The Park Pale at the Hall originally extended for 1 ¾ miles around the Hall and an amazing 1 ½ miles still survives in one continuous length. It takes the form of a stone wall, and some of the original banking can still be seen. Despite being in a semi-ruinous condition over much of its length it is Scheduled as an Ancient Monument and as such any re-building works are subject to restrictions under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act of 1979.
The existing wall is mediaeval in origin, but has been rebuilt over the centuries – standing up to 2m high in places – making it unclear how much of the present structure is original. It is possible in places to see the internal ditch and bank, which is up to 3m wide, and evidence of an outer ditch although this is not as clear. Other sections have fallen down and not been rebuilt, leaving piles of stone colonised by plants and small trees.
Lady Deirdre and Ian Curteis have a long term plan to restore the Hall and the land within the Park Pale, and when The Friends were formed and Projects were being sought, work to the boundary of the restoration seemed an obvious starting point. Work has been carried out in the past by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, who would spend one week a year working on a small section of the wall and it was determined that this work should be continued.
The Friends Study Group was set up to tackle more practical tasks, as opposed to strictly academic study and so the Walling Project began.
In early spring 2011 the weeds and self-sown saplings were cleared from around the wall by Junior Soldiers from the Army Foundation College in Harrogate. The wall in its existing state was then thoroughly surveyed by Dr Keith Jones using ranging poles and photographs to record precise details of the position of the stones and key features to be retained. All of this was done in accordance with strict English Heritage regulations and the work carried their blessing.
Then in the autumn of 2011 the Volunteers from the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Walling Team arrived to begin work. Under the supervision of Chris Grundy and Emma Walker-Palin the slow and methodical task of rebuilding the first section began.
It is only the bottom two courses of stone that are subject to the Scheduling and anything above that level was removed and rebuilt to produce the stunning piece of craftsmanship that can be seen today.
The cap stones were transported from elsewhere on the Estate initially with the help of Bryon Jehu (the Hall’s Handyman) and Hugh Farren (Farm Manager), but we did later discover that the Wallers have the most dedicated team of Volunteers ever, when it was discovered that they were actually carrying the cobbles by hand the full length of the Old Mediaeval Road!
What is a Park Pale?
The earliest and most accessible monuments to hunting in this country are the many medieval deer parks which survive: some well known and still fulfilling their original function, others lost: absorbed into later landscaped parks or surviving completely unrecognized as patches of woodland or in the pattern of field boundaries.
The first Deer Parks were created in the C12th. These tended to be on the forest margins and differed in that they were enclosed, sometimes by a wall alone but more usually by a massive earthwork, the park pale. As deer can jump up to six metres horizontally and three metres vertically this had to be a formidable barrier. The usual form was of a large bank, three to four metres high topped by a strong wooden fence or wall. On the inside, to deny the deer the footing to take off, would be a steep sided ditch of similar dimensions to the bank. Although many of these earthworks have been lost to the plough enough survive around the country, albeit in a degraded state, to reveal how widespread a feature deer parks became. Indeed by the start of the fourteenth century there were something like 3,200 deer parks in England occupying around 260,000 hectares (650,000 acres) which represented something like 2% of the countryside.
Typically the area enclosed was between 60 and 120 hectares (150 – 300 acres) and generally rounded in plan so as to enclose the maximum area with the minimum investment in time and resources for digging ditches and erecting fencing. One curious feature which careful observers may be able to trace on the ground was the presence of deer leaps. These were entrances into the park fronted by a fence or ramp and backed by a considerable drop on the other side, which acted as one way valves allowing truly wild deer access to the park to generally increase and improve the stock held.
Once introduced by the monarchy the passion for parks soon spread to the great figures of state and then to the lesser nobility. It was necessary to obtain a licence to create a new park but during the period of strong economic growth through the thirteenth century there was no shortage of applicants. There was certainly an element of demonstrating one’s status and wealth but the main pressure behind the development of deer parks was economic. Although some landowners maintained their parks as examples of ‘conspicuous consumption’ and did not expect a huge return from what was often marginal land other, perhaps better managed estates ran their deer on an industrial scale.
The economics supporting the medieval deer park collapsed in the late medieval period as the feudal system broke down. Although some were retained in their original setting to be converted into an attractive landscape for gracious living many more were absorbed back into the fabric of the countryside some returning to woodland whilst others were completely cleared and given over to farming.
Copyright: Banbury Hobby Horse Festival – the history of hunting