What does Newhailes House and Gardens mean to you?

An assessment of contemporary values

The Newhailes site covers 86-acres and is located in Musselburgh, on the boundary between East Lothian and the city of Edinburgh (see map below). The main house and the remains of other structures are set within a designed landscape with walks and raised terraces, farmed parkland, woods, a walled garden (formerly the site of a garden centre), visitor amenities, and a recently added playpark. The house is listed as nationally important on account of its architectural design (dating from the 17th and 18th centuries) and several other aspects of the site also have formal heritage status (see records on the Historic Environment Portal).

Following centuries as a private property and home to members of the Dalrymple family, ownership passed to the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) in 1997, with the site opening to the public in 2002. The estate is a significant green space within the local area and the network of paths are well used by walkers. The house is open to visitors on pre-booked tours and there are a number of public events throughout the year. Visitor numbers for 2021 are estimated at over 100,000.

From November to December 2021, Dr Elizabeth Robson undertook an independent assessment to explore how Newhailes is valued by people today. The assessment is intended to help NTS staff better understand the importance of Newhailes to different communities and will be an input to future management decision making.

As part of the assessment, people who live nearby to, had visited, or had expressed an interest in Newhailes were invited to share their experiences, memories and feelings about the site.

Our sincere thanks to everyone who participated in the study!

In total, 41 people were directly engaged in the research, which consisted of structured and semi-structured interviews, site walks, online and offline observation, and photo elicitation. Below is a brief summary of the key findings:

  • Newhailes House and Gardens are known and important to a wide range of communities. Uses, associations and practices are differentiated across (and within) these communities.
  • There is a sense among some local residents of Newhailes belonging to the community and as ‘public space’, at least in terms of accessing the Gardens.
  • Day-to-day uses and activities that take place at the site are reflective of social networks and connections to place that form part of community membership and identity.
  • Newhailes is a place of personal and communal memory, as well as formal historic significance. Different parts of the site are associated with the individuals who have lived, worked, and spent time there.
  • The sense of place varies across the site, reflecting the different physical, sensory, and emotional experiences people have while in the House and Gardens.
  • Part of the connection and emotion associated with the House is a sense of authenticity, that it has not been overly restored and offers a genuine insight into how life would have been.
  • Many people come to Newhailes to experience the landscape and wildlife – as an area of ‘countryside’ or a ‘natural’ green space.
  • The gardens, particularly the walk through the woods along the stream, offer a quiet, peaceful, and reflective place.
  • The grounds are places of connection and movement, linking people and locations. They are spaces that are travelled through and around (walking, running, and cycling).
  • People have varying expectations regarding the amount of direction and information provided to visitors, with the potential for individual exploration and discovery also valued.

If you have any questions about the assessment, please contact Elizabeth Robson (Independent Researcher and ICO registered Data Controller) at e.m.robson@stir.ac.uk.

Alternatively, you can contact Paula Whitelaw (Senior Heritage Planner, National Trust for Scotland) at PWhitelaw@nts.org.uk.

All personal data was processed in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). If you have concerns regarding data protection practices, you have the right to lodge a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s office (ICO), see: https://ico.org.uk/make-a-complaint/.

The Newhailes assessment was commissioned by the National Trust for Scotland, who funded the research. It piloted methods developed by Elizabeth as part of the Wrestling with Social Value project. Further information about that project is available elsewhere on this website, but please note that the Newhailes assessment is an entirely independent activity and does not involve the original project partners, the University of Stirling or Historic Environment Scotland.

Cover image: Newhailes House [photo credit: Elizabeth Robson]

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