Obituary: Patricia Maxwell- Scott

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MOST PEOPLE can have not the remotest notion of the demanding nature of the job - for such it inevitably is - of being chatelaine of a home which is so-called stately and which is visited by tourists in their tens of thousands. It is no cushy, prestigious number. On the contrary it is grindingly hard work. During the season, such ladies tend to be on duty seven days a week, every week. Constantly things have to be attended to, guides have to be organised, people have to be seen, and not infrequently humoured.

The task of being property representative of the Historic Houses Association or National Trust home is hard if rewarding work; yet employed representatives usually have a home of their own to which they can retreat and few do the job at a property for more than a single decade. Yet for nearly five decades, in a house which was very much their own home, the Maxwell-Scott sisters, Patricia and Dame Jean DCVO (the younger by two years), opened Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott, to the public, and welcomed visitors from all over the globe. Apart from anything else, the British tourist industry owes them a huge debt; for they were responsible for the nicest hospitality, dispensed to all.

Patricia Maxwell-Scott's antecedents were of lasting consequence to her life . Her mother, Mari, was the daughter of Lt-Col Stewart of Lunga, an Argyll county councillor who had been seriously wounded in 1882 at Tel El Kebir in the Egyptian campaign, and after being adjutant of the 4th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from 1884 to 1889 was given the command of the 10th Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders in 1914. Public service and duties to Britain were in Patricia's maternal genes. Her mother died in 1924 when she was three years old.

Her father, next to whom she was buried on Tuesday in the sublimely beautiful Dryburgh Abbey, was Major General Sir Walter Constable Maxwell-Scott, first and last baronet of Abbotsford. He was a Cameronian who served with distinction (Queen's Medal with two clasps, King's Medal with two clasps) in the South African war and won a DSO in the First World War, not to mention a Croix de Guerre and the Serbian Kara Georg with swords, for his work in present-day Yugoslavia.

Patricia Maxwell-Scott was born in Ireland, actually in the Curragh, the British military complex outside Dublin, at a time when her father was a serving soldier, immersed in the Troubles in Ireland. Later in life she would reminisce that she was taken on a tour of Ireland by her father which proved to be a succession of stopping places, where he could point out the spot where, when, how, and why a particular military incident had taken place.

When she was seven, Patricia's father remarried, an American, Marie-Louise, Madame des Sincay, daughter of Major John Logan of the US Cavalry. Her stepmother was colourful and kind, and remained in good contact with Patricia and Jean to her dying day.

Patricia was educated at the Convent Des Oiseaux, Westgate-on-Sea, Kent, run by the Congregation of Our Lady Canonesses of St Augustine - strict disciplinarians. During the Second World War she was commissioned into the ATS, the women's service. Before returning to Abbotsford she worked for a time in the interior decorating business in London. It was the view of her friends in the National Trust for Scotland that she had an extremely good eye for colour and it is certain that she greatly enhanced Abbotsford which, truth to tell, when I knew it as a child was a sepuchral house. When her father died in 1954, Patricia Maxwell-Scott succeeded to the home of her great great great-grandfather Sir Walter Scott, whose looming presence continued and continues to prevail at Abbotsford.

Besides being a hostess to thousands she devoted herself to local public work, in particular Save the Children. As the Earl of Minto told the huge congregation for her Requiem Mass in Galashiels she was a "strong chairman of committees, not fussy". The earl is in a position to know since he himself was the very distinguished and competent chairman of the Borders Regional Council. In 1983, the Tweeddale Press group, who have saturation coverage in the southern counties of Scotland, voted Patricia Maxwell- Scott "Borders Man of the Year".

There was a precedent. In the previous decade, the first ever life baroness, Kay Elliot, had received the accolade - but the Borders community were unsurprised and indeed thought it peculiar appropriate since Lady Elliot was endowed with a range of qualities widely associated with masculinity. Maxwell-Scott was, in contrast, a gentle soul hugely endowed with qualities associated with the feminine.

In the early years of the 19th century Sir Walter Scott came to own a large share in Ballantine Brothers' printing company which was responsible for printing his books; he also invested substantial sums of money with Constable his publishers. However, in 1825 both firms got into financial difficulties. Sequestration loomed. Scott found that his borrowings had almost no capital to support them apart from Abbotsford. His involvement in Constable's collapse and the financial chaos surrounding Ballantine's resulted in debts of about pounds 130,000, a huge sum in those days. He wrote in his journal:

Abbotsford has been my Delilah and so I have often termed it and now - the recollection of the extensive woods I have planted and the walks I have formed from which strangers must derive both the pleasure and the profit will excite feelings likely to sober my gayest moments. I have half resolved never to see the place again - how could I tread my haul with such a diminished crest.

On Tuesday the cortege making its way from Galashiels to Dryburgh paused at Sir Walter Scott's view of the Eildon Hills approached by a colourful oak-lined by-way at the beginning of its autumn glory. One felt that the shade of Sir Walter Scott would have been proud of Patricia Maxwell-Scott, who had completely re-established Abbotsford's early-19th-century pride.

Tam Dalyell

Patricia Maxwell-Scott: born Dublin 3 April 1921; Chatelaine of Abbotsford, 1951-98; died Melrose, Scottish Borders 13 October 1998.