Newport House is thought to have been the home of the Lollard martyr Sir John Oldcastle (1360–1417) who was the model for Shakespeare’s Falstaff.
In 1712, Lord Foley of Great Witley bought the estate and demolished the medieval house to build the present Georgian one between 1712 and 1718. The Folley family had moved the walled garden to its present location by 1767, and the gardener’s cottage appears on a 1774 map.
In 1860 James Watt Gibson Watt, grandson of James Watt of steam engine fame, bought the house and, in the ten years he owned it, made substantial additions, including a large reception hall and staircase lit through a stained glass lantern, and commissioned W A Nesfield to redesign the garden. Nesfield installed a stone tazza supported by lions, similar to the one he installed in London’s Regent Park. It’s at that time also that the garden was extended down towards the lake with yew hedging and trees. The gardens are now included in English Heritage’s Register of Parks and Gardens.
The house changed ownership, with various tenants, several times until the council bought it in 1919 and converted it into a TB hospital, which it remained until 1953, when it became a Latvian home until 1996, when it was sold and left untouched by property developers, then bought by Richard and Cary Goode in 2000, who carried out extensive renovations in the house, and redesigned the gardens.
In 2004 it was sold again and the current occupiers, David and Jenny Crichton Watt, their four daughters and a small community of gardeners, craftspeople and horse riders are further breathing life into this distinguished old lady.
The 2 ½ acre walled garden was bought back from the council in 2008, and has been extensively refurbished. It is grown organically with three full time gardeners and feeds Newport House’s community for most of the year. The 1909 Foster and Pearson greenhouse has been rebuilt with new cedar wood, while a tropical glasshouse and a winery were built with cedar wood and wrought iron found in a reclamation yard. They now produce vines, melons, papaya, passion fruit, macadamia nuts, and house a mango tree, a banana tree, tea and coffee bushes…
The gardener’s cottage has just been refurbished in 2013, in its original size.
The 90 acre Highmoor Woods were also bought back from the council, in 2010. Two full time foresters have been clearing them (with the help of Tamworth pigs), planting native species, digging out the drains, and it has been a delight seeing wild flowers appear this spring.
The Cart Shed charity conducts many of its sessions in these woods.