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The history of Newhall Estate

The history of Newhall Estate

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The lands of Newhall, on the edge of a royal forest that extended from the Pentlands to the Moorfoots and also, by tradition, the site of a monastic house, were an identifiable estate by c1406 when a Royal Charter was granted to Lawrence Crichton.

The character has not survived but the name indicates the earlier building of new hall or house, possibly in the 13th century, when the game and timber preserves on the hills were being replaced by sheep farming. The Crichton family ownership continued for 200 years and this period is likely to have seen any earlier hall-house being extended into or replaced by a small castle or tower-house for the family’s occupation.

In the 17th century a succession of Edinburgh lawyers and doctors used the estate as a country home for weekends and holidays. One who became the owner in 1647 was Alexander Pennecuik, a leading Edinburgh surgeon. His more famous physician son, also Alexander (1652-1722), the author of “A Description of Tweeddale” (1715) left Newhall for Romanno but resumed his connection as a frequent visitor in the early years of the 18th century. The owners then (1703-1735) were Sir David Forbes and his son John, both Edinburgh Advocates. They built a new house on the site of its predecessor and this Forbes house is the core of the present house. During vacations they were hosts to their Edinburgh circle of virtuosi and literati and when Allan Ramsay, the poet father of Allan the portrait painter, wrote that his friends has made suggestions when he was writing “The Gentle Shepherd” (see illustration of the narrator in front of Newhall in 1725), he would be referring not only to Dr Alexander Pennecuik and John Forbes but also to the latter’s cousin, Duncan Forbes of Culloden, Baron Sir John Clerk of Pennecuik and William Aikman, the painter, as well as members of the Worthies now commemorated in the library of Newhall House.

The Forbes family extended the estate to include the lands of Carlops and Spittal but these had been sold by the time the next significant change of ownership took place in 1783. Then the estate was bought for a young advocate, Robert Brown, by his godfather, Thomas Dunmore, a wealthy Glasgow tobacco merchant. In gratitude Robert Brown erected an obelisk monument which can be seen in the field to the right of the drive as you approach the house. The new owner did not pursue his legal career, preferring to live at Newhall as a gentleman of independent means. He added back the lands of Carlops and Spittal, built the village of Carlops as a cotton-weaving community, adopted the latest agricultural improvements (including establishing the first potato field in Scotland) and put Newhall on the literary map with prose and verse, particularly in his 1808 edition of “The Gentle Shepherd” which was written by Allan Ramsay in 1725. Robert Brown enlarged Newhall House, formed the walled garden and added mementos of “The Gentle Shepherd” to the house, inside and outside and to the glen.

Under the next two generations of the Brown family there were two noticeable changes. In the 1850’s the house was further extended to David Bryce’s design and in 1925 the surrounding farms were sold on the death of Brown’s grandson. Spittal Farm was bought back in 2000.

Since 1907, first as occasional tenants and then later as owners, the Maclagan family were connected with Newhall. The Kennedys moved to Newhall in 1998. Alison Maclagan died in 2002 aged 97.

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