Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape

NEWTON DONGDL00299

Status: Designated

Documents

Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/termsandconditions).

Summary

Date Added
01/07/1987
Last Date Amended
30/06/2011
Local Authority
Scottish Borders
Parish
Nenthorn, Stichill
NGR
NT 70493 36863
Coordinates
370493, 636863

This largely intact and scenically valuable designed landscape provides the setting for Newton Don house, an early 19th-century, Neo-classical mansion by Sir Robert Smirke (1781-1867). Other structures and ornamentation contribute to the recognised architectural interest of the site, while significant nature habitat value derives from the Eden Water, a tributary of the Tweed, and designated as a Special Area of Conservation.

Type of Site

A well-preserved, secluded country seat in the lower Tweed valley developed at great expense during the late 18th to early 19th century. It is a park and woodland landscape, with excellent panoramic views, associated policy fields, and good estate architecture, including a sizable stable courtyard, lodges and walled garden.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

Late 18th century to 1826

Artistic Interest

Level of interest
High

Accounts of the 19th century praise views of the parks and indicate that the designed landscape was valued in its own right as a work of art.

Historical

Level of interest
Outstanding

Surviving historical maps of Newton Don are an excellent source of evidence for the designed landscape just before and just after the major improvement projects of the Don family. The late 19th century article by Charles Barrington Balfour is also of significant value as a compilation of many different historical sources.

Horticultural

Level of interest
Some

There remains a good range of mature broadleaf and exotic conifer trees in the parks and the former shrubberies around the house.

Architectural

Level of interest
Outstanding

The designed landscape forms the setting for Newton Don house, recognised for its exceptional architectural interest through its category-A listed status. The sundial, garden gate, stables, and east lodge are also considered to be of particular historic and architectural merit.

Archaeological

Level of interest
Some

While there are no scheduled monuments at Newton Don, archaeological interest derives from the stray find of a Bronze Age dirk or rapier blade, ploughed up in the early 20th century and now in the National Museum in Edinburgh. Like elsewhere, more general interest derives from the potential for future archaeological survey to reveal further information regarding the nature of the landscape over time.

Scenic

Level of interest
High

Views across the local farming landscape are enriched by the substantial mature policy woodlands and glimpses of the undulating parklands around Newton Don house.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest
Outstanding

As part of the River Tweed system, the Eden Water is recognised as a Special Area of Conservation on account of its importance as a habitat for riverine flora and fauna, such as brook and river lamprey.

Location and Setting

Located just over 2 miles (3.5km) north east of Kelso, Newton Don is set within the open, rolling farmland of the Tweed valley lowlands. Sheltered policy fields occupy the western half of the designed landscape, while the house, main parks and woodlands are located towards the east. Within this core area, the Eden Water meanders through a wooded, steep-sided ravine. Downstream from the waterfall at Stichill Linn, it is recognised as part of the Tweed Special Area of Conservation on account of its value as a habitat for riverine flora and fauna. The house of Newton Don itself occupies a higher bluff above the watercourse from where long-ranging views extend southwards from the parks and woods and across the Tweed valley towards the more distant Cheviots. The policy woodlands and parkland trees are prominent components of the designed landscape and offer a substantial contrast to the surrounding bare arable lands. The main road from Kelso towards Lauder (A6089) forms the western edge of the designed landscape, while minor roads define the southern and eastern boundaries. The Eden Water, and in part, the woods on its northern bank, form the northern boundary of Newton Don. The total area of the designed landscape measures 215ha (531ac).

Site History

Newton Don is primarily a designed landscape of the late 18th to early 19th century. It owes its name to the Don family who first acquired the former manorial lands of Newton c.1648, and who went on to initiate major projects of improvement and alteration from the later 18th onwards. Early maps give some indication of the landscape prior to this period of change. Roy's Military Survey of 1747-55, for instance, shows enclosed fields and a main house at the centre of what appears to be an avenue or approach that stretched from the old village of Little Newton to the Eden Water in the north-east. Sir Alexander Don inherited the estate and baronetcy in 1776, and a larger scale surviving plan drawn up by James Stobie in the following year provides more detail (NAS RHP3553). The old buildings of the village line the main axis, while Sir Alexander's house is depicted with its own separate drive from the south east, a swathe of parkland, and a dovecot, orchard and plantations located to the east and north-east of the house.

The next 40 years brought radical change. Like other members of the landed gentry of the time, the Dons sought to expand the pleasure grounds and to create a secluded, fashionable, country seat, rich in parks and timber, and befitting their status. The village was cleared away and the grounds around the house were transformed through the removal of the straight field divisions, and the creation of sinuous-edged parks, enclosed with substantial woodland plantations. New access drives were created and a minor burn was dammed to form three long, curving ponds. In 1800, a visitor to Newton Don penned a letter describing a 'remarkably pretty, cheerful place', with fine parkland trees, sloping lawns, a shrubbery and walks, but which was, alas, 'all unfinished, (Sir.A. having more taste, I fancy, than cash)' (quoted in Balfour 1894: 296). On the death of Sir Alexander Don in 1815, his son, also Alexander, inherited, and continued to commission costly and labour-intensive work on the estate, including the construction of a new mansion house to the designs of renowned English architect, Sir Robert Smirke.

By 1826, when Sir Alexander died aged 47, the framework of the present designed landscape had been established. Unfortunately, the transformation of Newton Don had strained the family coffers to such an extent that over the following years, furniture, household effects, and surrounding estate farms had to be sold off. William Henry Don, who had inherited while still a child, was unable to repair the damage and after a military career, eventually managed to forge a living as a travelling actor. A later speech by Charles Barrington Balfour in 1893 to a gathered party from the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club alluded to the lavish spending and gambling of the final Dons of Newton Don, which had ultimately led to the sale of the property itself in 1847 (Berwickshire Naturalist's Club 1894: 231).

Newton Don was purchased by Charles Balfour of Balgonie in Fife in 1847 and the property remains in the ownership of his descendents. In particular, Charles Barrington Balfour (1862-1921) and his wife, Helena McDonnell, known as Nina, exerted their influence over the character of the grounds through the addition of typical Victorian and Edwardian garden elements, such as semi-formal flower beds, a water garden and the enhancement of the shrubberies with exotic conifer specimens. By the end of the 19th century, the estate had become known for the picturesque views of the parks and the waterfall, (Groome 1884: 100; Rutherford 1849: 66) and the sizable veteran trees, measured by members of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh (recorded by Balfour 1894: 297) and, in 1893, by the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club (Hist. Berwicks. Natur. Club 1894: 230).

During the two World Wars of the 20th century, Newton Don was used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. With time, the elaborate Victorian beds were grassed over, and the water garden abandoned. However, the essential parkland and woodland structure endured, and remains the basis for the more simple, but still impressive designed landscape of the present day. Since the later 20th century, the present owners have undertaken various maintenance projects, including renovations to the house interior, and replanting projects in the policy woods and parks. In the first decade of the 21st century, work commenced on restoring and resurfacing the network of woodland paths by the Eden Water.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Newton Don is a largely unembellished Neo-classical house constructed in 1817-20 to designs by Robert Smirke. It comprises a central, 3-storey block flanked by 2-storey, bow-fronted wings and partially incorporates the fabric of an earlier, 18th-century house. Leading from the entrance court by the west elevation, a garden gate with the inscribed date 1779, and brought from Balgonie Castle in Fife, is notable for its ornamental arch topped by a unicorn. An 18th-century stone lion rampant, meanwhile, forms a striking pedestal for a sundial on the south lawn. To the north east of the house, a late 19th-century rustic summerhouse with patterned timber and bamboo panels is orientated to afford views towards nearby parkland. The substantial stables are of probable early 19th-century date with late 19th-century alterations. They are arranged around a courtyard accessed through a pedimented pend surmounted by an octagonal two-tiered clock tower. The adjacent, roughly rectangular walled garden was built c.late 18th to early 19th century and features two ornate cast iron gates, one dated 1907 and the other 1888-1913, to commemorate the silver wedding of Lady Nina and Charles Barrington Balfour. Power for the estate formerly came from a generating house by the waterfall on the Eden. With a castellated upper storey and crow-stepped porch, the present stone structure was built in the late 19th century to replace an earlier pump and 'filtering apparatus'. The two main entrance points to the designed landscape are flanked by a gabled West Lodge, built 1892, and, on the B6364, an earlier East Lodge, built c.1815 to a 'Greek-Doric' design, also by Robert Smirke, and linked to curved screen walls and the square-capped, ashlar gate-piers of the entrance gateway. A coped boundary wall encloses much of the core, eastern area of woodlands and parks around Newton Don house. Just beyond this wall, close to the mid-19th-century Mid Lodge, is a burial aisle. Used by both the Don and Balfour families, it consists of a roofless, rubble-built structure partially built from stones from an older chapel structure; almost certainly that associated with the former village of Little Newton. The cluster of buildings at the nearby Home Farm includes a rubble-built 19th-century steading, now used for workshops and offices. A path to the north-east leads into woodland and close to a sizable, semi-subterranean, rubble-built ice-house that features a dressed stone, square entrance, a long passage with brick-lined roof, and a circular domed chamber.

Drives & Approaches

Two approaches to Newton Don follow routes established by the early 19th century. Smirke's c.1815 Greek revival lodge and gateway marks the east entrance from where a rhododendron-lined drive meanders gently through mixed woodland. As in the 19th century, a stone bridge over a burn (and former water garden) marks a fairly dramatic moment of transition as this secluded approach suddenly gives way to impressive open parkland views dominated by Newton Don house, visible above on the crest of the hill. The west drive, meanwhile, is longer and traverses the western policy fields of the designed landscape. Unusually high beech hedges line the drive, and further on, a tunnel below the drive conceals a section of a narrow service track, probably used for driving livestock. From here, the west drive proceeds to sweep through parkland and links up with the east drive before arriving at the principal west front of the house.

Parkland

Newton Don house is encircled by small, attractive parks that are integral to both the setting of the house, and the scenic value of the designed landscape as a whole. The sloping landform, the good quality, grazed grass sward, and numerous mature broadleaf specimens, all serve to enrich landscape views from both in and around Newton Don. The present parkland structure was developed from the later 18th century onwards, when the old village of Little Newton was cleared away, and former land divisions near the house levelled and smoothed over. Early 19th-century maps, which show the completed parkland design, refer to Lawn, Canal, Bog, Stable and Orchard parks (RCAHMS C46538-CN (1828); NAS RHP9356 (1833), and while the tight, circular clumps of trees depicted in these parks have gone, the larger clumps of the policy fields to the west remain in place. Similarly, although many of the impressive individual veteran trees recorded and measured over a century ago have since been lost, new saplings planted at the end of the 20th century and opening decade of the 21st, will eventually perpetuate the long-established parkland character.

Woodland

Thick, curving strips of mixed woodland enclose the core parks and stretch along the steep, enclosing banks of the Eden Water valley. Minor perimeter strips also shelter some of the western policy fields. Like the parkland, the structure of the plantations was mostly established by the earlier 19th century and the range of species present lends texture and interest to views from in and around Newton Don. Sycamore, oak, birch, beech and lime, with some later conifers, characterise much of the woodlands, with some discrete 20th-century commercial forestry stands, such as in Jubilee plantation to the north-east of the house. More recent plantation work has focused on replacing areas of woodland decimated in the 1987 gale. There are a number of paths that wind through the Newton Don woodlands. The Madeira Walk, for example, leads from the house and summerhouse overlooking the park, to the Jubilee Plantation. The longer, riverside path through the woods on the south bank of the Eden Water, which had been suffering from erosion, was restored and improved in 2008.

The Gardens

A garden terrace along the south-east front of the house features a number of box hedges, clipped into dome shapes, and central stone steps that descend onto a lower gravel walk, lined by rose bushes. Views from here extend southwards across the parks, woods and beyond as far as the Cheviots. Apart from this terrace, the grounds immediately around the house are largely free of embellishment and the simple lawns, punctuated only by ornamental trees, ensure an emphasis on the impressive longer-ranging views. Many of the ornamental trees, including variegated hollies, yews and cedars, are remnants of a 19th-century garden scheme that also included the cultivation of several areas of shrubberies to the south-east and north of the house, and the development of luxuriant flower and herbaceous beds, captured in photographs of the 1890s, and of the 1950s, before they were grassed over in the later 20th century. Another former garden space, of which only remnants are now left, was the water garden to the south of the house. A minor tributary burn of the Eden Water was manipulated probably sometime in the early 19th century to create three long ponds or canals. Perhaps originally intended as ornamental parkland features, these ponds were later the focus for planting by the Balfour family sometime during the late 19th to early 20th century. While the ponds themselves have silted up, and the immediate area now overgrown, clumps of bamboo, rhododendron and gunnera still grow along the banks.

Walled Gardens

The walled garden was developed on its present site c.late 18th to early 19th centuries. Today, it remains a functioning, cultivated enclosure, and is let on a commercial basis for plant wholesales. Although the interior is now dominated by polytunnel structures, some of the former structural and garden elements remain in place, including the gatepiers and ornate early 20th-century wrought iron gates, a glasshouse, and old fruit trees that still grow on the brick-lined inner walls. Otherwise, the first and second Ordnance Survey editions together with historic photos and magazines are the best source of evidence for the estate walled garden of the 19th and early 20th century (1855-7 OS; 1896-8 OS; RCAHMS). Originally divided into four quadrants, with glasshouses on the central axis and near the north gate, the garden featured elaborate ribbon and colour-themed borders. Helena, 'Nina' Balfour, who lived at Newton Don from the late 1880s, won several horticultural medals and was especially known for her collection of Malmaison carnations (Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society 1901). To the south east of the walled garden, there was a further semi-circular area of flower beds, which judging from the map evidence, was mostly grassed over by the close of the 19th century.

References

Bibliography

Maps, Plans and Archives

1747-55 General Roy's Military Survey

1777 James Stobie, 'Plan of Newton in Berwickshire', NAS RHP3553

1797 John Blackadder, 'Berwickshire'

1821 John Thomson 'Berwick-Shire'

1828 Plan of the estate of Newton Don, by William Crawford, Colour negative, RCAHMS C46538-CN

1833 Plan of Newton Don Park, NAS RHP9356

1843 William Crawford and William Brooke, 'Map embracing extensive portions of the Counties of Roxburgh, Berwick, Selkirk & Midlothian and Part of Northumberland. Minutely and accurately surveyed by… Crawford and Brooke'

1846 Plan of Newton estate, NAS RHP9354

[19th century] Plan of Newton Don Park, Harrietfield and Newtonlees, NAS RHP9355

[19th century] Plan of Newton Don Park, Harrietfield, Courthill and Smailholm Spittal, NAS RHP9357

1855-7 survey Berwickshire, 1st edition OS 1:2500 (25”) and OS 1:10560 (6”), published 1862

1896-8 survey Berwickshire, 2nd edition OS 1:2500 (25”) and OS 1:10560 (6”), published 1909

NAS GD39/6/3/6 Valuation and particular of sale of Newton Don estate, 1828

RCAHMS: National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS) and photographic and manuscript collections

Sources

Printed Sources

ASH Consulting Group 1998, The Borders landscape assessment, Edinburgh: Scottish Natural Heritage.

Balfour, C B B 1894, 'Notes on Newton Don and its former owners', History of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club, 14, 291-313

Cruft, K; Dunbar, J and Fawcett, R 2006, Borders, London and New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press

Findlay, C, 1972, 'Newton Don near Kelso, the Berwickshire home of the Hon. Mrs Aurea Balfour', Scottish Field, March, 42-5

Groome, Francis H, 1884, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, London

Historic Scotland on behalf of Scottish Ministers The Lists of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest

History of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club 1894, 'Report of the Meetings of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club for 1893', 13, 207-54

Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society 1901

Land Use Consultants 1987, Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland, Edinburgh: Historic Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage

Rutherford, J 1849, Rutherford's Border hand-book, Kelso

Internet Sources

SiteLink: Scottish Natural Heritage, Sites designated for their natural heritage value, www.snh.org.uk/snhi/ [accessed 18 June 2009]

Note of Abbreviations used in references

NAS: National Archives of Scotland

RCAHMS: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland

About the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

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Images

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Printed: 18/01/2021 19:11