The Monimail estate, now Melville, was a residence of the Bishop of St Andrews first built by Bishop William Lamberton in the 14th century. Monimail Tower, a surviving fragment of the Bishop's country retreat was reconstructed at least twice. Firstly by Cardinal Beaton (1539-46) and then by Sir James Balfour of Pittendreich who bought the house and lands in 1564. They were described as 'ruinous, waste and broken down' and incapable of repair unless 'at great cost'. Balfour modernised the tower in 1578 and, in 1592, his son sold the 'palice, judging and maner place of Monymeill' to Sir Robert Melville of Murdocairnie, 2nd Lord Melville of Monimail.
The Melvilles lived in Monimail Tower until 1710 when they moved into their new principal residence, commissioned by George 1st Earl of Melville and President of the Privy Council (1634?-1707). He had succeeded his father, John 3rd Baron Melville, in 1643, whose charter for joining the lands of Monimail and Raith into a barony was ratified in 1644. Implicated in the Rye House Plot (1683), George escaped to Hamburg before joining the Prince of Orange's court. Consequently, in 1685, his estates were forfeited by parliament, until he regained them at the Convention of Estates in Edinburgh in 1689. In that year he was appointed Secretary of State and, in 1690, Commissioner to Parliament and created Earl of Melville, Viscount Kirkcaldy, Lord Raith, Monimail and Balwearie. He was criticised in a contemporary pamphlet on the 'Scots Grievance' as being 'wholly employed how to engross the considerable places of the kingdom for enriching his family' (Stephen 1993, p.239).
To better reflect his newly gained status, Melville commissioned James Smith to draw up a series of proposals for a 'Showhouse' (Gifford 1992, pp.321-3) Several unexecuted proposals for Melville House (1697-1702) designed variously by Smith and by Sir William Bruce, survive. Smith who was the contractor, was probably the main designer of the house as completed, based on or using designs by Bruce. Despite proposals for more elaborate facades, Melville chose a more reserved façade with 'the opulent display of his newly ennobled wealth for the interior'Melville was furnished as profusely as any royal palace, including as the centrepiece the Great Leven or Melville State Bed...' (Glendinning, MacInnes & MacKechnie 1996, p.99).
This new mansion was under construction by 1702 and lay in open fields to the south of Monimail Tower. Structural planting consisted of woods and avenues. Field boundaries surrounding these were laid out, probably as the house was being built. Alexander Edward (1651-1708), acting as Bruce's architectural assistant and draughtsman, is referred to in a letter dated 21 April 1697, as being hard at work drawing out his designs for Melville House, which he was to present to the Earl before starting to 'extend the draught of the garden and courts' (quoted in Colvin 1995, p.332). His work at Melville came shortly after that at Kinnaird (1695) where he laid out the gardens, his drawings including parterres and a bowling green laid out around the house (Lowrey 1987, p.12). The principal approach was a beech-lined avenue, 1km long on the main axis of the mansion, 'considered one of the finest approaches in Scotland' (Pride 1990, pp.102-3). Monimail Tower was retained, perhaps as a banqueting house, as there is 18th century pine panelling in an upper chamber indicating its use at this period.
A note of its appearance in 1719 mentioned 'My Lord Liven's 500,000 trees at Mellvin' (Scottish History Society 1978, p.17). The general layout was described by Macky as an 'ascent to Melville House'by a long Avenue the full Breadth of the House, with a spacious wood on each side of the Avenue, and more Fir-trees than evere I saw any where.' Although the gardens were laid out, Macky noted that they were 'not yet finish'd' (Macky 1723, p.159). The Melville family's somewhat troubled fortunes at this period may, in some way, explain the halting progress on any grander scheme planned, for the 1st Earl was predeceased by his son Alexander Melville, Lord Raith (1698) and succeeded, in 1707, by David 3rd Earl of Melville and 2nd of Leven (1660-1728). A great military commander, commissioner for the Union (1702), Commander in Chief of Scottish forces and Keeper of Edinburgh Castle (1704), the 3rd Earl was deprived of his offices by the tory administration in 1712. It is said that the Raith estate was sold, in 1723 to Robert Ferguson (see Raith, page XX), partly to fund the work at Melville, but no doubt the rapid succession, which continued with the loss of David Melville 4th Earl of Leven and 3rd Earl of Melville in 1729 at the age of 12, was a major factor in the family's changing circumstances.
By the mid-late 18th century the main changes affecting the landscape were the thinning of the wilderness planting and woodland to the south of the house to create more of a landscape parkland (Ainslie1775).
There was little change in the overall configuration of the designed landscape during the 19th century, which retained its strict formality and principal compartments. The walled garden, incorporating Monimail Tower, was built in 1825, although it is unclear to what extent a former garden existed on the site. The main section, facing southwards contained a range of glasshouses and was reached from a walk leading northwards from the house and crossing the Ballantager Burn. Sometime, probably during the mid-1800s, a porch was constructed on the north front. Together with the construction of the North lodge this may mark the movement of the main entrance to the north front. By 1828 the approach along the beech avenue had been superceded by a winding drive, approaching the house from the south-west (Sharp, Greenwood and Fowler 1828). Mid 19th century additions included a small water garden and a curling pond laid out to the south-east of the house, and a formal, oval garden including a summer house, laid out within Approach Wood ( 1853, OS 25").
During World War II Melville House was the HQ of British AU resistance units and a billet for Polish troops. Auxilliary Units were in training up to D-Day when all AU operations ceased. The house and policies remained with the Melville family until 1949 when it was sold. Aerial photography reveals that, until 1947 much of the historical planting was still in place. By 1969 a great deal of this had been felled. The property eventually became Dalhousie Prep. School in 1960 until 1971. In 1975 it was purchased by Fife County Council when it became a special education school until 1998. The house and 6.7 ha/16.1 acres have been purchased and are in private ownership. The surrounding land, within the policies is in agricultural use and some tree-belt and field boundary trees have been lost.
Melville House, designed by James Smith 1694, is a large, symmetrical H-plan classical house, linked by screen walls to flanking pavilions. It is rendered and lined as ashlar, with ashlar dressings, lugged architraves and rusticated quoins. The principal elevation was initially on the south elevation. Reginald Fairlie undertook alterations and additions to the house in 1939. Two parallel pavilion blocks form a courtyard to the south of the house, each is rectangular and also harled with ashlar dressings. Screen walls linking these to the house, have a central rectangular gate flanked by round-headed alcoves with moulded stone copings, capped with urns and 4 symmetrically placed balls. South of the house, forming the limit of the courtyard are two square lodges flanking the entrance gateway. These 2-storey lodges have slated, ogee- roofs with weathervane finials inscribed 'M' and dated 1697. Low rubble walks link square, diamond-faced ashlar, gatepiers with the lodges. The gatepiers have 19th century vase finials. Immediately to the east of the house are a range of late 18th century Stables. Melville Home Farm lies to the south-west of the house, and remains in agricultural use.
Monimail Tower or Palace, also known as Cardinal Beaton's Tower, is dated 1578 on a parapet and bears the initials and arms of Balfour of Pittendrech. It comprises a 4-storey square-plan tower, with a basement, although it is a fragment of a larger, earlier structure. It is now incorporated into garden walls with former garden buildings to the south and a flat-roofed lean-to shed against the east wall. The Melville House Walled Garden, comprising two large rectangular-plan garden enclosures in L-plan, share a common wall dated 1825. The larger enclosure lies to the south of Monimail Tower and the smaller to the west. Both are rubble-built, with ashlar dressings and flat coping. The eastern half of the north wall is flued, to provide a hot wall for glasshouse ranges.
The mid 19th century North Lodge is a symmetrical, two-storey T-plan lodge with Tudor Gothic detailing. It is set behind a rubble wall with simple, square, rubble-built gatepiers.
To the west of the walled garden is a Monument, erected after 1865. It is a tall, battered, square ashlar column with a stepped base on a pedestal. The column is inscribed with biblical texts. It was erected by Alexander, 6th earl of Leven and Melville, in memory of his daughters Marianne (d.1823) and Lucy (d.1865). The roadside boundary to the north of the policies is a rubble-built stone wall. To the west of Melville Gates roundabout is a Doocot, c 1770, converted from a windmill.
Drives and Approaches
The principal approach to the house lay from the south, along the beech avenue 1km in length. Although this area remains distinctly fenced, the drive is now redundant and the planting has been replaced by commercial belts of forestry to either sides of the remnant drive.
The main approach now comes into the site from the north, directly off the public road to the east of Monimail Church, and past the North Lodge. It passes through remnant parkland, paid out on south facing slopes before arriving at the north front of Melville House.
Previously some perimeter drives existed along with a circuitous route in through Approach Wood (1894, OS 25"). These have all been lost.
Small areas of parkland survive, flanking the north drive into the site and to the north of the house. Elsewhere trees have been lost and areas are agricultural. There never was an extensive parkland on all sides of the house. The formal compartments disposed around the house were used variously as blocks of woodland or for pasture and arable. The major parkland areas were the compartments to the north of Approach Wood, north of the house as far as the cross walk with Home farm and areas in the south-west of the designed landscape bordering the public road (1854 1st ed. 6"O.S.)
Few areas of woodland survive. Principally those along the north boundary of the site. Other areas, e.g. the southern approach have been replanted with commercial conifer planting. An interesting feature is the survival of large tree-trunks from perimeter planting along the north of the site, between the North Lodge and Monimail Church. These trees must have pre-dated the boundary wall as it has been built to respect them along its length.
The garden compartments and boundaries immediately around the house survive (walls, drystone-faced ditches). Apart from some specimen Irish yew in the south courtyard, little planting survives.
The walled garden is set at Monmail Tower, incorporating it. Set on a south-facing slope, there are features which indicate its ornamental nature as well as a purely functional one. The central walk of the southern garden winds as a continuation of the pleasure ground walks, rather than being a straight cross-walk. In addition the garden laid out at right angles to the southern one, connects to a long, raised terrace with a small bastion at its central point. This would imply its use as a viewpoint, overlooking the parkland and countryside.