Nostalgia: ‘A small romantic village’

St Peters Church, Hackness
St Peters Church, Hackness

In the published words of Thomas Hinderwell written in 1811, Hackness was then “a small romantic village ... visited by all persons of taste and fashion resorting to Scarborough”. Though it was necessary to travel six miles through “places of little interest” to reach it, the destination was worth the journey. In fact, Hinderwell’s recommended route to Hackness from Scarborough reads like a ride through Raincliff woods and past Everley (“the wild boar clearing”) along the valley of the Derwent, rather than the alternative from “the picturesque village” of Scalby.

Denied the traditional Grand Tour of European cities of culture by the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, the Regency’s wealthy travellers were discovering the more remote and “barbarous” parts of Britain which they had previously undervalued and avoided. The Romantic movement engaged not just the poets such as Wordsworth and the artists like Turner and Constable, it encouraged adventurous journeys into what Hinderwell called “the wild, picturesque and beautiful”.

But Hackness had much more to commend it besides “sylvan embellishments”, steep-sided valleys and “springs of water gushing from the sides of hills in natural cascades”: it had a very long, rich and important history.

First of all, in St Peter’s, Hackness had a parish church that was “very ancient” with many inside monuments and inscriptions that described the previous presence of illustrious residents. In the beginning, there was the abbess St Hilda “of royal descent”, who had founded the first abbey at Whitby and who, at the end of her life, set up a convent or cell for eight nuns at Hackness.

According to the Domesday Book of 1086, amongst the lands held then by William de Percy was the manor of “Hagenesse” with three churches and “the land of St Hilda”. Even today the woodland on the slope to the north of Hackness Hall is still called “Hilda Wood”. What Hinderwell did not know or chose not to mention was that Hackness had two other female saints: St Bega or Begu, who was buried at Hackness and revered in the medieval abbey at Whitby; and St Ethelburga, another lady of royal descent, who was briefly a successor to St Hilda at Hackness.

After the Norman Conquest and the reestablishment of the abbey at Whitby, Hackness became the southern extremity of the extensive estate granted to it. The monks used the land to raise cattle and horses and kept a grange there. Next to the church of St Peter on the site of St Hilda’s nunnery, they built a home for invalid monks retired from the mother monastery at Whitby.

The ancient link between Whitby and what became the parish of Hackness was severed at the Reformation. In 1563, Queen Elizabeth granted the church of St Peter and the townships of Hackness, Everley, Broxa, Silpho, Suffield, Langdale End and Harwood Dale to her favourite, Lord Robert Dudley, who soon sold it to John Constable of Burton Constable. Subsequently, John’s son, Henry Constable sold the manor to the Earl of Essex for £6,000.

The Earl intended Hackness to become the property of his younger brother, Walter Devereux, when he married Margaret Dakins, an heiress from Linton, near Malton; but Walter soon had an unfortunate collision with a cannon-ball. After a second husband of Margaret had also found an early grave, a third, Sir Thomas Hoby of Bisham in Berkshire, was sponsored and financed by the Earl of Huntingdon, her guardian, and her father’s dowry. Eventually, Sir Thomas and Lady Margaret settled down at Hackness Hall to 37 years of “mutuall entire affection”. She died in 1633, he went on until the end of 1640, the marriage having failed to produce an heir. (One factual error in all three editions of Hinderwell’s History was to give Hoby a Scarborough seat in the Commons in 1614 when in that year he was elected at Ripon).

The only relative Hoby could find was a distant one called John Sydenham from Somerset who inherited the whole manor of Hackness, the rectory and the advowson of St Peter’s. The Sydenhams did not last long: John’s grandson, Sir Philip, sold Hackness to a Pall Mall merchant of Dutch descent called John Vanden Bempde. This John had only a daughter, Charlotte, who married twice, once briefly to William, the Marquess of Annandale, who gave her a son, Richard, and then to Lt Col John Johnstone, who got himself killed at Cartagena in 1741.

Richard Vanden Bempde succeeded to Hackness in 1792, added Johnstone to his name in 1795 and died as the first baronet in 1807. When Hinderwell’s History was published in 1811, Richard’s eldest son and heir, Sir John, was only 12 years old. After Hinderwell’s death, Sir John Johnstone, as he was now called, went on to win one of Scarborough’s parliamentary seats eight times in 37 years, a record unbeaten even by Sir Alec Spearman or Michael Shaw, each elected seven consecutive times in the next century.

All, or much of, this history of Hackness was conveniently inscribed and commemorated on the interior walls of St Peter’s chancel, decorated with inaccurate coats of arms in the case of the Dakins family.

When Hinderwell visited Hackness, Sir Richard had already begun to change the village. Where formerly the old timber, wattle and daub cottages of his tenants had stood, there was now “a lake fed by streams issuing from the hills”. The old manor house where Lady Margaret had written her diary, had also been destroyed and Sir Richard had replaced it with a spacious stone mansion of two storeys, seven bays and a very fine facade on the other side of St Peter’s. The villagers were now being housed well out of sight of the new manor house.

Yet apart from Hackness itself, little had changed in the parish of over 12,000 acres and four water mills on the river Derwent, supporting about 200 families. There was only one new place of worship, St Margaret’s chapel in Harwood Dale, built by Sir Thomas in memory of his wife. The river Derwent still followed the western boundary with Wykeham and the sea cut dug to take its flood waters out into the North Sea was of benefit to communities lower down its course. George Johnstone, nephew of the late baronet, who lived in a “beautiful cottage” by the lake, was busily planting trees on the hillsides, which were both “great ornament” and “valuable acquisition”, but improvement elsewhere in the parish was long delayed. Enclosure of the “In Moor” did not begin until 1821 and that of the “High Moor”, which was mainly Harwood Dale, not until 1861.