History of the building
Newbold’s history dates back to 1893 when the house was designed and built (over several years) for the Woodcock family. Colonel Woodcock was a retired Officer who had served in India and subsequently made his fortune trading tea. Settling here with his wife, they were apparently much in absence and the House and Gardens were kept by a large team of servants, including 8 full-time gardeners, who tended the 7 acres that comprise the estate. The Woodcocks were childless and, in time, sold the house to a Mr. Sommerville, who worked for the P&O shipping company. Mr. Sommerville and his wife also had no children and when the House was requisitioned during World War II, Mrs. Sommerville had another house – ‘Kedah’ – built further down St. Leonard’s Rd. After the war the House fell empty for some while until it was acquired in 1959 by Mr. Donaldson, a retired policeman from Keith who bought the property for £3,000 (the same as the original building cost!). The House became a Hotel and the billiard room (now the Art Room) was converted into a bar.
In the 70s the hotel fell on hard times and in 1979 the Findhorn Foundation, situated closeby, began renting it as an additional workshop space for their educational programmes. The plan was for the Foundation to use the workshop rooms in the summer and have the new resident caretaker group look after the property over the winter. By the end of 1979, the caretaker group felt sufficiently confident to take on the rental responsibility themselves, and in November that year they declared themselves an independent organisation. In 1982 a separate Charitable Trust was set up. The Donaldsons, who now lived at the Newbold Lodge house situated at the entrance to the overall property, had been the landlords until this point, but in the spring of 1982, they sold the House to the Trust for £85 000 – and the purchase was completed in May 1983.
The House began to run its economy according to a system of donations, which proved highly successful and offered a persuasive alternative to accepted business practices. Buoyed up by the generosity of its guests, Newbold was paid off within ten years and has been self-managed since under the guardianship of a group of Trustees, plus the management and operations skills of a resident team of core members.
A tour of Newbold House
Turning off the main road into Newbold House you pass by the old lodge, now a private house, into our rhododendron lined drive which offers glimpses of the large front lawn and surrounding woodland. The trees and shrubs form an organic tunnel, leading to the peaceful and nurturing haven of our house and grounds.
The gardens were planted with specimen trees from around the world by Victorian gardeners and many are over a century old including Atlantic Cedars, Incense Cedars, Copper Beech, and many fine examples of the native Scots Pine.
On entering the house the Victorian passion for wood is apparent in archways and panelling in all main rooms on the ground floor. These show the original owners’ links with India such as the sculpted archway over the dining room door.
From the dining room there is a view over the steps leading down to the front lawn and also a view of the conservatory.
The ceiling is covered in decorative plasterwork and gives the room a sense of grandeur whilst the size of the room is small enough to have a feeling of intimacy. In many ways this room is the heart of the house where guests and community come together to enjoy good food and share stories and ideas.
At the front of the house is our largest function room, here the windows give a panoramic view of the garden and allow in lots of sunshine. On the ceiling are plaster motifs of beautiful birds of paradise and scallop shells. The floor is polished wood, ideal for dancing, but can be carpeted over when necessary for other activities. This room can be extended by opening sliding doors to the Music Room, which houses our piano along with other musical instruments, it shares many of the features of the Ballroom. Both are very flexible and have been used for talks, workshops, dances, meetings and as a concert venue.
The Art Room
Our second function space is the Art Room. Originally the billiard room, from the outside it can be seen to have a large skylight which would have provided good visibility for the players, however since it went through a phase as a bar when Newbold was a hotel, it now has a lowered ceiling with spot lighting and a cosy wood burning stove. It has beautiful details, including stained glass windows and an inscribed fireplace; the wood panelling in this room has been sanded back to give a lighter feel than the dark wood panels in other areas of the house. A versatile space and more intimate than the ballroom, it can host many different activities ranging from conference and meeting space to yoga classes and dance workshops. It serves as a cosy lounge during our Christmas holiday and can be set up as a mini cinema/viewing space. It is said to lie on a leyline, a Pictish building was found just outside in the courtyard when the foundations of the house were being laid.
A beautiful wood staircase leads from the main hallway to the guest rooms, here stained-glass windows overlook the stairs. Most of the guest rooms and bathrooms lead off a landing/guest living room. Originally there were two main bedrooms to the house which had his and her dressing rooms and en-suite bathrooms. When the house became a hotel in the mid 20th century these large dressing rooms were converted into bedrooms, all are a good size and have views of the surrounding gardens and woods.
Library and the Sanctuary
Leading away from the guest landing are the stairs to the attic where we have the sanctuary which is our quiet space for sacred singing and meditation. Our sanctuary, nestling under the rafters, has a very relaxing and nurturing quality to it. We also have a collection of books on a wide range of subjects from which guests are welcome to borrow.
Our kitchen is very important to our daily rhythms. As well as preparing food it is where we meet every morning to share our feelings, plan the day and keep up-to-date on community plans, development and progress. It is always warm and cozy from the heat of the Aga stove and represents the heart of our community.
The conservatory gives a sense of the tropics, in late spring jasmine scent floats through the air in between the fig trees, and other tropical plants. Even in winter, there is a sense of delight on walking in here because of the oxygen-rich air.
This conservatory was built by the company Mackenzie & Moncur that built the Palm House in Liverpool. The Mackenzie & Moncur started in business around 1850. During the second half of the 19th century they manufactured and constructed hothouses throughout Scotland and in various parts of England. Their clients included Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York.
The walled vegetable garden
Our vegetable garden is cultivated using organic principles and we try to grow as much food for our own consumption as we can. We have beds of vegetables, herbs, and fruits of many varieties.
In days gone by, the rear south facing wall allowed the cultivation of plums, peaches, and vines and today we still grow plums and other fruit from warmer climes.
Around this garden there are areas for contemplation and relaxing, one small garden we call the peace garden is in the walls of an old greenhouse that once stood on the site.
Around the House
The front lawn is our most open space, surrounded by a variety of trees it has been used for circle dances, ceremonies, games and sunbathing. Here we also grow cut flowers to fill the house with the beauty and scent of the garden.
Overlooking our front lawns is the aforementioned beautiful Victorian conservatory, affectionately known as ‘Crystal Palace’.
Moving towards the back of the house you pass the various caravans and a yurt where some of our community sleep. The lawns around these small dwellings are dotted with flowers and apple trees of which we have many old and rare varieties.
Behind the walled garden is the Muiry woodland, owned by the Moray Council, with Scots pines surrounded by heather. This is such a treat to have on our doorstep especially in late summer when the purple heather is in bloom. These woods abound with wildlife and red squirrels, roe deer, badgers, greater spotted woodpeckers, and even the occasional pine martin all make their homes here.
The nearby mixed woodland of Sanqhar woods offers even more variety with many paths offering beautiful walks beside the Mosset burn which runs through the town of Forres all the way to the Findhorn Bay. A newly created wetland provides habitat for an abundance of water birds such as heron, many varieties of duck, woodcock and other waders and you may even be lucky enough to spot a kingfisher!
Walking through the woodland is one way to reach Cluny Hill where there are seven small rounded hills and sleepy hollows that surround one of the Findhorn Foundation’s main campuses, Cluny Hill College.