Nostalgia: Exploring the countryside

The bridge which connects East and West Ayton was the work of John Carr of York, the most distinguished architect of the East and North Ridings at the time.
The bridge which connects East and West Ayton was the work of John Carr of York, the most distinguished architect of the East and North Ridings at the time.
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After a day-out, sampling the delights of “the romantic village” of Hackness, Thomas Hinderwell suggested that his readers next take the turnpike westwards from Scarborough as far as Snainton, where it branched off the road to Pickering.

Five miles west of Scarborough were the villages of East and West Ayton, “pleasantly situated on opposite banks of the river Derwent, communicating by a bridge of four Roman arches”. In 1811 the bridge at Ayton was only 36 years old and the work of John Carr of York (1723-1807), the most distinguished architect of the East and North Ridings, responsible for many fine houses such as Burton Constable and the stables at Castle Howard, as well as many stone bridges.

Hinderwell might also have referred his readers to the church of St John the Baptist at the approach to East Ayton, a church that consists of every style from Anglo-Saxon to Georgian, but Hinderwell was not interested in religious architecture.

Ayton castle did not much interest him either: it was only “the ruin of an ancient building”, not a unique pele-tower or tower-house of three storeys. To him its importance was as its use as a fortified residence of the Evers of Eure family, who had once “possessed large demesnes in these parts and in the neighbourhood of Malton”.

The reference to the Eures allowed Hinderwell to get onto his favourite subject, the ancestry and “valiant deeds” of the English gentry and nobility. Chief of them, he wrote in a lengthy footnote, was “the gallant Sir Ralph Evers, who so bravely defended Scarborough castle in the year 1536...He was afterwards made Lord Warden of the Marches and was slain in Scotland, when fighting valiantly for his country”.

The quotation is intended as a warning to anyone reading Hinderwell as a historian, rather than an antiquarian. Even by the violent and immoral standards of his time, Sir Ralph was exceptionally rapacious, cruel and dishonest. After he had defended Scarborough castle, he plundered it. He stripped lead from the roofs of its tower and turrets and used it to make himself “a brewing vessel”. He received money from the Crown, but paid only a small fraction of it to his garrison. He stole the gold and silver coins looted from the priory at Guisborough. He was illiterate, ignorant and entirely unscrupulous. He was killed by the Scots who mutilated his corpse in revenge for the atrocities he had inflicted on their women and children, “fighting valiantly for his country”.

Onward and upward to Hutton-Bushell (sic), “adorned with the mansion and pleasure-grounds of George Osbaldeston”. Though he was aware that the village derived its full name from Reginald Buscel, who came over with William the Conqueror in 1066, he still spelled the name “Bushell”, which is how we pronounce not spell it now. The village church, he wrote, was given by Alan, Reginald’s son, as early as 1127 to the abbey at Whitby and the Norman tower of St Matthew’s still stands 900 years later.

Surprisingly, Hinderwell did not tell his readers that George Osbaldeston Esq had been one of Scarborough’s MPs in the House of Commons, though perhaps he was aware that between 1784 and 1790 the squire had never been known to speak there and had simply voted for William Pitt the younger like the political automaton he was expected to be.

Two more miles westward down the York road was the village of Wykeham. Here Hinderwell was on firmer and more familiar ground. First on the north side of the way was a ruined but “ancient tower” dedicated to St Helen. The tower was all that remained of the church of All Saints which had been re-founded by John of Wykeham in 1321 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Helen.

But much older was the Cistercian nunnery at Wykeham which dated from as early as 1153. This was one of the 12 such religious houses for nuns in Yorkshire and one of the best endowed with income from rents valued at £25 17s 6d when it was closed in 1539. This was a remarkable recovery considering that the Scots had destroyed all their possessions, along with 24 other religious houses in Yorkshire, when they devastated the area in 1322. After the dissolution, Prioress Katherine Nandyke returned to her home in Kirkby Moorside and in her will of 1541 gave twopence to every house there and something for everyone of her eight sisters. Even by Hinderwell’s time, little was left of the nunnery building except the north wall of the chapel.

If Hinderwell had known that Mrs Thomasin Farrer, who had discovered Scarborough spa waters, was born and brought up in Wykeham, the daughter of Edward Hutchinson (1543-91), lord of the manor there, he would surely have mentioned it in his history. However, by 1811, Wykeham and Ruston belonged to Richard Langley Esq, and the Hutchinsons lived nearby at Gallow Hill. One of them had recently married William Wordsworth. In fact, unknown to Hinderwell, by 1810 Richard Langley (1761-1817) had already left his estate to Marmaduke Dawnay, ancestor of the present Lord Downe.

What impressed Hinderwell the most was the transformation that had happened since 1800 to the water-logged, often impassable, carrs at the eastern end of the Vale of Pickering. In that year an Act of Parliament for “draining, embanking and preserving land within the township of Muston and other townships adjoining the rivers Derwent and Harford” had been passed. Since then, under the authority of directors, Sir George Cayley of Brompton, Digby Legard of Ganton and the Rev Francis Wrangham of Hunmanby, more than 10,000 acres had been drained for cultivation. Both sides of the Vale from Brompton to Muston had profited from the scheme enormously. Within eight years, land which had always been under water during the winter had been permanently drained and brought into valuable arable and pasture.

Wykeham today is much enlarged and improved since Hinderwell’s spawers passed through it 200 years ago. The “mansion house” where Mr Langley lived was greatly altered and modernised about 1904; the Downe Arms Hotel was then only a coaching inn; All Saints’ church, the parsonage and the village school, all Victorian Gothic, were the design of William Butterfield in the 1850s.