Exploring the tranquil ruins of Jervaulx Abbey, near Masham, ones eye is drawn up to a village on the skyline. Hazarding a guess at the location, The Folly Flâneuse arrived at the fascinating little hamlet of Thornton Steward.
En route, the first curiosity is the discovery of a lake bustling with boats, incongruously situated on top of a hill. This turns out to be Thornton Steward reservoir, home to a sailing club. Entering the village a small sign points to the church, but where is it? The lane continues on, and on, through woodland, far from the village, until suddenly there is the exquisite St Oswald’s, in peaceful solitude on the side of a hill.
But for The Folly Flâneuse there is a further treasure: Fort Horn. Looking out across the valley of the Ure is a curious house with a castellated tower at its centre. This was built by George Horn Esq., who responded to the threat of invasion by the French in the last decade of the 18th century and joined the Volunteer Militia. Under the command of Turner Straubenzee (sometimes Strawbenzie) of nearby Spennithorne a company of local men was mustered, and Horn was recommended to serve as a Lieutenant. Fears of an invasion were abated to a degree after a series of naval victories, and the Peace of Amiens of 1802 saw a temporary end to hostilities.
But war with the French resumed in 1803 and an invasion by Napoleon was considered a real threat. Aristocrats and the gentry again took the lead, and embodied local men into volunteer militia to support Britain’s army. Horn was promoted to Captain and took command of one of the 15 companies within the Loyal Dales Volunteers.
Fort Horn was apparently constructed in this turbulent period as an armoury and store room for the corps of volunteers ‘during the troublous times of the French war’. No doubt the upper room would also have been an observation post, with watchers ready to the raise the alarm if Napoleon’s army was spotted marching into Masham.
After hostilities ended in 1815 Fort Horn was converted into a dwelling. But with its martial name and bold crenellations it continues to commemorate Horn’s patriotic gesture.