The first impression of Ebberston Hall is of a Palladian mansion in miniature. It has been called variously, a Palladian Gem, a villa, a (chateau, England’s smallest stately home, a shooting box, a lodge, a folly, and, by its architect, a Rustick Edifice.
It was built in 1718 by William Thompson, MP for Scarborough and Warden of the Mint, for his mistress, who was evidently hard to please, as she, reputedly, never visited it.
The Architect was Colen Campbell, a pioneer of the Palladian Revival in England. Other houses designed by him include Houghton Hall in Norfolk, Mereworth Castle in Kent, and Stourhead in Wiltshire. The layout of the water garden on the North side of the house has been attributed to Stephen Switzer and Charles Bridgeman.
The original design for the house included a square cupola. with a lead roof built on top of the roof of the Hall; this was demolished in 1905.
William Thompson died, unmarried, in 1744, and the estate eventually passed to the Hotham family by Frances Thompson, wife of Sir Beaumont Hotham, in 1771. Ebberston remained with the Hothams until 1814, when it was sold to George Osbaldestone, the sporting ‘Squire of England’, who could outride, outshoot and outbox any man of his weight in the country. The Squire was responsible for the demolition of two small lodges on either side of the house. As the house was not large enough, he had plans drawn up for larger wings, these never materialised through lack of money. Among his sporting feats, done for a bet, was a ride from York to London, with a change of horses every 10 miles in under 12 hours. Later on, when he got heavily into debt, he used to take his furniture, piece by piece, up to the Grapes Inn at the end of the drive, and barter it for drink. They only sold the last piece of Squire Osbaldestone’s furniture in the 1920’s.
In 1848, when the Squire had run through his fortune and the estates of Allerston and Ebberston were heavily mortgaged, Ebberston was bought by the Cayleys of neighbouring Brompton, and the house became a farm house.
In 1941, Sir Kenelm Cayley sold the property to Major de Wend Fenton, whose family home in the West Riding was being spoilt by industrial development. The present owner is Major de Wend Fenton’s son, Mr West de Wend Fenton.
The de Wend Fentons have spent some considerable time and money on restoration work at Ebberston Hall, which had fallen into a sorry state of repair. A 50 per cent grant from the Ministry of Works enabled the building to be made structurally safe; dry rot was removed from the panelling and the terrace and steps were entirely rebuilt. A second government grant, in 1979, meant that the ballustrading could be restored and the house re-roofed. Work was also carried out on the water garden, and all three waterfal1s are once more in working order.
The House and Contents
The house, with its elegant, Palladian proportions, consists of a raised ground floor and a basement story which extends out, underneath the terrace. It is built of sandstone. The main entrance is made particularly impressive by the sweeping flight of steps leading up to the grand. classically treated doorway. The columns either side of the door are decorated with an icicle pattern, probably symbolic of the house’s association with water. There is a mask representing Queen Ann above one of the two windows, and William Thompson’s monogram can be seen above the door.
Inside, there is a room on either side of the entrance hall. To the left, the Drawing Room and a small boudoir; to the right, the Principal Bedroom, and a smaller bedroom, which lies beside the Loggia (now the Dining Room). Following Italian precepts, the rooms are all carefully proportioned: the Entrance Hall is twice as long as it is wide and the other rooms of the main floor square, or in the ratio of three to four.
The overwhelming impression, upon entering these rooms is One of height. The real grandeur of this miniature stately home can best be appreciated by looking up to the moulded cornices, just below the ceiling. They are richly carved and painted, and have enormous depth. The interior decoration has much in common with Castle Howard, Beningborough, and other Yorkshire houses, and there is little doubt that the same group of craftsmen from York were employed.
Much of the furniture is roughly contemporary with the house. The Drawing Room contains an 18th century spinet converted into a writing table, and there is a set of French, gilt chairs with their original, Beauvais tapestries. In the Hallway, there is a, series of portraits; the first on the right is of Lady Morton, after Van Dyke, the others on the left Mary Fenton wife of Sir Hereward Wake, William Fenton a Barrister, William Fenton and Richard West. Through the hallway, at the back of the house is the Dining Room, originally built as an open, colonnaded Loggia. The problems of placing this delightful, Italian feature in the North Riding of Yorkshire rapidly became clear, as the north facing Loggia took the full force of the chill winter winds off the moors, and William Thompson soon had this area glazed to form an extra room. The decoration of the walls of the Loggia is of carved stone and the ceiling is panelled and, again, richly decorated. Above the doorway there is a horned, laughing head depicting Silenus, a Greek god of the woodland.
The Principal Bedroom is also beautifully panelled, with an elaborately carved cornice. The bed is a four poster.
Outside, only about half the original water garden remains, but the layout can be seen from surviving sketches in contemporary books.
It was fed by natural springs rising at the head of the dale, about 500yds from the house. These feed a series of pools on three levels with cascades. About 50ft from the house, the water passes over a high dam between stone vases, once flanked by flights of stone steps, and vanishes underground.
It seems that the water was carried around the house by an aqueduct, and reappeared about 100ft from the South Front in the form of two parallel canals, leading to a pair of fountains, and a final cascade.