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Historic Houses of Yorkshire & Lincolnshire

by GJM Fitzjohn, B.Sc., F.R.Hist.Soc.; Author of "A Short History of the Great War" etc The Hull Mail, May 26, 1928

Second Series: No. 5 - Sand Hutton Hall

[Photo at top of article of Sand Hutton Hall, by Herbert Speed, York]

"Some water, coal, and oil is all we ask,
And a thousandth of an inch to give us play
And now if you will set us to our task,
We will serve you four-and-twenty hours a day"
"The Secret of the Machines" (Kipling)

At the foot of the Yorkshire Wolds, not far from Stamford Bridge, where once a great battle was fought between Harold, the last Saxon King, and Harold of Norway, lies Sand Hutton Hall, nestling in one of the prettiest spots to be found in the County of York. Surrounded by a wealth of trees in a large park, the Hall, the residence of Major Sir Robert Walker, Bart., can only be seen when close to it. The house originally was early Georgian, but it has been so added to from time to time that, externally, it does not appear to belong to any particular period, although the unusual thickness of the walls and evidence of the presence of the Adam Brothers inclines one to think it was built about 1700. The new part of the house was built by the second Baronet, 1887. At all events it has a very pleasing appearance from whichever angle it is viewed. To the right green meadows stretch (in which there is a perfect cricket pitch) as far as the eye can see, and from the front of the house one sees in the foreground the lake, further away, woodland, and still further the white chalk of the Yorkshire Wolds, with the road winding up through the trees to Garrowby Hill Top in the distance.

It is rather interesting to remark that the existence of the lake is evidence of two thoughts, one that the unemployment problem was by no means unknown a hundred years ago, and the other is that the sound practical way of relieving the unemployment was not to give them the dole but to give them work. When unemployment was rife in the East Riding, ** Walker immediately engaged a large number of men to improve his estates, one of the results being the creation of an artificial, but nevertheless very pretty piece of water. The chalk hills in the distance mark the Yorkshire residence of the present Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin.

No one, once having put his foot inside the Hall at Sand Hutton, comes away without being impressed with the feeling of an honest hospitality which pervades the whole house. Hospitality seems to be the ultima thule of a Walker's existence. There is in the dining room, a large oil painting of a cheerful looking gentleman in military uniform. His name was Colonel Childers. In his day it was - before the advent of railways - the custom of people in his position to stay with their friends for a considerable period when they paid each other visits - a length of time which would wear present day hospitality absolutely threadbare. Colonel Childers drove up one day in his coach-and-four to stay at Sand Hutton Hall for the month for which he was invited. A month went by, then another, and Xmas cheer succeeded shooting and hunting. A year rolled by, season following season, the host the essence of hospitality and the guests fully satisfied with his fare. Eventually the time came for the Colonel to shake off the trammels of this earth and to seek the hospitality of the land beyond the Styx. Yes, he died, an honoured guest to the end, and he was buried by his host at Sand Hutton with all reverence after having stayed with him for twenty-five years!!!

I believe the progeny of one of the Colonel's mares, which he "tooled" up the drive when he went to stay a month as a guest of the first Baronet, are still at Sand Hutton, such is the hospitality of that hospitable house. I don not know who painted the Colonel's portrait, but I have no doubt whatever that his host paid for it! And the hospitality of the present Baronet shows no diminution whatsoever in the time-honoured traditions of Sand Hutton. Amongst the noted guests was the late lamented Duke of Clarence, when he was an office in the 10th Hussars, then quartered in York in the nineties. He spent much of his time when he was off-duty at Sand Hutton, and there is a window in the Parish Church dedicated to his memory.

The Walkers originated in Lancashire, one James Walker being a prominent merchant in Manchester where he died in the year 1690. Later on, it is interesting to note a descendant, James Walker, a Fellow of the Royal Society, acquired the Manor of what is now called Springhead near Hull, from whence this city obtains its mains water supply, and the old Manorhouse is, to this day, the property of the present Baronet of Sand Hutton. This James Walker, F.R.S., was succeeded by his son, also a James, who acquired property in Beverley, and is described in the family records as "of Springhead and Beverley." This son married the only daughter and heiress of John Porter, of Kingston-upon-Hull, after whom a street in this city is now called. This James Walker, who died in 1829, was succeeded in due course to the estates by his son, James, who was created a Baronet in 1863, and thus became the first Baronet.

Sir James became possessed of Sand Hutton and other property not only in Yorkshire, but in Buckinghamshire. He was an M.A., a Justice of the Peace, a Deputy Lieutenant of Yorkshire, and was High Sheriff of the county in 1846. He married in 1829 the daughter of Robert Denison, of Kilnwick Percy, by whom he had one son, James, who eventually became the second baronet. Sir James Walker, first baronet, married secondly the daughter of the Rev. Robert Stephen Thompson, of Bilbrough, Yorks., by whom he had some notable sons, who have written their names in large letters in the annals of Yorkshire. I may remark, incidentally, that the Thompson's, through marriage with an heiress of the De Meysey's, eventually became Meysey-Thompson, a well-known name in Yorkshire - head of the family being the present Lord Knaresborough.

Sir James' eldest son, by his second marriage, was Frederick James, M.V.O., M.A., D.L. for the North Riding of Yorkshire. His second son was the famous Admiral of the Hall, Beverley, who has but recently passed away. This son, Charles Francis Walker, Rear Admiral, married the daughter of the Hon. Arthur Duncombe, brother of the Earl of Feversham. The third son by Sir James' second marriage was Edwin, who married the daughter of the late Mr William Belbell, of Risa Park. The fourth son, Gerald, married the daughter of the late Mr Henry Darley, of Aldby Park. The next son died unmarried, but the sixth son, Henry Stephen Walker, married the eldest daughter of Mr Henry Mason, once of Kingston-upon- Hull. The seventh son married the daughter of a well-remembered Yorkshire ecclesiastic, the "Venerable" James Palmes, Doctor of Divinity and Archdeacon of the East Riding of Yorkshire. It can therefore be seen that the Walker family is as much an integral part of the county of broad acres as the soil itself.

To return to Sir James Walker, second Baronet, the first Baronet's son by his first marriage, was, like his father, a Deputy Lieutenant, and a J.P. of Yorkshire and was a Member for Beverley from 1859 to 1865. In 1863 he married the daughter of Sir John Heron Maxwell, Baronet of Springkell, and died in 1699? being succeeded to the vast estates by his eldest son, James Heron Walker. This Sir James, the third baronet of Sand Hutton, married the daughter of Major General St. John Ives and by her had four sons and one daughter. The eldest son of this marriage is the present gallant and genial Major Sir Robert James Milo, fourth Baronet, the owner of Sand Hutton and other extensive properties.

Sir Robert James Milo Walker, fourth Baronet, was born on the 18th March 1899. After being educated at Eton as a boy, he went on to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took the degree of Master of Arts, as well as an Honours degree in History and became a member of the University Senate. In due course he passed from his college into the Regular Army as a University Candidate and immediately joined that splendid regiment, the Coldstream Guards, a regiment for which Sir Robert has undying affection. He was on leave at home when war broke out in 1914, but immediately (on the 4th of August, the day it commenced) he rejoined the Coldstream Guards and all his eligible men - about forty five - who had had six years military training ******** the Green Howards. Sir Robert had previously founded the local detachment when Lord Haldane's Territorial scheme came into execution, being one of the first landowners to place the scheme on a sound military footing.

After serving as Adjutant of the 21st Battalion Royal Fusiliers, to which he was appointed by the late General Sir Francis Lloyd, he proceeded on active service, but after a comparatively short time, he was invalided home on account of appendicitis, and never being passed for further active service, he was elected one of four officers to proceed to New Zealand and assist in the training of their Forces. Incidentally, he had the honour of assisting to train the present Prime Minister of that great Dominion, Major Coates, M.C., and for his services received the thanks of the New Zealand parliament.

Following his return from New Zealand he left the Coldstream Guards for a short period and became second in command of his old Territorial Regiment, 5th Battalion Green Howards. Afterwards he rejoined the Coldstream Guards as a Major, is also the Founder and President of the Old Coldstreamers Club, situate in Park Street, Hull, which is a well known feature in the military life of the city.

With regard to the Old Coldstreamers Club at Hull, I believe the branch of the association was the first to be formed, and at the request of Sir Robert, this was done in 1913. The title "Old" Coldstreamers is a misnomer, as every serving officer and man in the regiment is entitled to join at once. The Great War intervened; and it was not until 1919, when a suitable house was acquired, and the club premises obtained. As the Coldstream Guards recruit largely in Hull, there has always been satisfactory membership, many of the men joining the Hull city police after their three years service.

Sir Robert Walker succeeded his father as fourth baronet in 1900 and in 1913 married Mrs Synolda Emily, the daughter of Mr Augustine Harvey, (of) Thursby Pelham, by whom he has two sons, James Heron, born in 1914, who is his heir apparent. He married secondly in 1923 Miss Esme Ethel Al**, [AK there is a black line down the right hand side of the column which obscures 2 or 3 letters of words on this side - some I can decipher, others I cannot] daughter of the late Capt. Granville Montmorency de Beaumont, the present gracious lady, whose portrait, painted by the late Mr C, Sims, adorns the walls of Sand Hutton and is here specially reproduced by the kind permission of Sir Robert.

Lady Walker is, I regret to write, at present seriously ill in a London nursing home. There are a number of large photographs of her in Sir Robert's rooms, taken, of course, from life, all of them being so extraordinarily like a painting that the latter must be a good p** of portraiture. One cannot, alas, say that of the majority of portraits! It will be recalled that Mr Sims (who has recently died) sent some particularly weird pictures to the Royal Academy which attracted a considerable amount of notice. This picture of Lady Walker, and also his of Sir Robert, is considered one of the best examples of his work.

Perhaps the most interesting of the pictures is a wonderful collection of prints in connection with the Baronet's old regiment, the Coldstream Guards. They are all valuable coloured prints showing the evolution of the regimental equipment of all ranks from the inception of this celebrated unit in His Majesty's Fighting Forces. This collection must be unique, for a number of these most interesting studies are the only known originals in the world. The whole of two sides of Sir Robert's study is taken up with these prints which commence with one of two soldiers showing how the men were dressed years ago, and going on step by step, year by year, until we come to the present day. A great number have been painted by the late Mr A.P. Simpkins, the well-known painter of army types. In the dining room are some really very fine paintings, the most striking being the one on the walls of Lady Walker, by C. Sims, which is here reproduced.

[Photo in middle of article of Lady Walker, by Herbert Speed, York. She is dressed in a summer dress, holding a sun hat, and seems to be in front of Sand Hutton Hall, but it is very faint, and the building is mostly obscured.]

On the left is a full-length portrait, also by Sims, of Sir Robert, the present baronet. There is also a painting of Sir Robert's great-great grandfather, James Walker, Esq., and one of the third Baronet, the father of the present holder of the **** in his uniform. There is one of the Hon. Mrs Ives, who married the Major-General Ives of the Horse Guards, upon whom I have previously remarked. This portrait is by Clauson. The second Baronet, Sir James Robert Walker, is here in the handsome uniform of the Yorkshire Hussars, and his wife - who was a Heron-Maxwell - these latter two fine portraits were painted by the President of the Royal Academy.

It is in this room, the dining room, where the portrait of Colonel Childers, who made a lengthy stay at Sand Hutton is hung, a very suitable room for it to be in! Passing out of this room into the hall one's eye is attracted by one of the largest and finest heads of a Cape Buffalo it is possible to find and then we look at the representatives in two glass cases of two enormous poke caught in the lake in front of the house by Major Percy Stewart, who has shot and fished in every part of the world. The fine chairs in the hall have recently come from Beverley Hall, the residence of "the Admiral," who died not long ago. There is also in the hall a painting of His Majesty's ship "Walker," a destroyer named by the Admiralty after him, which is regarded as a great compliment.

Mounting the handsome oak staircase we find more portraits. One of the first baronet, one of Alice Walker (nee Goodwin), wife of James Walker Esq., F.R.S., of Springhead, Hull (by Allan Ramsey), one of the same gentleman, painted, in 1768, by Pickering. One of W. Thornton Esq., brother-in-law of Mr John Porter, of Kingston-upon-Hull, and one of Sarah Thornton, his wife. A very striking portrait is of James Walker, Springhead and Beverley, who was born 1753, and died in 1829, as a boy. He is wearing a beautiful painted scarlet coat, which almost tells you the texture of it, and is carrying an old-fashioned hunting crop.

Sir Robert Walker has a number of interests in his estate, but there are two outstanding features - his Fire Brigade and his light railway. In the former he takes the liveliest interest, the Sand Hutton Fire Brigade was originally commenced as a hobby by his father, the late Sir James Walker, 3rd Baronet, who after returning from an active career took up the subject to benefit those who were beyond the ordinary radius of a fire station.

[At bottom of page is a photograph entitled "Sand Hutton Fire Brigade" by Herbert Speed, York. The caption says, "Major Sir Robert Walker, Bart., is centre". The photo is faint, but shows the fire brigade - about 20 men - and what looks like two fire engines outside Sand Hutton Hall.]

Sir Robert has followed in his father's footsteps in this respect, and has organised what is probably the most efficient local fire brigade in this country. He has built, in close proximity to his house, not more than fifty yards from it - a large garage in which he keeps three fire engines with all the proper equipment for immediate service.

The three fire engines are typical of the advance made in the science of engineering and are all made by the famous firm of Merryweathers, of London, the oldest, and, I believe, the original, bears the date 1899, and was used by Sir Robert's father. It is of the twist bar type and consumes coal, but nevertheless a perfectly safe reserve engine. The next in age is one bearing the date 1915, which is also a coal steamer, but with much greater lifting power, and is, like its predecessor, kept as a reserve engine. The one in regular use is fitted with an oil driven Diesel engine, which is the acme of perfection for the purposes for which it is intended. All the firemen are directly employed by Sir Robert Walker on his estate and to use his own words "If I was to blow my whistle, before you could say a word, they would be round here like bluebottles"!

To give you some idea of the interest he takes in his fire brigade, I may say that he has lately been awarded the twenty years' long service medal for fire brigade work. Everything for quick service is maintained at Sand Hutton, men are always working in the garage so that in a fraction of a second the prepared fuel is ready for ignition. The motor lorry is kept tuned up ready to draw the engine up the steep banks of the Yorkshire Wolds and as if to leave nothing to chance, each fire engine is fitted to take a pole so that the harnessed horses can be with equal facility attached to any of the three engines.

In the year 1924 some important changes took place concerning the local fire brigade organisation in Yorkshire. A large meeting was held in Leeds, in December that year, at which it was decided, on the proposal of Sir Robert Walker, to divide Yorkshire into two districts, the West and the East and North Ridings, which scheme was immediately approved. At a second meeting, at York, in the same year, the North and East Riding District was officially inaugurated, Sir Robert Walker being elected President and the representative on the National Central Council. At the present time Sir Robert represents the whole of Yorkshire in this latter capacity.

Sir Robert takes a tremendous amount of interest in every department of the Headquarters Committee of the N.F.B.A. He is in every sub-committee, Widows' and Orphans' Funds, "Fire Protection" etc. The Sand Hutton Fire Brigade turns out for practice every week, which is, I am told, three times a month more than the majority of local fire brigades, and a map showing the large area from which it can be summoned is hung in a prominent position. This area has been considerably increased since Lord Irwin, who owns the large estate on the Wolds at Garrowby, left this country to take up his onerous duties as Viceroy of India. One of his latest thoughts for his own mansion, and those humbler ones of his numerous tenants, before leaving England, was to place his property , so far as fire is concerned, in the hands of Major Sir Robert Walker for safe keeping.

Altogether there are now fewer than eight miles of this eighteen-inch gauge railway, the S.H.L.R. as it is proudly called. It runs in many directions over the estate and has termini at Sand Hutton and at Warthill, adjoining the London and North Eastern Railway Station at that station, with branches to Claxton, Barnby Farm, and Sand Hutton Hall, and a complete system of sidings to help all tenants.

Four locomotives are used and there are not less than seventy-five waggons and a brake van, each of the trucks having a capacity of two tons tare weight.

The most astonishing thing about this railway is that is has a passenger coach of just over thirty-one feet long and has a width of four-and-a- half feet, is divided into three compartments and will accommodate thirty-six people! It is fitted with vacuum brakes, and altogether forms and ideal method of travelling. This line, which is run under the approval of the Ministry of Transport, conveys market produce from various places on the estate to Warthill Station or Claxton, and is used by the busy brickyard on the property to convey every brick manufactured there to Warthill, most of the consignments coming from there direct into Hull and elsewhere for building purposes.

Needless to remark, Sir Robert Walker, in recognition of his interests in railway affairs, is an active member of the Institute of Transport. What is a marvel to me, after seeing all these things at Sand Hutton, is that Sir Robert has not a fleet of miniature aeroplanes for the convenience of his tenants. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute, and on the Committee of the Empire Settlement Scheme.

Never before has it been my good fortune to meet a more versatile landowner. Anything which interests him he thoroughly masters and there are few things upon which he is not an expert. As one more example of his capabilities, a March "The Esmerelda" composed by Sir Robert Walker has been constantly played in Shanghai by the bans of the 1st Green Howards, and the drums of Sir Robert's old battalion of the Coldstream Guards when they were stationed in China. Moreover, as this composition can also be played as a dance, it has also proved one of the most popular tunes played at Biarritz in sunny France, owing to its Franco-Spanish theme.

Sir Robert is also a water colour painter of considerable merit.

A fine example as a landowner has been set at Sand Hutton to meet the housing shortage in rural districts. During the last four years Sir Robert has built at Sand Hutton no less than eleven new cottages, and is hoping to building more at his other village of Claxton.

In addition to the ownership of Sand Hutton and Claxton, Sir Robert also owns the Scoresby Estate, and property at Bossall, North Dalton, Dunnington, Holtby, Gate Helmsley, Kexby, Stockton-on-the-Forest, and Warthill, and the Springhead Estate near Hull, together with property in Manchester. It is impossible to enumerate the population of these different places, but Sand Hutton and Claxton number somewhere about 500.

Needless to remark that there must be a "Sand Hutton and Claxton Chronicle", published quarterly so as not to compete with the Hull "Times". In this periodical is recorded the doings of the Church, Chapel and Parochial news, cricket, football, hockey, rifle shooting - there is a fine open-air miniature rifle range in a quarry on the estate. The Fire Brigade's activities are chronicled as are also those of the light railway. There is a Sand Hutton and Claxton Women's Institute under the presidency of Lady Walker and a Sand Hutton Ladies' Athletics Club. The cricket ground at Sand Hutton is quite one of the finest and best kept private pitches in the county. Lady Walker's great personal interest in the Women's Club, Nursing Association and many other branches of local welfare work is of untold value to the community.

I will end my comments on Sand Hutton Hall with a quotation from Shakespeare ("Hamlet"), which seems most applicable to one so interested in fire brigade work:-

"And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons. I have heard
The cock, that trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill sounding throat
Awake the god of day, and at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine; and of the truth herein
This present object made probation."


Article by
GJM Fitzjohn, B.Sc., F.R.Hist.Soc.
transcribed from The Hull Mail, May 26, 1928
transcribed by Andy Kerridge ©2003.

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