Nostalgia: Tour of area’s rich heritage

Rievaulx abbey was Hinderwell's favourite place of interest he devoted three pages to it in his 1811 guide.
Rievaulx abbey was Hinderwell's favourite place of interest he devoted three pages to it in his 1811 guide.

Very much like Jane Austen, his contemporary, Scarborough’s first historian, Thomas Hinderwell, was greatly interested in palatial country houses and the families who occupied them. As far as Scarborough’s hinterland was then concerned, if you were looking for the homes of the aristocracy and landed gentry, there were plenty to choose from.

One of the more remarkable features of Hinderwell’s account of Scarborough’s vicinity is his dependency on a rich variety of sources of information, ancient, medieval and modern. It is clear, for instance, from his footnotes, that like any educated gentleman of his time, he read and understood both ancient Greek and Latin. Therefore, he was able to quote such works as Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, which Shakespeare had used for his Roman plays. Of Tudor antiquarians, he was familiar with John Leland, Raphael Holinshed, William Camden, John Stow and John Speed, and quoted the first at length as he had described his travels through Yorkshire in the early 1540s. And he seems to have read all the more recent relevant works, such as the rural economists, William Marshall and Isaac Leatham, travellers such as Arthur Young, and local histories, such as Lionel Charlton’s on Whitby, published in 1779. In the absence then of record offices and public libraries, Hinderwell must have possessed a superb library of his own.

In addition, Hinderwell was generous and honest enough to acknowledge his debt to friends who provided him with specialist knowledge on mineral waters, climate and diseases, on natural history, and especially to the Rev Daniel Lysons for his “laborious researches in the Tower [of London] and the British Museum”. However, Hinderwell’s own understanding of Scarborough’s locality, its churches, castles, country houses and their owners and occupiers was unrivalled. Moreover, though mansions and parks, which are now open to the curious visitor, were then, with only one or two exceptions, entirely private, Hinderwell still managed to find inside information on their contents. For example, he was able to devote 24 pages on the architecture, interiors and parklands of Castle Howard, which included critical details and comments on the many valuable paintings then on show there.

Though now, in some cases, the original family residents have moved elsewhere, most of Hinderwell’s choice of country seats and their parklands have survived the past two centuries and some have become accessible to the general public. The Legards, who then lived at Ganton Hall, have moved to Scampston, and the St Quintins have gone from Scampston back to Harpham in the East Riding. The Cayleys ran out of male heirs and have left Brompton Hall, which is now a school. Similarly, the Cholmleys are no longer to be found in Abbey House, Whitby or Howsham and their descendants as lords of Whitby manor are Stricklands.

Nevertheless, considering the enormous changes in land ownership that have occurred nationally during the last two centuries, in Scarborough’s deep hinterland there has been remarkable continuity and conservatism.

The Johnstones have lived at Hackness Hall since it was first built in 1791; as lords Mulgrave, the Phipps family have been at Mulgrave castle, their Georgian home, for more than 250 years, and still run an estate of 15,000 acres; similarly, the Sykes have owned and managed their estate on the north Wolds from Sledmere for nearly three centuries; and the Howards, though no longer the earls of Carlisle, can trace their residence at Castle Howard, previously Hinderskelf, or Henderskelfe, to as far back as 1571.

The castle at Henderskelfe was re-built in 1683, destroyed by fire ten years later, and between 1699 and 1712 replaced by the third earl of Carlisle with a magnificent building which cost him about £35,000. The village was replaced by an ornamental lake. Castle Howard and its extensive, monumental grounds remain arguably the finest aristocratic seat in Yorkshire and still belong to the Howards.

At the extreme geographical limit of Hinderwell’s inland excursion, was the Helmsley estate, bought by Sir Charles Duncombe, the city banker and receiver general of excise, in 1689 for £90,000. Duncombe House was built soon afterwards and designed, not by Sir John Vanbrugh, as Hinderwell thought, but a lesser known amateur architect, William Wakefield. However, the original house, added to in 1843, was largely destroyed by fire in 1879 and had to be re-built. Today, Duncombe House itself is perhaps less impressive than the terraces and temples of Duncombe Park’s extensive landscaped gardens which date from the 1720s and 1730s. Now restored, they can be appreciated by the modern visitor much as Hinderwell marvelled at them 200 years ago.

As a romantic in the Romantic Age, Hinderwell loved visual art, ornamental gardens and landscaped parkland, but especially ruined abbeys and castles. Again, within a day-trip distance of Scarborough by horse-drawn carriage, there were many such sites and sights to draw opulent visitors. Castle Howard, Duncombe House and Sledmere House had superb collections of books, paintings, sculptures, furnishings and ceramics, acquired mostly by their owners on Grand Tours of Italy and France. Scarborough had its own battle-scarred castle, but so had Helmsley, Mulgrave, Sheriff-Hutton and Pickering, all not yet Victorianised or converted into English Heritage “visitor centres”.

Most of the victims of the dissolution of the monasteries had long since been plundered to extinction by Hinderwell’s time and some of the greatest of these, the Cistercian Fountains, Byland, Jervaulx and Kirkstall, were beyond his reach. However, the conspicuous survivors, namely Whitby, Rievaulx and Bridlington, figured prominently in his “places to go” chapter.

Rievaulx abbey was his favourite, as it is still for so many nowadays. Partly because the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1811 had contained a lengthy description, “which may be depended upon for accuracy”, Hinderwell devoted three pages to it. Indeed, so accurate was the Gentleman’s Magazine feature, that more than two centuries later a visitor to Rievaulx could still use it as a reliable guide. The only major change since 1811 is the disappearance of most of Rievaulx village, “consisting of scattered cottages, which preserve all the simplicity of rural scenery”. Hinderwell, was a sea-faring man, who was born and died after a long retirement in a seaport, yet “rural scenery” and “simplicity” appealed to his 
romantic nature.