Duncombe Park, Yorkshire, England. Further historical information.



DUNCOMBE PARK, (the seat of Charles Duncombe, Esq.) in the township of Rievalx, and parish of Helmsley; ¾ mile SW. from Helmsley.

This noble seat of the Duncombe family was built from a design of Sir John Vanburgh. " The character of the building is Doric, the east front is rather heavy, but the west presents a good specimen of that order. Here is a noble terrace, terminated by two handsome circular temples, from which is a most beautiful prospect. Embossomed in trees appears the noble tower of Helmsley castle, and near it, occasionally, peeps forth part of the town; and deep beneath is seen a beautiful valley, with the river Rye winding among hanging woods. On entering the hall the spectator is struck with the general air of greatness it conveys; here is a fine piece of sculpture called the Dog of Alcibiades, said to be the work of Myron;" Dallaway in his description of statuary and sculpture, says " it was discovered at Monte Cagnuolo, and procured by Henry Constantine Jennings, Esq. who brought it to England, and from whom it was transferred to Mr. Duncombe for a 1000 guineas (one guinea = 21 shillings -CH). It ranks among the five famous dogs of antiquity." Here is also the famous statue called Discobulus, which, says Gilpin, "is esteemed the first statute in England. It exhibits on every side the justest proportions, and the most pleasing attitudes." "Notwithstanding the prejudice and iliberal language often used against the fame of Sir John Vanburgh as a builder, he certainly contrived to give an air of grandeur to his structures, rarely to be met with. The saloon here (now library) may be adduced among others in proof of the assertion, it possessing an uncommon air of magnificence." It is 87 feet long, and 20 broad, thrown into three divisions by ionic columns, and adorned with four antique statutes of Apollo, Bacchus, Mars, and Mercury, also two good busts of Cicero and Horace. The paintings, which are by the first masters, and in the highest estimation, are very numerous:- they have been collected with great judgement, and the easy access to the seeing of them say Dayes, is an honourable testimony of the liberal spirit of their present owner. In this splendid collection of paintings are the scourging of Christ, painted by old Palmer, in successful competition with Titian; the head of St. Paul by Leonardo de Vinci, esteemed the finest work of that great painter; a magnificent Land-storm, by Nichola Pousin; and a Candle-light Scene (old woman and girl) by Rubens, purchased, it is said, for 1500 guineas. The lovers of poetry will, we presume, feel no small gratification from the perusal of the following poetical description, (never before printed) by the late Rev. Dr. Drake, addressed to Thomas Duncombe, Esq.

Vos sapere, et solos aio bene vivere, quorum
Conspictur nitidis, fundata pecunia, villis, -Horat.

Attend my muse, inspire the artless strains,
And leave awhile those favor'd southern plains:
Indulge no more the Poet's rapt'rous theme,
Where Thames meandring, rolls his silver stream;
Twicknam's cool grot, or Chiswick's shady bowers,
Or where fam'd Windsor rears his royal towers;
Aid me to sing, in these more northern climes,
Groves yet unknown, and scenes untold in rhymes;
Oh lend me Denham's pleasing fire, and skill,
Helmsley shall shine in song like Cooper's Hill;
Here art, and nature, join their friendly aid,
Rise in Rotund, or stretch in sylvan shade.
On stately columns see the fabric rise,
And Babel-like insult th'impending skies;
Tho' strong, yet light, tho' massive, yet not coarse,
With all Palladio's ease, and Vanburgh's force;
Within whose walls immortal Shakespeare shines,
In Garrick's* action, and in Hogarth's lines;
Th' expressive features speak the tortur'd breast,
And all the savage tyrant stands confest:
Where Saturn's statue bids the iron shade
Point the swift minutes, as they rise and fade:
View the long terrace stretch'd on either hand,
At whose extremes the Roman Temples stand;
Here various objects in perspective rise,
Burst on the sight, and strike the wond'ring eyes:
Extensive groves, that rising by degrees,
Form a grand Circus 'midst the sloping trees;
Whilst through the vale the serpentizing flood
Falls in cascades, and murmurs through the wood:
Scenes such as these, not Poussin could design,
Nor Wotton's genius form with rule, or line;
Nature's chief master-piece! whose every grace
No muse could fancy, nor no pencil trace;
Such as in fabl'd tempe's fertile plains,
Still shine in song, and live in classic strains.
Mark where in ruins lies the east retreat
Of motley Villiers** -once the rich, and great:
He who'erst liv'd in Charles' careless Court,
In hours of pleasure, and in scenes of sport;
Who from his Monarch stole each power to please,
Lull'd in the softness of that age of ease;
With ev'ry vice, and virtue in excess,
Still in extremes, in plenty, or distress:
Here sunk in sorrow, and depriv'd of all,
They saw him greatly live, and meanly fall.
View from yon summit nobler scenes arise,
Romantic scenes, that steal upon the eyes:
Nature's wild efforts! - where each ruder part
Must charm beyond the rigid rules of art:
Projecting rocks that o'er the vale suspend,
Along whose sides the waving woods extend;
Gloomy recess! when in that darkling time,
The monkish muse first halted into rhyme;
Here suckling Clio chose her silent seat,
And dawning science fix'd her rude retreat:
Now low in ruins lies the learned pile,***
Whose gothic seats ill-omen'd birds defile.
The murm'ring Rye that rolls his streams along,
Here seems to mourn in sympathy of song;
While the brown ivy curls its wreaths around,
And hollow echo dies in solemn sound.
Hail gen'rous youth! on whom kind heav'n bestows
These seats of solitude, and calm repose;
You, who have all Romania's villas known,
Yet seen no spot more noble than your own.
long may the scenes thus wild, without a waste,
Amuse your leisure, and employ your taste;
Bid art with nature dignify the place,
To Gothic rudeness, join each attic grace:
See at your word the new Creation spring,
Which some more able Bard in distant times shall sing.

Womersley, Yorkshire, 1749.

* The celebrated picture of Garrick in Richard III.
** George Viliers, Duke of Buckingham.
*** Rievalx Abbey.

[Description(s) edited mainly from various 19th century sources by Colin Hinson. ©2010]