Nostalgia: Farmstead of the huntsman

All Saints' Church, Hunmanby, contains several monuments to the Osbaldeston family.
All Saints' Church, Hunmanby, contains several monuments to the Osbaldeston family.

After his perfunctory references to Filey, in 1811 Thomas Hinderwell went on inland to Hunmanby, a place-name he did not explain though in Domesday book it appeared as “Hundemanebi”, the Danish farm belonging to the hunt or houndsman.

As far as Hinderwell was concerned, Hunmanby then had nothing much of interest for his readers and visitors, apart from its parish church, “a small building”, which he also failed to name. All that really engaged him in All Saints’ was not its history or its architecture, but only the several monuments of the Osbaldeston family who had been lords of the manor for nearly two hundred years. Perhaps he did not know that their corpses were buried in lead-lined coffins underneath the chancel.

The first of these dead Osbaldestons listed on an “elegant monument on the north side of the chancel” was William who had died in 1707. Probably, Hinderwell was unaware that this earlier lord of the manor had played a key part in a particularly dramatic episode in Scarborough’s (and the nation’s) history.

After the death of Charles II and succession of his brother, the Roman Catholic James II, the country was deeply and violently divided between the Whigs who wanted to exclude James from the throne and the Tories who were willing to tolerate his hereditary right. Scarborough was politically Whig, its government dominated by the Thompson clan. For 25 years William Thompson had held one of the borough’s Commons seats and since 1679 the other was occupied by his son Francis. However, the Crown forced a new charter on Scarborough which dispossessed Whig burgesses in favour of local, country Tory squires.

The new Common Hall on Sandside now included John Legard of Ganton, William and Arthur Cayley of Brompton, John Wyvill of Osgodby and Cayton and William and Richard Osbaldeston of Hunmanby. Whether William Osbaldeston had turned Catholic is not certain, but he had a leading role in these events, conducting house searches in Scarborough for Whig weapons and ammunition. So, when King James’ new parliament met in 1685, William Osbaldeston sat in it for Scarborough.

But William’s Tory triumph was short-lived: three years later, King James ran away to France after Protestant Dutch William landed his army in the West Country. In King Billy’s opening parliament William and Francis Thompson were back in their places and the old Whig ascendancy on Sandside had been restored.

Still, William Osbaldeston MP had been no more than a “placeman”, a government lackey, who during his brief spell in the Commons was said to have been “totally inactive”. To be “totally inactive” or “perpetually silent” in the House of Commons was to become the tradition for the Osbaldestons when they were supposed to be representing the interests of the borough of Scarborough.

Another William Osbaldeston (1688-1766) became a convenient Whig and sat in the Commons for Scarborough for 30 years until he died in post. According to the official Parliamentary history: “He is not known to have spoken in the House.” His younger brother, Fountayne Wentworth (1696-1770) inherited the seat, held it until his death four years later, and was never known to have made a single speech. And finally, George Osbaldeston of Hutton Buscel, who was returned for one of Scarborough’s places in 1784, never opened his mouth except to vote for Prime Minister William Pitt.

Yet the Osbaldeston that Hindwerwell might have met at Hunmanby, Squire Humphrey, seems to have been extraordinarily active if not talkative. He had inherited the lordship of the estate in 1770 and held it until he died at the age of 90, 65 years later. He was responsible for much of old Hunmanby that still survives today. To Hunmanby Hall’s brick building, which dated from the mid-seventeenth century, Squire Humphrey added two side wings. Much of the new space he created came to be crammed with hunting gear and behind the Hall he built extensive stables for his hunting horses and kennels for his dogs. He was thought to own “the best pack of hounds” in England, an appropriate possession for the lord of Hunmanby.

Thanks mainly to the enterprise and expertise of his steward, Isaac Leatham, the productivity of the Osbaldeston estate was greatly increased. Leatham had written an authoritative report on agriculture in the East Riding, published in 1794. His influence and direction were paramount in the enclosure of 8,500 acres by the Act of 1809.

Perhaps even more important for the prosperity of the estate was the Act of 1800 “for draining, embanking and preserving tracts of land in Muston in the parish of Hunmanby”. At a cost of nearly £42,000, shared with other local manor landlords, 10,686 acres of water-logged carrs were converted by 1805 into productive arable and pasture at a time of unprecedented food prices.

Like other manor and estate owners of the locality such as the Johnstones of Hackness and the Sykes of Sledmere, Humphrey enhanced the grounds and parklands around his Hall of residence. He diverted the road to Burton Fleming so that his home had an extensive, open, private view southwards and planted trees to give shelter to it from the north. In 1809, quarrying stone from Filey Brigg, he built a south entrance to the Hall in the form of a medieval monastic ruin. His “folly” came to be used as a lodge for the Hall’s gatekeeper.

Hunmanby’s parish records are full of references to local responses to the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars in which Squire Humphrey had a prominent commission. He commanded the 300 yeomanry members of the Dickering Corps of Volunteers and later its successor, the Volunteer Militia. The field in Muston Lane once used by them for gunnery practice is still called Cannon Field. However, as Hinderwell only hinted, there was at that time another resident of Hunmanby who was to become even more famous than Squire Humphrey.

[to be continued]