The 200 room mansion, high on a ridge above the Rye valley, was commissioned in 1713 by Sir Charles Duncombe. Architect Sir John Vanbrugh advised Sir Charles but William Wakefield did the actual design in the baroque style. In 1879 a major fire required the house to be rebuilt, and it was mostly done to the original design.
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After World War I the house became a girls’ boarding school. In 1986 restoration was undertaken by Lord and Lady Feversham. Family pictures and collections of English and continental furniture are on show. The entrance hall is 40 feet high and has Corinthian pilasters and baroque decoration. Interior doors are of mahogany and window frames of teak. The saloon furnished in the 18th century style is oak panelled.
The 35 acre garden was designed in the early 18th century in the landscape style. A great lawn, level terraces, Doric and Ionic temples, yew tree walk, an 1851 conservatory, and secret garden are on offer. Wildflowers bloom in season. One of England’s tallest ash trees (148 ft) is in the grounds.
In addition to the house and garden, there is parkland area of 225 acres now designated as a National Nature Reserve. It is home to mature hardwood trees and scare wood-feeding beetles and the birds that eat them. Over 2000 oak, beech, lime and field maple saplings fill the area. Red and fallow deer once inhabited the parkland.
The parkland centre has a tea-room and shop and videos to view. There are special trails and quizzes for children as well as a children’s play area. Waymarked walks around the park are a two mile one and a river walk of 1.5 miles.
A woodland discovery trail for seven years plus is two miles long and goes through hilly meadows and woodland. 800 year old trees can be viewed. An oak wood discovery trail is for smaller children and has along the way the Christmas Tree Cottage, a see-through tree, a lightning tree, and a hollow tree. There are two permanent orienteering courses.
Helmsley, Ryedale, Yorkshire
Tel. 0 1439 770 213
Open: house by guided tour, Easter, Aug BH, Christmas craft fair, check website for details; gardens, parkland centre and parkland, 3rd week April-end Aug, Sun-Fri, 10.30am-5pm for gardens, until 4pm for parklands
Historic Houses Association member; shop; tea-room; parking; outdoor events
Web: Duncombe Park
Photos and text © by Barbara Ballard