The history of Aldwark Manor

From Romans to Dambusters

Aldwark is a village and civil parish within a conservation area of the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire situated on the river Ure about 14 miles from York. The name derives from the old Saxon- ald weorc meaning old fort and probably refers to the Roman fort guarding the ferry crossing on the old Roman road to York that passed through here. The village is mentioned in the doomsday book as adawera and belonged to Ligulf in the Bulford Hundred. It was handed over to Count Robert of Montain in 1086.

The descendants of Sir William Fitzwilliam, Marshal to the army of William the Conqueror, inherited the estate through marriage to the daughter of Henry Frankland of Aldwark, for whose family the present Manor was eventually built. Subsequently Lady Frankland Russell commissioned the present church of St Stephen in 1852 which was consecrated on 7th November 1854.

The ‘township of Aldwark’, when owned by Lord Walsingham, came under the hammer on 29th May 1911. It consisted of a Manor House, 13 farms and smallholdings, one with a public house, a school with house, and 18 cottages, totalling 2.385 acres. At the time, a Mr William Mason rented three farms, each with houses and buildings and a total of 747 acres – all for £787 a year. The Manor was first sold separately in 1950, and the rest of the village is now part of a trust after the death of the well-liked Lord Ancaster.

In 1865 Lord Walsingham commissioned the building of a magnificent residence as a wedding present to his eldest daughter. The finest craftsmen of the day were employed and their work particularly the beams and the plaster works took 5 years to complete. In the early 1900’s possession passed from the Walsingham family to the Gunters who used it as a county home.

Requisitioned by the home office at the start of the Second World War, the manor provided accommodation for the Canadian Air Force who flew from the nearby air base RAF Linton. While staying at Aldwark, wing commander Guy Gibson spent time planning the legendary “Dam Busters” raid. After the war, the Gunter family returned but decided against taking up permanent residence. It remained empty for a period of time, until it was acquired by the County Council, who turned it into a school for young offenders.

In 1978 a group of businessmen recognised the potential of the manor and it’s 37 acres of land, they planted 63 types of trees and embarked on a period of modernisation to a country house hotel. The golf course was laid out sympathetically to preserve the natural features and to take advantage of the natural water hazards. In 2002 The Manor was acquired by the hotel chain Marston and underwent progressive improvements whilst preserving its original features, The group was sold in 2006 and for the next 13 years the hotel went through various ownership until June 2019 when it was purchased by a local family business , Depho Estates Ltd who, recognising the potential of this magnificent building commenced a multi-million pound sympathetic refurbishment program whereby the Manor has been completely restored (we found the plaster work in reception !) as at May 2021. The golf course is currently being altered and upgraded as is the spa.

The Conjouring Stone

The Conjouring stone was discovered on the Estate in 1980 … A narrow lane on the south side of the village leads past Aldwark Manor and down towards the old ferry crossing over the river Ure. Just outside the village there is a dip in the road known as ‘Hollows Hole’, where a low bridge crosses a stream flowing westward over fields to the river. On the east side of the bridge the stream flows through a small copse known as Manor wood and here, on the north bank of the stream can be found the large boulder known as the Conjuring Stone.

For many years Hollows Hole was regarded as a haunted place, some believing a troubled ghost hung about the spot, whilst others suspected the place was bewitched. Either way the supernatural presence caused much trouble and fear ; the horses would be spooked on the bridge or refuse to cross it, and unexplained ‘accidents’ occurred in the vicinity. Eventually the villagers decided something must be done, but as Aldwark had no church or priest at that time they had to look further afield for help.

A priest ‘experienced’ in such matters was brought in and performed the rite of exorcism in the area around the bridge and stream. With chanting and ceremony he ‘conjured’ the spirit, bringing it under his control before transfixing it under a flat rock located alongside the stream and trapping it there forever. From that day on the stone became known as the Conjuring or Witches Stone.

Conjuring Stone “Who knows if this stone is still here. Or indeed whether it might be legitimate TMA fare. But let’s be optimistic. It’s a big stone with magical connotations. It’s named at this grid reference on some old maps.

A field adjoining the site of the mansion is still known by the name of Chapel-garth. A short distance from Chapel-garth in a hollow place, is a large stone called the “conjuring stone.”

Doom’d for a certain time to walk the night, And for the day confin’d to fast in fires; Till the foul crimes done in his days of nature Were burnt and purged away,”* From Vallis Eboracensis by Thomas Gill (1852).