History & Collections
History of Paxton’s construction and owners
First owner – Patrick Home (1728-1809)
- Commissioned in 1756 by Patrick Home of Billie, Paxton House was built from 1758-63 to the neo-Palladian designs of Scottish architects John and James Adam.
- The building was completed in 1763 with beautiful Rococo plasterwork in the Entrance Hall and Main Staircase.
- Patrick inherited Wedderburn Castle in 1766 and focused upon it rather than Paxton.
Second owner – Ninian Home (1732-1795)
- Paxton House lay empty until it was first rented from 1768 and then purchased in 1773 by Ninian Home, Patrick’s nephew.
- Ninian and his wife Penelope fitted out Paxton with outstanding neoclassical mahogany furniture from Britain’s master cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale between 1774 and 1791. Much of the furniture remains on display in the rooms for which it was commissioned. Paxton has one of the world’s largest documented collections of Chippendale furniture.
- Chippendale also provided wallpaper, soft furnishings and wall decorations amongst many other things. His furniture at Paxton encompasses simple furniture for bedrooms and servants’ spaces as well as the highest quality exquisitely worked pieces for the Reception rooms.
- Robert Adam designed the wonderful delicate neoclassical ceilings of the Dining and Drawing Rooms and Chippendale decorated the walls of these rooms and supplied the furniture and soft furnishings.
- Ninian had been sent to the Virginia as young man to earn his living. From 1764 Ninian spent much of his time in Grenada where he had two plantations which were manned by over 400 slaves growing sugar and spices. Ninian became Governor of Grenada in 1793 and was murdered on the island in 1795 during an uprising. Paxton then passed to his brother George Home, a lawyer and Principal Clerk to the Session in Edinburgh.
Third owner – George Home (1735-1820)
- George continued to work in Edinburgh until he also inherited Wedderburn Castle, from his uncle, Patrick Home, in 1809. At Wedderburn, George discovered Patrick’s important art and book collections which he had gathered during Grand Tours. As Paxton was too small to house these, George commissioned the Edinburgh architect, Robert Reid, to design a stunning Greek revival extension to Paxton which housed a Bust Room, Library, and the largest private Picture Gallery in Scotland.
- George and his ward, Agnes Stephens, also commissioned Scotland’s most outstanding master cabinetmaker, William Trotter, to furnish the extension with exquisite Greek revival rosewood furniture most of which remains in the collection to this day.
Gift to the Nation by John Home Robertson and The Paxton Trust
- After George’s death in 1820, the house passed down through the family until its most recent owner, John Home Robertson, gave Paxton and much of its collection to the newly created Paxton Trust. The establishment of the Trust was assisted by a significant endowment from The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF).
- At this time the NHMF also acquired 63 pieces of furniture by Chippendale and Trotter from the family in recognition of their national importance and in turn gifted these to the Paxton House Trust.
- What is now held by the Trust is the majority of the collection formed by one family who continuously owned Paxton House for 230 years.
- Between 1988 and the opening of Paxton House to the public on 4 June 1992, the neo-Palladian section of the house was restored to its Georgian appearance (based on inventories of 1820 and 1828 and other archives), and the Regency gallery was provided with a Victorian decorative scheme as the backcloth to displaying paintings from the National Galleries of Scotland. This was originally undertaken by Bonnar and Carfrae in 1872 and the reconstruction of it was based upon archival and photographic evidence and paint scrapes.
- Our partner, the National Galleries of Scotland, displays exquisite oil paintings from the National collection in the Picture Gallery, ranging from the 18th century portraits by Sir Henry Raeburn to still lives by Anne Redpath created as recently as 1962.
- The house is filled with fine and decorative art treasures and exquisite nationally and internationally important furniture gathered by the family. Our friendly guides will welcome you to share the stories and history associated with Paxton.
The archives form a very important part of the collection at Paxton. Whilst the majority are housed at the National Records of Scotland, there are at least 1800 items in the Trust’s collection, amongst which are Chippendale’s 1774 invoice and related correspondence spanning the period of 1774-1791 when the Chippendale furniture and furnishings were commissioned and supplied. There are also many references to the Trotter furniture commission. The archives detail in the original accounts, letters, and bills, the intricacies of furnishing Paxton and other estates owned by the family, as well as the daily lives of the inhabitants, their families, friends, and associates in Britain and internationally, as well as naval related material up to the 20th century.
Patrick Home (1728-1808), who had Paxton House built, acquired over 4000 rare, antiquarian, and 18th century books which are housed in the Trotter designed bookcases (alongside his furniture) in the library at Paxton – this forms an important historical collection. George Home and others added to this collection and, as a whole, it illustrates the range of interests of the educated Georgian gentry.
Chimney pieces and house carpentry
Original wall decoration and house carpentry survives throughout almost all the main historic rooms. There are two Neapolitan marble chimney pieces probably brought back from Italy by Patrick Home in the Dining and Drawing Rooms. Several chimney pieces are by Chippendale as are the mouldings in the Drawing Room and probably in the Dining Room and Ante Room. Original lighting features: Chippendale Lantern in the Entrance Hall and the outstanding Robert Adam crystal chandelier (designed in 1763) in the Drawing Room. All the floors survive from the Georgian period – all wooden boards with some plain painted surfaces.
Paxton’s collection of costume is small (just over 100 pieces), however it contains outstanding examples of costume worn by Patrick Home at the Court of Frederick the Great of Prussia in 1749-51 and in the following decade, including the unique and internationally important Carousel costume embroidered with gold and silver thread. Also notable are: military uniforms (late 18th – 20th century, and related pistol holders etc.). The collection also contains some ladies and children’s clothes.
The ceramics, Sheffield plate, silver, glass, bronzes, clocks, and sundry other household items (Georgian and Victorian fenders, inkstands, lamps, trivets, kettle, bath, mirrors etc.) were acquired by various members of the family; most noticeably, in the case of the Far Eastern decorative arts by Henry Wallace Robertson (John Home Robertson’s grandfather) in the early 20th century. This collection is integral to the history of Paxton and its owners. The model of the British flagship Hibernia made by French prisoners of war prior to 1814 is an important piece housed in a specially designed William Trotter display case.
Patrick Home acquired over 150 Old Master and contemporary paintings, some of which remain (after a large sale in 1923) including: Frederick the Great by Rosalba Carriera (c.1750), and five works by Francesco Fidanza, The Holy Family by Antonio del Massaro da Viterbo (c.1450-1516), known as Il Pastura, The Madonna and Child with St Jerome by Galbiani after Correggio (1717), a neo-classical plaster panel, a replica of Doves Drinking at Pompeii, and a replica set after four paintings by Clerisseau.
The rest of the fine art collection contains a number of works by Scottish artists such as, John Scougal, David Martin, Cosmo Alexander, Hugh Douglas Hamilton, William Shiels, Robert Scott Lauder, John Watson Gordon, and five notable portraits by Sir Henry Raeburn. Alexander Nasmyth’s large oil of The Union Chain Bridge, 1820 and Allan Ramsay’s earliest known portrait dating to 1732 of Alexander Home are particularly important. The remarkable set of eight depictions by Adam Callendar of Ninian Home’s Grenadian plantations date to 1789. There is a white marble bust of George Home by Francis Chantrey. There are three Chinese and two Japanese watercolours. Over 70 paintings on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland fill the Picture Gallery and their Albacini busts are on display in the Bust room and Library.
Paxton’s furniture collection by the Chippendale firm and by William Trotter, plus its related archives form an outstanding record for the study of the development and changes in fashion and taste in furniture design and commissions. It is comprehensive in the range of types of furniture provided by the Chippendale firm and the best example of Trotter’s capabilities as a designer and craftsman, on public display, worldwide.
Ninian Home commissioned Chippendale, Haig and Co. to decorate and furnish his home ‘in a neat but not expensive manner’ in stages over 17 years between 1774- 1791. In the latter half of the 18th century and whilst at the height of his popularity, Thomas Chippendale and his prestigious firm of cabinet makers, Chippendale, Haig and Co, furnished the mansion with a wide variety of chairs, cabinets, desks, beds, tables, as well as soft furnishings. Much of the original documented furniture can be seen in the rooms for which it was designed. The Chippendale firm also decorated the Dining Room and Drawing Room with paint, carved wood, and moulded plaster designs which survive in exquisite detail. They even supplied hand-painted wallpaper from Paris and enormous pier glass mirrors. The glass was made in Paris as British makers could not at this point (1789-91) make mirrors of the size required. Amazingly they made is safely, bar one small crack, to Paxton having been shipped to Berwick-Upon-Tweed and then carried on the back of a horse-drawn cart to Paxton. The pieces form one of the preeminent collections of Chippendale furniture in Britain and is recognised by the National Heritage Memorial Fund as being of national importance.
French made wallpaper selected and supplied by Chippendale in the Drawing Room, c.1790. Image copyright John Hammond
William Trotter was Scotland’s most outstanding cabinetmaker. Trotter was a crucial figure in the New Town with warerooms in Princes Street, opposite the Record Office. His furniture was mainly designed and supplied, leased and hired out to clients in the New Town of Edinburgh and the surrounding area. The major municipal commissions Trotter undertook include simple, carved seat furniture and tables for West Register House in 1820 and the new library for the Faculty of Advocates & Writers to the Signet. He also furnished several rooms at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 1796 and in 1822.
Paxton was Trotter’s largest country house commission with 40 fully documented pieces made for the new wing in 1812-15, of which 30 remain in situ. It is only at Paxton, uniquely, that one can study the exquisite fully documented work of William Trotter, Scotland’s most outstanding cabinetmaker, in the world’s largest publicly accessible collection of his furniture. As Ian Gow, Curator Emeritus of the National Trust for Scotland, has described:
‘The Paxton commission is especially interesting because it was intended for a new kind of interior – a semi public art gallery, designed primarily to show works of art to advantage and with frames for Grand Tour specimen marble tables to create one of the great Scottish Enlightenment interiors. The adjacent Library has by contrast, furniture in his more domestic New Town manner, including bookcases that were a speciality of the Firm with a unique dwarf bookcase and sculpture bust-stand in the Ante Room leading to those two interiors from the original villa.
Furniture other than Chippendale / Trotter pieces
Patrick Home acquired furniture during his Grand Tours including an outstanding 17th century Italian cabinet or ‘stipo’ made of ebony and engraved bone for the Albertoni family. There is also an early 17th century Italian chest (in which Patrick’s mid-18th century clothing was found), and a lacquer cabinet from the Low Countries, c.1710.
The rest of the furniture collection, aside from the work by the Chippendale and Trotter firms’, incorporates mostly Scottish and British 18th and 19th century furniture including a Victorian folio stand and a 1790s ‘fancy’ chair possibly by Gillows, but it is not known who made the other pieces. There are some interesting Scottish pieces (chests and cupboards). An 1830s Broadwood box piano and a 20th century Steinway Grand piano are also in the collection and played regularly.
The opulent Regency Picture Gallery is filled with a superb collection of artworks on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland with works by such artists as Sir Henry Raeburn, Reynolds.
Paxton House is also home to a world class collection of 18th Century men’s costume, much of which is elaborate court wear believed to have been worn by Patrick Home, founder of Paxton House, at the Court of Frederick the Great of Prussia.
If you are interested in the history or collections, and would like further information, you can use the contact form on this page to get in touch with our curator.