Owner: Wood and Stone Developments Ltd
Country house hotel
There is a certain mystery about Dunsley Hall. This late Victorian building is prominently situated in the small hamlet of Newholm-cum-Dunsley, a few miles outside Whitby. It offers distant sea views which made it an idyllic spot for Frederick Haigh Pyman to build his holiday home back in 1900. Its location at the heart of the village rather flew in the face of his contemporaries who were much happier hiding away from prying country folk. Today, it sits blissfully beside a handful of cottages, a former chapel and the odd farmstead, altogether the perfect rural setting.
To understand why he chose Dunsley we must first look at his family background. Frederick Haigh Pyman (1858-1932) was the seventh child of George Pyman (1822-1900) of Sandsend, a small fishing village close to Whitby.
At the age of ten George Pyman joined the family fishing boat and immediately developed a competency for the sea. By the time he was 21 he was captain but had far greater ambitions. He married Elizabeth English (1821-1893) in 1843 at Whitby Parish Church but realised that money could be made elsewhere. He uprooted his young family to West Hartlepool in 1850 and started a new career as a ship-chandler going into partnership with Thomas Scurr and later setting up a business with his brother-in-law, Francis English.
Pyman and Scurr later became ship brokers and coal fitters for the Weardale Coal Company and operated several collier briggs. After Thomas Scurr died in 1861 George continued to run the company which became George Pyman & Co. He moved into steamships and accumulated significant wealth allowing him to diversify into timber, farming and coal mining. However, it was the intricate web that George developed in shipping that provided his biggest assets. He became the largest steam-ship owner in the north east, was elected a Poor Law Guardian for West Hartlepool in 1861, an Improvement Commissioner in 1868, and became a Justice for the Peace for Durham in 1872. He was even appointed Vice-Consul for Belgium in 1879.
With two daughters and seven sons it was not surprising that his offspring would use his fortune to set up similar ventures around the country. George retired to Raithwaite Hall at Sandsend in 1882 and died in 1900. He left a substantial fortune of £135,000 as well as Raithwaite Hall, Moss Brow House and significant agricultural land around Whitby and Sandsend.
Frederick Haigh Pyman, his sixth son, was born in West Hartlepool in 1856. He was typical of George’s sons and, along with his brother Francis, set up Pyman Brothers in London in 1882 and later the London & Northern Steamship Company.
In 1885 he married Blanche Gray (1862-1896), the daughter of William Gray, a family friend and extremely successful shipbuilder from West Hartlepool. Between them they had ten children and it is likely that Blanche died during the birth of Blanche Gray Pyman in 1896. Three years later Frederick married Edith Mary Browning and would go on to have another three children. They chose to live in Enfield and later at 82 Fitzjohns Avenue in Hampstead.
While spending most of his year attending to business in London Frederick was eager to own a holiday home. In 1900 he chose a plot of family-owned land at Dunsley which stretched almost to Raithwaite Hall at Sandsend. It is not without possibility that Dunsley hall was built on part of the original Home Farm estate. Indeed, early maps suggest an older property stood on the site with the most likely use being a farmstead.
The architect is unknown but it is likely that the original property was smaller than appears today. The modest house was built of stone with two stories and an attic in Y-shaped fashion. The rear of the property stood higher while the unassuming main entrance was at the side of the property where a date stone is still visible above the door. Without doubt the masterpiece of the house would have been its unsymmetrical north prospect with then unobstructed views of the sea. Its three bays, containing the family rooms, led onto a small terrace with descending steps into the formal gardens.
Throughout the house was oak panelling hand-crafted by ships’ carpenters. According to legend the same craftsmen who worked here went on to do the interiors for the Titanic².
Without doubt the pinnacle of today’s house is the lounge. This may have originally been the drawing room or even used as a library. However, its grandeur suggests that this was once a room designed to impress and would have been used for entertaining.
Two features exist that make it one of the most remarkable rooms.
The first is a stained glass window depicting a classic seascape – obviously commissioned by a sea-faring person – and providing privacy from the village lane outside. The second is an inglenook fireplace, quite magnificent, with green tiles and marble surround. It is encased with carved oak and crowned with the Pyman coat-of-arms awarded to Frederick’s father.
The coat-of-arms appears almost Arabesque suggesting connections with far-off exotic places. However, according to a family descendent, who uses a later version of the family crest for the Pyman Pâté company it is rather glorified:-
“It was first matriculated in the 1880s for my great-great-great Grandfather George Pyman. The most striking feature of the coat of arms is the ‘savage affrontee proper garlanded about the loins and temples holding in the dexter hand a scroll’. During the nineteenth century the College of Arms seems to have been the habit of granting savages to those with business in foreign part – hence also the crescent and the stars. That George Pyman mainly did his business in Europe and around the British coast seems to be taking this somewhat to excess. It has met with slightly ribald comment from the family over the years.”³
Frederick Pyman was an enterprising man all but forgotten today. We can determine that he was particularly fond of singing, and a vocalist of no mean ability. He was a J.P., would become a Chairman of the London Chamber of Shipping, Commodore of the Whitby Regatta, a President of the Whitby Yacht Club (he kept his yacht ‘Stalwart’ at Whitby), and of Whitby United Football Club. In his later he years he, along with his brother Walter Herbert Septimus Pyman (1858-1931), was responsible for the reconstruction of the Pyman Institute at Sandsend, built on the site of their father’s birthplace.¹.
Frederick named one of his new ships for the London & Northern Steamship Company after Dunsley Hall. The steamship Dunsley was built in 1913 but had a short life. It was travelling from Liverpool to Boston when it was torpedoed off the south coast of Ireland in 1915. Newspapers report that it was hit by U-24, the same submarine that had already sunk the White Star liner SS Arabic. Pyman’s boat managed to stay afloat and rescue a number of the liner’s passengers. Two crewman from Dunsley were killed but we can assume that the rest of the crew and the Arabic survivors were transferred to safety before the ship plummeted to the depths.⁴
Frederick Pyman’s year followed a fairly predictable pattern. The winter would be spent attending to business at Mountgrove, his London town house, at Fitzjohns Avenue. During the summer he would relocate the family to his much-loved Dunsley Hall.
It was here, in the summer of 1932, aged 74, that he was taken seriously ill and died. He left £270,132 and properties to his family. Most interesting was that he put aside £2,000 to be distributed amongst his servants and employees.⁵
On his death the Dunsley Hall estate passed to a consortium of his eldest children. The most likely summer resident was Captain Frederick Creswell Pyman (1889-1966), the managing director of William Gray and Co Ltd, the West Hartlepool shipbuilders. He lived with his wife and children at Oval Grange in West Hartlepool and served with the 2nd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment in World War One.
In 1944 the whole of the Dunsley Hall estate was put up for sale by the executors. It comprised 728 acres and described Dunsley Hall as “a modern residence with luxurious and up-to-date equipment placed in a sunny and sheltered position with Mulgrave Woods to the North and commanding views over Sandsend and Whitby”.
The sale also included six farms, including Home Farm.
“The principal feature of the estate (apart from the beauty of its situation) is the excellence of the farm buildings. The late owner was not so much concerned with rental as with contented tenants and pride in a particularly well ordered estate, and the substantial comfortable and spacious character of the various steadings reflects this attitude to a remarkable degree, and entirely removes the usual anxieties of a Purchaser as to heavy repair and future capital expenditure”.⁶
In the end the estate was purchased privately by Frederick Pyman’s children with only a handful of outlying lots offered for sale.
According to authors Peter Hogg and Harold Appleyard in their book The Pyman Story the family owned Dunsley Hall and its farms until 1949. Legatees, led by Frederick Creswell Pyman, eventually sold the estate to a wealthy Leeds businessman called Joshua Raynor.
Dunsley Hall became isolated from the rest of its estate but survived under several different owners. During the seventies and eighties it appeared to have suffered from an identity crisis. The house was obviously expensive to maintain and the building was sub-divided into flats for a time. A number of changes of use were proposed. In 1978 it was granted planning permission to convert the main building into a school while, in the same year, was refused consent for conversion into a country club. Not to be deterred the owners applied for change of use from flats to a hotel. Once again this application was rejected by the North Yorkshire Moors National Park⁷.
Dunsley Hall’s recovery came in 1995 when it was acquired by William and Carol Ward. Their persistence with planners resulted in the house becoming the Dunsley Hall Country House Hotel with significant, but sympathetic changes, to the interiors and the creation of a new bedroom block.
The business flourished for many years but suffered in the nadir of the economic recession. The year 2014 is regarded as the one where financial hardship finally hit the hospitality industry. It must have been a catastrophic day when the hotel was forced to call in administrators and all the hard work lost.
Happily, but not without irony, the house was bought by Wood and Stone Developments in 2015. With challenges overcome by others the hotel once again appears to be thriving with plans for further refurbishment afoot.
Other children of Frederick Haigh Pyman:-
Frederick had thirteen children across two marriages. Apart from Frederick Creswell Pyman the most notable were his eldest son William Haigh Pyman (1887-1983) who became a director of Pyman Brothers. Margaret Joyce Pyman (1891-1986) married John Campbell Boot, the son of Sir Jesse Boot of Nottingham, in 1914. They would later become Lord and Lady Trent. Lieutenant Alan Pyman (1895-1915) was killed by a bullet while serving with the 3rd Yorkshire Regiment at Givenchy in France.
¹Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (18 Jul 1932)
²Yorkshire Post (4 Mar 2009)
³Pyman Pâtés (http://pymanpates.co.uk/home/pyman-family-crest/)
⁴Stevens Point Daily Journal, Wisconsin (20 Aug 1915)
⁵Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (17 Oct 1932)
⁶Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (18 Jul 1944)
⁷Planning applications to the North Yorkshire Moors National Park
‘The Pyman Story – Fleet and Family History’ by Peter Hogg and Harold Appleyard (2000)
Whitby, North Yorkshire, YO21 3TL