Georgian Society for East Yorkshire

Building a Georgian Country House – Dalton Hall, South Dalton

Dalton Hall, South Dalton by William Hamilton 1791

Dalton Hall, South Dalton by William Hamilton 1791

In 1705-6 Scorborough Hall, the seat of the Hotham family since the 14th century, was burnt down. The family of Sir Charles Hotham, 4th Bt, were now homeless and, after many years in rented houses in Bishop Burton and Hull, Sir Charles decided to build a house in Beverley. This was the grand mansion on Eastgate, built 1716-23, to designs of Colen Campbell, but Sir Charles died before it was complete. It was never lived in by the Hothams and was demolished Sir Charles Hotham, 5th Bt chose, when in the East Riding, to live in the old manor house at South Dalton, which had been bought in 1680 as part of a small estate. With only eight hearths in 1673 it was a modest house compared to Scorborough Hall which then had 24 hearths. Money was spent on improving and perhaps enlarging the Dalton house in the 1720s, but then Sir Charles, a close friend of Lord Burlington, planned to build a splendid Palladian villa on a new site to the west of the manor house. An engraving by John Rocque, dated 1737, shows the proposed house, but there is no evidence that it was built or even begun by the time of Sir Charles’ death in January 1738. The ‘Rococo’ gardens shown on the engraving were laid out and the delightful pavilion at the end of the long walk was built.

It was not until 1767 when Sir Beaumont Hotham, 7th baronet, inherited the title and family estates, that plans for a new house at South Dalton were resumed. Sir Beaumont lived at Duke Street, Westminster, and probably rarely visited the East Riding. In August 1768, in writing to his eldest son Charles, he noted that his predecessor, his late nephew, ‘who had the means and the opportunity which few possessors of the estate can again expect, did not avail himself of those advantages, but on the contrary has left his successor as bare of money as well possible to be from such an estate …’. Sir Beaumont planned, with what he considered his limited finances, to, ‘some day or other’ build a ‘middling house at Dalton’. (A.M.W. Stirling, The Hothams, vol. 2. 1918, 308) Later the following year, in another letter to Charles, he wrote:

‘I have turn’d in my thoughts what you mention in one of your last relative to a house at Dalton, & tho’ I do not wonder you should wish to be better lodg’d, yet considering the condition your family now stands in, I do not foresee anything can be compleated in some years; a beginning, to be sure, might be made, but considering the demands upon me, wch must soon be answer’d, and others I find coming, little could be done. However, to enable one to speak with more precision, as well as foundation, I have put down some queries which if fairly & honestly answer’d will furnish both you & me with a tolerable guess what the rough part of a house will cost & if that could in a couple of years be brought about, what little I could afford you, and your own savings, must by slow degrees do the inside, for neither you nor I have the least assistance from any purse but our own. I don’t come into your idea about the Pavilions, for many reasons, among others it would swell the expense extremely & create a house much too large for the place and the estate, &, indeed, for use; and as to having the staircases in them or the corridors, I think it would intersect the main building by long ill-lighted passages, & lessen & disjoin the rooms, and add little, if at all, to the conveniency … I would not from this have you imagine that I am so wedded to my outlines of a plan but that it may be much mended, my meaning was only to give such an Idea about the first Floor as would be suitable to the place & probably please, & keep within the bounds of moderation, which should questionless be your great object for yourself & for those that come after…’ (Stirling, 308-309)

Charles Hotham then set about finding an architect. He wrote letters from South Dalton to three architects, the pencilled first rough drafts of which survive. The first was to John Carr, the best known and most prolific architect then working in Yorkshire.


Tho’ I have not the pleasure of being personally acquainted with you, your general character induces me to trouble you with the enclosed queries, to which I beg the favour of your answers, as they may possibly incline my father to build here the Body of a House according to the outlines of the dimensions therein laid down. The particular plan for the disposition of that Space will be a further consideration. Should your calculation be so much more reasonable than others I may procure, the Estimate may lead him to engage in it all.

When you have weighed the point so sufficiently as to be able to speak to it with precision, I shd be glad of your answer directed to me here, near Beverley. (Stirling, 309)

The second to Thomas Atkinson, John Carr’s rival at York, began: My Friend Mr Langdale having done you that justice in your Engagemt. with him your character seems so well to entitle you to, I am induced to trouble you with the enclosed Queries … The third was to William Middleton, architect and timber merchant, of Beverley who had designed the town’s splendid Guildhall. This letter began: Upon the general report I have heard of your uprightness and Ability.(Stirling, 310)

All three are said to have submitted estimates and Thomas Atkinson was given the commission. (The reference to Mr Langdale in Hotham’s letter refers to Philip Langdale for whom Atkinson had designed Houghton Hall, Sancton). A series of letters in the Hotham family papers in the Hull University Archives, Hull History Centre, tell something of the story of the building of Dalton Hall. (HHC U DDHO(3)/48/1) The first is a letter from Thomas Atkinson to Sir Beaumont Hotham, or his son Charles, on 4 Feb 1771. The architect reported that the plans had been completed five weeks, and that a boat (keel) load of stone was ready ‘upon the banks of the river at Tadcaster’. It is uncertain whether these plans had proposals for the ‘pavilions’ that Sir Beaumont had opposed, but they were soon included. (There are copies of Atkinson’s elevation and plan at Dalton Hall). The painting of the house by William Hamilton,1791, (above), shows the house as built. A five bay, three storey main block linked by single storey ranges to three bay, two storey, pedimented pavilions. A similar plan and elevation to that of Houghton Hall, Sancton, except that the main block at Houghton is only two storey.

Building work was well underway by the time of the 7th baronet’s death, and the succession of Sir Charles, 8th Bt in August 1771. There are regular reports on the progress, or not, of the work in letters from William Hall, the estate steward, who lived a Scorborough. The names of some of the tradesmen and craftsmen are known. The builder was Richard Swail or Swale, bricklayer, from York who had worked with John Carr at Everingham Hall and Fairfax House, York. John Linton, also from York, was the master joiner, and from Hull came George Earle, stonemason, and Jeremiah Hargrave, carver. Oak trees were cut down on the estate for the roof, which was to have king posts ‘8ft long and 14 inches square’. Timber for scaffolding and other work was obtained from Hull and William Middleton at Beverley. Stone used for the window surrounds and other details was magnesian limestone from Tadcaster. The house was built of bricks made on the estate, but unlike those used at the near contemporary Everingham and Houghton Halls, they were ‘white’ not red. This is the earliest recorded use of white bricks, so far discovered, in the East Riding. White was chosen to resemble stone, or because red bricks were unfashionable. Around this time the exterior of Burton Constable was covered with a stone coloured paint for the same reasons.

There was a setback at Dalton in early February 1772 when a very severe frost ‘twisted the building and brought out the mortar from the joints in general’ and cracked the plinth stones. The bricks however survived undamaged the steward declaring that ‘the white bricks are beyond doubt as sound & durable ones as any in England’. In March-April work began on the foundations of the wings, and by May the walls in the main building were ‘up to the winder seats’, and scaffolding was erected ready to begin on the second storey. Internally the walls were ‘brest high’, the steward noting that ‘the room’s show themselves, they appear large & proportionable’. Another calamity in June when arches under the laundry in one of the wings collapsed, the steward blaming ‘carelessness and bad work’ on the part of Atkinson and Swail. A similar fate was forecast for the cellar arch in the servants’ hall later the following year. The building had advanced enough by Christmas 1773 for Swail’s work to be ‘measured off’ and for him to be paid the balance he was then due, the steward remarking that he had ‘never paid a bill that displeased me so much in my lifetime’. Atkinson measured off his own work and that of the joiner Linton in March 1774. Fitting out the interior was a slow process. In early January 1776, Linton and ten of his men were at work in the house, plasterers were also at work, and the glazier Benjamin Burton of York was putting glass in the windows. In March George Earle had put up the first flight of the best staircase, but it was incomplete by 19 April when Atkinson had yet to supply the joiners with drawings for the banisters and rails. Things must have then speeded up for the fitting out had ‘so far advanced’ by the summer of 1776 for Sir Charles to then take up residence in his new mansion. Sir Charles often resided at Dalton up to his death in 1794, but it was apparently not until some eighty years later that Dalton Hall once again became the favoured home for the family. Beaumont, 3rd Lord Hotham, (the Irish peerage having been granted to his uncle Admiral John Hotham in 1797) inherited the estate in 1814, and although he greatly enlarged the family’s landholding in South Dalton and surrounding villages, he was said to have only stayed at Dalton one or two days each year. His son the 4th Lord Hotham, who inherited in December 1870, immediately had plans to alter and enlarge Dalton Hall but died at the end of May 1872, before they had progressed further than having plans prepared by the architects Payne & Talbot of Birmingham. The project was taken up by the 5th Lord, and the Georgian house was greatly extended and its interior remodelled by 1875. The east front was transformed by the addition of a Doric carriage portico of six columns. A balustrade with urns was added to the main block, almost certainly copied from Colen Campbell’s design for the Hotham’s Beverley house.

An article in The British Architect 11 September 1874, showing changing taste, described the house before these alterations as: ‘Plain, even to ugliness, it was a massive barrack-like building of white brick, with stone dressings in the Palladian style, and had few features to recommend it other than the solidity of its walls and the quality of its timber and joinery. It contained, however, several large and well-proportioned rooms to god to be given over to the destroyer, and capable of being embodied in a design for a complete structure. In all the minor requirements of modern notions of comfort or necessity it was of course utterly wanting.’

Dalton Hall was threatened with demolition after the Second World War, but in the end was retained by the family with the loss of the upper part of the north wing, and much of the Victorian additions. David Neave, April 2021

Next: The Mystery of The Missing Foot

St Mary's Church, South Dalton, East Yorkshire

South Dalton Church

The church of St Mary was designed by John Loughborough Pearson and built 1858-61 as a replacement for a brick structure. Its spire is over 200 feet (61 m) tall. Inside the church lie a number of the Hotham family; the older monuments were transferred from the earlier church. There is a fine black and white marble monument in ... (read more...)

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