The Chairman Looks Back: Part 2
Wednesday, 4th August 2021
Visits to private houses
Particularly successful are visits to houses not normally open to the public. The Society is really ‘adding value’ here, as other than through membership, it would be impossible to get into such places. There are many examples over the years: Mr Smith’s House at Heslington 2009 – flower displays, garden, slide show; tea and biscuits; Clifton Castle, Masham in 2009; Scawby Hall in 2011; Farnley Hall in 2014; Hotham Hall also 2014 (where the owner, Stephen Martin, produced some seriously good lemon drizzle cake); Austen Redman’s 2014 talk on three houses in Beverley followed by visits to these houses in 2017; Southwood Hall, Cottingham in 2015, with a tour led by the owners, who had carried out extensive restoration.
In 2009 we visited Home Farm, Hartforth – designed in the Gothick mode by committee member Digby Harris for Sir Josslyn Gore-Booth Bt. Sir Josslyn sold the evocative Irish country house, Lissadell, in 2002; his wife said how much, after the draughty Lissadell, they enjoyed the underfloor heating at Home Farm. We were treated to rose wine in the courtyard; this was the first time ‘outsiders’ had been allowed in the house (Sir Josslyn said, I hope in jest, that it would also be the last). We then went on to Rokeby Park – a good day!
We also gained access to buildings other than houses, also normally inaccessible. Examples: Ampleforth (2011); Trinity House in 2017; Queen Margaret’s School in Escrick (2018 - ‘gave a new meaning to the term “school dinner’); Blaydes House (which we once owned), 2018; Kilnwick Percy (2019, a Buddhist centre) and Pocklington School, guided by Daryl Buttery in 2019.
One step from that is the visit to a house occasionally open to the public but on a small and informal scale. An example was Wassand (2013) where the tickets were issued by the owner, sitting in what looked like an upturned dog kennel. Also Brockfield Hall with its Staithes Group paintings (2010).
Tours and towns
Another characteristic of a successful visit is when we are given a ‘special’ tour, tailored to our interests as a society. Again, the Society is ‘adding value’, enriching a visit to a location with specific, often local, expertise. Examples are the town tours: Barton in 2009 and again in 2016; Georgian Hull in 2011; Thirsk in 2013; Market Weighton with David Neave in 2016, Scarborough in the same year; Brigg (2011 and 2017); Malton in 2016 (spectacular buffer in the Baptist church); Hessle (with Michael Free) and Doncaster, both in 2017; Hedon in 2018, with Martin Craven; Sutton in 2019, with Paul Schofield, just before the rain came. It’s surprising how much you can learn on such a tour – especially in the smaller, more manageable market towns. In this connection we picked up some tips from the evening tours Pam Martin used to organise for Beverley Library. As my report on 2016 noted, we are fortunate to have ‘so many authoritative local historians good at communicating their knowledge and generous in giving their time’.
Edward Waterson’s regular March arrangements in York come especially to mind; my report to the AGM in for 2010 recalled that ‘We had a very wet day in York. Edward Waterson did not intend to have any nonsense from the rain and, if we were feeling reluctant to leave the coach, he had no nonsense from us either and soon got us moving into new and hidden parts of the city’. And in 2016 David Mooney (a feoffee), in 19th century costume, gave us a tour of Bridlington, a marathon, sustained for David only by a cheese pasty from the local baker’s, eaten en route.
Sometimes we go to a ‘big house’ (for example a National Trust property). These days are made special again by a specially arranged tour or talk, such as on the visits to Burton Constable (2013), Chatsworth (2016), Cusworth Hall (near Doncaster) (2017) and Temple Newsam (2019). We also take in gardens and special landscapes; places of literary interest, such as the Bronte Parsonage (2010), and churches (St Mary’s, Cottingham and St Mary and All Saints Chesterfield, both in 2015).
In my final section I shall go on to look at coach tours.