Arbuthnott Family Association

Newsletter 2005


AGM 2004 UK Branch, the AGM was held on 1st October at The Old Doctor Butler’s Head Moorgate London and was chaired by Keith Arbuthnott. It was a great pleasure to welcome 36 members to the evening and to meet 2 new members. It is very encouraging to note that the web site is being used more and more and is generating questions and debate. Like painting the Forth Bridge, the maintenance of the web site is on going.

Reports were presented by the Secretary, Treasurer Genealogist and Historian.

All office bearers were re-elected at the meeting.

Family Website,
the family genealogical website has proved to be an excellent source of information for all Arbuthnot(t)s. Anyone who has not had a chance to view the site should register on line with This Newsletter will not contain a section on Family News but please contact Sir William Arbuthnot, Family Genealogist, if you have any items of family news. At the AGM, the meeting acknowledged the work done by William in respect of the web site.

AGM October 2005 UK Branch, this year the AGM will be held in Edinburgh and is expected to be a smaller affair, it is planned for Saturday 8th October. The arrangements to date are that we will meet in the Colinton Inn, in south Edinburgh at lunchtime. The meeting is course open to everyone and anyone who is going to be in Edinburgh will be most welcome. The AGM will be followed by a buffet lunch.

If the numbers are likely to be over 20 then we will need to investigate another venue. Therefore please can you let be know if you are able to attend. Please send me an email, or telephone 0131 441 1815. As the Newsletter only goes out to members please pass on details of the AGM to others who may not be on the mailing list.

Bedded in History. By Douglas Carr, The Herald, Glasgow

Arbuthnott House has survived centuries of war, political upheaval and neglect to become the majestic garden it is today.

The garden at Arbuthnott House, home to one of Scotland’s premier families for 800 years, is teeming with history. It was laid out in the late seventeenth century, at a time when armed rebellion was in the air and a king was forced to flee his throne. While keeping a cautious eye on the constitutional cataclysm swirling around him, Robert, the third Viscount of Arbuthnott, lavishly remodelled his Kincardineshire home and created an elegant garden with striking vistas that can still be seen today.

Few British families have spent more than 800 years in the same place, but there have been Arbuthnotts at Arbuthnott House since before 1200. The family remained close to the heart of power down the centuries, and its story is woven into the tapestry of Scotland’s turbulent history. In 1683, Robert, then 22, married Lady Anne Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Sutherland, one of Scotland’s largest landowners. It was a prestigious alliance and the young groom, eager to provide a home worthy of his aristocratic wife, proved an enthusiastic moderniser. At great expense, he laid out a five-acre walled garden below the house.

Many of the plants were introduced by succeeding generations, most notably two of the Ladies of Arbuthnott. The first was Dorothy, who rescued the garden from dereliction in the 1920’s after almost a century of neglect. The second is her niece Mary, the present Lady Arbuthnott and a knowledgeable plantswoman. The result is a garden full of colour and with an air of easy comfort.

The design was devised as a response to the difficulty of the steeply sloping site. To create a series of level areas, four broad terraces were cut across the face of the hill. Each has a long central grass walk flanked by deep borders and ornamented with trees, shrubs and flowers. Two more diagonal grass walks dissect the site, creating a motif reminiscent of the Union Jack. Marking the heart of the garden is an ancient cedar tree from which all paths radiate.

After inheriting the house in 1800, the eighth viscount made many improvements to the landscape. He planted extensive woodlands, created the long drive flanked by high rhododendrons, and built the fine bridge decorated with classical urns that leads to the house. His extravagance caused a financial crisis that led to a period of decline. "By 1917 the house, garden and estate were in a state of total neglect and decay," writes Christy Bing, sister of the present viscount, in her vivid family history The Lairds of Arbuthnott.

The air of doom was lifted in 1920 with the arrival of Jack, the 14th viscount, and his wife Dorothy. The couple swapped life in a log cabin in Canada for Arbuthnott House, where they remained for 40 years. While Jack turned around the estate’s fortunes, Dorothy concentrated on restoring the garden to its former glory. Her niece Mary was a regular visitor, who watched as the garden was reclaimed from ruin. She went on to marry John, now the 16th viscount, after inheriting the estate in 1966. "One way or another I’ve known this place for a very long time," Mary says.

Like her aunt, she has dedicated much time to caring for the garden. "It’s a great interest to me," she says, strolling along the grass walks, undeterred by the squally weather. "Every spare minute I have I’m out here. It takes a lot of maintenance and there’s always plenty to do. I don’t have any favourite tasks - I enjoy doing it all."

While leaving the bones of the historic garden intact, Lady Arbuthnott has, with skill and vision, enhanced and enriched it. Aided by gardener John Cheyne, the herbaceous borders have been sensitively overhauled. Filled with flowers in vivid oranges, reds, purples, blues and yellows, they glow and dazzle under Scotland’s grey skies. New trees have been planted along with many shrubs and old roses. "I like anything with a sweet scent," Mary says.

One of her favourite plants is to be found in the greenhouse. Streptocarpus, a frost-tender perennial, comes in a wide range of soft colours including rose pink, pale blue and white. "I started collecting them about 10 years ago because they’re very useful house plants," she says. "I don’t know how many varieties I have. I’ve never thought to count them. I just love them all."

One of the first Dawn Redwoods (metasequoia) to be planted in Britain can be seen at Arbuthnott. The tree flourished more than three million years ago, but was close to extinction when it was discovered in a remote Chinese valley in 1941. Seeds arrived in Britain seven years later and the Arbuthnott tree, planted in the early 1950’s was a gift from Sir James Burnett of Crathes Castle, who was an expert on rare species from the Far East.

Handsome gates decorated with thistles act as a focal point at the end of one long avenue. These were a gift from the Arbuthnott Family Association to mark the 16th viscount’s appointment in 1996 as a Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. Each knight is appointed personally by the Queen.

A chronicler has commented that when the garden was first laid out it provided the third viscount and his family with "an oasis of peace and quiet in a desolate and war-torn country". Today, Scotland is neither desolate nor at war, but the garden carved into the hillside more than 300 years ago continues to be a place where a powerful sense of history lingers.

This article appeared in the Herald newspaper on 1st January 2005 and has been reprinted with the kind permission of the editor.

Future Dates:

It is intended that the AGM in October 2006 will be in London and that there will be Family Gathering at Arbuthnott in 2008, in July.

Newsletter by E-mail. I would like to distribute future Newsletters by email and therefore need to up date membership details to include email addresses. Please can you send your e-mail address to

Charles Arbuthnott 0131 441 1815 July 2005
7A Woodhall Bank
Edinburgh EH13 0HL