History, Tours & Filming

An Overview

Discover Newbattle Abbey, a place with a fascinating story. Founded as a Cistercian Monastery in 1140 by King David I, it became the Kerr family home in the 16th century, and an adult residential college in 1937. The army requisitioned Newbattle during World War 2, and it opened its doors as a college again in 1950.

The Cistercians

The Cistercians were one of the most influential orders in Europe, they were great entrepreneurs. The Abbey played an important role in the local economy – coal mining, sheep farming, salt production and cart making – providing employment for the community.

Newbattle also played an important role in the medieval kingdom of Scotland – Robert Bruce was a frequent visitor. It was due to this political importance that a council of nobles met here in Spring 1320. A letter was drafted to the Pope asking him to recognise Scotland’s independence and acknowledge Bruce as the lawful king.

This letter became known as The Declaration of Arbroath. This economic and political importance made the Abbey a target for English attacks. It was almost destroyed in the 16th century, and many of the brothers left.

Image of The Declaration of Arbroath: Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland, SP13/7

The Kerr Family

Mark Kerr was appointed Commendator of the Abbey. However, in 1560 with the Scottish Reformation, he converted to the Protestant religion. He seized control of the Abbey and the remaining brothers left. Kerr began to build a family home from the remains of the old abbey. It remained the Kerr family home until the 20th century. They were an important and influential family becoming the Earls of Lothian and in 1701 Marquis of Lothian.

Newbattle Abbey College

The 11th Marquis of Lothian, Philip Kerr, was born in London, and was interested in education. Even before World War 2, he realised the days of large houses, such as Newbattle, as family homes were numbered. These buildings had to take on a new life, and the life he chose for Newbattle was as an adult residential college. He wanted those who had missed out on education the first time round to get a second chance, and to learn in a building steeped in history and culture. In 1937, he gifted Newbattle to the people of Scotland. Newbattle was requisitioned by the army during World War 2 before opening its doors to education once again in 1950.

Tours

If you are intrigued by our history, come and visit us to find out more. Our volunteer guides will tell you the story of Newbattle and you can:

  • Find out the link between Newbattle and the Spanish Armada
  • Hear about the royal visits of monarchs such as Queen Victoria and George IV
  • Discover our stunning drawing room, one the finest examples of 19th century interior design
  • Learn more about the Cistercians monks and the medieval abbey
  • See what is believed to be the christening font of Mary Queen of Scots
  • Explore our beautiful Italian Garden; and much more.

We can offer tours for small or larger groups, and refreshments or Afternoon Tea can be added in to make it a really memorable occasion. For further information, e-mail enquiries@newbattleabby.com or telephone 0131 663 1921 and one of our team will be happy to help.