Restoring and managing Kirkharle: a perpective from owner John Anderson
Jewels in the crown
Recognising the continuing decline in agricultural fortunes and with the Government encouraging farmers to develop income streams other than through primary production, in the middle of the 1990’s, I realised that I had a number of jewels on the Estate; principally St Wilfrid’s Church, Loraine’s Monument and Kirkharle Farm steading. St Wilfrid’s is a Grade I listed church, dating back to the early14th century and despite the ravages of both time and fashion, still retaining the simplicity of a stone, wood and plain glass construction. Robin Dower's notes: The Farm steading was within the curtilage of Kirkharle Hall, home to the Loraine family from the 15th century to 1833 when it was sold to my ancestor Thomas Anderson following the collapse of the North Tyne Bank, brought about by the Napoleonic wars, that caused the Loraines to go bankrupt. Only a wing remains of the original Hall, it having been demolished to provide more of a mansion house at Little Harle Towers, family home to the Andersons ever since. To the north of the wing lay an imposing set of farm buildings that had long fallen into disrepair by virtue of not being fit for modern agricultural purposes. Indeed they were mostly obscured by the erection of modern cattle courts and a silage clamp. If these lovely traditional buildings were to be saved, a new purpose had to be found. Jewels alone, though beautiful in their own right, are nothing compared to those placed in a proper setting where they can be shown off to all; rather than gold, it was the wonderful landscape surrounding Kirkharle that I wanted to become the gold crown in which these jewels could be shown off to full effect. However this landscape too had suffered from the ravages of time and the intensification of agriculture. Many of the parkland trees had died or been blown down; stone walls were starting to fall down; water features had been lost, with most of the land in continual cropping or sown down to ryegrasses. It didn’t justify its listing of Grade II Parkland.
Yet, conscious of this place being where Capability Brown was born, my dream was to recreate a living monument to him as a reminder to all that from the small corner of rural Northumberland arguably the nation’s greatest landscape designer emanated. With the Government providing generous financial encouragement, I knew that this was the moment to turn that dream into reality.