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.

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