In 1693 John Menzies, then owner of Cammo Estate, commissioned Robert Mylne to build a house. This is the first historical reference to a house on the estate. This glamorous mansion was constructed to face south-east and designed to look over a vast landscape of trees, avenues and gardens. The house contained twenty rooms with fires, consisting of four public rooms, smoking room, billiards room, and fourteen bedrooms. There were also bathrooms, laundry, wash-house, kitchen, pantries, larder, two lofts, two cellars, and ample servant’s accommodation.
The earliest record of improvements being made to the house occurred in 1718 when Sir John Clerk had the ground storey rendered on the
outside with lime plaster. In 1790 Charles Watson added a peron (external semi-circular stone stairway and balustrade) leading up to the main front entrance of the house. In 1794 a single storey pavilion was added to the east side of the house, and in 1814 an extensive three storey north-west wing was constructed, which considerably increased the size of Cammo House. Later in the 19th century, the east wing was also increased to three storeys, and the front of the house was altered by reconstructing the twin gable-heads into a continuous crenellated parapet. At the height of its splendour in the 1800s, when owned by the Watson family, Cammo House was a fine country mansion containing more than fifty rooms, and employed a total of nine gardeners, seven labourers, and twenty two domestic servants.
Between 1914 and 1920 a succession of tenants occupied Cammo House, while the absent owner, Mrs Maitland-Tennent, and her two sons were abroad. During the war, the Air Ministry requisitioned Cammo House, so the family stayed in an uninhabited golf clubhouse until 1946, when they were given the house back.
In 1955 Mrs Maitland-Tennent died, and the entire estate was inherited by her younger son, Percival. Between 1955 and 1975 Percival Maitland-Tennent lived at the former golf clubhouse (which, in 1952, had been converted into a farmhouse). During this extensive period of time, Cammo House, already crumbling and dilapidated through neglect, lay empty and uninhabited except for a pack of about thirty dogs which Percival, an ardent dog-lover, had collected and accommodated in several of the once fine rooms. Percival spent each day at Cammo House sitting in an adjacent caravan, while, in turn, the various groups of dogs were fed, watered and let out for exercise.
In 1975, the National Trust for Scotland gained possession of the Cammo House after the death of the Percival Maitland-Tennent. However, the house was given to the City of Edinburgh Council in 1979 after two separate fires had destroyed the house. The house since then has been partly demolished after considered to be in a dangerous condition. This has left a safe ruin and is a focal point of the estate today.
The long thin rectangular Canal is 140m long and 10m broad. The canal at Cammo is one of only two surviving examples of what was an unusual, but significant, feature of designed landscapes in early 18th century Scotland. It is even more significant, since it is the only canal in Scotland known to have been constructed with an apsidal end at its south-western extremity. The canal served as an ornamental feature which, in winter, could also be used as a curling pond.
In the early 1980s a stone platform was constructed across the north-east end of the canal. There has been maintenance of the canal due to blockage problems and debris accumulation. We (FoC), helped with this maintenance in the end of 2016 by draining the canal so the mechanical digger could remove the debris and by February 2017 the canal began to fill naturally through the inflow at the western end.
This interesting feature stands in the area of woodland on the south side of East Avenue, between the bend in the track and the grassy area in front of the house ruin. The stone is 1.4 metres in height, and of broad irregular girth. A small iron crook (purpose unknown) has been set into the stone, possibly in the late 18th century. Curiously enough, the stone is not mentioned by Sir John Clerk, who was a well-respected antiquarian and historian of his time, and it has not been recorded on Ordnance Survey maps at any time. However, since 1995, it has been included in the Schedule of Monuments published by Historic Scotland.
To the south-west of Cammo House lies a late 18th or early 19th century Walled Garden. The inside faces of the north and east walls, and the outside faces of the south and west walls, are lined with brick to maximise the retention of solar heat for the benefit of wall grown fruit trees and there are still the remains of potting sheds.
The walled garden had an orchard, replaced by glass houses. All the fruits and vegetables necessary to supply Cammo House throughout the year were grown in the orchard, garden and glass houses, which produced exotic varieties such as peaches, plums, grapes, cherries and apricots.
The north wall is a flued wall and this was the area which one of the large glass houses was constructed.
The main gateway into the walled garden is located at the south end of the east wall, and this is of grand construction having tall dressed-stone pillars either side, on which were hung large wooden doors. This construction bears the initials of Charles Watson and the date 1780, now barely visible due to erosion.
In 1918 the walled garden ceased to function as a working garden and eventually became a wilderness.
In 2006 a footpath, constructed to wheelchair accessible standards, was routed through the walled garden between the main gate and the gate in the west wall. This path allows access for visitors to view the extensive spread of snowdrops during January and February, for which the garden has become notable in recent years.
In 2015, the Friends of Cammo planted 20 Apple trees, 6 Plum trees and 4 Pear trees in the north part of the garden.
The Cammo Tower, built in the early 19th century, is a great landmark of the Cammo Estate and is a testament to the architectural skills of Edinburgh’s early architects. This round tower is 4-storeys tall and was designed to supply water to the nearby Cammo House. Each stage, separated by a cornice, has four narrow windows, many of which were constructed blind, and the tower is topped by a crenellated parapet. The tower was powered by the wind, like a windmill, using sails to transfer water and the water tank could hold 1,500 gallons. The tower also provided water for the farm steading and the stables.
In 1811 the stables building was constructed by James Watson and designed by architect Robert Reid.
The building is a classical, U-plan, long symmetrical, two storey construction, having advanced cart-shed pavilions at either end with segmental headed giant openings to the front and inner sides.
The stable block would have housed about seven horses, a forge for replacing shoes and ancillary accommodation. The functional windows of the second storey level, above the north and south wings, are placed very low down in the wall close to the floor, and this may suggest previous use as a hay loft.
In 2017, the City Council cut down all self-seeded trees, both within the stables building and within a reasonable distance outside. Some of these trees had grown to a considerable size and there was a danger their roots would damage the built structures.
Offices and Piggery
The utterly ruinous remains of two rectangular buildings and a walled yard lie close west of the stable block. These buildings are set at right angles to each other, and the present track from the stable block to the walled garden passes between them.
The north ruin, now completely covered with dense ivy, was constructed prior to 1805. The construction is unable to be defined due to the ivy, but probably consisted of two semi-detached cottages, and may have been accommodation for gardeners, and eventually, coachmen.
The west ruin lies close-by on the opposite side of the track. This ruin consists of three separate butt-jointed structures of different age, but all
falling within the same construction date bracket as the north ruin. All are of whin rubble construction with dressed sandstone margins. The south wall shows disturbance to the original stonework, as though a fireplace has been removed and built up.
The middle structure is not very large and has only one large doorway on the south wall. The east and west walls have three low-placed square openings. From its single very wide entrance doorway, and the possibility that the low square openings along each side were feeding apertures, it is probable that this building was a byre (cowshed), or other form of animal accommodation.
To the south end of the middle structure are the remains of the walls of a courtyard. On the other side of the boundary wall and, projecting slightly into the field, are the ruins of three probable pig-sties.
It is possible that the north ruin immediately behind the stable, and the earliest part of the west ruin, were constructed around the same date as the building of the walled garden (c. 1780), to accommodate gardeners or other estate workers.
The later additions to the west ruin may have been added coincidental with a change of function from gardener’s accommodation to farm steading.
Immediately east of the west ruin lie the remains of an enclosed yard. Within the north east corner of the enclosure are the remains of a small compartment, which contains a quantity of coal and coke. A stone gate post associated with an entrance to the yard is located about the middle of the north wall, close to the corner of this small compartment. In the middle of the yard a quantity of collapsed rubble stone may indicate the former presence of bothies or other outbuildings. The purpose of this enclosure is not discernible, but it may have been used as a storage yard for estate materials.
All of these ruins are believed to have fallen into disuse about 1920, shortly after the walled garden ceased to function. In 2000, and again in 2006, the north ruin was exposed from its dense covering of undergrowth and ivy, but the building was found to be in such a ruinous and unstable condition that it was considered uneconomical to conserve it in any way. The same condition applies to the west ruin and enclosed yard.
These ruins are being investigated by Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society.
Cammo Lodge (Visitor Centre)
In 1789 Charles Watson had this structure built, to serve as a gate-house at the entrance to the East Avenue, which had by then become the main approach to Cammo House. The external walls on the north and east sides are of rubble stone construction, while those on the east and west sides are of coursed sandstone blocks with sandstone margins to corners and openings. Carved on the stone lintel over the doorway are the initials C. W. and date 1789, flanked by two rosettes. This building is a good example of a late 18th century gate lodge, but was, for many years, a derelict and roofless shell, until it was restored in 1992 by builders Mactaggart & Mickel Ltd, under the auspices of Edinburgh District Council, for use as a Visitor Centre, which opened in 1993.
The nearby approach bridge spanning the Bughtlin Burn was constructed twenty-seven years earlier by James Watson, and his initials and the date 1762 are carved into the keystone on the north face of the bridge. Immediately north of this existing bridge, the ruins of an earlier bridge which was in use prior to 1722, still span the burn.
Stone Bench (outside Visitor Centre)
The stone bench outside the visitor centre was discovered in August 2003 almost totally buried in the soil at the top of the sloping bank in the Pinetum
After its discovery, the bench was taken to the City Council’s workshops to have stainless steel anchor rods inserted in its feet for safety and security purposes, and was eventually returned to Cammo in 2007 where it was installed on the paved area outside the visitor centre.
Cammo Sundial (in Visitor Centre)
In 1795 Charles Watson, then owner of Cammo Estate, purchased a gracefully sculpted ‘dial pillar’ of Greek character from stonemason Robert Gray. It is known that this dial pillar was sculpted from a single block of stone, and it can only be assumed that this was a conventional sundial having a flat horizontal dial on the abacus of the column, with a single centrally placed gnomon (shadow marker). The initials ‘C.W.’ and the date ‘1795’ occur at the four corners on the surface of the square abacus.
In 1975 the National Trust for Scotland, having had Cammo Estate bequeathed to them, discovered the overgrown sundial still standing on the terrace and, realising its historic value, had it removed from the estate to a place of safe-keeping.
In 2002 Friends of Cammo became concerned about the lack of local knowledge regarding the whereabouts of the sundial and its apparent ‘disappearance’. However, it was eventually traced to a storage container in the NTS maintenance yard at Newhailes, near Musselburgh.
In 2003 Friends of Cammo agreed to fund conservation work, transportation and installation costs, and a long-term loan agreement was reached between the NTS and City of Edinburgh Council whereby the sundial would be put on public display in the visitor centre at Cammo Estate, and this was finally achieved on 10th June 2004.
Stone Vase (in Visitor Centre)
In 1843, Helen Watson, then owner of Cammo Estate, purchased three large ornamental stone vases. Two of these vases were placed at either side of the stone stairway at the south end of the Pinetum terrace, and the third was positioned at the west end of the retaining wall separating the sloping bank from the rose gardens.
In 1995 the vase on the end of the retaining wall was discovered when a large cedar tree was toppled by winter gales and fell onto a huge dense thicket of brier and ivy, thereby exposing the vase for the first time in almost half a century. The vase itself had evidently fallen from its original position many years before, and was found lying on its side still attached to a large section of wall coping stone. The vase (and coping stone) were put on public display in the visitor centre. The two vases originally located on the stairway have never been found.
In 2004 Friends of Cammo funded the cost of conservation work on the vase,
and at this time it was also separated from the coping stone,
which was returned to the retaining wall.