First Impressions – Newhailes House

Friday was my first visit to Newhailes House, and whatever I may have expected of the house it lived up to and surpasses my expectations. Newhailes House is a conserved rather than a restored estate. This means that everything in the house is the way it was when the last heir (Lady Antonia) passed the house into the care of the National Trust. This is important because it provides the visitor with a sense of life, a sense that this house really was lived in for 300 years by the same family, which as a Cultural Historian I consider an important part of historical inquiry and investigation. I was comfortable in there, even though it was far grander and older than any house I have ever lived in, and the family that lived in it was far more influential than my family; the Dalrymple family consisted of generations of great legal minds and scholars. You could almost hear the conversations, the clinking china of a tea service, smell whatever meal was cooking in the below-ground kitchen.

The grounds on which the house sit are truly breathtaking, overlooking a meadow and the Firth of Forth on one side and a magnificent courtyard on the other. The house, for all it’s grandeur, is only one room deep, so all of the great rooms on the ground floor have views in both directions. The noticeable exception is the library, which only has windows to the east, to let in the morning sun, a boon to scholars working by candlelight if not by sunlight. I loved the library! Even though it doesn’t have any books in it (they were all deeded to the National Library some time ago) the floor to ceiling bookshelves are there. You really get a sense of scholarly pursuits and lively discussion happening in the library. It was not hard to imagine David Hume or Francis Hutcheson coming through the doors into the library – as they occasionally did.

I also love how the family preserved everything from successive generations. Everything from the over-the-top 18th Century rococo decor to the toy koala Lady Antonia acquired in the 20th Century, it’s all there. Quirky and homey in a way I didn’t expect. I don’t know if this was intentional or if it was a matter of the expense associated with redecorating, but it makes one feel that the family really existed as a cohesive unit. Ideas as well as material goods passed from one generation to the next. The inscription over the front door says it all: Lavdo Manentem. In Praise of Those Who Stay Here. This was a family home.

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