In the first half of the 19th century the Airmyn estate, on a bend in the river Aire, was owned by George Percy, the 2nd earl of Beverley (1778-1867), a grandson of the 1st duke of Northumberland. He was admired as a benevolent landlord who took care of his tenants, and in 1834 he endowed the village with a Sunday School. In the mid 1860s the tenants ‘unanimously decided to erect a testimonial’ in honour of his ‘kindness and liberality’. This tribute took the form of a charming clocktower, far from folly, but an ornament to this tranquil and very pretty riverside village.
A public subscription raised £700, and the architect Henry Francis Lockwood (1811-1878) was commissioned to design the tower. The committee probably knew Lockwood’s work in nearby Hull, where he was based in the 1840s, but by the time the tower was erected he had entered into partnership with William Mawson in Bradford. The pair would later achieve fame as the architects of such great Victorian works as Bradford Town Hall and the model village of Saltaire in Yorkshire, designed for Sir Titus Salt.
In February 1865 the earl of Beverley succeeded his cousin to the dukedom of Northumberland. The committee must have decided to keep the tower as a memorial to the earl of Beverley, as he had been titled throughout his ownership of the Airmyn estate, so the tower bears the legend ‘GEORGE EARL OF BEVERLEY 1865’. When the foundation stone was laid on ‘a very gloomy day’ in October 1866, the new duke was in his late eighties and unable to attend the ceremony. He was represented by his nephew, Algernon Charles Heber Percy, who had by then taken control of the Airmyn estate. Heber Percy placed a time capsule within the masonry containing a copy of the Eastern Morning News (Hull’s first daily newspaper), some coins, and a parchment detailing the genesis of the memorial tower. He then laid the foundation stone and read a letter from his uncle thanking his former tenants for their kind remembrance of him. The Goole Volunteer Rifle Band played, and everyone sat down to a celebratory tea. The duke however probably never saw his memorial tower, for he died in August 1867, aged 89.
The Airmyn estate was broken up in an estate sale in 1919, but the Heber Percy family (whose principal seat is Hodnet Hall, Shropshire) retained ownership of the land on which the tower stands until 1951, when it was gifted to the Rural District Council of Goole. Airmyn is a very attractive village of red-brick houses, and the tower and the adjoining school built by the earl make a very handsome pair.
The river Aire is wide and fast as it flows through Airmyn to join the Ouse, which then meets the Humber to flow out to sea, and there are lovely walks along its banks. Airmyn proved to be a most delightful discovery.
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