Nostalgia: Ganton and the Legards

St Nicholas Church, Ganton, in the distance with the dead Legards still reside. In the foreground is Ganton Golf Course, once a manorial rabbit warren.
St Nicholas Church, Ganton, in the distance with the dead Legards still reside. In the foreground is Ganton Golf Course, once a manorial rabbit warren.

In Jane Austen’s lifetime road-travelling visitors to Scarborough from the west approached the seaside town from York, not by the modern A64, but by the turnpike that came through West Heslerton, Snainton and Ayton and over Irton and Seamer moors down to Falsgrave. Nowadays, passing rapidly through the villages of East Heslerton, Sherburn and Ganton we have little sense of their identity. Indeed, since the A64 bisects these communities, it effectively destroys their unity and integrity: with speed we gain time and lose place.

If Scarborians today know Ganton at all, for most of them it is merely or mainly a 150-acre golf course dating from 1893 and perhaps also an early nineteenth-century, chalk-built public house on the roadside, formerly the Red Lion, but now called the Greyhound after the family crest of the Legard family. At most, they might be spared a fleeting glimpse of the superb spire of the parish church of St Nicholas and, even less likely, of the red-brick manor house known as Ganton Hall. As for the settlement at the western end of Ganton parish, known intriguingly as Potter Brompton, that could be mistaken easily for no more than a farmstead.

Though Ganton on the northern edge of the East Riding has no manorial records and only some parish documents from the years 1774 to 1838, its long association with the Legard family has given it significant historical importance. John Legard bought the manor and estate from Marmaduke Lacy in 1586 and his descendants sold their 3,500 acres to Harold Wrigley in 1911. The Legards were an East Riding family, but John had made his fortune in London as an haberdasher. The living Legards moved to Scampston Hall further down the A64, yet during their 325 years there they left a permanent legacy at Ganton, much more than the name of its pub.

The dead Legards still reside at Ganton. Generations of them are commemorated and entombed in the parish church of St Nicholas. In the chancel and aisle of this mostly fifteenth century building you will find monuments to Sir Digby (d.1773), Francis (d.1777), George (d.1796), and another Sir Digby (d.1822) and in the south transept a mortuary chapel and a burial vault for many more of the family.

The original Ganton Hall, built by the first John Legard in the contemporary Elizabethan style, would still have been the home of his descendants two hundred years later. It was not destroyed and replaced by the present Hall until 1886-8. According to an early description, the Old Hall was “new-builded” with walls of chalk-stone and covered with a steep slate roof. It stood to two storeys with attics and gabled projections, not unlike Burton Agnes Hall.

The Legards of Ganton figure prominently in the history of Scarborough and its vicinity. The mother of Sir Hugh Cholmley of Whitby, elected Scarborough’s MP five times between 1624 and 1643, was Susannah Legard. Later, the Legards were deeply divided by the Civil Wars and fought on both sides. When Sir Hugh changed sides, his cousin, John Legard, thought of assassinating him, but then changed his mind. The “Cavalier” Parliament returned another John Legard in 1660 for Scarborough and thought better of it the following year.

In 1661, for services to the Crown, Charles II awarded a baronetcy to this John Legard, great-grandson of the founder at Ganton; and in 1669 Scarborough’s Common Hall made him its senior bailiff, an office he used to persecute the town’s Quakers.

During the brief reign of James II (1685-8), Sir John Legard, the second baronet, was one of the local Tory squires, along with the Cayleys of Brompton, the Osbaldestons of Hunmanby and the Wyvills of Osgodby, chosen by the Crown to run Scarborough. In 1685 he was made mayor, a new office created under Charles II’s new municipal charter. However, the flight of King James and the succession of Protestant William III to the throne brought the Whigs back into Sandside.

The last political Legard was Sir Charles, who, in 1874, taking advantage of a three-way split in Liberal ranks, won one of Scarborough’s seats for the Conservatives, only to lose it again by coming bottom of the poll in the next general election of 1880. Thomas Hinderwell’s History of 1811 devoted only two pages to Ganton, both entirely concerned with the Legards. Of the family monuments in the church of St Nicholas, he quoted only that of Sir Digby, the 5th baronet, who had inherited the estate in 1735 and died in 1773 aged 44, leaving a widow and nine children. Hinderwell described the inscription to him as “modest”, perhaps because it failed to refer to his celebrated success as an agricultural improver. During his tenure of nearly 40 years, the 5th baronet raised the productivity and profit of his land by dividing some of it into closes of about 40 acres each and planting grasses, sainfoin and clover to fertilise the dry chalk soil. Where ground had less potential, such as the low Carrs or the high Wolds, he enclosed it as manorial rabbit warrens. One of these later became Ganton golf course.

Hinderwell might have been expected to refer to inclosure which Sir Digby had already started on his demesne. By 1801, Ganton already had 523 acres under crops, 220 of wheat and 191 of oats. But it was during the time of Sir John, the 6th baronet, who ran the manor and estate from 1773 until his death in 1809, that Ganton’s remaining open fields, ings, commons and whins were enclosed. The whole lot, the only allotment of 1804 of just over 2,000 acres, went to Sir John.

Since this Sir John had no children, in 1809 the title and manor passed to his brother, Sir Thomas, the 7th baronet. A previous Sir Thomas, the 4th baronet, had married Frances Digby from Nottinghamshire and this explains the favour given to “Digby” as a Christian name of his descendants.

Another family connection was with the local Dawnays. In 1630, John Legard had taken Mary, daughter of John Dawnay of Potter Brompton, as his wife. After the death of her father she inherited his estate, so that Potter Brompton became part of the manor and parish of Ganton. Excavations at Potter Brompton since have uncovered six pit kilns fired by peat so that the hamlet was named in part from its production of coarse, unglazed ware. The marriage added land to Ganton and the Legard inheritance, but it caused religious friction since the Legards were zealous Anglicans and the Dawnays recusant Catholics.

The Legard attachment to the established church was a constant. In 1616 John Legard had founded an almshouse for four paupers on condition that all were Anglicans over 50, one came from Staxton and the other three from Ganton.

According to the 1801 census, the population of Ganton was then 223.