Wood Hall’s first Norman possessor was Malgar Le Vavasour, and for several hundred years it was the home of the Vavasour family and their descendants.
At the time of the Norman Conquest, Wood Hall and its co-manor Hazelwood, were occupied by two brothers. The two men, with the help of the Danes, drove the Normans out of York in 1067 - an act which brought the vengeance of William the Conqueror - and the devastation of him, in Yorkshire in 1070. Because of this, William placed in these two manors two of his ‘Vavasours’ meaning valiant gentlemen, a title immediately below that of a Knight. For 650 years the Vavasours lived at Wood Hall.
In Medieval times, Wood Hall chase was widely famed for its good venison: on different occasions men of good standing were called by the Vavasours to answer for trespassing in the pursuit of game in their park at Wood Hall.
Wood Hall was originally situated right on the banks of the River Wharfe, which flows through the hotel grounds. During the Civil War, Cromwell’s army destroyed the buildings and threw the stonework into the river. It was only during this century that some of the stonework was recovered and the House of York coat of arms can be seen as decoration in the front hall of the hotel.
Early Wood Hall
The present building was erected in 1750, designed by the famous Yorkshire architect John Carr, when it passed into the hands of the Scott family of Scott Hall, Leeds, who owned Sicklinghall (hence the village pub, The Scott’s Arms). The Oak Room Bar in the modern day Wood Hall was originally the Dining Room, and still features the magnificent original oak panelling. At the side of the fireplace you can see a push bell, most likely used to call the servants. Some of the cottages were built in the reign of James 1st. The present dining room in the Jacobean wing was formerly part of the out-house on the Vavasour estate and therefore, dates back to that period.
The house passed through multiple family members and was leased in 1910 for 21 years to Mr CM Watson, a woollen manufacturer from Morley. Various alterations were made to the house around this time and these can be viewed on a plan currently displayed at the entrance to the Oak Room Bar. One of our bedrooms, the Manton Room, is named after another previous owner, Mr Joseph Watson (later Lord Manton – “Soapy Joe’s”). He was chairman of Joseph Watson & Sons Ltd, soap manufacturers of Leeds, and a director of the London and North-Western Railway.
Boy’s Prep School
It was kept in the family until 1911 and remained a family home until 1935 when it became a boy’s prep school. The current Drawing Room was the former school’s Library, where quiet studying took place. You can see some of the many bookshelves that surrounded the room, and the grand fireplace that kept the room warm on a winter evening. The Georgian Restaurant was initially the school’s Day Room, which was the main schoolroom and where the boys would have sat on the floor for assemblies.
A number of well-known Yorkshire families sent their sons to the school including Sir Len Hutton, the Yorkshire and England cricketer. The reminiscences of former pupils give a glimpse of what life was like at the school, “Each boy was given a cricket ball in the summer term, his school number cut into the leather in Roman numerals and woe betide you if you could not produce the ball on request”.
Ex-pupils of the school remember the headmaster, Mr Catlow, as quite a character. He had spent a period before World War II teaching in Germany, including being tutor to President Hindenburg’s son. He was a keen sailor and took charge of one of the small boats that went to the rescue of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk in 1940, an exploit which no doubt captured the admiration of the boys in his school.
In 1966, Wood Hall became the first pastoral and ecumenical centre in Britain, counting Mother Teresa of Calcutta among its first visitors. Father Buckley said of the centre, “It will be the first of its kind on this scale in the country. Its object is to bring the renewal of the Church’s life to all Catholics, other Christians and non-Christians. It will be primarily a spiritual Christian Centre”. A Carmelite monastery is now situated to the rear of Wood Hall.
From Vietnam to North Yorkshire
Wood Hall was host to Vietnamese boat people arriving in the UK after the Vietnam War. People in Sicklinghall were among those who rallied around to help with the clothing and other essentials needed by these people who had lost everything.
As well as material items, locals also became “befrienders”, where they would visit a Vietnamese family staying at Wood Hall and invite them into their own homes. A highlight for the English families was an invitation to join their celebration of the Chinese New Year at Wood Hall, complete with dragon. So it was that events happening in a remote country sent ripples half way around the world to affect lives in the little village of Linton.
Since the opening of Wood Hall as a hotel, the courtyard wing has replaced the stables and outbuildings to the west of the main house. In 1992 a further wing to the east was added to incorporate spa facilities.
Today Wood Hall is owned by Hand Picked Hotels, and its guests create the next chapter of a fascinating history. Be sure to explore the rest of this historic building, and discover the beautiful grounds.