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The History of Helmsley Walled Garden


Helmsley Walled Garden

Helmsley Walled Garden


Helmsley Estate was bought by Charles Duncombe, a great financier from the City of London. He paid £90,000 for 40,000 acres in 1694 – which at that time was a huge amount of money, but he was one of the three riches Commoners in the country at the time. He occasionally stayed in the castle, but his life was based in London.

When he died in 1711, he had not married or had children, so the estate passed onto his sister. She didn’t want the estate as she already had a substantial estate elsewhere in the country, so she passed the Helmsley Estate onto her 23 year old son, Thomas Brown. He changed his name to Thomas Duncombe and set about making Yorkshire his family home. He built the big house at Duncombe Park, and when he died in 1746 his son, Thomas Duncombe the second, inherited the estate, extending the park in 1750’s to include an innovative new Terrace overlooking Rievaulx Abbey.

The first walled garden, which produced fruit, vegetables and cut flowers for the big house, had been built around the same time as the house itself. It had been built down by the River Rye, but was washed away in the great flood of 1759 along with the pack horse bridge at Rievaulx and many other local structures. It was rebuilt on higher ground, alongside the Castle, where we sit today.

Dating back to 1759, Helmsley Walled Garden nestles between the Grade One listed landscape of Duncombe Park and the scheduled ancient monument that is Helmsley Castle.

By the mid 1800’s the walls contained glasshouses and structures for growing exotic fruits not normally found in England. There were about 20 full time gardeners working within its walls, feeding the big house. The Duncombe’s became Lord Feversham’s and then Earls of Feversham.

After all this good fortune, the early years of the 20th century brought about a change in fortunes. In 1914 the gardeners responded to the call to serve their country and went off for their great adventure, safe in the knowledge they would be back by Christmas, but none of them returned.

The story continued when the first Earl died in 1915, the second earl was killed in the war in 1916 and so the third Earl inherited the Estate at the tender age of ten. His mother felt that her son should not be brought up in the big house, and so the Trustees arranged that it was let out as a girl’s school from the early 1920’s. Since the school had no need of a walled garden requiring 20 gardeners, it was abandoned.

When the last Earl died in 1963, there was no son to inherit. The estate couldn’t pass to his daughter, and so a male heir had to be found. A cousin, aged 18, was summoned back from South Africa to take charge of his inheritance.When the school’s lease expired in the 1980’s, the school moved elsewhere and the family moved back into the big house and began to restore it to it’s former glory.

After the war, there had been some attempts to use the walled garden. A market garden had operated from within it’s walls. A local greengrocer had also used some of the buildings to grow fruit and vegetables to be sold from his shop in the market place. In 1984, it was abandoned and fell into dereliction. The restoration began in 1994 to restore the garden back to its original Victorian beauty and productivity.

In the 1990’s Alison Ticehurst felt that this garden should be used for local people and she had a vision to make it a healing garden offering horticultural therapy and a tranquil environment for those who need it.

Today the mission of Helmsley Walled Garden is to conserve and restore the fabric of this historically important walled garden and to return it to full productivity, incidentally conserving old, rare and endangered garden plants, using environmentally sustainable and where possible fully organic techniques.  The garden offers many different services to a wide range of people and will, we hope, continue to grow and develop.