Inventory Garden & Designed Landscape

NOVARGDL00303

Status: Designated

Documents

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Summary

Date Added
31/03/2003
Supplementary Information Updated
06/03/2024
Local Authority
Highland
Parish
Alness
NGR
NH 61616 68104
Coordinates
261616, 868104

Novar is a major later 18th century formal designed landscape established by military officer, politician and landowner, Sir Hector Munro. It has outstanding architectural and scenic interest for its range of buildings, and extensive planting and parklands. There is outstanding historic interest in its direct association with Munro and the expansion of the British empire in later 18th century India, which is reflected in the physical dimensions of the designed landscape with further evidence from surviving estate plans.

Inventory record revised (minor amendments) 2024.

Type of Site

Country estate landscape centred on Novar House with ancillary buildings, woodland, parkland and formal walled gardens.

Main Phases of Landscape Development

1768-1805, late 19th century, 1950s.

Artistic Interest

Level of interest
High

The planting and layout of Novar, relatively unchanged since 1800, give the site high value as a Work of Art. It reflects a contemporary and unique approach to the development of the landscape character.

Historical

Level of interest
Outstanding

Novar has outstanding Historical value due to its good documentary evidence and surviving physical fabric. The association with Munro and his activities in India is reflected in the place names and monuments of the designed landscape, the extent of planting, and historical records relating to the development of the designed landscape.

Horticultural

Level of interest
High

Novar has high Horticultural value for its tree-collection, its long history of commercial timber production and the ornamental and productive Walled Garden.

Architectural

Level of interest
Outstanding

A number of significant architectural features are integral to the design layout and original in their design. Thereby Novar is of outstanding Architectural value.

Archaeological

Level of interest
Some

Novar is of some Archaeological interest as evidenced by the survival within the boundary of a prehistoric burial mound (SM5002) and other recorded sites in the National Record for the Historic Environment).

Scenic

Level of interest
Outstanding

Novar's woodlands, parks, mansion house and follies are visually important in views over from the Black Isle and the A9. Novar is of outstanding Scenic value.

Nature Conservation

Level of interest
High

The range and variety of woodland, parkland, meadow, garden and wetland habitats gives Novar high Nature Conservation value.

Location and Setting

Novar is situated on the north side of the Cromarty Firth, 3.5km southwest of Alness and 1.5km northeast of Evanton, on the Alness-Evanton road.

The estate lies on the southeast slopes of Cnoc Fyrish, Cnoc an Deilignidh and Meann Chnoc, to the northeast of Glen Glass. A series of watercourses, Big Burn, Allt Duach, Allt Duilleag, and Allt a' Chadha Mhóir, drain the slopes and lower lying areas of the Novar policies, issuing into Alness Bay.

Novar House stands about 55m above sea level, at the centre of a series of enclosed parklands which ascend Cnoc an Deilignidh to 140m above sea level. The parklands are sheltered to the north, east and west by plantations. This landscape framework directs long-distance views southeastwards over the lower parklands, across the Cromarty Firth to the Black Isle. The designed landscape has a series of follies, which highlight major views. Most notable is the Fyrish Monument, a local landmark (outside the inventory boundary) which can be seen from many miles away. Views into the Novar parklands can be gained from the Alness-Evanton road, which was previously the coaching road, the A9.

Estate maps (Aitken, 1777; 1796) and later maps (1874, OS 6"; 1904, OS 6") demonstrate that the general layout and extent of the designed landscape of c 150ha (371 acres) remains unchanged. Although the management of some areas of 'parkland' has altered, the general configuration of tree belts and drives has survived.

Site History

Novar House was built in 1720 by John Munro, on the site of an earlier house belonging to Robert Munro of Novar and his wife Helen (a reset date stone of 1634 is set within the west elevation). The house and grounds are shown on Roy's Military Survey Map of 1747–55.

The framework of the current designed landscape was created in the later 18th century by landowner, MP and army officer, Colonel, later General, Sir Hector Munro of Novar (1726–1805), who funded the works from the profits he gained in India.

In the 18th century, Britain was expanding its empire in India through the commercial and military activities of the East India Company. Having established himself at home in the royal regiments, Hector Munro was in India from 1761–65 and led the Company Army at the Battle of Buxar (Baksar or Bhaksar in northeast India) in 1764. Victory here ensured British supremacy in Bengal and for Hector Munro, a private fortune distributed by the new client ruler and landholders that secured his material position for the rest of his life (Mackillop 2005: 239).

Hector Munro spent most of his fortune on land purchases and improvements at Novar. The first phase of this work took place on his return from India in 1767 and coincided with his entry into Highland politics as MP for the Inverness Burghs. During a period of around 10 years, he undertook a scheme of building and estate improvement. He extended the house (circa 1770), and improved land, draining the mosses, and incorporating the latest agricultural methods.

In 1775, Matthew Culley noted that 'Colonel Monroe of Navarre...was improving a very barren soil in a most spirited and expeditious manner. The situation of the Colonel's house exceeds everything in all this pretty country, and he lives in the most elegant manner, everything being in the cleanest and neatest stile we have hitherto seen.'

A survey plan of 1777 outlines much of this work. It depicts a gridiron series of enclosure fields and drives, as well as proposals aimed at increasing the amenities of the mansion (Aitken, 1777 notes among other proposals, 'A Lawn intended around the House'). The execution of Aitken's survey and plan may well have been spurred on by Munro's projected return to India.

By 1777, Munro's finances had been impacted by a decade of expenditure at Novar and losses from the 1772 Ayr Bank failure. He likely viewed a second sojourn to India as a ready solution and among his early actions on arrival was to recover outstanding financial obligations from his previous term (Mackillop 2005: 239; Bryant 2004). Hector Munro returned to India as commander-in-chief of the Madras army and spent a total of five more years in India.

Although this second period began well with a victory in 1778 for the siege of Pondicherry (now Pudicherry) and a resulting knighthood, his reputation was seriously damaged for his role in the Battle of Polillur near Conjeevaram (Kanchipuram in south-eastern India) in 1780 - the worst defeat for the British in 18th century India. Some redemption came in 1781 with his actions under Sir Eyre Coote at the battle of Porto Novo (1 July 1781) and his command of the siege of Negapatam at the start of the Fourth Anglo Dutch War ). In ill-health, he left India in 1782. Although his active military career had ended, he received further promotion in later life, becoming colonel of the Black Watch in 1787, a lieutenant-general in 1793, and general in 1798 (Munro, Hector – Oxford Dictionary National Biography 2004; Evanton Oral History Project: Novar Estate).

Returning to Highland society and his political career, Hector Munro  recommenced investment in the Novar policies, further transforming and embellishing the local landscape in a second phase of major building, planting and improvement works during the 1780s and 1790s. By this period, he had converted upland areas to sheep runs and laid out a series of gardens in the extensive walled garden (1796, Estate Plan; Richardson and Clough, 1989). The parkland planting, initially modest in scale, was augmented with a series of clumps, roundels and platoons, which decorated The Lawn (planned in the 1770s), the largest area of parkland, extending south of the house. Further ornamentation of the Lawn included a large statue of the Novar Eagle, the heraldic crest of the Munros, perched on top of a mount in the west Lawn. Two plantations, to east and west, flanked the house. Between 1788 and 1792, around 778,000 firs and Scots pine had been planted (MacKillop 2005: 247). Many of the enclosure parks were named after Munro's campaigns or Indian places: 'Buxar Park, Bombay Park, Madrafs Park, Negapatnam Park, Mount Delly Park, Nilafaram park, Mattalloy Park, Taujore Park, Trichenopoly Park, Surat Park, Calcutta Park, Benerafs Park...' as well as the more functional 'Sheep Park, Kiln Park' or the more local names 'Firish New Park... The Inn Park' (1796, Estate Plan).

One of Munro's most conspicuous works was the hilltop Fyrish Monument, built in 1792 to provide work for his tenantry. Tradition says that it is a copy of the gates of the fortress of Negapatam on the Coromandel coast. Although not a copy, it loosely follows Indian architectural styles in the shape of its three arches. It is likely that Munro designed it himself, to commemorate his victory in 1781. Southey noted General Munro's work in his Journal in 1819: 'There are extensive plantations on the hills behind the house, and some odd edifices on the summits which he is said to have designed as imitations of the hill-forts in India. One of them appeared like a huge sort of Stonehenge; but we saw it only from a distance.' Other follies included a Chinese Temple, built on the edge of Temple Park.

Munro is reputed to have spent a total of around £120,000 on land acquisition and estate improvement (Mackillop, Oxford Dictionary National Biography 2004). He supported the introduction of sheep into the Highlands and Novar was among the first estates to see large-scale opposition north of the Great Glen (Mackillop 2005: 252) – In summer 1792, troops were called in to restore order after protests against rent increases, the loss of arable, and the enclosure of common grazing (Munro, Hector – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004).

Hector Munro was unmarried. Of his three children, two sons were killed in India. One by a tiger (a well known incident) and the other by a shark. His daughter Jean was unable to inherit Novar in her own right, so the property was left to his brother Sir Alexander Munro, who was for many years consul general at Madrid and thereafter, a commissioner of excise. His son, Hugh Alexander Munro (d.1865), followed him. He died without any legitimate heirs and the property reverted to Jean's family as she had by now been married to General Sir Ronald Ferguson of Raith, Kirkcaldy. In the late 19th century, many of the existing exotic trees and shrubs were planted in the grounds. In 1890, additions and alterations were made to the house for Ronald Munro Ferguson, including a porch (removed in 1956).

Arthur Munro Ferguson made major improvements to the gardens in the 1950s. He designed and developed a water garden around the slaughterhouse and privy, planted gardens to the west of the house and constructed a garden wall with statuary niches. He constructed a lake fed by the Allt Duilleag in the southern parkland. A series of architectural features bought from the demolition of Rosehaugh in 1972 (see Rosehaugh) were incorporated into Novar House.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Novar House, built originally for John Munro of Novar in 1720, was altered in 1770, 1897 and 1956. It is south facing, U-shaped in plan and harled with ashlar and rendered finishes. The house is two-storeys with dormer windows, and service wings extending to the north. These flank a courtyard, enclosed on its northern side by a high wall with a central gateway.

The landscape is ornamented with a series of follies. The most prominent is the Fyrish Monument, located to the north of the Inventory boundary, on the summit of Cnoc Fyrish. This landmark, a mock ruin, consists of nine massive circular columns built of mortared rubble, the centre four columns being linked by pointed arches, above which the wall finishes in a series of squat battlements.

Two Octagonal Towers are set on one of the junctions of the Main Drive and a Chinese Temple, north of the Walled Garden at the foot of Badger Hill, has been converted to a family memorial. To the south-west of the house, on Cat Hill, are two guntowers built for defensive purposes by General Munro during the Napoleonic Wars; a Square Tower, positioned on the summit of the hill, with a Round Tower lower down the slopes to its south-east. The construction of the water gardens in the 1950s, incorporated the ruins of the former Slaughterhouse as a folly, and a 'Privy', was converted into a pavilion and bridge. The water garden is laid out with a series of bridgeswater channels and stone benches. This garden scheme included, on the east side of the house, a rubble garden wall with circular niches set with statuary.

The Mains of Novar is in a prominent situation at the top of the Main Drive, above the parklands.

Novar Walled Garden, north of the House, is subdivided into two sections, east and west, built of coped rubble walls with ornate wrought iron gates. The Gardener's Cottage lies on its eastern perimeter.

Larch Cottage (also known Water Baillie's House or the 'Old Factor's House') is an early 19th century two-storey, three-bay house, harled with ashlar margins.

Novar Stables comprises two late 18th/early 19th century, five bay, parallel blocks linked at the north and south by retaining walls with ball finialed gate piers. All are harled with ashlar margins.

The East Entrance Gates, to the south-east of Novar House are a pair of facsimile gate piers, constructed c 1950, to replace damaged originals. They are flanked by pedestrian entrances. The West Entrance Gates, date from the late 18th century, are ashlar gate piers with cast iron carriage gates linked to square end piers.

Drives & Approaches

The 18th century drives, laid out in a formal rectilinear pattern, survive unaltered. The main approach is along the East Drive, which leads off the B817 by the East Gate. This formal drive, some 1.2km long, is lined with trees, borders the east side of the Lawn and leads uphill, to terminate at the Mains of Novar. A shorter drive leads off at right angles, westwards along the contour to Novar House. From the East Drive, there are intermittent, oblique views across parkland to the house. The 18th century scheme included an ornamental approach along the West Drive. This led through the West Gate, to take a serpentine route along the edge of Cat Hill Wood, before leading up to the stables.

To the east of the East Drive, the policies are laid out on a gridiron plan. This comprises three, straight, parallel, tree-lined drives which lead off the East Drive, on a north-easterly alignment. The remains of two Octagonal Towers flank the junction of the middle drive and East Drive.

Parkland

The east parks are arable (2001), and as a result several of the dividing shelter belts have become fragmented. The west parks (The Lawn, Temple Park and Firish New Park) are permanent grassland with a strong parkland character. The parkland has seen little change, although some clumps have been removed and others have lost trees. This results in a more informal landscape character. There are many impressive parkland specimens due to their maturity and size. Species include lime, Scots pine, sycamore, beech, horse chestnut and oak.

In the 18th century scheme, parkland extended on both sides of the East Drive. That to the east was divided into a series of five rows of enclosures regularly laid out into rectangular compartments. Those directly along the slope from Novar House were planted with geometric-shaped tree clumps. West of the East Drive, the parkland extended over south-facing slopes below Novar House. It was expansive and contained numerous geometric-shaped clumps of trees; squares, circles, triangles, crescents, ovals and diamonds using, for most clumps, single species.

Woodland

Novar designed landscape is sheltered by hillside plantations to the west and north. These comprise commercial conifer plantations with stands of Scots Pine and old semi-natural woodland.

The parklands are surrounded by, or subdivided by, woodland belts containing exotic species. These belts also border the plantations on the west side of the policies. A tree survey (1980) identified many significant specimens including eight giant fir (Abies grandis) over 48m (160ft) high, five Douglas fir between 45m and 51m (150ft-170ft), three Sitka spruce over 39m (130ft), larch and Wellingtonia over 30m (100ft). In addition, a survey identified cedar, Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), Monkey puzzle (Araucaria araucana), katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) and a tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).

Water Features

To the west of the house is a Water Garden, developed from circa 1950 onwards, along the Allt Duach. A series of interlinked pools with cascades and water channels, incorporate the former 'privy' and 'slaughterhouse' as follies. Recent enhancements to this area include an extension to the perimeter wall and management of the ornamental woodland (1990s).

A lochan in the south western corner of the park was created during the 1950s. This is fed by the Allt Duilleag and is retained by an earth dam with a small weir outlet. It is visible across the parkland from the house.

Walled Gardens

The Walled Garden, directly north of the house, is subdivided into two square compartments by a central wall (lying north-south). This wall is flanked by ornamental beds and pierced by three, arched gateways. The eastern compartment, which contains an oval pond in its south-western quarter, was laid out in four sections by crosspaths (1796, Estate Plan; 1874, OS 6"). It is now maintained as lawn, and the alignment of the paths can still be traced. The western compartment contains a croquet lawn, vegetable plots, orchard and a belt of ornamental trees running east to west along the centre-line of the garden.

The main entrance into the Walled Garden lies in the centre of the south wall, on an axis with the north court of Novar House. A flight of steps lead up from the drive, through an arched gateway and onto the Long Walk. This raised, terrace walk is lined by a parapet wall and runs the full length of the south wall.

The inner face of the north wall is brick-lined with stone buttresses. It supports several espalier fruit trees and large vines.

References

Bibliography

Maps, Plans and Archives

1747-55 General Roy's Military Survey, 1747-1755

1777 David Aitken Plan of the Farm & Policies of Novar the property of Genr. Munro made out from an accurate Survey taken by David Aitken Decr. 1777: Private collection

1796 Anon A Plan of the Mains of Novar the Property of the Honourable Sir Hr.Munro, 1796: Private collection

1874 survey, 1st edition OS 1:10560 (6"), published 1880

1904 survey, 2nd edition OS 1:10560 (6"), published 1907

1775 Journal of Matthew Culley's Tour of Scotland 1775, with notes on the same by his Brother Geo. Culley: Northumberland Record Office ZCU43

Tree Survey at Novar Estate, Evanton, Ross (c 1980)

Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, National Monuments Record of Scotland: Photographic collection (Novar House)

Sources

Printed Sources

Anderson, M. L. A History of Scottish Forestry (1967)

Ash, M. This Noble Harbour. A History of the Cromarty Firth (1995), pp.72-3, 91-6, 117, 233

Close-Brookes, J. Exploring Scotland's Heritage. The Highlands (1995)

Gifford, J. The Buildings of Scotland: Highlands and Islands (1992), pp.441-2

Groome, F. Ordnance Gazetteer (1882)

Historic Scotland on Behalf of Scottish Ministers, The List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest

Mackillop, A (2005) 'The Highlands and the returning nabob: Sir Hector Munro of Novar 1760–1807' in Emigrant Homecomings: The return movement of emigrants 1600–2000, ed. Marjory Harper, Manchester: Manchester University Press

Mowat, Ian R.M. Easter Ross 1750-1850 the double frontier (1981)Old Statistical Account, Statistical Account of the Parish of Alness, vol.19, (1798), pp.236-7

Richardson, E. and Clough, M., Cromarty: Highland Life 1650-1914 (1989)

Southey, R. Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819 (1929)

Steuart, Sir G. A General View of the Agriculture of the Counties of Ross and Cromarty (1810)

Online Sources

Evanton Oral History Project – Novar Estate and Booklet No. 5, https://www.evantonhistory.com/index.asp [accessed 29/02/2024]

Munro, Sir Hector – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, by G. Bryant, published 2004 https://doi-org.nls.idm.oclc.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19546 [accessed 29/02/2024]

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.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

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Printed: 21/07/2024 20:26