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Susan Davidson - Victorian Wonder Woman

Pool of water surrounded by trees and wild plants
The tarn at Allen Banks and Staward Gorge | © Rebecca Hughes

The northern end of the Allen Banks estate was largely created by Victorian wonder woman Susan Davidson (1796–1877) over three decades as a ‘wilderness garden’ and is today one of the largest areas of ancient woodland in the county.

Susan was the granddaughter of the 9th Earl of Strathmore (here began the estate’s connection to the Bowes-Lyon family) and wife of Mr John Davidson of Otterburn who, in 1830, purchased the Ridley Hall estate for her. She was the first Lady Ridley to take an interest in the garden and went on to make it her life’s work.

Susan laid out 65 flower beds in the formal gardens and organised the system of paths, rustic bridges and summer houses as well as developing woodland by the River Allen. She created viewpoints, avenues of beech trees and a boating tarn, planting many of the trees and shrubs we see today. Susan continued to mould and enhance the landscape, revealing its dramatic beauty, across 35 years.

Her cousin, Augustus John Cuthbert Hare describes Susan thus: “Cousin Susan was an active, bright little woman, always beautifully dressed, and with the most perfect figure imaginable. No one except Mr. Bowes knew how old she was, and he would not tell, but she liked to be thought very young, and still danced at Newcastle balls. She was a capital manager of her large estate, entered into all business questions herself, and would walk for hours about her woods, marking timber, planning bridges or summer houses, and contriving walks and staircases in the most difficult and apparently inaccessible places.”

Augustus also mentions Susan’s well-known love of dogs who she treated “quite as human beings and part of the family.” She had a great number of dogs and took them to church every Sunday. She called them her “boys” and woe betide anyone who did not admire them as much as she did!

In 1942 Francis Bowes-Lyon gave the woodland estate to the National Trust and we do our best to maintain Susan’s hard work.

We say thank you to Susan Davidson. Her imagination, determination and knowledge created Allen Banks and Staward Gorge in a way that visitors continue to enjoy today.

Information about Susan can be found in the replica wooden summerhouse at Allen Banks and Staward Gorge.

Two visitors walking a dog along a woodland path at Allen Banks and Staward Gorge, Northumberland

Things to do at Allen Banks and Staward Gorge 

Get out into nature and explore the rich ‘wilderness garden’ at Allen Banks – a woodland paradise with walking trails and abundant wildlife including red squirrels and roe deer.