Man has inhabited Wykeham since Neolithic times. Flint arrow heads have been found in the fields below the village on the edge of what would have been the marshland and lakes of the Vale of Pickering.
The Bronze and Iron Age settlers left prehistoric marks and earthworks. These include tumuli and barrows to long linear ditch systems, thought to be boundary markers. Roman remains have been found at St Helens in the Park Caravan Site, and remains of the medieval priory at Wykeham Abbey are still standing.
From 1153 to today
The current owner of the Wykeham and Dawnay Estates is the 12th Viscount Downe. The family originated in Aunay in Normandy, France eventually settling in North Yorkshire.
In the seventeenth century, John Dawnay was knighted at the battle of Naseby during the English Civil Wars, putting him at risk when living under the Parliamentarian Commonwealth. This may have influenced his decision to buy land some distance from London, at Danby. He purchased Danby in 1656 from the Earl Danvers.
In 1680, John Dawnay was rewarded for his loyalty by King Charles II with the Viscountcy of Downe, a second creation Irish Peerage. The family obtained the Baron of Danby title in 1899 when the 8th Viscount was created the 1st Baron. Cowick near Snaith was the principle family seat. In 1909 the much enlarged Wykeham Abbey became the family home.
14th century – Danby Castle built by Lord Latimer, and handed down through the generations to the Neville branch of the family
1534 to 1543 – Catherine Parr periodically inhabits Danby Castle as the wife of John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer. After she is widowed, she marries Henry VIII.
1656 – Sir John Dawnay purchases Danby Estate
1680 – Sir John Dawnay becomes 1st Viscount Downe (second creation)
1897 – The title Baron Dawnay of Danby is created
1909 – Wykeham Abbey becomes the family seat
1914 to 1919 – Wykeham Abbey is used as a war hospital
1939 – 1945 – A signal station is built on Danby Moor. Its remains can still be seen today
1976 – The former shooting lodge Danby Lodge becomes The North York Moors National Park Moors Centre
1976 – St Helen’s Caravan site opened
1979 – Wykeham Trees (the forerunner of Wykeham Mature Plants) is founded
1994 – St Helens is awarded the title of ‘The Best Campsite of the year” by the AA
2002 – Richard Henry Dawnay becomes 12th Viscount Downe
2004 – The Wykeham Business Centre is opened
2018 – The Estate is awarded the Bledisloe Gold Medal by the Royal Agricultural Society of England
2019 – The most successful year on the Danby Moors in its 157 year history
2021 – The North Yorkshire Water Park opened
2023 – St Helens in the Park is awarded platinum status by the AA which is the highest accolade for a caravan park
A beacon has stood on Danby Low Moor since the 1600s. In its early days, it was lit to warn of impending attacks, for example during the Napoleonic wars. The modern version forms part of a chain of more than 1,000 beacons lit for special national occasions. Visit the Danby Beacon Trust website.
In 2019 workmen re-leading part of Wykeham Abbey’s roof uncovered some historical graffiti made up of a caricature and the carved figures of W R and C R A 19.
King William IV reigned from 1830 to 1837 when he was succeeded by his niece Victoria, which matches the age of the lead. So perhaps W R stands for William Rex. And the C R were the initials of the boy who carved it, aged 19? Our workmen added their initials and the date for future generations to discover.
8th Viscount, Hugh Richard
Hugh Richard was head of Queen Victoria’s bodyguards, and helped introduce the spiked helmet to Britain, this was done especially to irritate the Kaiser (who says Queen Victoria didn’t have a sense of humour!) He played a cricket international against a touring Aboriginal team – before The Ashes were even dreamed of. He went on to become President of the MCC.
In 1897, he became 1st Baron of Danby in 1897, and subsequently sat in the House of Lords.
After completing such onerous duties such as assisting the Marquess of Northampton in his mission to invest the King of Spain with the Order of the Garter and doing this duty (seemingly without help) when the Shah of Perisa was so honoured, he was create 1st Baron of Danby in 1897, and subsequently sat in the House of Lords
Faith Dawnay, daughter of the 8th Viscount Downe
Faith volunteered with the British Committee of the French Red Cross, entering France in January 1917. Records show she was a ‘Canteener’ serving meals to wounded soldiers close to the fighting. She also supported the French Army as a nurse and an ambulance driver. In recognition of her service, Faith received The Croix de Guerre medal, awarded to those who “distinguish themselves by acts of outstanding heroism”.
Dorothy Poad of Ruston
In World War I, Dorothy trained as a nurse. Described as “an intelligent and interested worker, with a neat appearance and pleasant manner”, she volunteered for war service with the Red Cross in 1917. Sadly, Dorothy died of pneumonia the following year aged just 26. She is commemorated in a memorial in Wykeham church.
RAF West Ayton
The North Yorkshire Water Park is located on land that between August 1918 – June 1919 was RAF West Ayton. It was a basic aerodrome with a grass runway, one Bessonneau canvas-covered hangar, and a small hut with a telephone. The aircrew and staff sheltered in farm buildings which have since been demolished.
The airfield was home to 251 Squadron, which had around 94 men on its roster. Billeted locally, the airmen earned a reputation of being “high spirited”. They flew anti-submarine patrols over the North Sea in the cumbersome Airco DH.6, nicknamed ‘the clockwork mouse’ and ‘the flying coffin’. It proved impossible for the pilots to simultaneously fly, spot and then bomb U-boats single-handed. But they were still a potent deterrent.
Soon after the end of hostilities, the airfield was abandoned. However a number of unexploded incendiary bombs have been found buried in the surrounding fields, reminding local farmers of its existence!
The Wellington Bomber which missed Wykeham
One peaceful July day in 1946 Mr Bryant, the Second Gardener of Wykeham Abbey, was cutting the lawn. He recalled seeing “an aircraft in a power dive at a 45º angle from the north. The height was about 500 feet, and it was heading for the centre of the Abbey. It turned steeply to the left and disappeared behind the Abbey and trees. I then heard a very heavy thud.”
The plane was used to test Sir Barnes Wallis’s ‘bouncing bomb’ and had been featured in the classic film The Dam Busters. Sadly it hit the ground at 380 mph, creating a 11 by 18 yard hole with fragments thrown 130 yards. A boy at Wykeham School a mile away likened the impact to an earthquake. The Estate has erected a monument to pay tribute to the deceased crew.
Historical conservation and preservation
The Estate also maintains many historic and listed buildings. These include Wykeham’s church, vicarage, school and three cottages in Ruston built by eminent Victorian Gothic Revival architect William Butterfield.
Common rights of Danby Court Leets
The Danby Court Leet, a medieval court, still manages the common rights of thousands of acres of Danby moorland. It is only one of a handful of manor courts still in existence. Made up of thirteen locals and an elected Foreman, they are responsible for the Common Land of the Manor of Danby. The current Viscount Downe is the Lord of the Manor.
The annual Court is held in October of each year at the Court Room, Danby Castle. Regular Jury meetings also take place in the Jury room, Danby Castle. One of the Court’s roles is to keep a Register of Common Rights which records grazing rights. Visit the Danby Court Leet website.
The Thomas Farside Trust
One good cause that the Estate is proud to support is the Thomas Farside Langley Trust. This makes small grants to purchase text books for those living in the parishes of Wykeham, Ruston and West Ayton entering higher education.
In 1689 Thomas Farside was appointed Rector Impropriate to the parish of Hutton Buscel. In order to store the ‘greater tithes’ to which he was entitled, he built the huge barn, which still stands to the north of Manor Farm and has his date stone high on the east wall beneath the gable. Soon after, he also constructed a fine house called, appropriately, Hutton Buscel Hall.
Unfortunately this burnt down in 1810. However the walled garden, just across the road from the school, survives. His will provided for the funding of a school, then situated at what is now 85 Main Street, this being the ancestor of the current trust.
Those wishing to apply for grants or wishing to support the Trust should contact email@example.com.
In 2018 the Estate was awarded the Bledisloe Gold Medal by the Royal Agricultural Society of England. The most prestigious award available to Estates in England.