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Gawthorpe Hall


The neighbouring estate to Harewood was Gawthorpe and its 13th-century manor house, Gawthorpe Hall, was home for thirteen generations to the Gascoigne family. The most eminent of them was Sir William Gascoigne, who became Chief Justice of England in 1401 and is immortalised by Shakespeare in Henry IV pt 2 as the judge who sends Prince Hal, the future Henry V, to prison for unruly behaviour.

The two estates co-existed quite happily for some time it seemed, with Gascoignes marrying both Redmaynes and Rythers. The exact date of the Gascoignes becoming the dominant partner is uncertain, but as a 19th-century historian puts it:

“The Gascoignes appear to have been a prudent and thriving family; the Rythers the reverse; and by the natural effects of such conduct, the vassal supplanted the lord.”

As good a theory as any I suppose.

In 1580 the now combined estate passed by marriage to the politically influential Wentworth family, but their fortunes went into serious decline when, in 1641, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Stafford was executed by Charles I for treason. Heavily in debt, Stafford’s son sold Harewood Castle, Gawthorpe Hall and the attached estates to Sir John Cutler, a self-made London merchant. The satirist Alexander Pope mocked Cutler, perhaps unfairly, as a miser and a skinflint:

“A few grey hairs his reverend temple crowned, T’was very want that sold them for two pound”

It was Cutler’s relative and the executor of his will, John Boulter, who sold the Gawthorpe and Harewood estates to the Lascelles family in 1738.

Gawthorpe Hall was pulled down and turfed over soon after Harewood House was completed in 1771 and the building effectively disappeared, known only from two early 18th-century prints. Then, in 2009, with the help of the University of York Archeology Department, we started excavations on the South Front, the large field running down from Harewood House to the Lake, revealing Gawthorpe’s exact location, previously thought to be under the Lake. Its foundations are now clearly visible for the first time since its demolition. It was a substantial building, a handsome medieval manor house with a frontage of more than 60 metres, a double-height great hall and chapel, and elaborate formal gardens, all of which had been added to and adapted over its more than 400 years of occupancy. Edwin Lascelles, builder of Harewood House, lived there for more than 30 years while his new home was being built and attempted some modernisation himself. For a short while Gawthorpe and Harewood House co-existed, before Edwin had Gawthorpe knocked down. No conservation officers to stop that from happening in the 1770s. Besides, it was spoiling the view.

Gawthorpe’s demolition was total and abrupt. As a consequence, the dig has already uncovered many fascinating artefacts: pottery, glass, seals with the Lascelles family crest, stone gargoyles, a flint arrowhead and a delicate silver ring, among others. The project is ongoing, but we are learning more all the time, and a little new history becoming revealed each year.