Around Aberford :: A Description of the locality in 1874

The following is a verbatim copy of an article in the Leeds Mercury from Tuesday, September 8, 1874

Forward by Brian Hull

The article opens with a passage written in 1781 by a John Watson of Malton, who waxes on about the locality and its resources, centred on Bramham Moor. The ramble description starts in the centre of Leeds and continues by train to Garforth where the walk commences along the old "Flyline", some four years after the introduction of steam trains on the Aberford Railway, with the Manning Wardle engines Mulciber and Ignifer. We are some 135 years on as of 2009 from the description offered by the writer of the article and 228 years on from the description offered by Mr Watson. Much has changed, not least the style and use of language, but the description offers an insight into Parlington during its heyday. The article continues with the walk progressing to Hazelwood and Bramham, and continues through to Collingham and Wetherby, where the intrepid writer, presumably somewhat exhausted by his efforts is carried back to Leeds in a "Bus", obviously a horse drawn affair!

Note: Clarifications and occasional observations about the article have been added in [ ] brackets to assist the reader. I have been impressed by the verbose use of language, but feel our more direct approach today is helpful in getting to the point; so read the transcript and take in the scene nineteenth century style!



The Rambler will conduct his readers on this excursion through Parlington, Hazelwood, and Bramham, three of the noblest "ancestral homes" of the West Riding From Garforth to Collingham the route will be mainly through parks and field paths, over a district rich in the natural productions of the soil, fruitful in historical lore abounding with handsome mansions, picturesque villages and old churches, grand woods, and with scenery of very pleasing character. It may prove interesting to quote a passage written by Mr. John Watson, of Malton in 1781. Standing upon the highest point of Bramham Moor the summit level of our ramble, he says, "Upon the middle of this moor a man may see ten miles around him within those ten miles there is as much freestone as would build ten cities, each as large as York; within those ten miles there is as much good oak timber as would build those ten cities; there is as much limestone and coals to burn it into lime as the building of those ten cities would require; there is also as much clay and sand and coals to burn them into bricks and tiles, as would build those ten cities; within those ten miles there ar two iron forges sufficient to furnish iron for the building of those ten cities, and ten thousand tons to spare; with in those ten miles there is lead sufficient for the ten cities, and ten thousand fodders to spare; within those ten miles there is a good coal seam, sufficient to furnish those ten cities with firing for ten thousand years; within those ten miles there are three navigable rivers from any of which a man may take shipping and sail to any part of the world; within those ten miles there are seventy gentlemen's houses, all keeping coaches, and the least of them an esquire, and ten parks and forests well stocked with deer; within those ten miles there are ten market towns, one of which man be supposed to return £10,000 per week." This quaint epitome, written nearly a century ago, will still, in the main, apply to the district, with the exception that the deer are fewer, while its richness and fruitfulness have increased, owing to the spread of manufacturing industry, the inclosure and cultivation of the waste lands, the better methods of farming adopted in the present day, and the greater facility of communication by railways. The parks will probably remain much as they were in point of number, but the "gentlemen's houses, all keeping coaches, and the least of them nn esquire," will have multiplied manifold. There are few parts of England, so near to the smoky centres of industry, that have "suffered," as Whitaker was fond of writing, so little from "the inelegancy [sic] of manufacture," as the district above-mentioned. The land is in comparatively few hands, and the country, instead of deteriorating in beauty, has improved in appearance, one happy effect attending the residence of the owners in the midst of their tenantry, while the greatest care is exercised, when the woods are thinned, to renew there with young plants, and thus the vernal aspect of the dales and the swelling uplands is preserved.

The Details of the walk begin Here!

There had been heavy rain on the previous night. The sky was dull and overcast. Dark pools of water were left in the graveyard of the Parish Church, and the Roman Catholic chapel loomed in a haze of smoke, as we left Leeds and were carried into the tunnel near Marsh Lane. Emerging at the other end, for the fourth time, the sky was clearing, a blue rift appeared, the sun shone out, and after a short but pleasant run we alighted at Garforth under a cloudy sky, the personification of the, "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness," as beautifully expressed by the poet Keats. We were kindly allowed to walk through the estate of Parlington, along the private railway used by the Gascoigne family for conveying coal and lime to Aberford. Here is the Sisters Pit, where the great flood occurred, [No record of a flood at the Sisters Pit has been discovered before the one recorded in March 1883] and a little further on another that was on fire, while a third is about to be opened. Two locomotives are employed on the line. There are huge piles of "black diamonds," heaps of burning material taken out of the flooded pit, utilised by being converted into lime, and gangs of dark coloured men around are engaged in multifarious operations. In front are the woods of Parlington. The line runs between overarching trees, forming a natural 'long drawn aisle and fretted vault, "finer by far than any of man's creation, for here, at our feet, are wild flowers innumerable. The sides of the aisle display colours such as the painter vainly tries to imitate, from the delicate green of the elderberry. with its brown and dark fruit, to the sombre trees of the fir and the yew, and all through the varying shades of the mountain ash, laden with scarlet berries, the beech, just changing its summer livery; the oak, with its dark and fresh bright green leaves; the graceful larch, with, its pendant branchlets; the towering and far-expanding elms; the silvery birch; the fruit-laden chestnut; the mighty sycamores; and an undergrowth of more humble but not less beautiful shrubs. There is music in the aisle! We have not the pealing organ nor resounding hymn of praise. How soothing is the soft coo of the doves, the hoarse caw of the rooks, the cheerful strains of the robin, the happy presence of lovely linnett, smart little wrens, gaily-plumaged goldfinches, jetty blackbirds, sober-hued thrushes, and the pert sparrows, while, not far off, are seen the busy starlings and the black and white magpies, a hawk soaring up and disturbing the serenity of the small tribe of flutterers. Each of these birds, though the best of their singing days is past, has its peculiar call, they are brisk and busy, and seem to rejoice in the plenty that nature has scattered over the land. But, above all, seen through the branches of the trees, is the "fretted vault" of Heaven, now covered with cloud, but anon breaking into sunshine, throwing aslant our path bright gleams, and bringing into prominence the delicious-coloured foliage that hems us in. The Hawks Nest Wood passed, 'we emerge into an open glade, where

"Odours abroad the winds of morning breathe.
        And fresh with dew the herbage spread beneath."

reach the thick wood known as Parlington Hollins, and at length find ourselves in the beautiful gardens of Parlington. Was ever anything more secluded? Around are noble trees. In front is a tasteful enclosure, gay with blooming flowers, their glowing colours toned down by luxuriant evergreens. Here is a hedge of dark yew; in front, like a row of soldiers in skirmishing order, are a number of variegated acuba, a bower of hollies, and choice evergreens. The closely-shaven, bright green, velvety grass gives to the foot as if we trod on a soft carpet, and here, their great arms spreading wide apart and so heavy that they have to he propped, are two gigantic cedars of Lebanon. [Adjacent to the conservatory at the eastern end of the hall] Rounding the corner of the house there bursts upon the sight a lovely expanse of velvety lawn, the grass of a fine, close texture, and at that instant a gleam of sunshine lights up the scene. The turf is dotted here and there with gigantic trees, and amongst them another large cedar [The only Cedar still standing in the garden, and today a much admired example] circling woods in the distance closing in the prospect. The hall is not worthy of the noble domain. It is a low, old fashioned building, and stands in a position embosomed in woods, which can hardly be so healthful as if it stood on some of the breezy heights in the park. The Gascoignes are of ancient lineage. Thoresby I states that there were "fifteen Sir Williams (of whom six were knights) in a lineal descent, namely, seven before and seven after the celebrated Sir William Gascoigne, Chief Justice in the reign of King Henry IV," He also states that there are nineteen different ways of spelling the name, and one of the earliest - Gask'n - is the manner in which the name is pronounced 'by the natives in the present day. On the failure of the regular line the estate came into the possession of Mr. R. Oliver, who assumed the name of Gascoigne. [Richard Oliver-Gascoigne] He left two daughters, one of whom married Lord Ashtown, an Irish nobleman, and the other was espoused by Col. Trench, who has assumed the name of Gascoigne, Colonel Gascoigne, who resides at Parlington, has an only child, a son, who is in the army, and is heir to this magnificent estate. The good deeds of the Gascoigne family are to be seen in many parts of their wide possessions.

Resuming our walk through woods so dense that hardly a Idade of grass would grow, we gained the carriage drive, came to a, more open tract, and

"Into the meadows, where, where
         Mint perfumes the gentle air,"

had some pretty prospects, with Aberford Church on one hand, the Almshouses on the other, with rising wood-crowned hills in front, and rested for a short time in the old-fashioned and picturesque town of Aberford. Up the great north road (the Watling-street of the Romans), which the inhabitants of Aberford proudly tell yon is the direct route from London to Edinburgh, we see in front the woods of Bramham and Hazelwood, cross the stone bridge over the River Cock, admire once again the quiet beauty of the mill pond, the old corn mill, and its pretty surroundings, turn to the right, and mounting what are supposed to have been entrenchments, pause for a parting look at the lovely picture we have before us. Immediately in front the Cock winds through well wooded banks; in a garden below are roses, dahlias, pansies, and gladiola in bloom on one side is the spire of Aberford Church, amid a sea of greenery and red roofed, whitewashed houses; on the other are the towers and turrets of the Almshouses; and beyond, encircling the whole place, are the woods of Parlington, Woodhouse Moor Rein, and other wood-crowned eminences, bounding the prospect. Over the fields we go, through rich crops of potatoes, indifferent turnips, sweet-smelling clover, and plenteous grain, mostly gathered. We have seen the lovely grass of Parnassus, the golden St. John's wort, the tiny harebell, the lilac scabious, the hawkweeds of yellow hue, the purple knapweed, the scarlet poppy, the delicate pink flowers of the centaurea, the white campion, the blue bugle, and many another wild flower of rare beauty. Here we find the hedges twined with the white -flowers of the wild convolvulus, and the stubble fields gay with nature's floral favourites, while in the hedges we gather tho ripe fruit of the blackberry. Gradually ascending, with Hayton Wood on the right, Nut Hill and Hazelwood on the left, with many a pause to look back on the enchanting prospects in our rear and on the lovely wooded hills around, we suddenly come in sight of Hazelwood Hall or Castle, and are disappointed. Not with the magnificent trees, or the noble, breezy park, so different in its freshness to the tree-begirt Parlington, but with the Hall itself, an old pile, standing on an eminence overlooking the park and the country around for many miles, far as York and Lincoln Cathedrals, it is said; but today although the sun shines brightly and the breeze is fresh, there is haze in the distance. The Hall has a depressed front, pierced with a door, access being gained by a lofty, common-place flight of steps. On each side are two advanced wings, with depressions at either end. The top of the Hall is battlemented. In the centre are arrow-slits forming crosses, the arms of the family on a shield, being placed ever the door-way. The Hail is venerable for its antiquity but not for its beauty of outline. At one end of the building is a cedar and at the other end an acacia partially blasted. The view from the front, over the park and the swelling country beyond, as far as we could see, was very fine - a truly English landscape of the best sort. Adjoining the Hall is the chapel, an old building in excellent preservation, the interior adorned in the classical style, and containing several monuments Of the Vavasour family, some of them mutilated by the rapacious Iconoclasts, Cromwell getting the credit here, as elsewhere, for the destructive propensities of his soldiery. The floor of the chapel is covered with tombstones some in Craven marble. Over the grand altar is a painting of the crucifixion, a silver lamp bangs in front, and the adornment of the altars and the whole place is tasteful. In the side walls are crocheted canopies, with recumbent effigies in stone. Coining out of the chapel, through the old porch, we get a glimpse of the park through a narrow gateway lading into the chapel yard, of singular beauty. Outside of the porch is a bronze figure of the Saviour on the Cross, with a kneeling bench in front, surrounded with a rockery, with the Rose of Sharon in bloom. In the chapel yard is an old monumental pillar, as well as several others of ancient date. The yard is enclosed with trees, and on several of the graves affectionate relatives had placed beautiful bouquets of flowers.

Looking on this old pile, listening to the pealing organ and the voices of the choristers, chanting the service of the Catholic Church, the mind was carried beak to the dim past long before the Reformation spread the glorious light of the Gospel broadcast over the land. But if the front of the hall failed to satisfy us, the courtyard in the rear, broad and ample and surrounded by massive buildings, more than pleased us, while the gardens are extensive and beautiful. But the glory of Hazelwood -is in its splendid trees, its rich greensward, and the naturalness of the whole place; that it was, together with the views, that gave us most pleasure. We were informed that it is intended to remove the intrusive steps in front, and make the entrance in the rear. This will certainly be a change for the better. There are some old detached buildings about the place, which seem to have been used in the old time for the purposes of defence. The Vavasours cling to what is called "the old faith." Thoresby states that "Sir Thomas Vavasour was Knight Mareschal [old French] of the Household to James I. They used to write their names Le Vavasour (alias Vavasor) as being the King's Valvasores [sic]. Their arms are a "fesse dauncette sable." Henry Vavasour, who lived in the reign of Henry VI, built the steeple of Barwick Church, and his statue was placed in a niche there, but it is now gone. He was afterwards knighted, and was High Sheriff of Yorkshire in the 10th of Edward IV. Maude wrote of this place -

"The Wood of Hazels, quite inverted name,
        Graciously salutes the passing eye with fame.
        Bold is the structure fair its open site,
        Of lineage Iong and derivation bright."

We left Hazelwood reluctantly, and proceeding along the carriage drive, bordered with a broad margin of grass, on which the delicate little eye-bright, the euphrasia of Spenser, Milton, and Cowley, was blooming profusely, and of which Spenser writes that euphrasia

"Give dim eyes to wander leagues around."

in proof of its efficacy in restoring weak sight, we reach the Tadcaster road, and have an extended outlook over Bramham Park, with the house of Bowcliffe, where Mr. G. L. Fox resides; of Headley Hall, where Lord Headley once lived, and of the country northward and eastward, to the distant hills. The White Hart Inn, once a famous halting place in the coaching days, standing at. the junction of the Tadcaster and the great North road, is shorn of its importance, and is occupied as a private house, its big bow windows and lofty rooms looking sadly out of place for a simple dwelling. Turning into Bramham Park, we speedily find that the last of the "ancestral homes" we visit is the most curious, not to say beautiful, of the three. Bramham Moor is "a high plain, rising by a gentle acclivity from the village, and extending southward to the valley of the little river Cock, near Aberford," over which has lain our route. "Bramham Park was granted by William and Mary to the father of the first Lord Bingley, who enclosed it from the Moor, and graced it with those plantations in which it is now embowered. "The hall, a large and elegant mansion, was built on an eminence in the park by Lord Bingley, in the reign of Queen Anne, but it was very much damaged by fire in 1828, and is now in ruins. Adjoining it is a chapel, containing a couple of monuments. The attractions of the place are the gardens, laid out in the prim Dutch style, with straight walks, radiating from a centre, having tall beech and other hedges on either side, cut as straight and level as a wall, both on the top and sides. Highly artificial is the name that can only be applied to these quaint gardens, and the cost of all this clipping and pruning and trimming of nature must be immense. The shrubs and trees are of the choicest and rarest sorts, and everything is kept in the best possible order. On one of the heights is a circular clump of rhododendrons, and radiating from this are walks also lined with these costly evergreens. On another and higher eminence is an obelisk to the memory of one of the family, and radiating in every direction are broad avenues, each lined with a different kind of tree, and at the end of each avenue there is either a classical temple or a charming prospect. It would tire the patience of the reader to describe the many curious objects, views, and grand trees that are to be seen in the park. The bowling green and flower garden, shut in by tall beeches on three sides, with a Gothic temple in the centre, beds of choice flowers and vases filled with flowers, and a lake, with running water in front, are exquisitely pretty, but highly artificial, and so is the tropical garden. Some of the choicest and brightest beds are those composed entirely of plants of diverse foliage, but devoid of flowers. The park was formerly open to visitors, but in consequence of the damage done it can now only be entered with an order from the owner or the steward.

We went through the park to Bramham village, a clean place, with an old. church, and thence to Clifford, to look at the handsome Roman Catholic chapel, built at great expense, in the Norman style, by the late Father Clifford, and admired the structure very much. There is also a nunnery in the place, and a commodious church. A footpath, with commanding views around of a beautiful country, led us over Clifford Moor, to Collingham, "a pleasing village, in a calm and tranquil situation on the Wharfe." [Sadly not any longer!] The church, built in the time of Henry VIII, has a fine old tower. On the opposite side of the Wharfe, perched on the hillside, is the picturesque village of Linton, the most conspicuous object being a neat Wesleyan chapel. The new railway from Leeds to Wetherby is carried across the Wharfe by a viaduct of three arches. The meadows of Collingham were all aglow with the lilac-hued meadow saffron, or colchicum autumnale very much resembling and sometimes called the autumnal crocus. The plant has poisonous properties. Sir J. E. Smith writes in his "English Flora," "A spirituous tincture of the root or seeds of colchicum (meadow saffron) is thought to be a famous quack medicine for gout called eau medicinalo. At least such a tincture, in the dose of 40 or 50 drops, twice day, has been found very useful in gout and rheumatism." But the Rambler must draw the excursion to a close as his space is exhausted. No pleasanter place than Collingham, need be desired for the conclusion of such a delightful ramble, and after an excellent tea, the Wetherby bus [Horse drawn carriage] took us back to Leeds by as agreeable a ride as any that leads out of the town.

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