Newbattle Abbey College Exterior

Newbattle Abbey

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SHBT has had a long-term relationship with Newbattle Abbey, Scotland’s National Adult Education Residential College, and has supported the College in developing an estate wide Masterplan as well as managing the first phase of urgent capital works to the College’s historic building and grounds.

Phase 1 Architect:

Richard Shorter

Phase 1 Completion Date:


Phase 1 Cost:



Newbattle Abbey is both a Scheduled Monument and Category A listed building. It sits within a 125 acre estate and on top of the monastic remains that give the site its name. Some elements of the original monastic buildings have been incorporated into the present house, whilst many others lie well-preserved underneath the surrounding ground. The house’s use as the main residence of the aristocratic Kerr family meant it was continually developed and embellished for over 350 years. The entire site was gifted to the people of Scotland in 1937 for the purpose of becoming an adult educational college, a use it retains today.

The name ‘Newbattle’ literally means ‘new building’ and has been in use since 1140, when the site was granted to Cistercian monks by David I. The abbey quickly became a major monastic centre, frequently visited by royalty. Its importance led to its hosing a council of nobles in the spring of 1320 at which the Declaration of Arbroath is thought to have been drafted. In 1542, the position of Abbot was entrusted to a local landowner, Mark Kerr. Kerr’s conversion to Protestantism during the Scottish Reformation enabled him to keep the Abbey and all its lands for himself. The abbey buildings were either demolished or incorporated into the new mansion, completed in 1587.

The family’s increasing importance, marked by their becoming the Earls of Lothian in 1606 and then Marquesses of Lothian in 1701, resulted in continual investment in Newbattle Abbey’s decoration and structure. The house was substantially rebuilt by John Mylne in the 17th century and by William Burn and David Bryce in the 19th century. Its long history has resulted in a variety of significant internal decoration: on the ground floor 14th-century columns and vaulted ceilings are combined with an elaborate 1890s parquet floor, whilst upstairs an elaborate Italianate ceiling, painted by Thomas Bonnar in the 1870s, crowns the magnificent double-height Drawing Room.

In 1937, Philip Henry Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian gifted Newbattle Abbey to the nation in order for it to be converted into an educational college for adults. Newbattle Abbey College opened that same year, with the aim of providing working class men and women with the chance to further their academic education. The Kerr family motto of ‘Sero Sed Serio’ (‘Late but in Earnest’) proved to be well-suited to the College’s ethos and was adopted by them. A key feature of the College is that it includes residential accommodation, allowing students from across Scotland and beyond to benefit from its courses and unique atmosphere.


The historic nature of Newbattle Abbey means that the building requires significant and constant investment in order to safeguard it for future generations. In 2008, Newbattle Abbey College embarked on a planning exercise funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This aimed to identify key areas of work that required immediate attention and develop a long-term plan that would both protect and publicise the building’s extraordinary history whilst enhancing its use as an adult learning facility. SHBT became involved as the project managers and were responsible for co-ordinating the appointment of various specialist consultants who together were able to produce a comprehensive report on building’s condition.

As a direct result of the Masterplanning exercise, SHBT were appointed in 2010 to oversee the implementation of the first phase of urgent repair works. These were undertaken from 2011 to 2013 with the help of funding from Historic Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council and the Pilgrim Trust. The works were focused on the exterior, with repairs to the masonry, roof, lead guttering and drain system, but also included interior aspects such as the restoration of the Drawing Room ceiling, carried out by Scottish Wallpaintings Conservators.

Although only ‘Phase 1’ of much larger project, these works were particularly important in helping to prevent costly and potentially irreversible damage, giving Newbattle Abbey College the time and resources to gradually restore and develop the site in a way that will enable it to remain in-use for many years to come. In line with this, SHBT has also been involved in developing and delivering the first phase of a strategy for undertaking phased repairs to the boundary wall around the estate.

Newbattle Abbey Today

Newbattle Abbey continues in use as an adult educational college, offering a student-focused, supportive community for those wishing to return to education. The College also engages with the history of the building and make the most of its unique nature, offering historical tours and making the building available to hire for filming and events.