Paxton House in Berwickshire, pictured here from the gardens to the rear of the property, is a Regency delight stuffed with Chippendale furniture. It was built by Patrick Home who had to pay for the design of the house by John Adam (younger brother of Robert), the quarrying, dressing and building of his delightfully symmetrical home a few miles from Berwick. Ironically having built it he never actually lived in it.
The Homes are an ancient – and somewhat unlucky- border family. This is perhaps testified by the fact that between 1413 and 1576 every eldest son of the Home family died either in battle or as a prisoner in English hands. The house even boasts a section of the so-called Flodden Banner that covered the bodies of Lord Home and his oldest son. Though of course Paxton House hadn’t been built at that point. In fact it wouldn’t be started until 1755.
The Home family managed to get itself into even deeper trouble in 1715 when it supported the Jacobite cause. Sir George Home of Wedderburn, his brother and his son managed to get caught at the Battle of Preston. Although George’s life was spared he was still guilty of treason so lost the family estate. However, a cousin called Ninian was able to demonstrate that George owed him so much money that the estate was effectively mortgaged to him – resulting in its return to the family. As these things tend to be, inheritance proved complicated. Ninian had returned the property to George but none of George’s sons had legitimate heirs. There were daughters. Ninian intended that his son should marry George’s daughter Margaret but the son preferred Margaret’s younger sister. Ninian having been widowed married Margaret himself…with me so far? He was approximately thirty years older than his bride but that didn’t stop him fathering a second rather large family of whom the builder of Paxton House – Patrick- was the eldest surviving son.
Ninian died. Margaret became responsible for her family’s upbringing. Patrick was to be a lawyer. She sent him to be educated in Leipzig. From there he went to Frederick the Great’s court, fell in love and was ordered to take the grand tour by his mother principally because the only way for Patrick to marry the girl he loved was to settle in Germany and Margaret did not want the family money to leave the country.
Whilst Patrick was touring Europe the family butler decided to relieve the family of the rent which was kept in a locked cabinet beneath Lady Home’s bed in her home at Linthill near Eyemouth. The cabinet is now at Paxton House. Patrick’s mother was in the habit of carefully locking her chamber door before retiring to bed. She also kept the keys to the cabinet under her pillow.
The butler, a man by the name of Norman Ross, knew how the tumbler mechanism for the lock to her bedroom worked. He let himself in having stopped the lock by choking it with cherry stones, hid until Lady Home retired for the night and waited until she was asleep. There was then the small matter of retrieving the keys from beneath her pillow.
Unfortunately Margaret pictured above (image accessed from https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/margaret-home-d-1751-lady-billie-210935) awoke. The butler panicked and stabbed his employer with a knife – that he either had about him or which was upon the night stand depending on the source. Margaret managed to summon help and survived long enough to name her murderer who had escaped through a window as the servants arrived on the scene. She died on August 16 1751- the attack having happened on the night of the 12th. Other accounts suggest that Margaret survived only two days. In either event the murder is deemed to have occurred on the 12th.
Ross was arrested the following day and conveyed to Edinburgh where he was tried. Prior to his execution he had his right hand chopped off. He was also hanged in chains – one of the last men to suffer this fate. Essentially his body was tarred and hanged in a cage where it was left to decompose. The severed hand was placed on top of the gallows. Scottish law and English law differed in the treatment of Ross. Under English law he would have been found guilty of petty treason but under Scottish law it was murder plain and simple. The additional punishment reflected the fact that bond between servant and employer had been broken. Ross was a trusted member of the household and is described in texts of the time as Margaret Home’s “confidential servant.”
It was probably as a consequence his dramatic return home that Patrick forgot to empty his travelling chest – a large and ornate piece of furniture. It eventually languished in Paxton House for the next two hundred and fifty years – consequentially the house has some very fine mid eighteenth century gentlemen’s costumes on display.
In 1755 Patrick began to build the house with a view to marrying the young woman he’d fallen in love with when he was twenty-two. Unfortunately Sophie de Brandt, his sweetheart, died before the house was finished. Patrick never furnished the house – that task fell to his cousin, another Ninian Home, when Patrick sold him the house in 1773 having inherited Wedderburn Castle from his uncle.
I loved Paxton House – a hidden gem. It’s part of the Historic Houses Association and entry to the house is by tour. I’d have to say as much as I enjoyed the history I also enjoyed spotting the appropriately regency clad teddy bears that are part of the children’s trail! There’s no image of the Flodden Banner as photography is not permitted in the house.
The Scots Magazine – Volume 13 – Page 405