Another lost treasure

LAST week I wrote about the history of Moorlands Hall which, in 1920, was sold to the old Dewsbury Borough Council who converted it into a maternity home.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 17th June 2011, 1:35 pm

This week I’m writing about Overthorpe Hall in Thornhill, which the council chose to take over. but they didn’t retain it, they demolished it to make way for a leisure park.

They called it Overthorpe Park and it became a great attraction to the residents of Thornhill and surrounding districts.

The extensive grounds, which had been overgrown and neglected, were returned to their former glory, but not so the house.

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It was pulled down and much of the stone and oak panelling were sold off and the buyers incorporated them into the building of two houses nearby.

Lovers of local history, saddened at the demolition of this splendid building, will be pleased to know some part of it still remains where it belongs, in Thornhill.

The old Dewsbury Council, however, did a marvellous job on transforming the grounds of Overthorpe Hall, and had plans to improve it further still, but some never saw fruition because the following year war broke out.

Like many other grand schemes planned at that time by the council, were put on hold never to be heard of again.

A description of the interior or Overthorpe Hall, shortly before its demolition, appeared in the Reporter in 1938.

It was written by a contributor to the newspaper, who had been given permission to look round.

By that time the grounds had been transformed and the new leisure park was already being well used by local residents.

This is what the contributor, a local historian no doubt, wrote at the time:

“High above Dewsbury an old house stands in the midst of a lovely park, and children run on its lawns and play hide and seek amid the trees.

“Couples walk arm-in-arm along the winding pathways, but the house itself stands silent and deserted.

“The contrast between the gay companionship of the children and the uncurtained bare windows of the hall, is one of the most striking things about Overthorpe Park.

“It is called another breathing space for the people of Dewsbury, a relic of a past age that brings the people of another century very close.

“To walk through these deserted corridors, to see the roasting jack, the butler’s pantry, the gun cupboards, the magnificent oak panelling of the hall and smoke room, is to walk in the past with men of another age.

“The house, which started life as a farmhouse, is a rambling building of no particular period.

“A wing has been added here and a wing there until the present building is a mixture of styles, yet it manages to form an attractive whole.

“The first floor does not stretch the whole length of the building, and small roofs and gables at uneven heights make the effect still more picturesque.

“Overthorpe Hall has all the peculiar charm of old houses, but at the moment it is badly in need of renovation.

“Faded splendour is the keynote, and, in the finely carved oak panelling and marble pillars, can be seen some trace of former glories.

“For the most part it is a tale of big bare rooms with the plaster cracking on the ceilings, empty cupboards, carpetless floors.

“Entrance to the servants’ wing of the house is gained through a small stone-walled courtyard, in the centre of which grows a massive horse chestnut tree, 12 ft round the bole.

“A door in the courtyard leads into the scullery where a roasting jack still hangs, and just as picturesque are the cool, airy pantries with slit windows.

“There are thick stone slabs against the walls, through which admittance is gained to a tiny square room.

“These walls are made of slats of wood from which hang rows and rows of rusty hooks in a room once used for storing game.

“A stone staircase leads from the servants’ quarters to the cellars, where once wine was stored, and these stretch far under the house.

“The stone flags of the servants’ wing give way to tiled flooring and we now enter rooms which are big with long windows stretching from floor to ceiling.

“In the dining-room French windows look on to a lawn where tennis was once played.

“Still more traces of the past lie upstairs, in bedrooms and dressing rooms, and red baize doors separate the first floor from the servants’ staircase.

“IN CHARGE of the house and gardens at the present time is John Eaton, of Ravensthorpe, who is a mine of information about Overthorpe Hall, and the people who have lived there.

“He played a large part in reclaiming the lovely gardens from the wilderness into which they had grown during years of neglect.

“Smooth pathways now wind between green lawns, and banks of rhododendrons, scarlet, white, pink and mauve, flank the drive and form a vivid splash of colour, amongst the fine trees.

“It is only a few short months since those lawns were uncut and untended, the shrubberies strangled by undergrowth, and the paths invisible beneath a carpet of weeds.

“Hard work has brought to light much of the loveliness that lay buried, and the rhododendrons alone are worth the journey from Dewsbury to see.

“Plans for the future include turning the small sunk croquet lawn into a rose garden and the use of the herbaceous plants will still further help to keep the old English character of the park, one of its chief charms.

“A visitor to Overthorpe Park cannot fail to be impressed by the wonderful old trees, horse chestnuts being the most common.

“Copper beeches form a warm colour note amid the green, and some unusual trees in the gardens include hedgehog holly - prickly as the name implies – and evergreen oak.

“Another interesting feature of the park is the dog’s cemetery, hidden in a shrubbery not far from the house.

“Here pathetic rough stone memorials to Fritz and his companions mark the spot where someone’s favourite pets found their last resting place.

“Quite near is a small railed enclosure which hides the entrance to the well from which the house was once supplied.

“This is boarded up at the present time, for the wooden steps leading down to a small platform and pump are now unsafe and rotting.

“One path from the house leads to the coach-house and stables where the coach horses were kept.

“Behind these is a small walled garden, formerly a kitchen garden but now very much overgrown.

“Against one wall stands a fine row of pear trees, but these are condemned through a proposed widening of Chapel Lane, and sooner or later will have to come down.

“Outside the kitchen garden lies an open space, grass covered, where green houses used to stand.

“A small space is covered with flagstones, and walking over this the visitor will notice that it sounds hollow, for underneath is a tank still containing water which once served the greenhouses.

“Through the trees on the other side of the house can be seen the outline of the stables, backing on to Overthorpe Road where hunting horses were kept, and there is also another small building, a malt kiln.

“Altogether there is much of interest to be seen in Overthorpe Park, and those who pay it a visit will find their journey well rewarded.

“Hardly anywhere in the district is there to be found such richness of colouring, and the birds have found Overthorpe their sanctuary in a district which has all too few trees for them to nest in.

“If the borough council’s plan to make a recreation ground close to the park matures, Overthorpe will become of much greater importance as a breathing space to the people of Dewsbury.

“Although it has only been open a short time, the children have claimed it for their own.

“There are no ‘keep off the grass’ signs here, and this lovely relic of the past is already claiming its rightful place in the Dewsbury of the future.”