Panaramic view

Swinton Park  | OS Grid Ref: 420775,479726  | Site classified as: Park  | HPG Ref: 60005

Map Evidence

OS First series
Swinton Park depicted with adjacent pleasure grounds. 2 walled garden enclosures, to the W. In the parkland 4 named ponds, one with boat house, one plantation to the N and one area of woodland to the SE. A deer shed in the open parkland.

OS Second series
To the west of the house, two walled garden enclosures with substantial ranges of glasshouses. To the north of the walled garden an icehouse. To the west, a rectangular garden enclosure with formal planting and a sundial. A ha-ha is depicted separating the woodlands and pleasure gardens from the parkland. Deer house. Two chains of artificial lakes on either side of the deer park.

Other documentary evidence

Buck, S. c.1720 Yorkshire Sketchbook, p.387.
Cornforth, J. 1966 'Swinton, Yorkshire' Parts I,II, III. (April 7, 14, 21) Country Life
Cunliffe-Lister, L. 1991 'A Georgian Head Gardener Reports'
Cunliffe-Lister, S. 1978 Days of Yore: a history of Masham. Bath: The Pitman Press
Cunliffe-Lister. S. 2009. Yorkshire Gardens Trust AGM report.
Fisher, J. 1895 History of Mashamshire. London: Simpkin, Marshall and Co.
Tyson, L.O. 2007 'Mashamshire Collieries' British Mining No. 52. The Northern Mine Society.
Young, A. 1770 A Six Month's Tour Through the North of England. Dublin

Archival sources
Cunliffe-Lister papers, NYCRO, Northallerton

Additional Information

The house is now in private hands and has become The Swinton Park Hotel.
Most of the landscape features are present and can be viewed by hotel visitors.

Historic England website entry for Swinton Castle and associated landscape features.

The site details are held on the Parks and Gardens UK database; Record Id: 6838

Swinton Castle, Gardens, Park and Landscape

The arrival of the Danby family

The Swinton estate is associated mainly with two families – the Danbys and the Cunliffe-Listers. It became the property of the Danbys in the 16th century, when a Danby married into the Scrope family, who had acquired Mashamshire in the 14th century. It seems that this estate consisted of land only, and the Danbys lived elsewhere.

The first Danby to live at Swinton was Abstrupus Danby (1655 – 1727), who received the estate from his uncle in 1683. He first had to deal with considerable debts, and recover land from another family member. In 1688 he bought the old manor house at Swinton from John Norton, and as it commanded fine views, Abstrupus decided to build a new house on the same site for himself. Building eventually commenced in 1695. John Cornforth in his articles published in 'Country Life' could find no evidence of an architect, so he assumed that the house was designed by Abstrupus and his builder, William Sympson. It is suggested by Les Tyson that most of the building materials came from the estate.

Abstrupus, now Sir Abstrupus, also commenced work on a garden. George London, a leading garden designer, supplied a rough plan in 1699. Plants, seeds, fruit trees and lime trees arrived in 1700, and walls three yards high were built around the house 'for the benefit of ye fruit trees'. The gardens eventually had cobbled walks, and cast iron gates were made in York, and when erected, were painted green. In 1706 Sir Abstrupus engaged an engineer called Howgill to design 'waterworks' involving two fountains in the High and Low Gardens and water laid on to the house from a source over a mile away. Nothing remains of this scheme due to later larger scale works undertaken by his descendants.

The development of the park and gardens 1750 – 1833

Sir Abstrupus was succeeded by his son, also Abstrupus, who appears not to have embarked on further work on the estate. On his death in 1750, his son William inherited and very quickly commenced work on new projects. He built a stable block in 1752-3 and a new entrance to the park (the Great Gate) in 1754, which is still extant. In the 1760s he started to create the pleasure grounds by laying out a chain of lakes in the park – the Home Lake was begun in 1765, and Top Lake (Lake Superior) in 1767. He purchased 6000 fir trees in 1762, and reclaimed much of the moorland, bringing it into profitable cultivation. He also made improvements to the house, commencing in 1764, engaging John Carr of York to design projecting bays on the north and south sides of the house.

The results of William's improvements to the park and gardens are described by Arthur Young, who visited William to look at his agricultural methods, but included the following description in his book 'A Six Months' Tour through the North of England' - 'the very excellent and worthy owner of Swinton has made that seat one of the pleasantest places in this country; he has surrounded the house with a most beautiful park, finely wooded and watered, and has added plantations and pleasure-grounds in a stile(sic) of great propriety and taste, With much trouble and expence(sic) he brought, several miles, a small but elegant stream through his gardens and park, which in some places breaks into very fine lakes, in others contracts into the size of a little rill, which winds through the woods in a most pleasing manner; here, falling in cascades, it enlivens the whole scene; there, withdraws from the eye, and hides itself in the dark bosom of tufted groves. The house is very convenient and elegantly furnished'.

His son, also William, continued the process of improvements. This William is thought to have been much influenced by ideas circulating on the subject of the Picturesque. Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight both published books on the subject in 1794. He inherited in 1781, but did not live at Swinton permanently until 1790, and over the next 20-30 years, according to Susan Cunliffe-Lister, he made Swinton 'a rich expression of picturesque ideas'. Between 1791 and 1796 he considerably extended the house, first by a wing to the west of the house, designed by James Wyatt, then another large wing to the north to connect the house to the stables. The builder was John Foss of Richmond. In 1813-14 he engaged Foss to build yet another wing to create a library to house his books and a museum to house his various collections. Later, William was persuaded by Robert Lugar to turn the house into a castle – the tower, turrets, and battlements were added in 1821-4.

From 1796 William began to alter and improve the landscape: the park and gardens were expanded to approx. 250 acres, and consisted of a flower garden, a vegetable garden, a nursery for trees and shrubs, an orchard, a lawn to the front of the house, an avenue leading up the front drive, a deer park and extensive woodland walks around the lakes. Outside the boundary of the park, at Ilton, he created the Druids' Temple in about 1800.

William engaged Adam Mickle II from about 1798 to design and to supervise the alteration of the lakes to create more picturesque views, specifically by breaking up the lines of the banks, altering an island, planting on the Mount and laying large boulders near the boathouse. From 1810 the rock work at the edge of Top Lake was installed, and an alteration made to Coffin Lake. Adam Mickle also supervised the planting of alders, willows and birches around the lakes in 1802-5, and the planting of 30,000 larch and Scots pine in the park. Work also commenced in Quarry Gill in 1811 to build a bridge, at first by Adam Mickle, and completed after his death by John Foss by 1822, at a cost of £11,000. Foss also rebuilt the bridge at the north end of Coffin Lake in 1813-15 and altered Home Lake in 1814-15. Quarry Gill was planted with indigenous trees and wildflowers in 1815. Evidence becomes scarce from this date, but it is thought that William continued to make alterations up to his death in 1833.

Evidence of the plants grown in the flower and vegetable gardens is provided by a summary of letters sent to William Danby from his head gardener John Shields, who was expected to keep his employer fully informed of work in progress when he was away from Swinton. His letters, dating from the early 1800s, contain references to heated and unheated greenhouses and hot beds, and a dedicated peach house. Fruit trees included peaches, nectarines, and apricots, figs, vines and pineapples were being grown, and vegetable crops included melons, asparagus and artichokes.

On the death of William Danby without an heir, the estate passed to his second wife Ann, who later married Admiral Harcourt. Together they embarked on a programme of building new amenities in Masham and on their estate. After their deaths, the estate passed to a cousin of Ann's, who decided to sell. The estate was purchased by Samuel Cunliffe-Lister, later Lord Masham, in 1886.

The Cunliffe-Lister family – 1886 to the present day

Samuel Cunliffe-Lister, a wealthy textile manufacturer, extended the estate to over 20,000 acres, and made alterations to the house. In about 1890 a further storey was added to Foss's north and south wings, the battlements were replaced, and the height of the tower was doubled to balance the increased height of the wings. Susan Cunliffe-Lister reports that in the 19th century there were nine greenhouses in operation in the gardens, and plants from all over the world were brought to the Orangery.

The 20th century was less kind to the gardens at Swinton. They fell into disrepair in World War 1, probably due to lack of labour. In World War 2, part of the house was occupied by Harrogate Ladies College and after the war by the Conservative College. From 1975 to 1997, Swinton Park was owned and run as a management training centre. The property was bought back in 2000 by the family and made into a hotel. In the grounds, the first task was to remove excess laurels and rhododendrons, and the walled kitchen garden was cleared of Christmas trees and brought back into use for the benefit of the hotel kitchen. The flower gardens have also been restored to produce flowers for the house, and further restoration work has continued ever since.

Extract from 1851 OS map centred on Site
Extract from OS Landranger map centred on Site
Extract from Google Map image map centred on Site
Section of The Walled Garden
The former Orangery, now renovated and forms part of the Bird House
The Deer Park.
Top Lake (formerly known as Lake Superior)
The Rustic Arch
The Rustic Bridge at Top Lake
Boathouse at head of Coffin Lake
The Coffin Stones
Waterfall in woodlands
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