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Newby Hall & Gardens: History & Photos

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

Nestled on the banks of the River Ure in North Yorkshire, Newby Hall is one of England’s most remarkable stately homes. Renowned for its grand neoclassical interiors, and stunning formal gardens, Newby Hall serves as one of England’s finest examples of a Robert Adam house.

Just a stones throw away from Ripon in North Yorkshire, Newby Hall is a screenwriters dream, and believed to be the main inspiration behind one of the worlds most successful Period Dramas. Of course, I'm talking about the immensely popular, Downton Abbey.

I’ve been given full access to this stunning country house, and can’t wait to share its story with you. Join me on an exclusive interior tour of Newby Hall and find out more about its incredible history. From architect Sir Christopher Wren, to screenwriter Lord Julian Fellows, this is the story of Newby Hall and gardens.

An aerial drone shot of Newby Hall's East Front and long driveway.
Aerial view of Newby Hall and Gardens.

Newby Hall History.

Newby Hall is a striking red brick country house situated not far from the beautiful market town of Ripon. Whilst a Manor House has stood on this site since perhaps the 13th century, the core of the current Hall dates to 1697 and was built for local MP, Sir Edward Blackett. Having only purchased the estate a few years prior, Sir Edward dismantled the old mansion, which was situated slightly closer to the river, and embarked upon the construction of a much grander home.

Largely attributed to architect Sir Christopher Wren, the new three story Hall at Newby was square in design and set out over three stories. Built from striking red brick and complimented by formal gardens and avenues of freshly planted trees, Newby Hall was clearly a magnificent sight to behold. Visiting the North of England in 1697, English travel writer Celia Fiennes described the new hall as ‘The finest house I saw in Yorkshire’.

William Weddell.

But, this was just the beginning for Newby. In 1748, the Estate was purchased for William Weddel MP, through a legacy from his Great Uncle. This set Newby on a trajectory to greatness with Weddell very much ushering in a new age for his newly acquired country house.

Like many of his generation, William Weddell embarked on a grand tour of Europe, returning home 1766 with a collection of fine sculpture and tapestries. Inspired by the classical architecture he had studied in Greece and Rome, Weddell sought to transform his country house into a showcase for his extensive art collections. Having hired the top architects of the day, John Carr and Robert Adam, to help him realise his vision, two eastern wings were added to the original house, with the main entrance moving from the west to the new east front.

Robert Adam, Neoclassicism and the Adam Style.

If the exterior architecture is beautiful, the interiors are quite exceptional. Whilst John Carr had been largely responsible for Newby’s expansion, Robert Adam was responsible for much of the interior magic.

Born in Fife in 1728, Robert Adam was a Scottish architect and designer who is best known for championing Neoclassical Architecture in the UK and developing what became known as the ‘Adam Style’. Known to playfully refer to himself as ‘Bob the Roman’ due to his absolute love of all things Rome, the Adam style was a highly decorative style which much like the popular style that proceeded it, Neo-Palladianism, was heavily influenced by elements of classical architecture, but with a less restrictive and more playful application. Adam’s genius was in his ability to bring all elements of a rooms design together, with meticulous attention being given to even the smallest of details. Thus, everything was designed to work together, from the carpets to the furniture to the fittings of the room.

Although Robert Adam is also known for his exterior architecture, such as the South facing facade of Kedleston Hall, he is most remembered for his interior designs, which in addition to Newby, can be seen at Harewood House, Nostel and of course the remarkable Kedleston Hall, amongst others. Curved walls, domes, pilasters, panels and bold painted ceilings are all easily recognisable features of the Adam Style.

A wide angle shot of the Blue damask Drawing Room with chandelier and Robert Adam ceiling and decoration
The remarkable Drawing Room at Kedleston Hall.

Of course, Newby Hall is slated as being one of Britain’s finest Adam houses, so you can expect that ‘Bob the Roman’ worked his usual magic for Sir William Weddell. And, he did. AND the interiors are MAGNIFICENT!

Inside Newby Hall.

Entrance Hall.

Beginning with the Entrance Hall, which is aptly placed behind the main entrance, visitors will be blown away by the first of Robert Adam’s spectacular interior spaces. The Entrance Hall is Robert Adam through and through, and features spectacular plasterwork by the celebrated stuccoist, Joseph Rose. Details include decorative motifs inspired by the architecture of ancient Rome and intricate trophy panels. The stunning decorative ceiling is complimented by a highly polished floor of Sicilian marble, and upon this sits tables and chairs by legendary furniture maker, Thomas Chippendale. This remarkable room is dominated by a recently restored chamber organ designed by Thomas Haxby of York, and is still played to this day! By the way, can you tell which of the mahogany doors is purely decorative?

A wide angle shot of Robert Adam's remarkable Neoclassical Entrance Hall at Newby Hall.
Robert Adam's Neoclassical Entrance Hall.

The Entrance Hall is honestly a remarkable place to be, and one I personally didn’t want to leave. However, this grand space serves as a mere introduction to Newby Hall’s opulent interiors, and there is much, MUCH more to see.

Tapestry Room.

The Tapestry Room then is one which will quite literally take your breath away, and would have knocked 18th century visitors off their feet. This room previously served as the main entrance to the Hall, but following John Carr’s extensive alterations, Robert Adam turned this space into a magnificent Drawing Room, designed specifically to display William Weddell’s remarkable Gobelins tapestries. This extremely rare set, depicting ’The Loves of the Gods’ were ordered in Paris in 1763, and are one of only six sets to have entered England. They are absolutely unique and were delivered by the French Ambassador himself in 1767.

A wide angle shot of the exquisite gold coloured Tapestry Room at Newby Hall.
The extraordinary Neoclassical Tapestry Room.

The breathtaking ceiling is typical of Robert Adam, but he also designed the carpet which was produced by the British company Axminster, one of the worlds most prestigious carpet manufacturers. So highly sough after were Axminster carpets that the company could count King George III and Queen Charlotte amongst it’s customers.

The Chippendale designed sofas and chairs are particularly rare and are slated as being the only works of Chippendale to have retained their original upholstery and covers.

The Library.

Although designed as an opulent Dining Room for William Weddell, this spectacular space now serves as a library. The room is absolutely remarkable with apsidal recesses at each end, separated from the main chamber by Corinthian columns.

A long shot of Newby Hall's Neoclassical Dining Room come Library with Robert Adam ceiling.
Robert Adam's Neoclassical Dining Room.

The original decoration was done by Adam with a colour scheme of French Grey, black and shades of yellow and brown. Joseph Rose also played an important role, his genius once again captured in the wonderful plasterwork.

The Statue Gallery.

As mentioned earlier, William Weddell, like many of his contemporaries, studied the classical sites of Rome and Greece as part of a cultural grand tour of Europe. Weddell was a man of great taste and when he returned to England, he brought with him an extensive collection of statuary and required a grand space to show it off. With the addition of John Carr’s new west wing, Weddell had ample space to house his prized collections. Moreover, with Britain’s foremost Neoclassical architect and designer on his payroll, he could be sure that his statues would be well housed.

Robert Adam’s Statue Gallery then is like something out of this world, or at least out of this country. Nothing quite prepares you for this spectacular open space, with its domed Pantheon like central chamber, sitting at its apex. Reminiscent of a Roman house, the walls are adorned with remarkable classical roman statues, some dating to the first century BC! The Statue Gallery at Newby rivals, or even betters, the grand Statue Gallery at Holkham Hall, and is home to one of the finest independent collections of Roman statuary in Britain.

It really can’t be underestimated just how rare and potentially priceless this collection is. For example, a restored Roman Venus from Newby Hall sold at auction a number of years back for £7.9M, a world record at the time.

Some of the more recent pieces date to the 18th century and includes a busts of William Weddell himself.

The Staircase Hall and Ante-Room.

Followers of my Instagram Page will know that I love a good staircase, and the one at Newby does not disappoint. In fact, the staircase comprises several different areas, with visitors first entering the extended staircase hall. Sandwiched between the Tapestry Room and the Library, this was originally an enclosed space, but alterations in the 19th century saw the wall between the columns being removed. and the staircase hall being extended.

A long shot of Newby Hall's Neoclassical Staircase with columns, paintings and chandelier.
Neoclassical Staircase and Hall.

The staircase itself is quite beautiful and is adorned by portraits of family members, along with the Earls of Kent. These portraits came from Wrest Park in Bedfordshire and are symbolic of the de Grey family’s link to Newby Hall. Robert Adam designed the ceiling decoration in 1771 with the intention that visitors would gawp upon it as they retired to their rooms at the end of the day. Robert Adam was further involved in the decoration of the first floor landing, and this is evident in the screen of columns which creates another sort of ante-room. The central door leads to the Circular Room, and is framed by Chippendale mirrors hanging above two painted side tables designed by Adam. These had previously been housed within the Dining Room.

The Circular Room.

The circular Room serves as a spectacular entrance to the first floor accommodation. This beautiful Neoclassical room has a very Adamesque feel about it, but can actually be attributed to one of his proteges, the York based architect, William Belwood. Legend has it that William Weddell’s own wife also had a hand in some of the decoration. This room commands spectacular views over Newby’s parkland, and was designed as both an ante-chamber and Morning Room to the Print Bedroom.

A shot of the neoclassical ceiling of Newby Hall's Circular Room's painted ceiling.
Neoclassical motifs of the Circular Room ceiling.

The Print Bedroom

Speaking of which, the Print Bedroom is a beautifully light room, decorated in 1770 by William Bellwood to original designs of Robert Adam. The Print Bedroom was described as the ‘Best Lodging Room’ and would have been reserved for William Weddell’s most esteemed guests. I wish I had time to show you some of the other bedrooms, but really you must make a visit yourself!

A white coloured room with four poster bed at Newby Hall.
The luxurious Print Bedroom.

Later Years.

William Weddell must have been mighty proud of what he and his architects had achieved at Newby, but with a lack of children to inherit, when he died in 1792, the estate passed to his cousin Thomas Philip Robinson, AKA Lord Grantham.

Dining Room.

Having succeeded his father as 3rd Baron Grantham several years earlier, Robinson agreed to change his name to Weddell upon inheriting the Newby estate. He must have been absolutely delighted with his new home, and made just a few alterations. One major change he made was to Robert Adam’s grand Dining Room. This, he transformed into a large library fit for his extensive collection of books. The other major alteration to his new house came in 1807, when Grantham, a keen architect himself, deigned a new Dining Room, incorporating furniture inherited from his father. He filled this room with pieces of Chippendale furniture, including a set of chairs and three Alabaster urns with lights in them that had been designed by Robert Adam for William Weddell. Although the Dining Room was redecorated in 1980, the colour scheme is based on an original drawing by Lord Grantham.

I mentioned earlier the Newby connection with the Earl’s of Kent. Well, this link is made through Lord Grantham, who in addition to inheriting Newby, also inherited the Earldom de Grey and the family seat of Wrest Park, when his maternal Aunt died in 1833. .

A made dining room table and chandelier within the yellow coloured Dining Room at Newby Hall. Designed by Lord Grantham.
Lord Grantham's Dining Room.

The inspiration behind Downton Abbey.

We all know that Downton Abbey is set in North Yorkshire, and by now you might have realised that Lord Grantham shares his name with Julian Fellows’s fictional character. But, is Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey really based on his real life namesake?

Let’s take a quick look at the facts.

Thomas Weddell, 3rd Lord Grantham, had a daughter called Mary. Lady Mary inherited the Newby estate when her father died. In Downton Abbey, the fictional Lord Grantham also has a daughter called Lady Mary, who incidentally is also heir to the estate.

The fictional character, Mathew Crawley, is a partner at a firm of solicitiors in Ripon, based just 4 miles away. Strangely enough, Ripon is just 4 miles away from Newby.

The local blacksmith in Downton was based in ‘Skelton Village’. Skelton is in fact a village situated at the end of Newby’s drive.

Check out my video tour!

Additionally, there are many hints to the geographical location of Downton, which pretty much places it the exact location of Newby Hall.

For example, the staff attend a church in nearby Easingwold. There are also regular references made to the nearby towns of Thirsk, Ripon, Malton and York, and the amount of time it takes to travel to such places.

In addition to all the above, it’s a well known fact that the script writer Lord Julian Fellows attended the nearby prestigious Ampleforth College, at which time he fostered a passion for the North Yorkshire countryside.

Moreover, and perhaps most significantly, Julian Fellows and his team actually attended Newby Hall and considered using it as a backdrop to Downton Abbey.

Whilst Fellows has previously denied Newby’s influence on Downton Abbey, the evidence strongly suggests otherwise.

The Victorian Wing - The Billiards Room.

Lord Grantham died in 1859, with Newby Hall passing to his daughter Lady Mary, shortly after she married Henry Vyner. Lady Mary is responsible for surprisingly few alterations at Newby, but she is attributed with having William Burgess construct her a beautiful church within the grounds. This was built in commemoration of her son Fredrick who was tragically murdered in Greece, and is considered one of the finest Victorian Churches in Yorkshire. Burges is also responsible for the similarly beautiful church of St Mary’s at nearby Studley Royal.

The last major building project at Newby took place in 1892 when Lady Mary’s son, Robert de Grey Vyner, erected a new Wing. Not particularly in keeping with the pretty proportions of the main house, the Victorian Wing nevertheless represents a particular chapter in history, and contains a number of beautiful rooms.The best of which has to be the wonderful Billiards Room.

A wide angle shot of the gold coloured Victorian Billiards Room and the Lady's sitting area.
Lady's sitting area within the Victorian Billiards Room.

The Billiards Room serves as a bit of shrine to the Vyner family, with family portraits adorning the walls and other items of significance on display around the room. The Billiards Room is in stark contrast the rest of the house. Gone is the intricate plasterwork and the bold paint schemes associated with Robert Adam, instead we have dark Oak panelling and heavy window drapes. It is still a beautiful room and indicative of Victorian tastes.

Notice the ladies sitting area at one side of the room, just next to the, slightly, unnerving portrait of a deceased Fredrick Vyner. Perhaps the absence of a heat source was a deliberate move by Robert Vyner. No such issue with the mens snug adjacent however, which features a massive fireplace. Today this area is dominated by the Edinburgh Gold Cup which was won by Robert Vyner in 1882.

Of interest, just outside this room hangs a Royal IOU from King Charles II to Sir Robert Vyner, 1st Baronet. Having been appointed the King’s goldsmith in 1661, he lent vast sums of money to the State. These monies were never repaid, and the debt now stands at around £400m!

Newby Hall and Gardens today.

Today, Newby Hall belongs to the Compton family, with the iconic herbaceous boarders leading up from the river and the adjoining formal gardens being added by the grandfather of current owner, Richard Compton. Incredibly, the Compton’s are direct ancestors of William Weddell - the man responsible for transforming Newby Hall, into the Neoclassical masterpiece we see today. What an incredible honour and privilege it must be to call such an important part of Britain’s history home.

An aerial shot of the West Front of Newby Hall with lawned terrace and formal gardens.
Aerial shot of Newby Hall from the West.

Like many of today’s custodians of grand country houses, the Compton’s are keen to share their home with the nation, and have created a diverse and inclusive place to visit and work. Visitors to the house will not only relish in some of Britain’s finest Neo-Classical interiors, but families will find an abundance of things to do outdoors, with beautiful formal gardens to explore, a fantastic adventure playground to keep the kids occupied, and a miniature locomotive to entertain the entire family.

Newby Hall and gardens truly is a remarkable place to relax, play, learn and be inspired. And yes, the Hall really is one of the finest Robert Adam houses this country has to offer.

For more on Newby Hall please check out their website here.

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