Thursday, 22 August 2013

'Everyone must make sacrifices, even golfers' - Heslington Hall during WW2

One of the most significant periods in Heslington Hall’s history is its occupation by RAF Bomber Command No.4 group  from 1940 until 1947. Whilst attempting to reimagine life in the Hall and the village during these tense years of British history, Donald Ward’s Heslington Memories have become our discoveries. And whilst recounting life in the village in these notoriously dark times for the British, writing always with a comfortingly upbeat undertone he sheds some light on Heslington’s ‘War Years’. The anecdotes we have had the fortune of reading show the way servicemen and women, villagers, in Heslington and no doubt villages and towns up and down the country refused to let the tragedies of war weigh too heavily on their outlook, and life went on.
Heslington Hall was thankfully never hit by any bombs during the war, the nearest place that was hit was a house called Spring Villa; we hear that although thankfully there were no fatalities the watchdog had to be put down, and ward remarks ‘I bet it was a Christmas they never forgot, as all the windows were broken and the house was covered in soot’.
from University of York's 50th Anniversary site
Heslington vilage, undated,
from the university's 50th Anniversary site
Ward was too young at the time to join the RAF himself, but he was still active in village work .He recalls one particular night on fire duty from which we can envisage the tensions and anxiety that would befall a village, especially one with a Bomber Command headquarters through the long nights. The pair were patrolling in front of the Hall when his partner ‘a nervous man’ jumped into him and let out a terrific scream, shouting ‘It got me!!’ .Far from capture by Nazi invaders he had, in Dad’s Army fashion, walked into the head of a horse.
Ward came across other troubles while undertaking another job of transferring the cattle. A problem similarly and frequently encountered by his father who would often receive angry messages from RAF bases requesting him ‘to remove his cows from the runway’, since planes were able neither to take off nor land. After Donald had successfully and without trouble guided his cattle to the golf course, they immediately and frantically broke into a gallop right across the fairways. This was much to the outrage of ‘all associated with golf’ but in these difficult times for everyone they were quite rightly told that ‘There’s a war on and everyone must make sacrifices, even golfers’.
Before the RAF took over during the war the house had been occupied by the 4th Lord and Lady Deramore and Ward describes one particularly amusing scene during a shooting trip. The shoot, at Langwith woods, had stopped for lunch and the Lord Deramore, having taken a walk, noticed that the lavatory of one of only three residents of Langwith, an old lady, had fallen down. She answered his concerned enquiries with a description of a somewhat less effective set up involving a plank of wood between two trees. Deramore was understandably upset by this and on his return home sent his joiner to build her a new lavatory. Upon his return to Langwith he asked how she was finding her new lavatory to which she replied that it was too good to use, so she was keeping her hens in it!

This post was written by Hugo Laffey, one of our student interns.
For more on the work of our student interns see Heslington Hall - Country Life and Archiving Ayckbourn

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Heslington Hall - Country Life

Heslington Hall from Country Life (1900)
A fellow Intern and I are currently working at the Borthwick Institute for Archives and are putting together an exhibition about the history of Heslington Hall. The building itself has not always been the administrative hub for the university, and it used to be a grand country seat and a family home with extensive and renowned grounds. It was originally constructed in 1568 by Thomas Eynns, the secretary to the Council in the North. The Hall then passed through a number of families, either through purchase or marriage, including the Heskeths, the Yarboroughs and finally the Deramores. During this long period it encountered a variety of events including its use as the headquarters of Lord Fairfax during the Siege of York in 1644, various structural changes and royal visits. Its usage changed in the 1940s when it became the headquarters of the RAF No. 4 Group, which was part of Bomber Command during the Second World War, where an important number of raids and missions were planned out. It then came into the hands of the Rowntree Social Service Trust in 1955 whose original aim was to turn it into a folk park, before eventually in 1962 it became what we see today; a central part of the university and campus.

Heslington Hall Gardens, from Country Life (1900)

The hall and gardens have been well documented and have often been admired throughout history. This can be demonstrated by its appearance in Country Life Magazine twice - once in 1900 and again in 1913 whilst still a family home and then in 1971 when the university had been built. 
In its first appearance in Country Life in 1900, the gardens are praised for “occupy(ing) a notable place in the history of English gardening.”  We are given a scenic tour of the grounds, and witness the elegant sculptures and flowers that it contains. The large lake was also a source of pleasure and we can see in the photo someone boating on it. Although we may recognise some elements such as the yew trees, these used to be more extensive and stretched right up to the front of the house and were described as “fantastic yews, unlike anything else ever seen on sea or land".

Heslington Hall Lake, from Country Life (1900)
In the later edition of Country Life published in 1971 the university is now the focus, and the article chronicles the transformation of the landscapes of Heslington Hall from elegant gardens to university campus. It is not critical of this change and describes the new vista as “one of the most original landscapes created in Britain this century has yet to attract the attention it deserves”.
Looking at these articles it is interesting to compare the vastly different ways the landscape around the hall has changed and been adapted. But despite this as you walk around the campus today, you can still make out some of the old elements of the hall and its “garden world of strange character”.

This post was written by Martha Cattell, one of our student interns.