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The Seat of Lt.-Col. GEOFFREY DARLEY, D.S.O.

by Charles Hussey

COUNTRY LIFE, Nov 9th, 1935, pp 486-490

Please note that the article contained photographs, but these were too faded to copy. A description of the photos is given where they occur (AK - 2003).

Built circa 1725 by Jane, sister of that Thomas Darley who had sent to Aldby the celebrated "Darley Arabian". The house preserves the Romano-Saxon site where Paulinus converted King Edwin of Northumbria to Christianity

The steep banks of the Derwent, on top of which Aldby Park spreads to-day, have thrice witnessed crucial events in the history of England. The river, as was remarked in connection with Howsham Hall a few miles upstream, is remarkable enough in itself, rising as it does a few miles from the sea, then flowing in the opposite direction, and forming the boundary of the East Riding, which it then, with the Humber and Ouse, encircles on three sides. The two earlier episodes are connected with the Roman road crossing the Derwent two miles below Aldby, at Stamford Bridge, the Derventio of the First Iter in the Itinerary of Antoninus, and ever since then the eastern key to York.

Fig. 1

But the grassy terraces into which the right bank of the river has cut at Aldby are contemporary not with these remote occupations of the site but with the third coincidence which gives to Aldby a wholly different but scarcely less noticeable significance. In 1704 Aldby Park became the home of a horse that subsequent generations have proved to have been the most valuable in the world, the "Darley Arabian," sire of Flying Childers and chief ancestor of English thoroughbred stock, from whom a great majority of horses who have proved themselves worthy of classic honours derive something of their combination of strength and speed. In the Aldby paddocks, lying on the opposite side of the house from the river, the Muniqi arab that Thomas Darley shipped from Aleppo in 1703/4 may well have cropped his first feed of English grass from English soil.

On the edge of the now terraced bluff are the twin yew-shaded mounds that, possibly somewhat reshaped by the Georgian gardener, associate Aldby with one of the most sensational events in early English history. Linked by a vallum, these mounds are popularly known as "Edwin's Castle" and have been identified by both Freeman and William Bright with the scene of Edwin of Northumbria's attempted assassination on Easter Eve, 626, of which the direct outcome was the adoption of Christianity by the Northern Kingdom. The scene of St. Augustin's conversion of the Kentish king a century earlier is not exactly known. But Bede's story of that event's northern counterpart is circumstantial enough to cause these mounds at Aldby to be venerated as among the most sacred spots in Christian England.

Bede tells us that on Easter 626, Edwin was living at a "royal vill" near the River Derwent. There were two royal vills answering to this .........

Page of 3 photographs "copyright Country Life"

........ description, one a few miles north at Bossall, the double moats of which can still be traced near the interesting Norman church; and what came to be called the "old dwelling place". What was old to the Danes was likely to have been Roman (cf. Aldborough, their name for the Roman town of Isurium, near Boroughbridge). Edwin's vill at Aldby, in the absence of excavation, may be assumed to have been on the site of a Roman, or even Brigantine, fort connected with the Derventio river crossing. On this day in 626 an envoy was announced, sent by Cwielhelm, King of Wessex, who, advancing towards Edwin with honeyed words, suddenly rushed upon him with a poisoned dagger that only missed its mark because Lilla, a faithful thegn, interposed his own body. The same night his queen, Ethelburga, brought forth her first-born, and the King consented to the child being baptised a Christian, swearing also that if he returned victorious from the war against Cwielhelm, which the latter's vicarious attempt on his life naturally precipitated, he too would receive baptism. He was completely victorious, and there followed the famous council, probably held at Londesborough, when an old nobleman made the celebrated speech comparing our life to the brief flight of a bird through the hall, after which the Archdruid mounted a horse and hurled a spear at an image in the adjoining pagan shrine.

On this page are 3 photographs down the left side:-

If Stamford Bridge be the Roman Derventio, the strategic purpose of the fort at Aldby was to watch the crossing of the Derwent. As such it again entered history in 1066, when Tostig and Harold Hardrada attained as far as Stamford Bridge on the last Danish invasion of England. The battle had much in common with Tarquin's attack on Rome, in that a single Norse champion held the bridge in the manner of Horatius, until and English soldier, more witty than any Etruscan, procured a coracle (some say a mere washtub) and, propelling it beneath the bridge, stuck the champion with a spear thrust up between its timbers.

No light is shed upon the subsequent history of the Northumbrian vill by Domesday, which merely records that land once held by Egelfride came with the other land in Buttercrambe Manor to Hugh, son of Baldric, before 1086, and was held of the Crown in chief. By Henry II's reign it was part of the possessions of the de Stutevills, descending ultimately to Margaret, daughter of Ralph Nevil, Earl of Westmoreland, who sold the manor in 1557 to William Darley.

The Darleys were descended from Edmund Darley, lord of Darley and Alderhouse Lee, Derbyshire, William, who bought Aldby, being the sixteenth in direct descent. An early estate map, dated 1633, recently discovered in a chest at Aldby, shows a building of Tudor aspect situated about 25 yds. east of the present building. There are references to the purchase of Aldby and Buttercrambe, and to the wrongful impounding of certain ewes and lambs, by William Darley in the correspondence of the Earl of Westmoreland with his brother-in-law the Earl of Rutland (Belvoir MSS.) Amusing light is shed on the personalities of the Darleys in Jacobean times in the curious Autobiography of Thomas Shepard, A Puritan who emigrated to Massachusetts. At this time, about 1630, the Darleys were evidently already of a Dissenting disposition, for Sir Richard Darley and his sons offered the Essex preacher, who had incurred the wrath of Laud, not only an asylum but £20 a year. To Aldby, therefore, Shepard came, with various misadventures to which he attributed a divine significance. He was not favourably impressed by the demeanour of his kind friends:

Now as soone as I came into the house I found diverse of them at Dice & Tables ..... I do remember I was never so low sunke in my spirit as about this time; lot 1, I was far from all friends; 2 I was I saw in a pphane house not any sincerely good; 3 I was in a vile wicked town and country; 4 I was unknown and exposed to all wrongs; 5 I was unsufficient to do any woorke & my sins were upon me; & hereupon I was very low & sunke deepe yet the Lord did not leave me comfortless; for tho' the Lady was churlish, yet Sir Richard was ingenious & I found in the house 3 servants viz; Thos. Fugill, Miss Margaret Touteville, the Knight's kinswoman that was afterwards my wife, & Ruth Bushell very careful of me, which somewhat refreshed me.

On this page are 3 photographs:-

Sir Richard's son and successor Henry Darley, was elected for Malton to the Long Parliament and, declaring against the King, was concerned with Thomas Raikes, Mayor of Hull, Sir Matthew Boynton and Sir William St. Quintin, in seizing Hull when the Governor, Sir John Hotham, proposed to deliver it back to Charles in a last attempt to avert civil war. Late he was a Commissioner for Parliament to the Scot, but was taken prisoner at the siege of York by Sir Henry Cholmley, who incarcerated him at Scarborough, and used him as an intermediary in negotiations for the surrender of that place (Sir Henry Cholmley, Memoirs). His son, Richard was of a practical turn of mind, for he was the leading spirit in a movement to canalise the Derwent for which an Act was procured in 1702. He must also have been interested in horse breeding, for it was in response to a request from him for a stallion that his son Thomas Darley sent back from Aleppo in 1703 the celebrated Arabian. He apparently lived to a considerable age, for all his four sons predeceased him; Thomas and Richard, who were Turkey merchants, "of poison" in Aleppo; Henry and John as bachelors. Aldby there passed to his daughter Jane, who married John Brewster of Cold Green, Hertfordshire. It is this couple who built the house we now see.

Burke's Visitation of Seats (1852) states that the architect was Sir John Vanbrugh. The date 1726, which occurs on the east front, is possibly for Vanbrugh, but there is even less in the design to suggest that he was responsible for it than there is in the case of Beningbrough, which, with Gilling and Duncombe, is among the Yorkshire houses popularly attributed to the architect of Castle Howard. The low wings, seen in Fig. 3, were added circa 1840 by Henry Brewster Darley, previously to which both fronts will have had the square urban character now restricted to the east front (Fig. 2). Nor is there anything in the plan, which can be seen in its original state in the portrait of John Brewster by Ph. Mercier (Fig. 12). The three-storeyed façades, the central passage from end to end of each floor, and the emphasising of each end by a central projection, recall rather Halnaby in the North Riding, as enlarged by Millbankes circa 1730, and such buildings as the Judge's Lodgings in York of the same decade. The only Vanbrugian traits are the channelled quoms and arched windows of the enriched central bays in the east front (Fig. 1). This is so different from the rest of the building as to suggest a different hand to that responsible for the remainder. With its richly carved pediment, on the entablature beneath which is a charming panel of a pheasant between two foxes, this recalls such façades as that of Finchcox, Kent, a building by an unknown local mason whose Vanbrugian inclinations are comparable to those of the Bastards of Blandford. The upshot of which is that Brewster himself probably designed the house - he would scarcely have been so proud of the plan as to introduce it into his portrait if he had not plotted it himself - and that he was assisted by somebody, possibly summoned from the south of England (he was a Hertfordshire man), who may have had some connection with Vanbrugh. The frontispiece is surmounted by a bust of George I, whose cipher also occurs on a banner on the pediment carving. Beneath the centre window is the cipher J.B.; the initials B over J.J. occur on the rainwater-heads. The arms are those of Brewster impaling Darley. The whole, stone painted grey, is a delightful production, really more reminiscent of contemporary Dutch than English usage.

On this page, 3 photographs:-

To the west, on the side away from the river, the remains of a very fine beech avenue crosses the park to Buttercrambe Mere, a picturesque little lake on the edge of the wooded sandy country that stretches to Sheriff Hutton. The garden lies along and above the steep banks of the Derwent, and in front of the house, evidently retains its original 1726 formation. Six grass terraces, only the two uppermost of which, in the shape of broad lawns, are now kept mown. They are flanked by dense thickets of yew which originally, perhaps, were kept low and shaven. In front of this background is a delightful series of stone garden figures on well cut pedestals, the former signed with the monogram P.V.B. These initial, evidently standing for a Dutch sculptor, are also to be found on a similar set at Carton, County Kildare.

The interior of the house was evidently much altered by Henry Brewster Darley. The arrangement of a "spinal" corridor with arches where it pierces the cross walls survives and the entrance hall (Fig. 5) is in situ, retaining its massive Vanbrugian chimneypiece. The cornice recalls, by its oddly treated modillions, similar liberties at Beningbrough. But the staircase has been inserted into what was no doubt the "saloon." The original staircases seem to have been in the south-west and possibly north-west corners. The very charming wainscoted room (Fig. 8) adjoining the staircase to the north is contemporary, and retains its original decoration - rich walnut graining picked out with gilding - another example of which was to be seen on the staircase at Marble Hill, Twickenham, till painted over by a chaste-minded L.C.C. Most of the rooms retain their wainscot and some of the bedrooms excellent Georgian furniture, as in the case of that illustrated (Fig. 7). The 1840 additions to the ends, providing a new drawing- and dining-room respectively, larger than any of the rooms in the original house, were decorated in the Louis-Philippe taste of the day. Round the dining-room hangs a fine set of Gobelins tapestry. The drawing-room contains, among other pleasing portraits, the very interesting "Green Boy", by Gainsborough (Fig. 11). It probably dates from his Bath period, retaining as it does the rather solid pigment - and, incidentally, a glimpse of a sandy bluff - characteristic of his earlier work. The ugly little boy, Richard Darley, is very much alive, and the whole picture has a directness and charm not always present in his more mature portraits.

The son of the builder of Aldby, who died in 1772, assumed the arms and name Darley, and the present owner, Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Darley, D.S.O., late Colonel Commanding the 14th/20th Hussars, is his direct descendant.


Article by
Christopher Hussey
transcribed from Country Life, Nov 9th, 1935
transcribed by Andy Kerridge ©2003.
Reproduced here by kind permission of Country Life, 2003.

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