HELMSLEY, (or HELMSLEY UPON THE BLACK MOOR), a parish in the wapentake of Rydale, 6 miles from Kirkbymoorside, 16 from Malton, and 23 from York; formerly a place noted for stately Elms, in the midst of which the Druids on the hill, still bearing their name, performed their mystic rites. Market, Saturday. Fairs, May 19, July 16, Oct. 1 and 2, Nov. 5 mid 6, for horned cattle, sheep, linen and woollen cloth, &c.; if the fairs for horned cattle fall on a Monday, the sheep fairs will he held on the Saturday preceding. Principal Inn, Black Swan.

The town is situated on the declivity of a small eminence, gently sloping towards the banks of the Rye, from whence the wapentake derives its name. The houses are mostly built of stone, and the inhabitants, according to the population returns of 1821, amount to 1520. The market day is on Saturday. The parish of Helmsley may rank amongst the most extensive parishes in the kingdom. It is more than 16 miles from N. to S. and comprizes 6 distinct villages, with the valley of Bilsdale, which stretches out to the hills in Cleveland. The adjacent country is exceedingly fertile, and is interspersed with extensive woods and rich valleys. A rivulet running through the town of Helmsley, still retains the old Saxon name of Boro' Beck, and Camden remarks of it, that in his time the water disappeared, at about a mile from the town, and rose again at Harum, a few miles below, which phenomenon still takes place. Formerly the manufacture of linen from yarn, spun on the hand wheel from the distaff, was carried on here to a considerable extent, but the introduction of machinery has destroyed this domestic system, and introduced in its stead a process of manufactures more conducive to national wealth, but less condusive to public morals. This change has deprived Helmsley of its manufacture, and rendered the inhabitants almost exclusively dependent upon agriculture. There is here a court for the recovery of debts under 40s. and a charity school on the national plan, supported by C. Duncombe, Esq. of Duncombe Park, where 80 children receive gratuitous instruction. The parish church is an antique edifice, dedicated to All Saints; and the living is a vicarage, of which C. Duncombe, Esq. is the patron, and the Rev. G. Dixon the incumbent. The other places of worship are, a Friends' Meeting-house, and a Methodist Chapel. Helmsley was the favourite scene of the sports and revelries of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, after he had retired from the court and cabinet of Charles II. and the neighbouring town of Kirkbymoorside was the scene of his humiliation, after profligacy had wasted his fortune, and dissipation ruined his health. Here, in the worst inn's worst room, he breathed his Last.

Alas? how changed from him,
That life of pleasure and that soul of whim.

In what part of the burial ground this fallen companion of princes was interred is not known, but in the parish register of Kirkby it is recorded, that on the 17th of April, 1687, "George Villaus lord dooke of bookingham," was buried here. Helmsley Castle, built by the noble family of Ross, is near to the town, and is distinguished for having been the ancient baronial residence of its lords, and for having stood a siege in 1644, in favour of the King against the Parliamentary forces, under Lord Fairfax, and surrendered on the 20th of November. Soon after, in common with the other castles of Yorkshire, this castle was dismantled by order of Parliament. On the western side the remains of a range of apartments, constituting the mansion house and offices still exist, and sufficient of the ruins of the Keep remain to indicate its former strength. The surrounding scenery is beautiful and picturesque in the extreme, and the scattered masses of building, seen through the rich foliage of the stately trees, and the still more stately double gateway, have long formed a favourite subject for the painter's pencil.

Duncombe Park, the seat of Charles Duncombe, Esq. is situated in this parish and within one mile of the town. The mansion house which was designed by Vanbrugh, but executed by Wakefield, and completed in 1718, is in the doric order of architecture, and the front in particular is esteemed a happy specimen of architectural skill and combination. The hall is a magnificent room sixty feet long and forty wide, surrounded by fourteen lofty Corinthian pillars and ornamented with a number of busts of the Greek and Latin poets, with large medallions of the twelve Caesars. The saloon is eighty-eight feet by twenty-four, and is formed into three divisions by Ionic pillars, and elegantly adorned with antique statues and family pictures. Communicating with the saloon to the north is a handsome dining room, and to the south in elegant suite of apartments an appropriately furnished; but the most interesting part of the furniture is derived from the pencils of eminent painters, and consist in the valuable pictures which ornament the interior of this superb dwelling. The grounds are laid out with an elegance of taste equal to that which has been displayed in the selection of the paintings. The garden adjoining to the house has a terrace which affords many delightful prospects. From hence is seen an Ionic Temple, which itself commands a variety of landscapes; a beautiful valley winds at the base of a noble amphitheatre of hanging wood, and the opposite plantations, which spread over a fine extent of hill, fringe the shore of the Rye, which runs through the valley and forms almost in its centre a charming cascade. Nothing can be more truly beautiful than the assemblage of objects seen in a bird's eye view from this spot. This view is beheld with delightful variation in walking along the terrace to the Tuscan Temple, as fresh scenery breaks upon the eye almost at every step. The temple situated at the point of a bold promontory ornamented with stately plantations and projected into a winding valley, commands the most sublime and beautiful scenes. The valley, the river and the cascade, are seen beneath; and in the front the prospect extends and becomes beautifully variegated. The castle, Helmsley church, and the tower appear in the midst; and the valley here forming into a rich sequestered lawn is well contrasted with the rougher visage of the hilly moors which are seen in the distance. Such is the picturesque description which Young and Hinderwell give of the paradisaical scenes of Duncombe park. The beautiful monastic ruin of Rivaux Abbey. only two miles distant, adds to the interest of the vicinity; and four miles to the SW. at the entrance to the vale of York, stands the companion ruin of Byland Abbey.

Extract from Langdale's Topographical Dictionary:

Helmsley, called by Bede Ulmetum, is a small town situated on the east- side of Hambleton-Hills, or Hambleton-Blackmoor, and is frequently called Helmsley-Blackeymoor. It had formerly the protection of a Castle on the west, which, according to Camden, was built by Robert de Ross, and called Castle Fursam. It was besieged in 1644, by Sir Thomas Fairfax, and surrendered to the arms of parliament Nov. 21, and by their order soon afterward dismantled. The ruins, yet remaining, consist of a lofty Tower and some other small detached parts, with a Gateway from the south, situated on an eminence surrounded with a double moat. The old Tower and Helmsley Church are very conspicuous objects from the Terrace at Duncombe-Park. Helmsley formerly belonged to the Duke of Buckingham, which he obtained by marriage of the heiress of the Duke of Rutland. After his death it came into the possession of his son, the well-known George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who sold it, along with the whole of his estates in the parishes of Helmsley and Kirkdale, to Sir Charles Duncombe, ancestor of the present Charles Duncombe, Esq. of Duncombe-Park.

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