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6 - The Big House

In any village, if there is a 'Big House', it can have quite an influence.  Its very presence alters the shape and layout of the village.  Firstly, there is the house itself, with park or garden where there would otherwise be fields.  Secondly, there are the estate cottages and workshops.  These are physical influences.  The third effect is on village life.  The family in the Big House have a considerable say in what goes on, both socially and economically.  The Big House was simply called Stillington Hall and for much of the village's history was home to the Croft family.  

Stephen Croft, who later became Lord Mayor of York, commissioned the building of Stillington Hall to the East of the Village in 1649, and the family remained in residence until 1895.  The Hall was part of a large estate, the family being referred to in armorial directories as the 'Crofts of Stillington and Aldborough'.  The family had major connections with the sherry and port shipping business, and 'Croft Old Original' is still a well known brand name today.  We do not know what the first Stillington Hall looked like.  It was rebuilt in 1733 and photographs show a grand house built in Palladian style with two and a half storeys.  Most of the brick structure was rendered in the 1850s when a porch and conservatory were added to the east wing.  Old photographs of the interior of the house show splendid examples of plasterwork, carving, mahogany panelling and magnificent fireplaces.  Gated entrances to the grounds were from the York Road with an Avenue Drive across the parkland and from the village Main Street corner. 

When the Crofts left, the house was first sold to Rawdon Thornton, and then in 1903, to Matthew Liddell.  For the next 30 years, the Village remembers an employer who provided work for many families and businesses.  Mr Liddell, who had a mining connection in Newcastle, built Home Farm in 1914 and he took a great interest in the farm work, particularly at threshing times.  He would sit in the yard and watch the proceedings.  Even, when he was unable to walk, he would be pushed down in a wheelchair.   

He gave the village children an annual party at the Hall with tea and buns (and for many this was their first experience of a sticky bun).  Tea was served in the Conservatory, the children taking their own mugs, and then it was fun and games on the front garden and over the Ha-Ha wall into the field.  At Christmas time, the Village Carol Singers were invited to the Hall. The head Gardener, Spencer Corbett (whose father was also a Hall gardener), helped the Methodists decorate the Chapel for their Anniversaries and special occasions. 

The Liddell family employed a chauffeur, groom, butler, housekeeper, cook and some 3 or 4 house maids.  Some of the staff lived in the House, whilst others were in estate property in the village.  They also employed as many as five or six gardeners.  A famed Tulip tree grew near the conservatory in the garden and the extensive greenhouses produced grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers and peaches amongst other delights. 

The Liddell family took quite an interest in the village.  They were involved with the Village Hall, they provided the horses and carriage for King George VI's Coronation celebrations, and Mrs Liddell supported the Church and its fund raising.  Mr Liddell died in 1934 and is buried at Easingwold Catholic Church.  The estate was sold in 1936 - a sad day with many village people losing their livelihood.   

Home Farm and the land was bought by the Church Commissioners and the Hall and grounds were bought by the Roman Catholic Alexian Brothers.  Some of the monks were qualified Nurses and worked in the York City General Hospital in Haxby Road.  The Hall was a Home for retired gentlemen and also a convalescent home.  One such gentleman, a Mr Fishwick, is remembered for his billiards skill in the Village Hall and for umpiring cricket matches. 

Whilst people of different religions did not mix at that time, the village children were welcomed into the grounds and they often found more sympathy at the Hall's Back Door surgery, than from the Village MD.  Father Daws, who skated and flew kites, was a great favourite with the young lads.  The double doors from Mill Lane into the walled garden were kept locked, but callers were welcome round the back.  Brother Cerenus, a Frenchman, was in charge of the garden and handed out edible treats to the youngsters, whilst those families in need in the village were often supported.  Many Catholic Villagers went to Sunday morning Mass in the Hall and the Christmas Midnight service was always full to capacity with generous refreshments for all afterwards. 

During the War, evacuee children were housed in the coach yard buildings.  Norman Collier, the comedian, and his brother were amongst the Hull evacuees.  The children were schooled in the Village Hall; had snowball fights down the Main Street against the village children and Jim Cole used to train some of the boys in boxing.   

After 1948, the hall was taken over by the Catholic Verona Fathers - some were Italian - who used the building as a Catholic Boys' School and trained young men for the priesthood and for missionary work.  Over one hundred pupils attended at one time; and the boys were regularly walked round Roseberry.  The Hall was no longer an Open House.  Nuns were sometimes in residence probably attending to cooking and domestic affairs.  Meat deliveries which used to take over one and a half hours in the Brothers' days, were now conducted in silence, and produce was handed over through a window.  The number of pupils and students gradually grew less and the Fathers left in due course and went to Mirfield. 

Albert Breeds, from Leeds, was the next owner during the 1950s.  He lived there, whilst stripping the building of many of its architectural features.  The House became derelict and was eventually demolished by Embleton Brothers from York in 1966.  Then, through a succession of builders the Parkfield housing estate emerged.  This made a dramatic change to the Village affairs, and the numbers attending the village school.  The stables and coachyard were taken over by H Morse and Sons coach business.  This was later joined by John Manson and Son's motor repair and maintenance business.  The final stage for part of the yard is a private housing development. 

What is left of the Hall?  Many artefacts were salvaged and are possibly installed in various properties nationwide.  The Coat of Arms is fastened onto the North wall of Mossy Terrace with the Motto - To Be or Rather To Seem To Be.  A fireplace is at the Gables Restaurant at Birdforth; the lounge door in Lees House Stillington; and a stone plaque depicting missionary work in Africa is built into the Bay Horse/Mossy Terrace garden wall. 

The Green and its surrounds formed part of the Croft Estate.  Records tell us that the remains of the old pinfold (probably on the Green) were removed in 1892.  An old photograph shows a timber framed house on the East boundary called Cromwell House.  This was built in 1630 and finally dismantled in 1920 and removed to Boston, Massachusetts by one Leslie Buswell, related by marriage to the Croft family.  The house, known as Stillington Hall, is a private residence, but often used for special functions.