architecture, eyecatcher, Folly, garden, garden history, landscape, Monument, Triumphal Arch, West Yorkshire

Independence Day: The Arch, Parlington Park, Aberford, West Yorkshire.

Parlington Park is close to Aberford, south of Wetherby, on the old Great North Road. An architectural highlight of the landscape park is this Triumphal Arch, constructed in the early 1780s to definitively declare Sir Thomas Gascoigne’s stance on the ongoing war with America. Its inscription begins LIBERTY IN N AMERICA TRIUMPHANT, an unequivocal statement that Sir Thomas was firmly on the side of the colonists. The Folly Flâneuse has written about the arch before, but is revisiting to mark the Fourth of July, Independence Day in the U.S.A., and to look at a very curious moment in the modern history of the monument.

The first known design for the arch, note the flaps used to suggest alternative details. Photograph courtesy of Dick Knight. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archives Service (Leeds), WYL115/MA/54,

Gascoigne had first planned an arch in 1780, perhaps to commemorate his renunciation of the Catholic church and conversion to the Church of England, which allowed him to successfully stand as a Member of Parliament, or perhaps to mark his intention to settle at his Yorkshire estate. But this is merely conjecture, and there is no clue in the simple stone bearing his name and date shown in the sketch above. Executed in a proficient amateur hand the elevation survives in the family papers, and Sir Thomas himself has been suggested as the artist.

Gascoigne (1745-1810) supported the Whig party, of which a leading light was the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham of Wentworth Woodhouse, a fellow Yorkshire landowner. The party advocated independence for the American colonies, and did not support George III’s policy of prolonging the war until the Americans were subdued. Hence the decision to make the arch a monument to the American victory.

Thomas Leverton’s design for the arch, c. 1781. The elevation was annotated with a proposed inscription in 1782. Photograph courtesy of Dick Knight. Image courtesy of West Yorkshire Archives Service (Leeds), WYL115/MA/56

Moving on from the initial rough sketch of 1780 Gascoigne commissioned architect Thomas Leverton to draw up plans, and his ‘Design for an arch now building…’ was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1781. The decision on a dedication was made the following year, when Gascoigne intended a long inscription reading: ‘To that Virtue which for a series of Years resisted Oppression & by a glorious Peace rescued its Country & Millions from Slavery. T.G. Dedicates this Arch. 1782’. But by the time the arch was nearing completion the treaties known as the Peace of Paris had been signed, formally ending the war, and Sir Thomas had carved on the arch a short and succinct statement:


The house at Parlington was largely demolished in the 1950s and the park sold in the 1960s. When Nicholas Pevsner published his West Riding volume of The Buildings of England in 1959 he described the arch, and was particularly impressed with the quality of the lettering. Dr Alexander Lock recently discovered that Pevsner was involved in a rather bizarre scheme to relocate the arch: in 1975 Pevsner suggested that the monument be taken down and transported across the Atlantic, proposing the arch as a gift to the American nation to celebrate the bicentenary of Independence the following year. Pevsner’s motion seems to have been taken seriously, but ultimately the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which was coordinating Britain’s contribution to the celebrations, rejected the idea. Upon consideration, the officers thought the arch did not have ‘sufficient historical significance or contemporary relevance to make it a worthy gift’.

The Triumphal Arch by Chris Broughton (1949-2015). This drawing was commissioned for volume 71/72 of the New Arcadian Journal, published in 2013. The journal explores the landscapes of the Whig landowners in the circle of the Marquess of Rockingham.

The Folly Flâneuse begs to differ: this one landscape ornament is a unique monument to a major epoch in British history. Surely the heritage lobby would not have let it happen, but luckily it did not have to be put to the test. There’s no explanation why Pevsner would suggest that the British government should give away an important arch which they didn’t even own. Giving the eminent scholar the benefit of the doubt, only fragments of the house remained, the park had been divided in a major sale ten years earlier, and the arch was by then described in The Dalesman as ‘derelict and forlorn’; so perhaps he thought it would be better off cherished in America than decrepit in Yorkshire.

The civil servants also revived the idea, first discussed during WWII, of gifting one of the surviving copies of the Magna Carta to the United States (and no, the government didn’t own one of those, either). This too was dismissed, and instead Britain decided to loan one of the British Library’s two copies of the Magna Carta to Washington, where it would be on display for a year. In July 1975 the idea was discussed in the House of Lords. Lord Shepherd introduced the proposal, saying that the Magna Carta would be thought suitable ‘by most people who treasure democracy’. The irony was not lost on Lord Carrington, who said:
‘If I may be permitted just one reflection, I am sure we are the only people in the world who would celebrate a considerable defeat by sending something we value 3,000 miles across the ocean; but I suppose we are none the worse for that.’

The arch on a postcard sent in 1905. ©Leeds Museums and Galleries.

The Magna Carta went to Washington, where it was displayed in the Rotunda of the Capitol in a ‘specially made showcase box over a gold replica which will be revealed when the original is returned’. Happily the arch stayed in Parlington. In the end it was George W. Turner of Elma, Washington, who brought it to the notice of the American public: he ‘discovered’ the arch when in England in 1975, and the Bicentennial Times reported that the ‘American monument’ could be found ‘tucked away in Parlington Park, near Yorkshire, England’.

At the time of writing in 2020, the date 4th of July will be celebrated in England for a very different reason: cafes, art galleries (to pick personal favourites) and many other businesses will be able to reopen as the Covid19 lockdown is eased (Scotland and Wales have to wait a little longer). The Folly Flâneuse would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped with images and information during this period when resources, and the chance to travel, have not been available. Hopefully flâneusing further afield can be resumed very soon. Wishing everyone good health, happiness and a haircut.

You can see more of Chris Broughton’s wonderful illustrations here

And discover the work of the splendid New Arcadian Press here

Thanks to Brian Hull for the main image. You can visit his excellent Parlington website here

For an earlier post on Parlington see


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6 thoughts on “Independence Day: The Arch, Parlington Park, Aberford, West Yorkshire.”

  1. Susan Kellerman says:

    There were strong elements of rebellion and anti-government sentiment in both Sir Thomas and his father, Sir Edward, who left England in 1743 and spent his remaining years in France.
    An account of Sir Edward’s creation of the early C18 landscape (1718-43) at Parlington, and discussion of his reasons for this self-imposed exile, based on his personal accounts and journals, can be found in the Garden History journal (47/2), 2019:
    Susan Kellerman, ‘ “A.M.D.G. An Account of what Plantations and other Improvements I have made in ye Lands at Large”: An Early Eighteenth-Century Planter at Parlington.’
    It is interesting that the circular or oval mouldings suggested on the early ‘amateur’ design (perhaps by Thomas himself) have returned in the built version, replacing the more detailed rectangular projections on Leverton’s drawing.

    1. Grace Ellis says:

      Re copies of Magna Carta – The Lincoln cathedral copy of Magna Carta – 1 of 4 in Britain was in
      USA in 1939 for the New York world fair – it was decided to keep it there for safety during the war – it was kept in Fort Knox till after the war – Churchill I believe was of a mind to donate it to USA as a national gesture of thanks – but in fact it was returned to Lincoln in 1946 – is now in specially designed vault in Lincoln Castle grounds – see link

      1. Editor says:

        Hello Grace. Yes the modern history of the Magna Carta is fascinating. Did you see the exhibition at the British Library a few years ago? If not, I can recommend the catalogue. Dr Alex Lock, who discovered the Pevsner connection, is a major contributor.

    2. Editor says:

      Thanks Susan. Yes, the ‘amateur’ drawing was clearly an important step in the process towards the final design.

  2. Jane Padfield says:

    There is a very interesting online talk by Brian Hull about the lost lake at Parlington on the Leeds Civic Trust website, first broadcast as part of this year’s Heritage Open Days

    1. Editor says:

      Thanks for mentioning this. Brian has been a great help with my posts on Parlington, and I too enjoyed this talk and would recommend it.

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