14 May 2003

Leaders - Pat Wardman and Sheila Swinbank

The group first went to St Aidan's, which was built in the early 1900s as a replacement for a combined church and school, now used as the Village Hall. Sheila Swinbank talked about the building of the church, of which the village is very proud. Then we walked on through the village, stopping to learn about the history of the Black Horse, and the old houses around the old village green (which sadly is now the car park) finally arriving at the Peel, which was the main destination.

The Hellifield Peel stands today a crumbling ruin, a sad shadow of its former self, but it was the home for over 500 years of the Hamerton family. In 1440/41 Lawrence Hamerton applied for a licence to fortify his manor house in Hellifield. King Henry VI gave permission and the house was restructured to stand the ravages of Scottish raiders - the moat and a very small part of the battlements are still visible.

The last of the Hamertons died in 1908. The house continued as a private dwelling well into the 1940s, being well maintained by Sir William Nicholson, former Mayor of Leeds. He died during the Second World War, when the house was vacated by his widow. It was then requisitioned by the War Department as a POW camp. When the war ended the house became a home for displaced persons; it eventually returned to private ownership, but it was in a sad state and during the 1950s began to fall into disrepair. The framework was dismantled and the roof removed so it was now a shell, which during the 1960-70 period became a ruin; it was then recognised as a historical structure and awarded Listed Building status. Thus it still remains, almost now a pile of bricks, though at the moment there is a planning application to restore it to a house. So we will have to see how this wonderful ruin can be saved.

We then walked back to the Institute where over coffee and biscuits we were able to view old pictures and papers on display. It always seems so sad to me that this building was allowed to fall into this state in such a short period; my husband can remember going carol singing at the Peel where each child received the grand sum of 6 d each.