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A History of Shawdon Hall

Shawdon Hall, Northumberland

This below article was originally published in two parts in Issue 15 (October 2013) and Issue 17 (March 2014) of the former Cheviot Views newsletter. It was written by Richard Poppleton of Titlington who adapted it from May, M. (1988) Aln & Breamish Local History Society.

Photo of Shawdon Hall looking across a field with grazing sheep
Shawdon Hall (2018)

[Image Credit: the above photo and the header image are © Gordon Hatton (cc-by-sa/2.0). Images have been cropped and exposure adjusted.]

Shawdon Hall: 1100 – 1931

SHAWDON HALL LIES ABOUT a mile west of Bolton Village. In the reign of Henry I, Walter Espec, Lord of Wark-on-Tweed, held the townships of Shawdon, Titlington and part of Glanton. He gave Titlington to his newly founded Yorkshire priory of Kirkham in 1121, but after the dissolution of the monasteries, Titlington passed through many hands until about 1815 it was reunited with Shawdon, having been bought by a Mr Hargrave.

Through Walter Espec’s sister, Shawdon next passed to the Ros family who also held the Barony of Wark. It remained in their hands until 1317 when one of the Ros family fought on the wrong (Scottish) side and the barony was forfeit. Before then Robert de Ros had founded a hospital dedicated to St Thomas the Martyr at Bolton to house a master, three chaplains, thirteen lepers and other lay brethren.

Shawdon then came into the hands of the Lilburns of West Lilburn who had been the feudal tenants of the House of Ros. We are not yet talking of the beautiful Shawdon Hall of today but a more functional building. The main preoccupation of local squires in those days was protection from border warfare. A list of border keeps and peles made in 1415 records the existence of a ‘Caestrum de Shawdon’ belonging to Thomas Lilburn.

In 1506 Shawdon was assigned to Isabel, Thomas Lilburn’s daughter, who had married William Proctor. Shawdon was described as having ‘a toure of the inheritance of Cuthbert Proctor in measurable good reparations’ contrasting with neighbouring Crawley where ‘there is a little toure of great decaye for lack of contynuell reparations.’

Seven generations of Proctors lived at Shawdon until in 1705 John Proctor exchanged his Shawdon lands for some at Dunstan. However, the Browne estates were soon dispersed and Shawdon was sold in 1725 to a James Hargrave. James left Shawdon to his son William Hargrave and in 1779 he ordered the building of the present Adam-style house. William died a bachelor in 1817. His aunt Mary had married John Pawson, a wine merchant, and it was their grandson George Hargrave Pawson who inherited. He died childless that same year, but it is his coat of arms above the central doorway of the house. From 1817 to 1831 there was a confusing succession of William Hargrave Pawsons: the brother of the above George, his son, grandson, great-grandson, and great-great-grandson.

Having passed through only six families in eight hundred years, we now find Shawdon in the 20th century, benefitting from four ownerships and a few occupancies in a mere eighty years. The owning families in order are (1) Pawson, (2) Beavan, (3) Bewicke and (4) Cowen.

Having inherited Shawdon in 1817 William H. Pawson (no. 1) set about doing alterations and around 1821 he rebuilt Titlington Hall which had recently come into the family’s possession. Not content with that, he purchased Lemmington Hall in 1825.

William (no. 1), like his successors, used his wealth generously, showing interest in the local community. In 1829 a meeting was held of persons interested in improvements to the Lemmington Branch road. It was resolved ‘that the improvement of the Alnwick and Rothbury turnpike is much to be desired, and when accomplished will be a great and general benefit to all in the Vale of Whittingham and neighbourhood.’ One of the committee of 12 set up to raise money was William H. Pawson. Of the £200 raised in subscriptions, his £30 was the most generous.

So, William was wealthy, fortunate, and generous. But in 1849 misfortune struck. In his book Whittingham Vale Dippie Dixon records: ‘A fire of the most terrific nature occurred at Shawdon Hall, the seat of William Pawson Esq. The Hall was preserved but the outbuildings were entirely destroyed. The damage was estimated at upwards of £3000. The intensity of the heat may be calculated by the fact that the lead poured down from the roof like water and the bell of the turret clock which had been brought from the monastery at Alnmouth in the reign of Henry VIII was melted in the conflagration.’

It was perhaps at this time that the Victorian wing was added to the back of the existing Georgian house. If so, that and the aftermath of the fire would involve William (I) and no doubt William (2) in considerable expense. William (2) continued to improve the property. In about 1850, John Dobson was employed to design some of the building projects: the archway linking the house with the outbuildings and the attractive East Lodge.

By the 1880s the Pawsons were in financial difficulties. They were forced to dismantle Lemmington Hall to restore Titlington Hall. Shawdon passed into the hands of moneylenders. From about 1906 to 1930 it was let to a succession of tenants including Mr Basil Hoare, a wealthy London man with his wife and three daughters and Major Nielsen and family.  They were followed by Major Ormsby who rented Shawdon Hall to run it as a boys’ school.  

Like the Pawsons, Major Ormsby relied on local tradesmen for supplies, including meat from Dodds, the Glanton butcher, and about £60 worth of milk per year. Sadly, the benefit to the community was short-lived as the school went bankrupt. Dodds received only 10d in the pound for what they were owed.

At this time another William Henry Pawson, great great grandson of William Pawson (no. 1) returned from America. Having made money as a filmmaker, he bought back Shawdon from the Receivers. He showed the Pawsons’ traditional concern for community affairs, being a member of the committee that ensured the building of Glanton Memorial Hall and donating to Glanton Show Committee the beautiful silver ‘Pawson Cup’ that is still awarded for the best collection of vegetables at the Show. In 1931, the hall was sold to Henry Beavan from Newcastle.

Shawdon Hall: 1931-1988

Photo of East Lodge at Shawdon Hall looking towards the driveway
East Lodge, Shawdon Hall (2012)

[Photo © Russel Wills (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image has been cropped and exposure adjusted.]

Over time, the Pawsons had employed a butler and a housekeeper, together with a host of kitchen, scullery maids, laundry maids, and cooks. All Henry Beavan required was one housekeeper, Mrs Lovell, an estate joiner, Archie Ferguson, a part-time chauffeur, Mr Inglis, and Mr Beattie the gardener who grew fresh vegetables in the walled garden and had tomatoes as his speciality.

Henry had no need for grooms or gamekeepers as he had no interest in the usual country pursuits of hunting, fishing, and shooting. Instead, he was thoroughly occupied running his various businesses – a store at Newcastle, Home Farm at Shawdon, a farm at Biddlestone Edge and the quarry at Biddlestone. He was helped in running his farm by the shepherd at Shawdon, Jim Dagg. The Daggs lived in the Hall itself – not the original part but the Victorian wing at the back.

Henry died of a heart attack in 1952. Mrs Lovell stayed on at the Hall for the year it took to complete the sale of the Estate to Major Calverley Bewicke. He had been living at the family seat at Wylam, where he and his family farmed and trained racehorses. Local people remember a big auction held in a marquee on the lawn in front of the house, at which Mr Beavan’s furnishings were sold.

Photo of West Lodge at Shawdon Hall showing pillars at driveway entrance
West Lodge, Shawdon Hall (2012)

[Photo © Russel Wills (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image has been cropped and exposure adjusted.]

Moving from the big house at Wylam to another as large as Shawdon Hall was quite an operation. Mrs Bewicke liked to see each load of possessions safely away from Wylam and then be available at Shawdon to supervise the unloading. She made it a priority to get the dining room in order so she could give the removal men their meals there. Her reward for her thoughtfulness was the amazed appreciation of the men who ‘had never before been asked to eat in the dining room!’

The Bewickes were able to concentrate on their two great interests, racehorses, and farming. There were, at times, around 40 horses to house, exercise, and train. This required a considerable staff. The head lad was Jock Fraser and under him was a large number of apprentice stable lads, including Nick Egdell and Arthur McCann from local villages. The apprentices lived in the Bothy – and if that suggests a rough stone hovel, bear in mind that this was Shawdon! A married couple were employed to look after the Bothy; the man worked in the stables while his wife cooked and cleaned for the lads.

The Estate was responsible for the ‘moral welfare’ of the lads. At its most basic it often meant stopping the boys fighting among themselves. Or it could involve helping them to manage their money. They received pocket money and, if their horse won a race, would be given extra plus a possible generous tip from the horse’s owner.  Mrs Bewicke would help by seeing that this money was put away and by rationing out appropriate amounts for holidays.

The chief jockeys were George Millburn and Stan Hayhurst who shared the rides. Stan was called up for National Service and just before his departure, Pat Guiry arrived. Pat used to ride some of the younger horses. Security was an issue. On one occasion, the Bewickes were at the races at Ayr and, ringing home to see if all was well, were told that a French lady and two gentlemen had asked to see the stables, saying they were thinking of sending some horses there. A week later, on the morning of Kelso races, one of the horses that should have been running was found lying almost unconscious. The other runners were checked and two more had been doped – not the modern sort of doping which gives a horse an unfair advantage, but the type intended to stop the animal running at all. The ‘French’ trio were eventually caught, having tried the same tactics elsewhere. After this, security at Shawdon was extremely tight and no visitors were shown around unless they were known.

In 1953 the Alnwick to Cornhill Railway was closed and the Bewickes bought Glanton Station. They used the warehouse buildings for grain stores and the cottages as additional housing for staff. Mrs Bewicke did not have a large staff, just a nanny and a cook and other part-time help. Angela Egdell from Powburn helped in the house while her husband was employed in the stables. Mame Thompson from Glanton cycled three mornings a week to Shawdon to help mainly with washing and ironing, as the Bewickes’ connections with the racing world involved them in a lot of entertaining.

In 1964 the Bewickes sold up. Major and Mrs Cowen already had a hill farm in Yorkshire, as well as family farms in Hampshire, and were looking for another to extend their business. Their friends and relatives thought a move from comfortable Hampshire to the wilds of cold, remote Northumberland would be unthinkable. Realising that once Mrs Cowen saw Shawdon Hall she would want it, a friend who knew Shawdon wrote to Major Cowen, “If you value your sanity, don’t let her set foot in it.” But they did set foot in it and at once fell in love with the place.

At first, the family did not come north to live but ‘weekended’ every so often in the back part of the house (the Daggs had moved into the West Lodge). But there was extensive dry rot, and the Victorian part of the house was pulled down, returning the courtyard outside to its former pleasing proportions. This left the original Adam-style Mansion with a later Georgian wing at right angles to it at the back. The stone left after demolishing the Victorian part was used to rebuild the back of that wing.

In 1976 the Cowens came to live full-time at Shawdon. Major Cowen enjoyed the challenge of altering the outbuildings to meet his own needs, while being limited by their listed building status. The buildings surround an attractive courtyard on two levels, one divided from the other by a set of wrought iron railings. In the house two bedrooms were altered to make extra bathrooms, but otherwise the original Georgian part of the house with its classical proportions remains as it was. Behind the house an old wall was removed, and a courtyard created with an attractive swimming pool.

Sycamore, cherry, chestnut, lime, and copper beech have been planted in the grounds and the holly trees and lime tree avenue at the front of the house have been maintained. Major Cowen’s favourite old Scots pine is on the left of the drive and there are also some giant redwoods, probably planted when the present house was built.

In the walled garden one of the Major’s interests has been to train more fruit trees along the walls to replace old failing ones. The garden walls were once heated by coal-fired pipes running inside the brick, but the costs of this long ceased to be viable. New greenhouses have replaced the old Victorian ones. In the 1980s, the gardener Gerry Stanners grew flowers, providing colour for the house, and indulged his passion for dahlias. The lake is fed by water piped from the Shawdon Burn but sadly the heronry for which Shawdon was once famous seems to have disbanded.

Lincombe Dene remains the same as it was, but its cottage had to be pulled down because it was beyond renovation. The Cowens’ daughter declined the offer of it as a honeymoon cottage! Some old stone pillars remain in the dene which could once have been the entrance to a back drive.

In 1988, the estate included Shawdon Hill Farm, Glanton North-field Farm, Titlington Farm and, of course, Shawdon Hall.

Related information

square image of Shawdon Hall
Shawdon Hall in photographic collection

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