Also known as the Wolds, East Riding is the most hospitable area of Yorkshire. It’s full of little historic towns (market villages, really.) The undulating landscape makes for picturesque photography, and Bridlington Bay sports Victorian homes, mixed with the charming cottages of local fisherman. More than a few towns, such as Beverley and Hull boast fascinating history along with real esthetic character.
Beverley is situated right in the mid-section of this portion of Yorkshire and its history dates from as far back as the eighth century. John, the Bishop of York had used this old town as a retreat before being canonized or given his title. Much like York, it is a medieval town with Georgian buildings interspersed, making it an attractive sanctuary.
The dominant building is Beverley Minster which gives the town a magnificent skyline. It was built in part, by the King of Wessex in 937 and its magnificence is only outdone by Fountains Abbey and equaled by York Minster. Its Gothic architecture is exemplary and stunning. The nave itself dates back to the 1300s, along with sixteenth century choir stalls with sixty-eight misericords. On the north side of the alter is the well-crafted fourteenth century tomb of Lady Idoine Percy- referred to as the Percy tomb. (She died in 1365.) You’ll also see the Fridstol (Peace Chair) which dates most likely from 924-939 during the reign of King Athelstan of Wessex. People allowed to sit on the Fridstol were granted thirty days sanctuary.
In the adjoining corridor, St. Mary’s Church, numerous stone carvings from the medieval period are housed- the largest collection in Britain. The most famous is sculpted on the doorway of St. Michael’s Chapel of a rabbit, much like the one in Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland.
A short distance south of Beverley, outside Cottingham, Skidby Mill is worth a quick look to get an idea of the cultural life of East Riding. It is officially “The Museum of East Riding Rural Life” and the actual grain mill has been in existence, running continuously for two hundred years. The Wolds were by all rights and purposes the sole source of wholemeal flour for Yorkshire with over two hundred windmills throughout the county. By 1900, most had fallen into terrible disrepair and Skidby is the only one remaining having been built in 1821!
Kingston-upon-Hull is only a little further south of there, right at the mouth of the Humber inlet. It is definitely a thriving fishing port but also a marvel of medieval restoration. The Princes’ Dock is an inspirational beauty and retained, cobbled, winding streets combined with red brick houses here and there are absolutely charming.
If you visit the museums- Maritime Museum, Streetlife Transport Museum and Hands on History- you may wind up an expert on the region but the William Wilberforce House on High Street should not be missed. Built circa 1660, it is now a museum dedicated to William’s memory. Its exhibits are varied but the history of the Wilberforce family will capture your imagination.
William Wilberforce (1758-1833) became one of the first abolitionists in England after the Pitt (William Pitt, the younger, of course!) administration encouraged his speeches starting in 1784 with a public address he gave in York. He had been educated at Cambridge but was a natural orator and he led an illustrious and scrupulous campaign. This, of course, made veritable enemies for him by the obvious opposition- slave importers. His bill to abolish the slave trade became law in 1807.
Maister House is a quick look-see at 160 High Street. It is an archetype of a merchant’s residence which was restored in 1743 and is the only true surviving example. It is let as offices and looks rather sedate but has a marvelous staircase in the interior.
East of Hull (as it is called today), at Hedon, Old Hall is worth a short visit but prior arrangements must be made. This Grade II listed house on 2-4 Fletchergate was erected in 1620 by Sir John Waterland. It is a recent restoration starting from the year 2000 and renovations may still be ongoing. Please contact Mr. George Head at 01482 899472
Burton Constable Hall, still inhabited by the Constable family, is northeast (14 miles) of Beverly and situated in Skirlaugh surrounded by beautifully landscaped parkland. ‘Capability’ Brown was the landscape architect of the three hundred acres, of course. The mansion itself was built in 1570 by the Constable family who had been leading landowners from the thirteenth century. The Elizabethan architecture, which incorporates mullioned and corbelled windows became eclectic through the myriad of additions throughout three centuries, creating Georgian and Victorian interiors.
It houses a marvelous collection of Chippendale Furniture, family portraits from the sixteenth century, as well as prints, textiles and drawings which belong to Leeds City Art Galleries.
Now it will be necessary to go to the farthest north regions of East Riding toward the coast to get to Burton Agnes Hall. Take the A165 to Bridlington, then over to Driffield on the A614.
Burton Agnes is an emulative late-Elizabethan mansion- along with two prime semi-circular towers festooned with mullioned windows, topped with parapets. It is also still inhabited by descendants of the Henry Griffith family who built it between 1598- 1610. It’s features are an alabaster chimney (a cameo shot of it is in the South and East Yorkshire album), an impressively carved oak staircase and the library contains paintings of impressionists such as Derain, Renoir and Augustus John. Extensive landscaped and woodland gardens abound with other delightful surprises. T- 01262 490324
Heading back toward Bridlington and toward Flamborough Head, Sewerby Hall is sitting in prime view overlooking Bridlington Bay in fifty acres of parkland and it dates back to 1715. This Georgian gem is the Museum of East Yorkshire and contains nearly everything covering history, archeology, art and an Amy Johnson Room full of her memorabilia. (Amy Johnson is the most famous female aviator in England and was the first!) Surrounding the house is a nineteenth century Orangery, a walled Old English and Rose gardens, a children’s zoo, golf, putting and clifftop walks. T- 01262 677874
Before you head west for Sledmere House, if you are into wild life in natural habitats, you’ll want to see Bempton at Flamborough Head. Bempton is a steep slope of chalk cliffs where a seabird breeding colony is thriving. May, June and July are the best months for checking it out, of course. You’ll see many different species, including puffins. Take binoculars with you and my suggestion is not to disturb the environment and be as unobtrusive as you can.
Sledmere House is ten miles west of Burton Agnes, off the A166. It’s been at this location, in various forms, since medieval times, but the present manor house was designed and built by Sir Christopher Sykes the Second Baronet of Sledmere. In his journal which was dated June 17th 1751 he wrote ( I ) “laid the first stone of the new house at Sledmere”. It is now the home of the Eighth Baronet, Sir Tatton Sykes.
Joseph Rose, the most famous plasterer of his day executed the interior decorations of the Drawing Room and various others on the first floor, which are most magnificent. The Turkish room on the ground floor was designed by Armenian artist David Ohanessian and is absolutely exquisite. The interior of the library is second in elaboration only to Castle Howard. Some photos can be seen in my album but you can see more by visiting their web site at:
The last house on my list is no longer a residence but has been turned into one of the most beautiful gardens in Yorkshire. Just off the A1079 at the York-Hull Rd junction in Pocklington, Burnby Hall boasts a beautiful outside botanical paradise. The house has been turned into the Stewart Collection Museum and has outdoor concerts all summer long. This tour will be a wonderful finis to your Yorkshire tour. www.burnbyhallgardens.com e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Lots of hugs and kisses from