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A History of Red House - The Place and its People

The Domesday Book
Red House was originally the manor house for the village of Scagglethorpe and in 1086 the Ughtred family were the tenants-in-chief. In the 11th century it would appear that it was in decline as, in the reign of Edward the Confessor, it was worth 10 shillings but, by the time of the Domesday Book, it was worth only 6 shillings

The Ughtreds
In the early 14th century Sir Thomas Ughtred gained a licence to "impark his woods and crenellate his house" - this is the first reference to the house which was built on the moated site at "Rede Howse". It was probably named after the reeds used to thatch the roof and it is unlikely that its walls were built from red brick. Sir Thomas was an influential nobleman who fought at the battle of Crècy in 1346 and was made one of the first Knights of the Garter.

In 1524, when Red House was owned by Sir Edward Seymour, half of the Laund House Manor including the manor house was bought by him and became part of Scagglethorpe. The other half joined Moor Monkton.

The Slingsbys
In 1560 Francis Slingsby of Scriven near Knaresborough bought the manor. In 1574 he enclosed Scagglethorpe Moor which meant the building of fences and ditches to prevent his own livestock getting out and, likewise, the stock from neighbouring Poppleton straying into the area. In 1581 his oldest son, Thomas, was drowned in the River Nidd while trying to save his servant. So it was, in 1595, that his oldest surviving son, Henry, inherited Red House.

By this time the original Rede House was probably in a state of decay and Sir Henry took steps to deal with this. Firstly, in about 1600, he began the building of the chapel.

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The Chapel viewed from the south east

In 1606, Sir Henry instructed two brickmakers of Woollous to dig clay at a convenient place in the Lordship of of Scagglethorpe. The total order was for 200,000 "good and hard" bricks, 12,000 "good perfect thacke" tiles and eight score ridge tiles. The total cost of the materials was £40. This building work, which was completed in 1620, produced a new house about 80 yards to the east of the moated site, the separate chapel and, also, walled gardens to the south and east of the house, all of which are visible today.

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A Painting of Red House at the beginning of the 17th century

Royalty was no stranger to Red House in those days. It is probable that King James I stayed there and, in 1633, Charles I definitely stayed while on his way to Scotland. During his stay he attended York Races, which were then held on Hob Moor in Acomb, and watched Sir Henry Slingsby's horse win "The Plate".

When the horse died a statue was made and it was buried on the mound within the moat. The statue still remains but was moved to a site by the chapel door in 1918 by some of the boys at the prep school.

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The statue of the horse in its original location in the Moat Field The statue on the move going past the front of the main house (1911) Its current resting place by the door to the chapel

Scagglethorpe Village
The village of Scagglethorpe itself was diminishing during this time. In 1520 there had been 10 farmsteads and dwellings but, by 1786, it was only 2. All that remains now is one house and a few small field enclosures suggesting the sites of other farmsteads. It was during this time that the Slingsbys purchased bit by bit many of the leases on the neighbouring manor of Moor Monkton. Eventually making Red House the administrative centre of all the area.

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The lost village of Scagglethorpe was in these fields

Sir Henry Slingsby II
Sir Henry Slingsby II inherited Red House in 1634 after his elder brother, William, had been killed while on his european tour. He served, like his father before him, as the MP for Knaresborough. He does not appear to have been a very active member, preferring to spend time at his beloved Red House.

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A portrait of Sir Henry Slingsby II A page from his diary

Sir Henry II is perhaps the most famous of Red House residents and there are 2 reasons.

First he wrote a diary which still exists and provides us with a fascinating insight into estate life in the 17th century. It is filled with the goings on at Red House (for he seems to have rarely been at Scriven) and some excellent descriptions of the characters of his household. He wrote of Thomas Oddy, the family upholsterer, who was honoured by having a replica of his head:

"carved in wood like a Roman head which I caused to be made for him that keeps the chambers and hath charge of the wardrobe, as a remembrance of him that hath so long and faithfully served; a man of very low stature, his head little and his hair cut short, his face lean and full of wrinkles, his complection such that it shows he hath endured all weathers; whose disposition is not suteable with the rest of his fellow servants which doth either by diligence breed envy or else thro' plain dealing stir up variance."

Also his cook gets a mention:

"Last Sunday my cook George Taylor went to be marryed to a maid of Doctor Wickhams at York, and if she be as headstrong as they say she is he will after find his service here freedom in respect of that bondage he must undergo."

He was a family man, married to Barbara Belasyse, to whom he was devoted. They had 3 children. Sadly Barbara became ill with a chronic illness which gave her great pain and distress. Eventually, in 1641, she died while being treated in London. Sir Henry was deeply affected. In his diary he wrote:

"The loss of her by death is beyond expression, both to her children and all that knew her; but chiefly to myself who hath enjoyed happy days in her company and society which I now find a want of."

The second reason for his fame is that he lived during the Civil War throughout and beyond which he ardently supported the king. Despite being vehemently anti-war he was involved in providing protection for the King when he stayed in York during these troubled times. Sir Henry was then put in charge of the defences of the city during the siege by Sir Thomas Fairfax (Henry's cousin) in 1644. After the relief of the city by Prince Rupert's army, which crossed the River Ouse at Poppleton thereby surprising the Parliamentarians, the armies met at Marston Moor. It proved to be the most bloody battle on English soil and a devastating defeat for the Royalists. It is not clear if Sir Henry was at the battle but, certainly, his regiment remained in York during the event.

After the war, Henry continued to support the monarchy and, as he refused to renounce his allegiance to the king, his estates, including Red House, were confiscated by the Commonwealth. In 1651, 3 "friendly trustees" bought them back for him to make sure they passed to his children. It was with almost desperate carelessness that he was finally implicated in a plot to organise a royalist uprising in 1655. He had to hide at Red House in a secret room but hated being stuck in a confined place, longing to be out and about inspecting his estate.

According to local tradition he was spotted walking on the roof of Red House by Sir John Bouchier of Beningbrough Hall, which is just across the River Ouse from Red House. He was arrested by a doorway in the peach wall at Red House, now bricked up, and taken to Hull. Here he worsened his predicament further by trying to persuade the prison governor to support the royalist cause.

Finally, in 1658, he was taken to the Tower of London and executed - the last Royalist to meet this fate. In 1660, Charles II was restored to the throne.

Change for Red House
At least the Slingsby estates had stayed in the family, and Red House became the family's hunting base with its deer park and extensive stables. By 1815 the Slingsby's no longer lived there and the house was rented much like their other properties around Moor Monkton. In fact at this time a certain George Hopps lived there. He was a surgeon in Micklegate and son of a Moor Monkton farmer.

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A hunting scene at Red House in the 1830's

Travellers' accounts of the 18th and early 19th century relate how the estate buildings were falling into disrepair.

Sir Charles Slingsby and The Newby Ferry Disaster

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Sir Charles Slingsby The new facade built in front of the old Red House building

So it was in the 1860's, after Sir Charles Slingsby had inherited the estate, that much money was spent on rebuilding. The east wing was demolished, a new facade was built in front of the old one, the chapel was half rebuilt, and a new stables and carriage house in an enclosed yard were added.

The estate was closely linked to the York and Ainsty Hunt with one or two meets being held at Red House every season. It features frequently in accounts of the hunt but, perhaps, one account stands out from the rest - The Tragedy of Newby Ferry.

On a bright but cold February day in 1869 a party, led by Sir Charles Slingsby, who was by now the Master of the Hunt, left Scriven Park, near Knaresborough, to a meet at Stainley. There was a capital run of an hour or so after which the fox, followed by the pack, crossed the River Ure at Newby Hall. While some of the hunt opted to cross the river at a ford further upstream, the majority chose to use the ferry which is close to Newby Hall. The river was swollen (about 50 to 60 yards across) and flowing fast but the ferry was often used in these conditions. The hunt had also used it before on more than one occasion. It was a flat bottomed vessel about 30 feet long and 10 feet across with a double rail 2 feet high running down either side. Sir Charles went aboard first with his mount "Saltfish", closely followed by 10 others while the ferry was designed for half that number. About a third of the way across Saltfish kicked out at a neighbouring horse and the rest of the horses became restive. Saltfish jumped over the side and Sir Charles either jumped or was pulled in after him. There was a general shift of people and horses to the side where the mishap had occurred which caused the ferry to tip and rock violently. Inevitably it capsized and all the passengers were tossed into the freezing water. Horses struck out madly in all directions causing many injuries to the riders who desperately swam to the side or tried to cling to the ferry. Sir Charles was seen to start swimming for the far bank but, just before reaching it, his arms raised skyward, his head relaxed and he floated away. 5 of the 11 men were pulled ashore and 3 horses, including Saltfish, swam to safety. Saltfish climbed clear of the river and arrived back at Scriven Park the same night under his own steam.

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The site of the ferry crossing the River Ure at Newby Hall The memorial to the disaster in the gardens at Newby Hall

Sir Charles, although in his mid 40's at his death, did not marry and the estates passed on to his sister Emma, who was married to Captain Leslie, but they had no children. In 1899 they then passed to a maternal cousin who also took the Slingsby name. So what became of Red House?

It continued to be rented to local gentry who might also take on a few acres to practise a bit of farming. In fact, in 1890, the tenant was a Frederick Slingsby JP who was not actually of the direct line. Then, in 1902, the course of Red House's history took another turn.

Red House Preparatory School

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Charles Lemprière and his wife at the front door of Red House

A new tenant arrived by the name of Charles Lemprière who had previously been running the Carteret School in Harrogate. He needed more spacious accommodation for his growing pupil numbers and also a rural setting to carry out his new educational ideas for a preparatory school. Red House was perfect. His new ideas included teaching the young gentlemen of the day not just classical subjects but also more practical aspects of the rapidly changing life of the time. These themes included learning about science and engineering. He felt that running a business should also be on the curriculum so a small farm was set up producing eggs and milk which were sold by the boys to the school kitchens.

Hay was taken from the fields near the house and the "Hay Tea", when the hay was brought in from the fields next to the house, was an important part of the school year. He also made use of the large kitchen garden and orchards in which the boys could cultivate the vegetables and fruit that they would eat. The boys were also involved in the maintenance of the buildings and grounds with references to work parties repointing walls and teams of boys mowing the lawns. The boys even felled some trees in Redhouse Wood, transported the logs down the River Ouse, sawed them into planks in a Red House barn and helped build the cricket pavilion which still stands today.

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The annual "Hay Tea" Two boys working in the gardens

The boys were paid to plant trees around the estate and this map (below), from the 1933, actually has their locations and dates marked on it.

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Part of a map of the school produced by F.E. Hicks in the 1933.
The numbers marked on it show the locations of trees planted by the school pupils and many, of course, can still be seen today.

Riding was also of very great importance, the stables were already there and the country around Red House provides excellent bridleways. The boys were divided into patrols, which were named after Royalist generals - Slingsby, Rupert, Newcastle and Fairfax, and the patrol leader would be mounted on a school pony for parades. Swimming involved using the river - one part with a beach for the junior swim and the section at Red House Landing for the seniors.

The grounds provided an adventure playground for the pupils and staff with plenty of den building and tree climbing opportunities in the Moat Field and Deer Park. The ancient oaks, Adam and Eve, that stand next to the old stables have provided many hours of fun for generations of school children. Iron rungs which were hammered into the trunks of some of these trees are still visible today although the bark has overgrown most of them.

In 1916 the estate and all the surrounding farms and houses of Moor Monkton were sold by the Slingsbys. The sale took place in the Station Hotel in York and must have been a major event with 27 lots of farms and houses which included a total land area of 2223 acres. This sale took place as a result of the great Slingsby Legitimacy Case of 1914. The family was rapidly running out of heirs. The son of Commander Charles Slingsby who lived in the States was to be the heir. However, his brothers claimed that his only son, Teddy, was a substitute for his real son who had been stillborn. In 1915 the court ruled that Teddy was the legitimate heir due to the similarity of his left earlobe to that of his mother. The Slingsby brothers appealed but lost. It was Charles Lemprière who bought Red House and some adjoining land for £2600.

Right up to the 1960's Lemprière's ideas were still maintained. However scholarship and sport began to grow in importance and in these areas Red House did not disappoint. Modern classrooms and laboratories were built. The quality of the rugby and cricket in the 1960's, 70's and 80's was amazingly high and they were taken very seriously and impressive results were produced.

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A rugby match in 1972

There was still time for fun and hobbies, an example being the train room set up in one of the ancient barns in the farmyard. When Marston Moor station closed in the late 1960's, a master from the school managed to acquire a signal and erected it outside the barn. The barn is now a cottage and the signal is still there. Of course the cottage is now called Signal Cottage.

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The Train Room in the 1970's The Railway Signal in 2011

One afternoon a week the boys were occupied with working on the grounds and the picture below shows them dredging out the ancient fish ponds in front of the main house.

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Dredging the ancient fish ponds in the 1970's

However, times at the school were not always happy. Money was often short and occasionally the regime fell into the trap of becoming too severe in order to "improve" the character of the pupils. After a bumpy ride in the early 1970's, the school was set for closure until Tony Gordon, who was already sending 3 sons to the school, took the brave decision to take over the reigns in 1975. Pupil numbers were in decline and the fabric of the buildings was in need of huge investment. With the introduction of girls and relaxation of discipline the school soon developed a friendly, family atmosphere. Pupil numbers increased and Red House soon returned to its former happy days. Freedom for the pupils was greatly increased and memories of Old Cavaliers from this era seem to centre on sunny Sundays spent in Redhouse Wood building dens or exploration of the "secret passages" that run along the eves of the house by the top dormitories of Cathedral and Belasyse. (This was not actually permitted). It was during this time that on 2 separate occasions pupils ran away from home during the holidays and hid in their bed in the dormitory.

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The Gordon Family arrives in 1975

However this situation was not to last. Changes in the private education system meant that senior schools opened up junior houses and soon it became difficult for prep schools to find places for the leavers. Boarding fell out of fashion and, due to its isolated location, Red House found it hard to attract day pupils, even with an extensive fleet of minibuses. Also a small school could not compete with the facilities of the larger ones. Plans to extend the school further up the age range were rejected as it was felt it would compromise the family feel of the school and the extra development, which anyway was too expensive, would spoil the unique Red House environment. By 2001 pupil numbers were so depleted that closure was unavoidable.

The Future

In a bid to keep the estate in the family a business plan was drawn up that played on the strengths of what Red House already had to offer - fantastic riding country and a beautiful place to live and holiday. The results of this change of direction can be seen by exploring this web site.

Robin Gordon