In the later decades of the 18th century Parlington, near Aberford, was improved by Sir Thomas Gascoigne, 8th Bart, and it was he who built this arch to a design by Thomas Leverton. Construction was underway in 1781 when the Leeds Intelligencer reported that ‘some evil-minded Person or Persons’ had maliciously damaged the partly- built arch and destroyed two capitals and other mouldings in the mason’s shed. A reward of £10 was offered to anyone who approached Sir Thomas or his Head Gardener with information.
As the arch was going up Britain was at war with America. Sir Thomas was strongly against the conflict and wasn’t afraid to say so, which was considered at best unpatriotic, and at worst treachery, by his political opponents. Sir Thomas and his fellow Whigs were critical of George III’s handling of the war. Sir Charles Turner of Kirkleatham sent his friends a print of the monarch which he annotated with the lines:
I still persist like an obstinate foal
Till I lose my dominions and look like a fool.
Sir Thomas went a step further and recorded his thoughts in stone: the triumphal arch has this wording engraved on the frieze:
LIBERTY IN N. AMERICA TRIUMPHANT MDCCLXXXIII
The tale is always told that a few years later the Prince of Wales was approaching Parlington but turned back, horrified, when he saw the arch. No one knows where the story originated, or indeed if it is true, but a good folly deserves a good story.
Parlington passed to Isabella and Elizabeth Gascoigne on the death of their father, Richard Oliver Gascoigne, in 1843. The Misses Gascoigne, as they were known, were great benefactresses locally and their projects included almshouses in Aberford as well as new churches at South Milford and Garforth.
At South Milford a new church was constructed in 1847 to the design of the architect George Fowler Jones (1818-1905). The same architect designed a new church at Garforth to replace an earlier structure. The old St Mary’s, Garforth was demolished in 1844, just as the foundation stone for the new church was laid by the Gascoigne sisters.
The Misses Gascoigne were also busy making their own mark on the grounds at Parlington. They added an ornamental lake, fed by the Cock Beck, with a boat house, cascade and this folly which was constructed from the chancel window, gargoyles and other fragments of the demolished St Mary’s, Garforth, probably to the design of Jones. A cottage ornée, Lakeside Cottage, completed the picturesque scene.
George Fowler Jones had studied under the architects William Watkins and Sydney Smirke, and the Misses Gascoigne were his first clients when he moved to Yorkshire in the 1840s. Jones was also interested in the new art of photography and had been a pupil of William Fox Talbot. A number of his images are in the collection of the Royal Photographic Society at the V&A, including these views of Parlington.
The lake was drained in the last century but locals report that the folly remains, albeit in a somewhat neglected condition. The splendid tracery of the window shown in the photo has collapsed into the beck below and should be salvaged.
The folly is on private land and not accessible, but the good news is that there is a permissive route up the avenue to see Parlington’s wonderful Triumphal Arch.
The family made nearby Lotherton Hall their home in the early 20th century. The mansion at Parlington was demolished in the 1950s and the estate was sold as an investment in the following decade. In recent years Parlington has been threatened with development. In response, Susan Kellerman of the Yorkshire Gardens Trust researched the history of the landscape and was able to demonstrate its importance to Historic England. Parlington was added to the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest in England in 2018.
Thanks to Brian Hull for sharing his photos and for his excellent website that details the history of the estate and family http://www.parlington.co.uk