My family has lived here since 1748 when Newby was bought for my ancestor, William Weddell, through a legacy from his uncle. In this section however I describe how Newby evolved and I also give an overview on the many interesting connections which gives Newby its unique position in architecture and horticulture.
The early history of Newby leaves gaps from the thirteenth century, when it was recorded as the property of the Nubie family, who took their name from the place, to the seventeenth century when Newby belonged to Sir Jordan Crossland, appointed Governor of Scarborough Castle by Charles II. His son sold the estate to Sir Edward Blackett, who had become Member of Parliament for Ripon in 1689. Blackett demolished the old house, which stood much closer to the river, and built the main block of the present house during the 1690s using Sir Christopher Wren.
Celia Fiennes visited Newby on her tour of the north in 1697 and recorded in her diary,
‘This was the finest house I saw in Yorkshire’.
On Blackett’s death, Newby passed to his son and then to his son’s nephew, who sold it in 1748 to the Weddell family, my ancestors.
Newby and Weddell
The next twenty-five years were to see great changes at Newby. William Weddell must have been a man of great taste and knowledge, and indeed was a prominent member of the Dilettanti Society. He made the Grand Tour in 1765-6 and soon after his return to England made contact with most of the leading neo-classical architects – Carr, Chambers, Wyatt, James Stuart and, of course, Robert Adam. Weddell’s intention was to alter and enlarge the house for his classical sculpture (he had nineteen chests from Rome) and for the set of Gobelin tapestries he had ordered in 1766.
John Carr probably added the two wings to the east of the house and remodelled much of the main block at this time, turning the house around and rebuilding the three central bays of the east elevation. If Carr planned the Statue Gallery in its original form it was not to Weddell’s entire satisfaction because Robert Adam was commissioned in 1767 to complete the galleries and to decorate the Tapestry Room and some of the interior of the house. How Weddell must have loved the beauty and elegance of the result!
Externally the cupola on the roof of the original house was removed and a local architect, William Belwood, Robert Adam’s foreman, was commissioned to add the porch to the east front – now the main entrance. Belwood also designed the fine stables north of the house, as well as the main entrance lodges in Skelton.
Lord Grantham’s Influence
Weddell died in 1792 without children and Newby passed to his cousin, Thomas Philip Robinson, who changed his name to Weddell, although he had already succeeded his father and become the 3rd Lord Grantham. Grantham felt that perhaps the only drawback of Weddell’s beautiful house was the lack of a large, sunny sitting room, and the library was too small for all his books. He therefore decided to turn Adam’s south-facing dining room into a library and build a new dining room on the north-west corner of the house. An amateur architect himself (he later became the first President of the RIBA), much of the design of the so-called Regency Dining Room is attributable to him. In 1833 his aunt Amabel died and he inherited from her the Earldom of de Grey, and Wrest Park in Bedfordshire.
Newby and the Vyners
Lord Grantham’s younger daughter Mary married Henry Vyner of Gautby in Lincolnshire, and Newby was given to Lady Mary soon after her marriage. In keeping with the period, she seems to have had little respect for elegance and classical architecture, yet she commissioned William Burges to build one of the finest Victorian churches in Yorkshire, to stand in the park at Newby in commemoration of her son Frederick, murdered by brigands in Greece. Burges also designed the forecourt piers to the main entrance gates to the house, and placed the fine seat at the end of the statue walk in the gardens.
Lady Mary’s son Robert added the Victorian Wing and the Billiards Room above the Regency Dining Room, (perhaps marring the fine proportions of the house). This wing is none-the-less a period piece, the more marked as it stands in total contrast to the graceful elegance of the rest of the house. Newby then passed to Robert’s daughter Mary, my great grandmother, who lived here during the First World War and gave it to my grandfather in 1921.
My grandfather’s main contribution during his tenure was the garden. He wrote at the time, ‘I found I had inherited an exceptionally beautiful home but no garden to speak of – a lovely picture but no frame – I was determined to rectify this’. First he planned the great double herbaceous borders, flanked by hedges of yew, as a magnificent vista to link the south front with the river below. Off this main axis he planned a series of formal gardens, each to show plants at their best for every season of the year. The gardens he designed over fifty years cover twenty-five acres and are a major contribution to twentieth-century gardening.
The legacy he left to my parents was a daunting one in terms of showing the best of Newby to the public whilst retaining an acceptable degree of privacy for the family – the house needed total restoration and redecoration and everything was in the wrong place! They soon decided to move into the north wing of the house and keep the northern part of the gardens for themselves, thus enabling visitors to enter the house through the front door and have a complete tour of the main rooms and bedrooms without retracing their steps, or ‘treading on their toes’.
This meant moving the car park from the fine stables (where it spoiled the view) to a more central position surrounded by trees. A connecting road had to be built, and then an entrance pavilion to house an entrance area and the Newby Shop. Next the Garden Restaurant and Grantham Room followed (for booked parties), sited in a sunny corner of the kitchen gardens nearby.
In 1980, the Year of the Child, they planned the Adventure Gardens for children, within easy reach of the restaurant. Finally, they decided to extend the 10¼ inch-gauge miniature railway to run through the gardens alongside the river. The redecoration of the house has now been completed, with great knowledge and flair by my mother, and my father has left us with as complete a garden as one ever can be with wonderful vistas, colour schemes and a rich horticultural collection. This Garden management baton has been taken up by my wife Lucinda following my father’s sad death in November 2009. Lucinda has adapted the gardens – an adaptation that has included a re-planting of the main borders.
In these projects we have received financial help from the Historic Buildings Council, the Countryside Commission and the then English Tourist Board, but the cost has been high and there is no profit for us – except in the knowledge that what we have done provides much pleasure for thousands of visitors each year. Reward for our efforts has also come from the British Tourist Authority, which 1979 acknowledged the outstanding contribution made by Newby Hall and Gardens to British tourism and in 1983 gave Newby an award for the best restored house and garden. In 1986 Newby Gardens were further honoured, receiving the HHA/Christies Garden of the Year Award and more recently the winner of Yorkshire in Bloom 2008 and Gold Awards in 2009 and 2011, Welcome to Yorkshire’s Best Large Visitor Attraction in 2011 and in 2016 Hudson’s Heritage Award for ‘Best Family Day Out’.
Newby was fortunate indeed to have had my parents loving influence at such a crucial time. My mother was responsible for the redecoration of all you see and her flair and taste is known throughout the country. My father’s adaption of his father’s creation is a marvel for all to see and a wonderful legacy to his long and successful life.
Another era in Newby’s rich history started as Lucinda took on the role of custodian of the Garden (as well as the ongoing curatorial responsibility for the house contents) and recently my four year term as President of the Historic Houses Association came to an end.
The baton my parents handed over to Lucinda and me brings with it the responsibility of being the custodian of one of Britain’s treasures. We are happy to share Newby with you and we continue to need all the help you can give by coming back to see it.
Without your help Newby cannot survive as one of the finest examples of the age of elegance and of the heritage of our country.