. John Kinross had trained in Glasgow,
practised in Edinburgh and confidently restored Falkland Palace in Fife, Greyfriars Convent in Elgin and Thurston House in Innerwick for Sir James’s brother-in-law, Richard Hunter.
Sir James asked him for a house as coolly elegant as neo-classical Kedleston, large enough for the army of servants necessary for Edwardian comfort and grand enough for entertaining.
When John Kinross enquired as to how much he could spend on the rebuilding, he was told that ‘it simply doesn’t matter’ – an architect’s dream come true!
A new north front was created, marked by an elegant lonic portico and a new bachelors’ wing provided ample accommodation for guests. The original stable block on the west of the house was converted to make a laundry and to accommodate servants. But Kinross kept the symmetrical Georgian style of the house, only the razor-sharp masonry betraying the building’s comparatively recent origins.
Above the new main entrance door, a coat of arms bears the family motto: Omne Bonum Superne – all good comes from above – ironic for a family whose fortune came from herrings—from below!
At the base of the four columns are lions’ heads in gun-metal. Two of these are bell pulls which could be worked by hand or by a horseman’s boot.