Coghill Hall has changed hands, appearances, and names over the centuries. Known today as Conyngham Hall, it is situated on the edge of the town of Knaresborough and the house originally enjoyed views to the ancient castle and church, as well as of the wooded banks of the river Nidd. Knaresborough’s historian, Eli Hargrove, described the situation in 1789:
‘The lawn falls gently towards the river, on the bank of which a fine gravel walk winds through a thick grove to a retired and pleasing spot called the hermitage, where a rustic cell built of stones and moss is placed near a natural cascade, which the river forms by falling over a ridge of rocks.’
When that account was written Coghill Hall was the seat of Sir John Coghill, although he too had changed his name; formerly Cramer, he took the name Coghill when he inherited the estate. It became known as Conyngham Hall after 1796 when it was purchased by the Countess of Conyngham. For a couple of decades in the first half of the 20th century the mansion was leased by Sir Harold Mackintosh ‘the toffee magnate’ and he was resident there when Quality Street was launched. The hall, since remodelled, is now used as offices but the park has been a recreational facility for the town of Knaresborough since 1946.
Sadly no trace of the hermitage has been found, and its form is known only from this 1769 sketch by the great folly builder Joseph Pocklington. However a memory of the building survives in verse form: the Knaresborough gardener and poet David Lewis published ‘Written in the grotto near Conyngham-House’ in The Landscape and Other Poems in 1815. This particular poem was written in standard English, although Lewis was more famous for his use of Yorkshire dialect in such sadly-forgotten works as ‘Elegy on the Death of a Frog’: ‘Poor luckless frog, why com thoo here?”…
In more recent times the park at Conyngham was home to another attraction. For around 20 years from 1965 Knaresborough Zoological Garden was based in a wooded glade by the hall. Bears, deer, llamas and exotic birds were kept in wire cages but the stars were a baby elephant, a lion and ‘the world’s largest snake in captivity’. Update 13 November 2018: there’s a 1968 film about Knaresborough that features the zoo here https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-knaresborough-1968-online
Some websites will tell you that graves of some of the zoo’s inhabitants can be found in the grounds but this is erroneous and the headstones are actually of the dogs of the Woodd (sic) family who lived at Conyngham in the 19th century. However it is easy to see how one could be misled: