The fascinating history of a former hunting lodge

POSSIBLY the most historically important building in the Harrogate district is Bilton Hall, which stands just outside Starbeck at the end of Bilton Hall Drive which joins the Knaresborough Road at Forest Lane Head. Though much of what can be seen externally today dates from when the outside was re-modelled in the Tudor style during the second half of the 19th century, parts of the interior date from the late 14th century.

However, this week's picture is a copy of a drawing which pre-dates that Victorian refurbishment by over 200 years and shows Bilton Hall as it looked in 1623.

It was in 1380 that John of Gaunt, Lord of Knaresborough and son of Edward III, ordered the building of a new hunting lodge in Bilton Park that was held by the Crown until the park was sold by Charles I in 1628. Interestingly, parts of that original 1380 building are still in use today.

Previous to this sale the lodge which evolved into Bilton Hall was held from the middle of the 16th century by members of the Slingsby family who were, at the time, possibly the most powerful family in the district. However, in 1615 charges were levied against Henry Slingsby, keeper of Bilton Park, concerning the dilapidated state of the park and the diminishing number of deer held in the park and this led to the family's eviction and the lease was passed to Esme Stuart, Lord Aubingy.

Three years after Charles I sold the park, Bilton Hall was bought by Thomas Stockdale, a staunch parliamentarian, a friend of Thomas Fairfax, and a bitter political rival of the Slingsbys. Thomas Stockdale represented Knaresborough as member of parliament throughout the civil war years and was followed by his son William and later Christopher, who stood until 1713.

The last Stockdale to own Bilton Hall was Thomas, who mortgaged Bilton Park in 1720 to raise 1,000 to invest in the ill-fated South Sea company.

Unfortunately, like so many others, when the South Sea bubble burst the Stockdales lost everything and were forced to leave, eventually settling in America.

In 1742 the estate passed into the hands of the Watson family, who remained here for many years and gave their name to the Watsons Arms, a public house which has been the subject of a previous Starbeck Nostalgia article.

In more recent times Bilton Hall has been the residence of members of the Samuel Smith (the Tadcaster brewery) family. In the 1970s it was the national offices of Dowsett Engineering until company closure, since which time it has been a pleasant retirement home for the elderly.