High above the town of Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale stand two strange stone pillars which look like the remnants of some ancient ecclesiastical edifice. Until 1893 there was a third, and they were known as the Three Stoops, or alternatively as Yorke’s Folly after their begetter, John Yorke. They are often dated to around 1800, but they are actually some decades earlier, being constructed at the height of the Georgian vogue for mock ruins and eye-catchers.
Yorke (1733-1813) first considered building an eye-catcher on Guyscliffe, to be seen from his house at Bewerley in the valley below, in 1768*, the year in which he succeeded his father. The sham ruin’s gothic form may have been suggested by Bewerley having once housed a grange serving the monks of Fountains Abbey, which stands only a few miles away. The folly was complete by 1779 when a lady touring Nidderdale admired the ‘beautiful wooded hill crown’d with cliffs’. But she was not impressed with the folly, and complained that Mr Yorke had expended £300 on ‘a most wretched imitation of a Ruin’. Perhaps she might have felt differently if she knew that this was not just a gentleman’s whim, but a philanthropic enterprise to help the poor of the district.
Writing in Follies & Grottoes in 1953, Barbara Jones noted that unemployed men from the neighbourhood were recruited to build the folly in return for 4d a day and a loaf of bread. Jones gives no source for this story, but an account written in the early years of the 19th century, during Yorke’s lifetime, corroborates her account. On seeing the folly in 1805, Charles Fothergill was delighted to learn of Yorke’s benevolence and described him as a ‘gentleman of ancient family and very good fortune, perhaps not less than £20,000 per annum; the greater part of this sum he regularly expends in ameliorating the condition of the indigent poor and sick’.
Yorke died in 1813, and by his request was quietly buried in Hudswell churchyard, close to his other family seat in Richmond, Yorkshire, where his gravestone has a simple inscription, free from encomiums. But others praised his ‘charity and benevolence’: the Leeds Mercury reported that he was ‘universally lamented’ and the Richmond historian Clarkson wrote that ‘the poor have lost in him their most bountiful benefactor’.
In November 1893 a storm hit Pateley Bridge, and the third (and most substantial) stoop was ‘blown down’. The Pateley Bridge and Nidderldale Herald reported that it was surprising that the folly had survived so long in its exposed position, and with a nice understanding of the picturesque noted that the stoops ‘so interestingly break the monotony of the edge of Nought Moor’. The collapse of the third stoop was remembered in the Yorkshire Post in 1929, and a Yorke descendant wrote to the paper with the pessimistic premonition that ‘doubtless the last two will, in time, share the same fate’.
Happily he was wrong, and although ambitious plans to rebuild the third stoop as a millennium project came to nothing, the Two Stoops remain a dramatic landmark, and the grade II listed folly is a popular resting spot for friendly ramblers enjoying a panorama of Nidderdale.
If you plan to visit Yorke’s Folly, allow time to explore the Nidderdale Museum in Pateley Bridge and support the volunteers who keep it flourishing https://www.nidderdalemuseum.com
* This very useful reference is from Margaret Hadley Watersons’s From Folly to Flower Garden: The Yorkes in Nidderdale (2015) which is on sale at the museum.
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