Magnificent sea views: another what might have been

At the very end of the 19th century a number of gentlemen including MPs and a Fellow of the Royal Society formed a company (Ravenscar Estate Limited sometimes called Peak Estate Limited) which purchased the 800 acre Raven Hill Estate on the North Yorkshire coast between Whitby and Scarborough. Their purpose was to transform their renamed property, Ravenscar, into a first class seaside watering place.

The location had a number of attractions – ‘between sea and moor’, ‘romantic situation’, ‘bracing air’, ‘elevated position’, ‘magnificent sea views’, ‘splendid cliffs’; all of which Ravenscar Estate Limited were keen to promote. The site had an existing railway station to bring people in, and also included the old Hall which was soon sold off and turned into a Hotel. The plan was to develop the resort at the same time as selling plots and parcels of plots to other gentlemen to invest in. The plots would be built on adding up to shops, marine villas and lodging houses ‘for which there is a great demand on this favourite and fashionable coast’. Over the next few years these plots were sold on gradually through auctions (often with a free luncheon and sometimes even with a special train laid on) so as not to deflate the price by offering too many at one time. By showing that other gentlemen had confidence in the scheme, the intention was to entice others to get involved too and make sure they didn’t miss out.

NEW WATERING-PLACE FOR YORKSHIRE. Important Property Sale. (BY OUR OWN REPORTER)
The first practical steps towards the creation of a -new watering-place on the Yorkshire coast, near Robin Hood’s Bay, were taken yesterday, when an estate known as Ravenscar was offered for sale in building lots, at the Raven Hill Hotel about half a mile from Peak Station. The site is a picturesque one, and access to it is obtained by the Scarborough and Whitby Railway, which brings the visitor to within a couple of hundred yards from the summit of the cliffs. Standing on the pretty castellated garden terraces in front of Raven Hall, one obtains a charming view. .. Immediately beneath the terraces at Ravenscar, and extending away south as far as Hayburn Wyke, are gigantic cliffs, the highest, with one exception, on the Yorkshire coast. To the geologist many an interesting problem is presented by the dislocation, of the strata, especially on the line of the great fault, where there is a three of fully four hundred feet. The undercliff extends for several miles along the coast, and gives to it an unusual appearance of rugged grandeur. About these cliffs hundreds of sea-gulls have their homes, and foxes and rabbits by scores have also chosen to make their burrows here. Ravenscar, which now consists of little save pastoral land, has a history of its own. The commanding situation of the Peak Hill was seized upon by the Romans for a military outlook camp in the days of Constantine, and later it was occupied by the Danes. Indeed, the names Raven Hall and Ravenscar have been chosen from the fact that the Danes here set up their standard, the national emblem of the Danes being a raven. It was a happy conception that led a number of public-spirited and enterprising gentlemen to form a company for the purpose of conversing this charming spot into a watering-place, and, judging from the keen competition there was amongst the bidders yesterday, their opinion that the place was capable of development was evidently shared by others. A visage standing high up on the cliffs, with the sea on the one side and hemmed in on the other by an extensive tract of moor- land, ought to be a healthy spot. Indeed, few places can boast the combined luxury of refreshing winds from the sea and exhilarating breezes scented from the moors…When their scheme is completed, there will be an esplanade running along the summit of the cliffs, and abutting upon this will be thirty or forty villas. Other houses will also be erected upon roads to be constructed in the proposed village. At present a few long piles of sods, which have been cut out to mark the roads, and a number of staked-out lots for building sites, are the only visible signs of the great transformation about to take place…
Leeds Mercury, 8 July 1896

There is a lot of mention of Scarborough and the idea of creating a rival or complimentary resort nearby, and also how resorts have been created successfully on the south coast of England. There is much talk of ‘inland’ residents especially in growing towns wanting to access the coast and its special qualities, and an expectations that this demand will grow.

It’s clear from the regional newspapers of the time that gentlemen with money to invest from industrious West Yorkshire were one of the a target audiences for the company. By 1899 the roads were laid out, reservoirs were built to provide a water supply from moorland springs, a drainage scheme was drawn up, and exclusive on site brick making rights had been sold to Whitaker Bros from Leeds. There was hope in the development, so much so that a Curate was appointed to the existing isolated Church with the expectation of growing congregations. However early on the company had to lower expectations of a quick investment win.

A good start is sadly needed. It is exactly three years ago this week since the first sale at Ravenscar took place. The estate during that time has been well laid out in streets, and paths have been made. A few houses have been built, but still things have hung fire. Speaking on Friday the estate auctioneer, Mr Stansfield, of Bradford, said he had seen it stated in some quarters that the sales had been bogus, but he assured the company present on his professional honour that such was not the case, and that he had personally sold upwards of £10,000 worth of land since he had been appointed auctioneer. At the commencement of anything progress and development was necessarily slow, but in the future of the estate the company have the firmest confidence, and they were determined to do all in their power to open up its resources and give to Yorkshire another watering-place which in its health-giving qualities, its picturesqueness, and its popularity, would view with the best of those the county already possessed.
York Herald 11 July 1899

Auctions continued.

LAND SALE. Messrs W G. Stansfield & Co., auctioneers, Bradford, held a sale yesterday at Ravenscar, the new watering place in the process of making on the cliffs between Scarborough and Whitby. This was the first sale of the season, and there was large attendance of bidders from Bradford, Leeds and other places. Ideal weather prevailed, and the visitors were privileged to see the place in its most charming aspect. The hot sunshine was tempered by a cooling breeze, and there was scarcely more than on the broad expanse the North Sea. Mr W Stansfield, after luncheon proposed the health of the King, and the sale then commenced. Mr Stansfield, in his prefatory remarks, pointed out that already £49,000 worth of land on the estate had been sold. The Ravenscar Estate Company had, he said, developed the undertaking wonderfully. Every element needed for success was to be found on the spot. Messrs. B Whitaker & Sons Limited, of Horsforth, had put down an expensive brick making plant, and would be able give a quotation for bricks in June; there was good sand and stone on the estate. There was also a good supply of pure water, the company having themselves provided two reservoirs; and there could be no difficulty with regard to sewage at Ravenscar, where they were close to the sea and 600 ft. above it. In short there was no reason why this should not be unique seaside place.
Bradford Observer, 21 May 1901

Image of an 1903 Auction Poster

As sales continued so did the optimism, despite the slow pace.

Ten years have passed since the auctioneer first flourished his hammer in the Assembly Rooms of the Ravenscar Estate, Limited. People came from all parts the country to buy “eligible building sites” and the transactions were so numerous that it was thought this City of the Peak, six hundred feet above beach, with magnificent outlook over sea and moor, was going to put Scarborough in the shade. Ravenscar, however, is still unspoilt. The old hall, whose carriage on the Roman Road, is flanked with pillars bearing effigies the Danish raven, or the Roman eagle, has been extended or converted into a modern hotel and year by year many holiday makers climb the hill enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of the scene. It is an ideal spot for people who would escape from the distractions of the modern seaside town, and as well worth visiting at any time, if only for a peep at the terraces and gardens that have been formed and planted on the face of the precipitous cliffs. Within the last few years shelters have been erected here and there, fenced, of course, to keep the cattle off; and zig-zag paths have been made from the summit to the beach, making the journey much easier that it used to be for ladies and children…People familiar with this lovely district have a good deal of faith in its future. One gentlemen, who is able to speak with some authority, believes that the builder will be busy here within the next few years, for the demand for country and seaside residences in such situations is likely to increase among people of means who feel that they are crowded out of so-called popular resort.’
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 27 August 1907

Image of a North Easter Railway (pre 1921) Poster

Then in 1909 the short lived Ravenscar Estate Limited Company went into receivership, leaving Ravenscar behind.

Why not try Ravenscar? I remember when this of city of the Yorkshire “Peak” was planned and boomed as likely to jostle Scarborough out of favour as the Queen of the North. But the builders have not made much progress during the last ten years, and, as for the pegged out claims, it takes a mighty fine eye to spy out the pegs, while the claims are still undistinguished by boundary of hedge or wall…somewhere about 1897 the parcels of land were first offered for sale on easy terms. In the course of a couple of years about 700 building plots were knocked down at public auction, and by August 1899, no fewer than twenty one sales had been held on the estate, each sale being largely attended by people chiefly from London and the West Riding. Some plots in “choice positions” were sold in August, 1899, at the rate of £1,100 [approx. £140,000 today] per acre, the sale realising a total (as it appeared in the newspapers) of £2,252 10s, and it was then announced that £34,000 [approx. £4.3 million today] worth of building plots had been disposed of. But the tranquillity of the place is undisturbed. When I saw it a few days ago men were making hay on the building sites between the Crescent, the Esplanade and other roads and avenues, whose names are painted on little wooden posts…The wonder is that the spot was not covered with houses and hotels years ago…All the accommodation at present consists of one hotel, a boarding-house or two, and a few cottages scrambling on the hillsides.’
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 10 August 1909 

A few years on and Ravenscar makes an impression, and at last gets compared with Scarborough although not in a good way.

The UNBUILT COAST TOWN OF RAVENSCAR – Roads that Wait for Houses. By a Peripatetic.
…”Yon road I enter upon and look around, I be-
lieve you are not all that is here,
I believe that much unseen is also here”
Those lines of Walt. Whitman sprang to my lip as I walked along. Yes, there must more in this trim road than meets the eye. This road that leads – where? Other neatly-made roads branch off – roads which frankly admit that they lead to nowhere in particular. The place spreads out before one like a huge draught or chess board, but without the pieces. Here a town has been planned and left unbuilt. One could imagine that was intended to be sort of smug Suburbia-by-the-Sea…It was almost uncanny to stand there alone on the cliff and survey the land that waits for the town that yet to built.’

This article then turns to describing the limited amenities the anonymous writer found in 1913 Ravenscar including a lack of any available food, a savage sounding farm dog, an abandoned ship, a locked Bar, and a wild wet wind. The writer also suggests he met one of the owners of a plot, although this might be artistic license  – ‘I helped to pay for this road. Why? Because I one lunched not wisely but too well. I saw visions of stately mansions standing there…Would you, he added wistfully, like to buy a bit of land? You can have it at your own price”.’ The somewhat louche writer concludes ‘I will not roam o’er Ravenscar again until they have erected winter gardens which extend a mile or so. Gardens where lamps ape the sun, and where the soft, sweet music of a string band soothes one, and where pretty girls sit alone in cosy corners playing “wallflowers”. Then, and only then, will I take a second glance at Ravenscar, the romantic’.
Yorkshire Evening Post, 14 August 1913

A week later there is a robust reply to the anonymous critic, exalting in the delights of Ravenscar and its environs.

THE UNBUILT TOWN OF RAVENSCAR.
Sir, l surprised at your correspondent’s account re Ravenscar. First of all, he arrived on a rainy day. Why did he not remain one night, and would have beheld the very next day glorious with sunshine, pure air, and a magnificent view, and, above all, unlike Scarborough, room to live. He complains that he could get nothing to eat. Why did he not come on to the hotel, where could have had an excellent dinner. He complains of the dullness of Ravenscar. No pretty girls! No string bands! says your blind correspondent. There are many pretty girls in the hotel, both from your home country and America, but even pretty girls like a rest and holiday from admiration and dress occasionally!. And we hope you will keep your string and brass bands to Scarborough, and leave in peace and solitude, from “that madding crowd,” to enjoy the magnificence of Ravenscar…But the less I say of Ravenscar the better, as I want to keep it as it is. We do not want your Scarborough crowds. It seems the only spot left on the East Coast free from commotion…by Ravenscar Visitor
Yorkshire Evening Post, 18 August 1913. The Editor agreed diplomatically that the fashionable resort e.g. Scarborough and quiet Ravenscar each serves a purpose.

Indeed a glance over local papers around that time reveal that Ravenscar had all sorts of things going on: illustrated lantern slides, Yorkshire folk dancing, on-foot fox hunting foxes on the cliff sides, classes at the Vicarage, archaeological discoveries, recitations, shipwrecks, tennis, sailplane flying, sea water bathing, billiards, wild fires, whist drives, disappearances from the beach, house breaking, patriotic songs and comic duets, an air crash, bloodhound trials, golf, fan drills, snow storms, mines washing up on the beach, gliding, accident deaths by being run over by a train and being blown off the cliffs, egg production, a report of spies signalling out to sea in WW1, picnic parties, landslips, meetings of the Yorkshire Federation of the Junior Imperial and Constitutional League, the ‘Famous Terraces and Hanging Gardens’ (admission two pence), and a wager over whether someone could carry a 10 stone weight up the cliff (he could).

Ravenscar Estates Limited did feature in a number of legal cases in its early years – a failure to pay local rates and breaches of contract over the sewers development – but in the end the development just didn’t take off rather than it being the subject of fraud or conspiracy. One big problem that might have dampened enthusiasm was that the magnificent cliffs providing sea views were also a barrier to reaching the shore and the shore itself is particularly rocky – interesting and exciting to explore, but not like Scarborough. Around the time (as dissected in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer in August 1921) it was noted that by accepting payments by instalments a lot of plot purchases weren’t completed, leaving plots not built on. Another issue was the condition the plot holders could only build houses above a certain value e.g. marine villas, no doubt in order to maintain the ‘first class’ aspect and avoid the expanding working class holiday market, but for the small investors targeted this was a block to reaching development.

The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer in 20 August 1938 who had been so optimistic previously, now presents a different doom laden view worthy of the times.

The Phantom Resort. The lost town of Ravenspurn now lies beneath the waves off Flamborough Head. Something akin to it is the lost town of Ravenscar, further up the coast, which I visited this week. But Ravenscar is more of a phantom than Ravenspurn, its only existence was its own imagination. Under the grassland one can still trace macadamised roads, kerbstones, a sea front and , in fact, all the ground plan of the town, but that is all there ever has been of it. Ravenscar is the ruin of a town that never was. It is many years now since the abortive attempt to develop this breezy spot – a scheme which never got further than this making of roads and drainage. To walk there now is to feel the eerie sensation of being in a Wellsian world from “The Shape of Things to Come”. Ghosts of all the unbuilt Marine Terraces and sea views seem to hang in the air. It is a good place to brood for those extreme prophets of woe who like to think in another century or two all our towns will present the same sort of picture…

Sources from The British Newspaper Archive

Ravenscar is in the distance on top of the headland. Credit Ebor Images.

Ravenscar did not return to being Raven Hill. It is left with designed street plans you can still trace, the large Cliff House Bed and Breakfast, and the Ravenscar Hotel with its Italian terraced gardens. The village still has its many attractions which interested the developers so much over one hundred years ago.Image of front of National Trust leaflet - Ravenscar: 'the town that never was'

The National Trust also have a Visitor Centre at Ravenscar. They have a leaflet for a fascinating 2 mile walk around Ravenscar: ‘the town that never was’, tracing what you can still make out of the planned resort and imagining what would have been.

 

 

What might have been

‘Our READERS Say IS THE FARNDALE SCHEME NECESSARY’. (Hull Daily Mail, 26 August 1932)

In 1932 the Kingston upon Hull Corporation bought a large area of land in Upper Farndale in the North York Moor, c. 2,000 hectares. The Corporation had a plan to create a large reservoir behind a constructed earth embankment at Church Houses , and then using gravitation through a series of pipes/aqueducts bring a safe and reliable water supply down to Hull (c. 50 miles away). The plans also involved a second stage with weirs constructed in the neighbouring dales of Rosedale and Bransdale (and possibly Westerdale?) – with the collected water piped through the dividing hills into the Farndale Reservoir, if and when demand required it. The River Dove which runs through Farndale naturally flows into the River Derwent which then flows into the River Ouse which ends up in the Humber Estuary where Hull is located – so all within the massive Humber river basin.Landscape view - looking north up Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

From the regional newspapers of the time there is a suggestion that the City of York considered a similarly located reservoir during the first reservoir enthusiasm at the end of the 19th century. In the 1920s/30s there had been another such outbreak of enthusiasm to use large scale engineering to make the most of natural capital and ensure sufficient safe water supplies with all the resulting health and welfare benefits. Ideas of progress and modernism assumed that cities and industry would prosper and expand if allowed to. Reservoirs meant (rain) water could be collected, stored and released under control, rather than relying on unpredictable and capricious rivers. The Kingston upon Hull Corporation were willing to make the required large scale capital investment at this difficult time (the Great Depression) for a better future.

As well as the very useful amount of water that could be impounded, the North York Moors water would be soft (less minerals) and could be mixed with the hard water from the Hull environs, thus improving the water as a product (the projected saving in soap is presented as one of the benefits from the scheme). Destructive flooding downstream would be prevented. The construction would provide a scheme of work for up to ‘600 labourers’ from the unemployed of Hull.

‘This Farndale scheme will not only prove a blessing to Hull, but to large areas of the North and East Riding, and future generations will appreciate, perhaps better than the present generation, the foresight and sagacity of the Hull Corporation’. (Hull Daily Mail, 25 September 1933)

Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Farndale, as well as Rosedale and Bransdale, were farming dales, surrounded on most sides by moorland, with low populations of people. The Leeds Mercury of Monday 29 August 1932 reports on what farmers in the Farndale area thought about the plan to build ‘the second largest reservoir in the country’. There was apparently some ‘alarm’ and concerns about possible effects on the water supply lower down the catchment, but the report also emphasises the employment opportunities (a common claim with all infrastructure projects, now and then) and potential increases in property/land values. As well as the large scale areas of farmland to be lost, a small number of individual farmsteads (c. 3 or 4?) would be submerged however there would be no “drowned villages” as there had been elsewhere in the country. In the meantime the farmers in Upper Farndale remained the tenants of the Corporation.

‘Hull Civic Visit to Site of New Reservoir. From Our Own Correspondent, HULL, Wednesday. Members of the Hull Corporation Water Committee paid an official visit to Farndale, the site of Hull’s proposed new reservoir, yesterday. At the end of the day they wondered which to admire the most, the glorious scenery through which they passed or the vision and skill of the young engineer, Mr. T. H. Jones, which has led the Corporation to depart from its policy of deep well pumping stations within comparatively easy reach of the city and go out to the North Yorkshire moorlands [North York Moors]. Mr. Jones is the deputy water engineer, and less than three years ago, when doubts were entertained as to the advisability of proceeding with £900,000 scheme for a pumping station at Kellythorpe, near, Driffield, he cast about for an alternative…. CHOICE OF FARNDALE. Mr. Jones’s thoughts turned to the broad moors and lovely vallies of the North Riding, with their bountiful supplies of soft water. His choice fell upon Farndale, a selection that was afterwards confirmed by Mr. H. P. Hill, the Manchester expert, and endorsed by Parliament, when the necessary enabling bill was promoted. So it fell out that to-day Mr. Jones was able to point out the details of scheme which is estimated to cost £1,182,000 for the first portion and £2,127,000 [c. £144 million in today’s money] for the completed whole…The chief objective of the visit was Church Houses, Farndale, where the eastern end of the great dam will be, Mr. Jones indicated the great work that is to be carried out and which, far from detracting from the beauties of the valley, will add to them. A lake two and a half miles long and half a mile its widest point will set among the hills. The dam will be 1,900 feet in length and 130 feet high. Six thousand million gallons of water will be impounded [the capacity of Upper Farndale compared to neighbouring dales was why it had been decided on]’. (Leeds Mercury, Thursday 16 August 1934)

Farndale looking towards Oak Crag. Copyright NYMNPA.

During the 1930s arguments continued to appear in the regional papers – in letters, articles and editorials – mainly focused on who would have to pay for the scheme, who would benefit from the scheme, whether the water collected in Farndale was actually ‘pure’ or ‘peaty’, and whether the substrata of Farndale was pervious or impervious and therefore suitable for holding water (the top end of Farndale where it is sandstone rather than limestone is impervious). The main controversy seems to have been whether the reservoir was actually needed or not – opinions were based on short or long term perspectives. It was claimed the work itself would take at least 10 years, but would result in a secure water supply for Hull for somewhere between ‘100 to 150 years’ up to ‘all time’.

Whereas some saw it as another ‘grandiose and extravagant scheme’ the correspondent below is very keen, and seems the scheme very much as a win-win situation for all. It also references the drive at the time by many local councils trying to ensure that their own local citizens had access to national water resources.

‘HOW HULL’S WATER PROBLEMS MAY BE SOLVED’ FOR EVER HUMBERSIDE ECHOES A Day Out in Farndale Transforming a Countryside…I spent a very interesting and enjoyable day yesterday visiting Hull’s existing and prospective waterworks. A better day for an outing to Farndale could not been selected, and as one might imagine, the valley and the site of the dam were seen under ideal conditions. The journey was made by motor-car, and we proceeded by way of Thwing straight on to Malton, thence to Kirbymoorside, and struck the wonderful surprise view at Gillamoor. From this point of vantage one can see right across the valley, which, to its furthest upland extent, must be some eight or ten miles. To the left is the actual sweep the dale, and we proceed to follow this by descending a rather narrow roughly-stoned road. We have left many miles behind that part of the valley which has been described by Dr Eve as being difficult owing to limestone formation [Dr Eve was the lead proponent of the limestone in Farndale being pervious], and have yet many miles further the dale to go. A DELIGHTFUL VALLEY From this point the scenery is of the most delightful description. There is nothing of the wild moorland desolation about it. On the uplands the purple of the heather can be seen, but down in this smiling valley, where fields are being reaped of their hay, and corn fast ripening in the sweltering August sun, there is alluring geniality and intimacy. The road is undulating and tortuous; and as we turn first this way and that, new vistas open out that delight the eye, and more than satisfies one’s natural expectancy. The population is sparce: a cluster of a few houses doubtless constitutes a village, and such a place is Church-houses where we leave the car and proceed on foot up the hillside to the actual site where is proposed to erect the dam. And as one views the prospect – just a building here and another there, and not a soul in sight – one cannot put the idea out of one’s head that is the spot which Nature has assigned for such a use as the serving of a large city with pure water. THE FUTURE ASSURED A “Mail” correspondent has described this valley as dirty. What a libel! No air can be fresher; no countryside cleaner; no water purer than is to be found here. And let the man who says a reservoir will mar the amenities of the district blush for very shame; for here, in due time, will appear a beautiful sheet of water about 1,900 feet wide and over two miles in length and the valley preserved from spoilation for all time. Behind the dam will be stored six thousand million gallons of water – a year’s supply immediately available – and in the adjoining valleys of Rosedale, Bransdale and Westerdale are further supplies of such magnitude that, with the pumping stations Hull has, the water problem of the city is solved for all time. And we are less than 50 miles from Hull as the pipeline will go! Manchester has to go about 110 miles to Thirlemere and Birmingham nearly 80 to Wales. have said it before and I must say again: Hull is singularly fortunate in having found this place – thanks to Mr Jones, the Deputy Water Engineer – and having staked her claim to it’.  (Hull Daily Mail, Thursday 11 August 1932)

Towards the end of the 1930s the plans were well developed and permissions were in place, although the money still needed to be raised. So the work had not begun when WWII broke out. The war didn’t stop the newspaper correspondence on the Farndale Reservoir idea – one letter writer warned that open reservoirs like the one proposed for Farndale provided the opportunity for enemies to poison whole populations.

Landscape view - looking south from Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

After the war the Farndale Reservoir scheme remained, every time there was a summer drought there were calls to revive it. The end of the war meant more visions of progress, wellbeing and resurrected cities. The Kingston upon Hull Cooperation hadn’t given up. Back in 1933 the Corporation had received the required powers through Parliament to build the waterworks, to compulsory purchase land, to abstract water, to stop up access and to borrow the required monies to pay for it – and in the 1940s and following decades they continued to extend the time periods of these powers. The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reported in September 1954 on the formation of the Farndale Local Nature Reserve largely to stop the large scale pillaging of wild daffodils. ‘Hull support for Famdale protection. Plan for nature reserve From our Hull staff. It is an offence to uproot flowers at Farndale, the North Yorkshire beauty spot, and in order to make Illegal also the picking of daffodils, the National Park Planning Committee of the North Riding County Council (as already reported in The Yorkshire Post) wish to establish the area as a nature reserve. The Water Committee of Hull Corporation, who several years ago acquired a large part of Farndale for a future reservoir unanimously agreed yesterday, to recommend the City Council to approve the nature reserve plan. It was pointed out that when the Corporation needed the land for the reservoir, the agreement on the proposed nature reserve could be terminated six months’ notice’.

What happened next?

Following on from the Water Resources Act 1963 the Yorkshire Ouse and Hull River Authority was formed. The Authority acting with the Kingston upon Hull Corporation and now also Sheffield Corporation promoted the new Yorkshire Derwent Bill, of which the Farndale Reservoir was one important element, aimed at regulating river flows and abstracting water supplies in Yorkshire.

The Bill received a second reading in the Houses of Parliament in 1970. The projected price for the Farndale scheme was now up to c. £8 million should everything go to plan (£132 million in today’s money), the reservoir was bigger than previously planned but there was less pipeline/aqueducts as modern reservoir technology used more controlled discharge into rivers and more abstraction downstream. There would be compensation for the farming tenants who would move to new homes, and rearrangement of farm holdings dividing up the remaining farmland between tenants.

As well as the continuing arguments over who would pay and who would benefit, by this time there was the added complication that the North York Moors including Farndale had been designated a National Park in 1952. So there were new arguments around the introduction of an uncharacteristic large scale water body into a designated landscape. But as well as providing water supplies for growing cities, by this time reservoirs were also seen as providing recreational opportunities and water catchment protection, in line with National Park purposes. The reservoir plans included woodland planting and a car park. The remaining wild daffodils would line the banks of the new waterbody – ‘A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze’. (I wandered lonely as a cloud by William Wordsworth). In the arguments Farndale was presented as a national asset by all sides, but there was disagreement over what type of asset that should be.

The North York Moors Planning Committee (the predecessor of the National Park Authority) did not object in principle. Around 10,000 people signed a petition against the construction of a new reservoir in a National Park. Already in the less than 20 years of its existence other major developments had already been allowed in the Park – the Cold War RAF Fylingdales installation and exploration for a potash development near Boulby.

There were various suggestions of alternatives to fulfil the need for water supplies in Yorkshire. These included abstracting more ground water, reference was made to a so called ‘underground lake’ left over after the last Ice Age beneath the nearby Vale of Pickering; or making use of desalination processes which were currently being developed in the USA and were apparently due to come to fruition in the 1980s. As it happened, desalination turned out to be very expensive and not the overriding solution everyone was hoping for.

So the bill was read in Parliament for a second time, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as well as the Water Resources Board were both keen,… but then an All Party Select Committee tasked with vetting the bill before it became an Act threw it out on the vote of its Chair. So that was it. Hull and Sheffield do still have water supplies which suggests there were workable alternatives. Farndale remains a whole dale rather than half a reservoir.

Daffodil Walk, Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Sources from The British Newspaper Archive

Battle of Byland: considering the evidence

Graham Lee, Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer and Ed Dennison, Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd  

Roulston Scar Iron Age Hillfort is a scheduled site in the south west corner of the National Park. Previous investigations by the Landscape Research Centre (in 2013 and 2015) on the north-eastern rampart of the hillfort located a substantial palisade trench cut into the top of the back of this prehistoric rampart. The sharpness of the buried remains and the increased organic nature of the fills suggested a short period of re-use and a date within the historic period for this – it was clearly much later than the established prehistoric use of the site. But no material evidence was recovered which could provide even an approximate scientific date for this significant addition to the defences of the hillfort.

The known event in the locality that could best explain such a major re-fortification of the defences is the Battle of Byland, which took place on 14th October 1322 between the forces of Edward II and Robert the Bruce, resulting in a victory for the Scottish army.

So as a follow-up to these initial investigations, the National Park commissioned archaeological surveyors (Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd), during the first part of 2016, to record the form of the supposed prehistoric earthworks in close proximity to Roulston Scar in the hope that further relevant information would be revealed. Both these earthwork dykes, the Casten Dyke South and the Casten Dyke North, have anomalous features which suggest that they have been remodelled since they were originally built. Parts of their ditch profiles are far too steep and sharp to be prehistoric since earthworks tend to slump and soften with age. It has also been previously suggested that the Casten Dyke South may have been mediaeval rather than prehistoric in origin and could have been specifically constructed for the battle.

Both the Roulston Scar Hillfort and Casten Dyke South have their defences facing north, protecting two large steep-sided promontories of land respectively 24 and 28 hectares in extent which could have served as seemingly strong positions for use as encampments for the English army. Facing south towards them, across a gap of between 880 to 1300 metres, is the Casten Dyke North. So might these earthworks mark the respective positions of the English and Scottish armies in October 1322, before a part of the Scottish army managed to outflank and rout the English forces? 

Casten Dyke North and South - survey areas. Copyright Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd.

Putative plan of earthwork area - annotated. NYMNPA.The surveyors concluded that both dykes lack firm dating evidence but do show evidence of substantial later modifications. The Casten Dyke North more convincingly fits the pattern of a later prehistoric cross-ridge dyke, whilst the Casten Dyke South is clearly unconnected with the prehistoric defences at Roulston Scar and would work better as a medieval or post-medieval boundary, which could – perhaps – either have been first constructed or re-fortified in the early 14th century.

By sealing off the north side of a plateau, and with very steep slopes on all other sides, any English force encamped within would have felt they held a reasonably secure position, particularly if they were augmented by another force close by to the west behind the modified northern rampart of Roulston Scar. The plateau site overlooks Boar’s Gill and Hell Hole, both steep-sided small valleys which would have provided routes up the natural escarpment for the Scots forces seeking to outflank the English army which they ultimately did. If this was the case, then some re-assessment of the battle itself might be required. The traditional narrative suggests that the battle was a hastily organised action, but the use of earthworks would perhaps indicate that it involved more preparation on both sides.

Later warfare

One factor that all previous surveys have largely underestimated is the impact of Second World War activity affecting both earthwork dykes. The 2016 survey found evidence of significant amounts of re-cutting of the dyke ditches, in sections up to 70 metres in length, to provide a very steep (i.e. good defensive) profile together with breaks for access, slit trenches and weapons pits. This has obvious implications for the evidence of a mediaeval battle, as extensive WWII wartime alterations may have obscured earlier alterations undertaken in 1322, particularly if these were done somewhat hastily and piecemeal prior to the battle.

Casten Dyke North and South - areas of 2WW activity. Copyright Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd.The recent survey has greatly increased our knowledge of local activity in the 1940s in addition to that revealed by previous surveys of slit trenches in the area of Kilburn Moor Plantation, around the perimeter of Roulston Scar gliding field owned by the Yorkshire Gliding Club, and those visible on RAF aerial photographs from May 1940 where the slit trenches are revealed by pale lines of upcast from the ditches that were dug or re-cut.

Casten Dyke North and South - 1940 aerial photography of Casten Dyke North. Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd.

Taken together the evidence demonstrates that there is a significant area of WWII military earthworks in this area. They appear to be grouped and so are unlikely to all be exactly contemporary or to serve the same purpose. Some of these earthworks may relate to troop training, but those closer to the gliding field may be a defence against potential enemy landings. So far, only a proportion of the trenches visible on the old aerial photographs have been located and confirmed on the ground, whereas those within Kilburn Moor Plantation have already been subject to detailed survey (by Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd).

Survey detail of Kilburn Moor Plantation trenches. Copyright Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd.

Conclusion

Unfortunately it is still not yet possible to conclusively confirm the site of the Battle of Byland despite the tantalising information we’ve collected so far. Further work would be needed to acquire more information that could attest to this location. With the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Byland coming up in 6 years’ time it could be very timely.