The fact that this mansion has been the subject of a recent planning application for retirement accommodation has put the former country house back into the spotlight after being ‘lost’ for over 70 years.
To explain the story behind this, we must go back to April 1945, when newspapers reported that the Yorkshire Electricity Power Company had bought the Scarcroft Lodge estate for between £30,000 and £40,000. It became their headquarters, later belonging to the Yorkshire Electricity Board and subsequently the offices of Npower.
Because this Grade II listed house was lost to commerce meant that there were relatively few old images available. However, two black and white images have emerged from June 1907, showing Scarcroft Lodge still in rural bliss.
Scarcroft Lodge was built in 1830 by Quaker wool merchant Newman Cash. He came to Leeds from Coventry in 1815, and his business flourished as he expanded trade with America. By 1826 he was so successful that he was able to buy an extensive estate around Scarcroft, and he then built his grand country house.
The house and estate were bought in 1852 by Robert Tennant, a successful Leeds solicitor, who increased the size of the estate, added an ornamental lake, and expanded the house. In 1888 the estate and house were bought by the Earl of Mexborough who carried out refurbishments and installed his daughter, Lady Mary Savile. In the 1920s she moved to Essex and the house was bought by Albert Braithwaite, a former Mayor of Leeds, who sold the house in 1938.
Wartime followed and the lodge was used as a convalescent hospital, helping Second World War soldiers who were recovering from injuries on the battlefields of Europe and North Africa.
The home’s last private owner, businessman Oliphant Philipson, sold it to the Yorkshire Electricity Power Company in 1945.
Many of our Victorian mansions were too big for present day living. This house is typical of those large country houses that have been divided into modern apartments.
The Moor Park estate at Beckwithshaw, in North Yorkshire, was purchased in 1848 by James Bray, who built a mansion, before deciding to rebuild it Elizabethan-style in 1859 for £8,000. The architects were Messrs Andrews and Delauney of Bradford. James Bray was an iron and brass founder who had obtained contracts to build the Leeds and Thirsk and Wharfedale Railways. The Brays were widely known in the area for their enterprise and philanthropic works, and at Beckwithshaw, his wife had founded the Unsectarian Day School.
Ten years later, Moor Park was bought by Joseph Hargreave Nussey MP, a Leeds-based woollen manufacturer. In 1882, the mansion was purchased by Dr Henry Williams, a generous benefactor to the locality, who gave the village its vicarage, paid for its church furnishings and funded the village institute.
The Williams family owned Moor Park until the 1940s, but the mansion appears to have been tenanted for most of this time. Notable residents were Frederick Wharam Turner, a Bradford wool trader and managing director of Illingworth, Morris and Co, and Robert Reid, the head of a firm of Horbury oil distillers. After Reid’s death in 1940, his widow remained until 1942, and the estate was put up for auction by Joshua Appleyard Williams of Pannal Ash. It failed to sell, but by 1947, Moor Park was in the hands of the Women’s Land Army and used as a hostel.
Today it comprises of apartments, the feature of one of these being a secret door from the drawing room, leading up to the viewing tower, with windows on all sides giving a 360-degree view.
A Victorian country house you’ve most likely never heard of… except you did know it – and twenty-five years ago it fell into the sea
In 1879, when George Alderson-Smith decided to build a new house on a clifftop above Scarborough, he chose not to listen to those people who thought it ill-advised. It was common knowledge that there was a history of cliff collapses in the area, but the house called Wheatcroft Cliff was built anyway. He died here in 1931, reaching the grand old age of 96, still declaring the property ‘safe as houses’.
114 years later, his words were little comfort to Barry and Joan Turner who had bought the property in 1988. In June 1993, after a period of heavy rainfall, the world watched as the now-named Holbeck Hall Hotel fell into the sea, the victim of a rotational landslip. It seemed that the Victorian doom-mongers had been correct after all.
It was a tragic end for the former ‘country house by the sea’. It had to be demolished completely after the incident, and twenty-five years on, there are few traces of its existence.
George Alderson-Smith (1834-1931), a native of Leeds, was the son of Mr John Smith, J.P., of Burley House and Belvedere in Harrogate, a partner in the firm of Beckett and Co. He had lived in Scarborough for nearly half a century, the whole time connected with the fishing industry. He was one of the town’s biggest steam trawler owners, amassing a small fortune and a reputation to match. This wealth allowed him to build Wheatcroft Cliff looking over Scarborough’s picturesque South Bay.
In time, Alderson-Smith became chairman of the Grand Hotel Company, chairman of the South Cliff Tramway Company and a director of the Scarborough Spa Company. His standing in the community also allowed him to become a J.P. for the North Riding of Yorkshire and eventually Deputy Lieutenant of the same county. Two of his mischievous sons, Hubert and Alder, had caused significant embarrassment when they appeared before Scarborough Police Court in 1889 after throwing five public seats over a cliff.
Alderson-Smith’s fishing business didn’t end well, his last three trawlers – the Seal, the Otter and Dalhousie – were sunk by First World War enemy submarines somewhere off Aberdeen, but by this time he was well into retirement. When Alderson-Smith died in 1931 he left gross estate to the value of £107,736 (net £93,812).
Wheatcroft Cliff was described as ‘standing in six acres of secluded grounds at the extremity of the South Cliff, from where it overlooked Holbeck Gardens and the coast, north and south’. The contents of Wheatcroft Cliff were quickly sold at auction. The important collections included antique furniture, oriental porcelain of the Ming and Chinese dynasties, fine old English silver, oil paintings, watercolours, arms and armour and a fine library of books.
In June 1932, Wheatcroft Cliff was bought by Messrs Laughton, the proprietors of the Pavilion Hotel in Scarborough, who announced that the mansion was going to be converted into a first-class hotel. Mr Robert Thomas Laughton was the brother of Charles Laughton, the actor, and whose family had been operating hotels in Scarborough for 30 years. He told the Leeds Mercury that they had been searching for some years through various parts of the country for an estate suitable for an hotel to stand in its own grounds, which he considered to be a feature of the most successful first-class holiday hotels.
All the architectural features of Wheatcroft Cliff were preserved, but a new wing was built to accommodate its new services. Once the conversion was completed it had cost nearly £40,000.
“Charles Laughton is once again in the news. I can hardly pick up a paper without seeing some review of his new film ‘Vessel of Wrath’. Though I will admit to being one of his fans, there is something which appeals to me far more, and that is the Laughton Hotels at Scarborough – the Pavilion, the Royal and Holbeck Hall. Now, the Laughton Hotels at Scarborough are a family concern. Although Charles is a director, it is his mother and his two brothers, Tom and Fred, who are in active control. In nearly every town you will find a local name, and I believe I am correct in saying that the Laughtons have been associated with hotel keeping in Scarborough since the first one was opened. Perhaps my favourite of the Laughton hotels is Holbeck Hall – the hotel with a view. Here there are six acres of private ground stretching down to the beach, and you can walk straight from your bedroom down to the sea in your swimming suit. There are all the characteristics of a country mansion. In the hall is a magnificent baronial fireplace, beautiful parquet floor, a minstrels’ gallery – everything, in fact, to promote a sense of well-being.” – ‘Hotel Discoveries’ by Ashley Courtenay in The Illustrated and Sporting Dramatic News – March 18 1938.
And so Wheatcroft Cliff began life as the four-star Holbeck Hall Hotel. Although it was used briefly as part of a scheme to re-settle returned prisoners of war after World War Two. The property passed through other owners until it was bought by Barry and Joan Turner, who added it to their English Rose Hotels portfolio.
Until that fateful day in 1993. Cracks had been seen near the hotel some weeks before, but it took until the night of 3 June for the cliff near the hotel to finally give way. Guests had to make a quick exit after its owners realised the seriousness of the situation following the landslip which left the building perched perilously close to the edge. As the cliff continued to collapse, parts of the building soon began to follow.
The hotel was in ruins by the time the ground finally stabilised by the end of the weekend, and what was left was bulldozed into the ground two weeks later. The Turners later used the insurance money to buy a new hotel in Malton and continued to build up their hotel empire.
Flashback to the 1940s: A bitter dispute between a Government minister and an aristocrat
In years to come we might once again consider Wentworth Woodhouse, near Rotherham, to be one of our majestic stately homes. ‘The largest privately-owned house in Europe is finally awaking from its slumber’ heralds the mansion’s website. After years of decline and decay, its fortunes are finally changing; restoration work is underway, the roof is being replaced, while Phase II is planned for the autumn when repairs start on the Palladian east front, the chapel and grand staircase. With millions of pounds of work outstanding it is going to be a long journey.
Wentworth Woodhouse’s problems, like many other country houses, started at the beginning of the 20th century. Too big, too expensive and with dwindling family finances, it was severely affected by two World Wars. However, in February 1946, the house reached its lowest ebb.
Newspapers of the day reported that unless top level negotiations between the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee (1883-1967), and Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam (1910-1948), 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, resulted in a settlement, Mr Emanuel Shinwell, Minister of Fuel and Power, would seize 110 acres of garden and parkland from Wentworth Woodhouse. The land would be used for open-cast mining with the total yield of coal, considered to be inferior quality, estimated to be about 345,000 tonnes.
Work had already started on the estate, but it was the rapid advance towards the mansion that caused the biggest consternation.
In 1946, the Coal Nationalisation Act was making its way through Parliament between January and May. After World War 2 the country had a coal shortage and the nationalisation of the nation’s private collieries was a way of increasing coal production. Earl Fitzwilliam had accepted that the family’s pits would soon be in Government hands, there was compensation for coal owners, but the fate of Wentworth Woodhouse bothered him.
Fitzwilliam had offered the mansion to the National Trust, but the organisation had been nervous at taking on a building that faced ‘imminent destruction’. It had accepted covenants over the park and gardens to ring-fence the house from the mining operation, but was warned off by the Government who were in no mood to listen.
During the negotiations, James Lees-Milne from the National Trust’s Country Houses Committee had visited Wentworth Woodhouse and recorded his visit in his diaries:
‘Left at ten from King’s Cross to Doncaster. Michael (Earl of) Rosse (of the Country Houses Committee) met me and motored me to Wentworth Woodhouse. Had time to walk around the outside and other parts of the inside. It is certainly the most enormous private house I have ever beheld, I could not find my way about the interior and never once knew in what direction I was looking from a window. Strange to think that until 1939 one man lived in the whole of it. All the contents are put away or stacked in heaps in a few rooms, the pictures taken out of their frames. The dirt is appalling. Everything is pitch black and the boles of the trees like thunder. To my surprise the park is not being worked for coal systematically, but in square patches here and there. One of these patches is a walled garden. Right up to the very wall of the Vanbrugh front every tree and shrub has been uprooted, awaiting the onslaught of the bulldozers. Where the surface has been worked is waste chaos and, as Michael said, far worse than anything he saw of French battlefields after D-day. I was surprised too by the very high quality of the pre-Adam rooms and ceilings of Wentworth; by the amount of seventeenth-century work surviving; by the beautiful old wallpapers; and by the vast scale of the lay-out of the park, with ornamental temples sometimes one-and-a-half miles or more away. Lady Fitzwilliam in a pair of slacks, rather dumpy and awkward, came downstairs for a word just before we left. I fancy she is not very sensitive to the tragedy of it all.’
There was little doubt that the National Trust proposal had been rejected by Manny Shinwell himself, as he had also rejected a plan by Mr Joseph Hall, president of the Yorkshire Mineworkers’ Association, to obtain the coal by other methods. The miners themselves, conscious of their local inheritance, had pledged themselves, to no avail, to make good the loss if the scheme could be abandoned. Their pleas fell on deaf-ear, but Shinwell was able to appease them by considering a speedy restoration of the land and possible financial assistance.
Earl Fitzwilliam had already turned to a group of experts from the Department of Fuel and Technology at Sheffield University. They quickly established that open-cast mining would produce poor quality coal and deemed Mr Shinwell’s plans as not being cost-effective.
Responding to Manny Shinwell’s thin promise of restoration after mining ceased, William Batley, a member of the group, wrote to the Secretary of the Georgian Group. ‘Effective restoration. What a cockeyed yarn. These Ministers of State must think we are a lot of simpletons – spinning us the tale. It is just bunkum, sheer bunk.’
Earl Fitzwilliam met Clement Attlee in April to appeal against further damage to the property. He urged that work could be done by less destructive methods. The meeting at Downing Street wasn’t a success. Meanwhile, excavators were at work getting out the first 300 tonnes of coal of the promised 345,000 tonnes.
There are those who believe that Manny Shinwell’s actions in 1946 were directed solely at Earl Fitzwilliam, whom he believed was part of the ‘old brigade’ – men who had run the ‘foolish, callous profit-hunting system’ which, he believed had operated before the war.
In ‘Black Diamonds – The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty’, Catherine Bailey describes what happened:
‘Peter was convinced that Shinwell’s plans for Wentworth Woodhouse were vindictive. It was the proposal to mine the formal gardens – a site directly behind the Baroque west front – that threatened the house. The magnificent 300-year-old beech avenue that ran down the Long Terrace, the raised walkway along the western edge of the gardens, the pink shale path, with its dramatic floral roundels, together with ninety-nine acres of immaculately tended lawns, shrubbery and luxuriant herbaceous borders, were scheduled to be uprooted. The over-burden from the open-cast mining – top soil, mangled plants and pieces of rubble – was to be piled fifty feet high outside the main entrance to the West front, the top of the mound directly level with Peter’s bedroom window and the guest rooms in the private apartments at the back of the house.’
As we know, Manny Shinwell had his way and Wentworth Woodhouse suffered. In 1948, Peter Fitzwilliam was killed in the same plane crash as Kathleen Kennedy, and shortly afterwards the Ministry of Health attempted to requisition the house as ‘housing for homeless industrial families’.
The move was thwarted by Lady Mabel Fitzwilliam, sister of the 7th Earl, who brokered a deal with West Riding County Council to turn it into the Lady Mabel College of Physical Education. The college later merged with Sheffield Polytechnic who gave up the lease in 1988 due to high maintenance costs.
Wentworth Woodhouse eventually returned to private ownership, first with Wensley Grosvenor Haydon-Baillie and then Clifford Newbold, both of whom made brave restoration attempts. The house was now subject to subsidence caused by old underground mine-workings, not the 1940’s open-cast mining, but something Manny Shinwell might have taken into consideration had he known. (The Newbold family lodged an unsuccessful £100 million compensation claim with the Coal Authority).
Wentworth Woodhouse was sold to the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust for £7 million in 2017. The cost of repairs to the house were estimated at £40 million, helped by a grant of £7.6 million from the Government, but this figure was reassessed earlier this year and projected restoration work is now likely to be around £100 million.
St. Nicholas sits on the fringe of the historic market town of Richmond. With elevated views across the pastures towards the ruins of Easby Abbey and the River Swale its origins date back to 1171 when St. Nicholas was owned by the Crown. It has been remodelled over the centuries and has been in private ownership since around 1585, making it the oldest structure in Richmond in continuous use as a habitation. The property is on the site of a Benedictine hospital, founded in 1171 by one of the Earls of Richmond. There are still graves from the era underneath large parts of the grounds.
St. Nicholas was the home of much-loved Richmond character Lady Serena James, who lived in the house with her husband, Bobby James, who in 1905 planted the gardens as they currently exist.
She was born Lady Serena Mary Barbara Lumley on March 30 1901, the only child of the 10th Earl of Scarbrough. As an only child, and as a girl, Lady Serena was in a position comparable to that of Vita Sackville-West at Knole; had she been born a boy, she would have been heir to a great inheritance – in her case the medieval Lumley Castle in County Durham and the Palladian Sandbeck Park, near Rotherham in Yorkshire.
Her marriage in 1923 to Robert James, third son of the 2nd Lord Northbourne, brought her to the entrancing St Nicholas. The marriage was unexpected: Bobbie James’s first wife Lady Evelyn – nee Wellesley, daughter of the 4th Duke of Wellington – had died young, and he was almost 30 years Lady Serena’s senior. Lady Scarbrough, moreover, was mortified that St Nicholas was not a great country seat. “She’s going to live in a little cottage by the road,” was how she described her daughter’s future.
Lady Serena continued to live there after the death of Bobby James. The eponymous “Bobby James” rose still grows throughout the gardens, and on the walls of the house. Richmond residents were welcomed to tour the gardens at any time, and were often invited in for tea. Lady Serena died in 2000, and is still fondly remembered by many in the town.
St Nicholas was then purchased in 2001 by Keith Schellenberg. He is a Yorkshire businessman who made his fortune in shipbuilding, livestock feed, glue, and agricultural chemicals. He was also a sportsman, playing rugby for Middlesbrough and Yorkshire, and was part of the British Olympic bobsleigh team.
Sutton Hall, at Sutton-in-Craven, was built in 1894 by John William Hartley, the reclusive bachelor- owner of Greenroyd Mill (founded by Peter Hartley in 1830) and a throwback to the flourishing days of the textile industry. It was built with views across the Aire Valley and on completion contained a Reception Hall, Morning Room, Dining Room, Library, Drawing Room, Billiard Room as well as 7 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a lavatory. It also contained a large attic as well as the centrally-placed ‘Tower Room’. It was lit with gas but had been wired for electricity with state-of-the-art central heating. The house was so big that it was said to have never been completely furnished
On J.W. Hartley’s death, in 1909, he was said to own ‘practically all the houses in Sutton, and also the larger part of the farms on the hillside hear the village’ as well as an estate near Pateley Bridge. The estate passed to a cousin, Miss Emma Hartley, who sold the mill in 1911 due to the poor economic climate and the decline in the textile trade. She died in 1930 and Sutton Hall was left to Ernest Hartley but he only had possession for two years. When he died in 1932 there was a conundrum as to who should inherit the hall. His eldest son, George Clifford Hartley, would have succeeded to the estate had he reached his majority before his father died. However, he failed this by three weeks and, under the deed, couldn’t succeed because he was a minor. This left the bizarre scenario that Ernest Hartley’s brother Allen, a Morecambe bus conductor, might inherit if the title could be proved.
In the end the estate did pass to George Clifford Hartley but he had no intention of keeping Sutton Hall and put it up for sale in 1933. He cleared the contents of the house in a series of auctions that included mahogany, oak and walnut bedroom suites, Axminster and Brussels carpets, oil paintings, watercolours and silverware.
Considering that it had cost nearly £40,000 to build just 39 years earlier the decline of the British country house was highlighted when it was sold to Ernest Turner, a Keighley builder and contractor, for just £3,000. The estate covered an area of approximately 25 acres, including Sutton Hall, lodges, garages and stables, and the timbered grounds and park. Turner immediately advertised it as being ‘suitable’ as a convalescent home or a public or private institution. There were no interested buyers and in 1934 he proposed dividing it into five flats. He gave 6½ acres of adjoining woodland to Sutton Parish Council, but the rest of the estate was developed into what he called ‘a kind of garden city – the first and the finest in this neighbourhood’, a project which involved the demolition of Sutton Hall itself in the early 1940s.
The death of Mrs Marion Evelyn Coore in February 1953 brought an end to the family’s long tenure at Scruton Hall and in July most of the pretty village of Scruton, in the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire, went under the hammer. In addition to the hall, the 1,100 acre estate included 5 farms, the village shop and post office, cottages and small houses and a large area of timber.
The estate at Scruton came into the possession of Dr Thomas Gale, later Dean of York, in 1678. Scruton Hall, a Queen Anne country house, had been built by Roger Gale in 1705. Before that the estate had been owned by the Danby family of Thorpe Perrow. It passed into the possession of the Coore family when Harriet Gale married Lieutenant-Colonel Foster Lechmere Coore in 1816.
The hall was subject of a building preservation order as of special architectural and historical interest and came with the title of ‘Lord of the Manor of Scruton’ but not the patronage of the living of Scruton, which had been left to the Bishop of Ripon in Marion Evelyn Coore’s will.
The sale of the contents attracted a crowd of more than 1,400 who snapped up furniture, artworks, china and silverware. More than £5,500 was raised, one of the highest bids being for a silver tankard believed to have been given by Charles II to Barbara Villiers. It had been made by John Plummer of York in 1664, and was bought for £460 by Mr A. Craven Smith Milnes of Hocherton Manor, Southwell, whose wife was actually a member of the Coore family.
The estate was sold in 38 lots reaching a value of £61,545 and Scruton Hall itself was sold to J.W. Tunnicliffe, timber merchants of Silsden, who paid £14,600. They bought the property primarily for the timber on the 60 acres of woodland but were unsure what to do with the mansion.
Within 12 months they had made an inquiry to Bedale Rural Council about demolition who were obliged to inform the North Riding Planning Committee that while they didn’t want to see the property demolished they couldn’t suggest a use for it. The view of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government was that the structure of the hall was sound and wanted to see it preserved if possible. Despite its preservation order Scruton Hall was eventually stripped, allowed to decay, and sadly demolished between 1956 and 1958.