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.
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.
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:
LIBERTY IN N AMERICA TRIUMPHANT MDCCCLXXXIII
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 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 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 https://chrisbroughtonartist.co.uk
And discover the work of the splendid New Arcadian Press here https://www.newarcadianpress.co.uk
Thanks to Brian Hull for the main image. You can visit his excellent Parlington website here http://www.parlington.co.uk
For an earlier post on Parlington see https://thefollyflaneuse.com/triumphal-arch-and-sham-ruin-parlington-park-aberford-west-yorkshire/