Charleton House, a plain 6-bay south front, with 19th century additions, is now used to accommodate golfing parties and seminar groups. The formal gardens lie within a semi-circular enclosure, bounded by a Wall set atop a high embankment. Six early 20th century Garden Terraces extend across the south front. Charleton House and its formal gardens, situated at the centre of the designed landscape divide the North Park from the South Park. In the South Park, little parkland planting survives, except some 19th century specimens of Wellingtonia. This area was laid out as a golf course in 1922.
Type of Site
A mid-18th century formal landscape, incorporating a series of rides and long-distance vistas, modified by a 19th century informal scheme.
Location and Setting
Charleton House is situated in the East Neuk, 4.5km (3 miles) east of Lower Largo, to the north of the A917 (Lower Largo-Elie) at its junction with the B942 Colinsburgh road. It is one of a series of designed landscapes set out on the Methil-Elie coastal terrace, which is cut by a series of lowland dens. The estate lies adjacent to Balcarres House (see q.v. Inventory, Balcarres ) on the southern slopes of Flagstaff Hill, part of the pronounced volcanic hills and craigs at Largo Law and Largoward. Its south boundary is defined by the B942, while the others are bounded by shelter belts and woodlands.
The area is typified by gently undulating arable farmland, defined by beech shelter belts and interrupted by policy planting. The Charleton policies, together with those of Balcarres, create a distinctive local landscape character. Views into the parkland can be gained from the Colinsburgh Road. Views southwards, from the terraced gardens extend over the South Park to the Firth of Forth.
Roy's Survey (1747'55) gives the first known indication of a designed landscape layout, then called Newburn, still recognisable with the Great Avenue and rond-point laid out north of the house and the South Avenue. During the 19th century, the parkland was extended, and shelter belts and woodlands planted. The extent of the designed landscape has changed little since, although the character of the South Park has, due to the creation of a golf course.
Charleton House, a plain 6-bay south front, with 19th century additions, includes a dining room with canted bay to the south by William Burn. Early 20th century additions designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, include a top-lit saloon and single-storey north entrance front. North of the house, the Stables and Entrance Court probably survive from a more extensive entrance-court complex. On one side of the courtyard is a small stone building with wooden cupola and clock tower. This corresponds with a range of garages/coachhouses on the other side. The courtyard entrance, designed by Reginald Fairlie in 1901, is marked by wrought-iron Gates, with flanking hand-gates, divided by ashlar piers with ball finials. Their wrought-iron overthrow incorporates the Thomson's family motto 'Perissim nisi per issim' (Had I not entered I would have perished).
The West Lodge and Gates are early 19th century, with simple gate piers with ball finials. The small single-storey lodge has a slate roof with centre chimney. The South Lodge, Charleton Farm, East Newton and the Kennels are other ancillary estate buildings. The late 18th century, East Gate-piers were brought here c 1920 from the Airdrie estate near Crail. The piers are rusticated with fret bands, swagged friezes and flaming urn finials, similar to the pair surviving at Airdrie.
North of the house, the Gardener's Cottage is built of coursed rubble with stone quoins. Adjacent is a small lean-to Glasshouse, and a single span Glasshouse, both c 1920. The Icehouse is probably early 19th century, plain with a stone vaulted tunnel to the underground chamber. An 18th century Doocot to the south of Charleton Farm is rectangular, harled rubble and slate, with crow-stepped flanks.
The formal gardens lie within a semi-circular enclosure, bounded by a Wall set atop a high embankment. The mid-18th century, rubble-built wall is contemporary with the construction of the house (Roy 1747-55). Six early 20th century Garden Terraces extend across the south front. The upper and second terraces have stone balustrades topped with urns. The third and fourth terrace walls are built of pierced brickwork on top of rubble retaining walls, with terracotta oil jars set at intervals on the coping. The lower, 'Fountain Terrace', is bounded on the park side, by a hedge planted on a stone retaining wall. Various architectural features are built into the walls or are free-standing, throughout the gardens. Although the stone balustrade on the upper terrace is attributed to Robert Lorimer, the others appear not to be so. Their design and execution suggests another origin, perhaps the Anstruther Thomsons themselves, aided by estate workers.
Drives and Approaches
The hierarchy and arrangement of drives has been altered since the mid 18th century, when the principal approach led along the central, south vista from Balchrystie. An east-west drive led to and from Newburn Kirk and Newburn/Newtown village (Roy 1747-55). The path from the West Lodge to Charleton Farm, the reputed site of Newton House, may survive from this earlier layout.
By the early 19th century, new East and West Drives laid out through the South Park provided a greater degree of domestic privacy and convenience. The final significant change, in the early 20th century, was the re-routing of the east and west drives to lead in from the north, following the creation of the garden terraces and north entrance block.
The West Drive is separated from the South Park by railings and sheltered on its west by a deciduous perimeter belt. The pool, within the Japanese Garden, forms an incident to be viewed when approaching the house from the West Drive.
Charleton House and its formal gardens, situated at the centre of the designed landscape divide the North Park from the South Park. The North Avenue, a double avenue centred on the north front of the house, forms the design axis of the North Park. It leads to a large rond point, now formed by a clump, planted on a tump (perhaps formed to provide a drier area for tree planting) set at the centre point of the North Park. The oldest trees are elm (Ulmus glabra), with the avenue inter-planted with beech (Fagus sylvatica) in the early 20th century. The beech are not thriving. Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) are also present in the avenue and rond point. The avenue leads to Craig Wood on Rires Craigs. To its east, a 20th century coniferous plantation has infilled a sinuous perimeter belt, comprising part of the late 18th/early 19th century parkland design. To the west, two shallow earth terraces with some surviving elms, probably formed in the mid-18th century, provide viewing platforms to the Firth of Forth and Bass Rock.
In the South Park, little parkland planting survives, except some 19th century specimens of Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). The surviving, principal planting relates to the radiating avenues. By the late 19th century single avenues radiated from the house southwards, continuing the alignment of the cross-paths in the East and West Gardens (1893 OS 25"). During the early 20th century, these were supplemented by two inner avenues (1946 aerial survey). Some of the trees from these inner avenues had been removed by 1988 (1988 aerial survey). In 1922, parkland south of the track leading from West Lodge to Charleton Farm was laid out as a private golf course.
Boundary woodlands enclose the designed landscape. These perimeter parkland belts are defined on their inner sides by the East and West Drives.
Craig Wood, which forms the focal point of the North Avenue, retains some elm coppice (Ulmus glabra). To the west, a dyke, planted with elm, which forms a strong woodland edge, encloses Horseshoe Wood ('Crescent Wood' 1853, OS 6").
South of the house, the garden terraces are divided one from the other, by hedges or walls. The upper terrace, paved with diamond-shaped patterns set in grass, is divided from the second terrace, which seems to have been laid out as a croquet lawn, by a low yew (Taxus baccata) hedge and stone balustrade. Yew hedges enclose these terraces on their east and west sides. Semi-circular brick steps lead down onto the terraces from the East and West Gardens.
Brick walls, built on top of stone retaining walls, separate the third and fourth terraces from one another. The northern retaining wall of the fourth terrace is set with a brick fountain incorporating various architectural fragments, including a mask and waterspout. This falls into a stone trough resting on two pilasters, which in turn feeds a larger stone bath sitting over a stone-lined pool. The terrace is laid out with formal brick-edged beds, on either side of a central path, flanked by clipped standard Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica). Statues at the centre of the beds, include those of Mercury and Venus (originally from Amisfield, East Lothian).
From the fourth terrace a series of brick-built, double steps lead down to a grass terrace, and incorporate a water feature. The lower, 'Fountain Terrace', is semicircular in form and projects into the park. This semi-circular platform is set centrally with a cross-shaped pond, surrounded by brick-kerbed beds planted with Senecio greyii and Lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis).
To either side of the house and terraces are the East and West Gardens. The cross-walks are lined with hedges, probably contemporary with the early 20th century terraces. The West Garden is now largely obscured by mature tree growth. The East Garden, once used for growing vegetables, is now lawn.
Kit's Garden, a small garden to the north-east of the house was laid out in 1921 by Colonel Charles in memory of his sister Kit. It consists of a formal layout, with a central cross-bed surrounded by corner beds containing clipped bay standards (Laurus nobilis), and is ornamented with statuary, oil jars, and urns. To the east a semicircular dipping tank and balustrade enclose the garden.
- Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts
Telephone0131 668 8600
Access contact details
The house is available for use as a conference venue, and the grounds are now used for golfing.
The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:
Reason for Inclusion
Early (?) to mid-18th century formal landscape which continues to form a strong landscape structure in the modern day landscape. The terrace gardens, an example of Edwardian eclecticism, have some elements attributed to Sir Robert Lorimer (1864-1929).
Main Phases of Landscape Development
Early (?)-mid 18th century, early 19th-20th centuries
In 1713, John Thomson of Mildarie and Montry bought Newton House (situated at Charleton Farm) and the Charleton estate from Colonel John Hope. His son, John Thomson built the new house, Charleton House, c 1759 following his marriage to Margaret Paterson of Preston Hall. The house was designed to sit at the centre of the designed landscape, with formal gardens set within a semi-circular walled terrace, extending to the north, the east and west sides of the house. A formal avenue led northwards and southwards from the house along the central design axis. The North Avenue led to a rond point, then further north again to a narrow cut through a clump planted on the skyline, forming a 'keyhole' (Roy 1747-55). To the south, the vista was set out to focus on the Bass Rock.
Thomson's grandson, Colonel John Anstruther Thomson, succeeded in 1797. He married Clementina Adam of Blair Adam in 1807. Over the next three decades he commissioned a number of designs to alter or completely rebuild the house. One, in 1818 by William Burn (1789-1870), proposed remodelling the house but was unexecuted (Colvin 1995, p.188). In 1815-7, two classical wings were added to the house and a Burn design for an east wing was implemented (1832-3). It is probably during this period that the gardens and landscape were remodelled to complement the house. By 1828 there was an informal parkland, to which were added woodland belts, clumps and a scatter of parkland trees, which survive. Further work included breaking the South Avenue and the creation of east and west drives curving through the parkland leading in from Balchrystie (to the west) and from Charleton Farm to the east (Sharp, Greenwood and Fowler 1828).
Colonel John Anstruther Thomson (b. 1818), who inherited in 1833, recommissioned Burn to alter the house by adding a new east wing with a canted bay southwards onto the garden. Although there is no evidence for Burn's involvement in the garden design, a new arcaded 'garden vestibule' inserted in the south front sometime between 1822-55, suggests an emphasis on the garden at this side of the house.
By 1893, cross-walks had been formed in the East Garden. The West Garden was furnished with a long walk set against the west façade with a pattern of informal walks (1893, OS 25").
Colonel Charles Anstruther Thomson (1855-1925) inherited the estate in 1904. During his residence the front of the house was changed to the north side, thus the entrance drives were realigned to meet there (1893, OS 25"; 1912, OS 25"). This major building phase relates to Robert Lorimer's designs, Thomson's friend and neighbour at Kellie Castle (q.v. Inventory, Volume 4, p.394-9). A new entrance and long gallery on the north side of the house were created, along with garden terraces on the south. Colonel Charles visited Japan, returning in 1892 when he built a Japanese garden, centering on a pool between the west garden and west drive (1912, OS 25").
He laid out a series of radiating avenues, forming a patte d'oie, in the South Park between 1905-10. These appear to have been laid out on the lines of an earlier scheme, the vestiges of which are shown on the 1st edition 6"O.S. (1853, OS 6")
Following Colonel Charles' death in 1925, Grizel Anstruther Thomson, later Baroness Knut Bonde, inherited. After residing at Charleton for ten years, the family moved to live in Sweden. Thereafter, the house was lived in for only part of the year, until Baron John Bonde settled permanently at Charleton in 1955. A significant change to the designed landscape has been the creation of a golf course in the South Park, in 1994.
- Features & Designations
Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- Key Information
Open to the public