Discover Warter, a divine East Yorkshire village
Chris Titley is charmed by Warter, a Wolds village which is as pretty as a picture
Getting there: Warter is on the B1246, 18 miles east of York and 12 miles west of Driffield. The EYMS bus services 743 and 744 call at Warter pond.
Where to park: Turn off the B1246 at Warter war memorial, go past the school and the car park is on your right.
What to do: Visit the Yorkshire Wolds Heritage Centre in St James Church.
It’s an odd experience to arrive at a place thinking: ‘I recognise those trees’. But then these are famous trees. Some of them had their portraits painted by none other than David Hockney. His giant 15ft by 40ft oil painting, Bigger Trees Near Warter, is made up of 50 smaller canvases and now hangs in London’s Tate Gallery. And as you approach the village of Warter, halfway between Hockney’s Bridlington home and York, you see various copses and can’t help noticing the resemblance.
These may not be the actual sycamores and beeches the great painter committed to canvas (indeed some of them were felled, much to Hockney’s dismay, last year), but it certainly gives a village a certain cachet to be connected to such a wonderful work of art.
Warter lends itself to artistic interpretation. It is a beautiful, timeless place which is so picture perfect you worry it’s just an intricate film set which will be dismantled and taken away at any moment.
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Wherever you go, there are sights to sigh over. Coming in from the east, you first encounter the duck pond, overhung by willows and fed by a gurgling spring, which is home to a vocal and vigorous group of mallards.
Follow the road further along and you reach the centre of the village. Up a few steps on a triangular patch of green stands a Celtic cross, the war memorial. From here you have a fine view. Along one side is a line of whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs.
Close by is Warter Post Office, a two-storey brick and slate building which is so charming you almost expect Miss Marple to scurry out of the door on her way to investigate a particularly entertaining death.
Warter has this ageless appeal partly because it is an estate village, wholly owned by one person at a time. Its colourful story begins when most of the area belonged to the monks of Warter Priory, established in 1132. The prior and canons were granted the right to host a fair on the feast of St James, July 25th, until the king closed the event in 1328 owing to a spate of murders. (Where were you Miss Marple?)
The priory fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1536. A century or so later the estate became the property of the Stapleton family, and then it passed by marriage to Sir William Pennington of Muncaster Castle in Cumberland. By 1783 Sir John Pennington had been created the 1st Lord Muncaster.
During the 18th century the family purchased the remaining freehold land in Warter and built a new Warter Priory, this one being a private mansion, about a mile from the village. They also set about rebuilding the village which had been condemned in a report of 1865 as ‘extraordinarily shabby’ and filled with ‘hovels’.
The 5th and last Lord Muncaster sold the 11,000 acre estate to a Hull shipowner and MP Charles Wilson in 1878. He continued the village renovation work.
Since the Wilsons sold the estate in 1929 it was owned by the Hon George Vestey and, from 1968, the Marquis of Normanby. Sadly Warter Priory was deemed to be surplus to requirements and was demolished in 1972.The estate last changed hands in 1998. Hull businessman Malcolm Healey, who together with his brother Eddie is 27th in the Sunday Times Rich List, bought it for �48m, ahead of rival bidders said to include Sir Mick Jagger and Sir Elton John.
Much of the village’s story is told on display boards dotted around the churchyard of St James, found on a high bank across the road from the war memorial. It looked like redundant St James would go the same way as both Warter Priories until the local community helped raise �600,000 to restore it.
Today the church has a new role as the Yorkshire Wolds Heritage Centre which is usually open between 10am and 4pm but was closed on my visit (sadly the post office, which has the key, was also shut).
But a tour of the churchyard is absorbing in itself. Much of it is conserved as a wildlife habitat and rare butterflies like the Marbled White, Brown Argus and Dingy Skipper have been spotted here.
Impressive monuments to members of the Wilson family are found on the north side of the churchyard. There was once a Classical mausoleum here too, dedicated to Lady Isabel Wilson who died in childbirth aged 26, but that was demolished in 1966.
Standing here, with your back to the church, you look over a bumpy meadow where sheep graze and stare languidly from grassy hillocks at visitors. Here are the earthworks of the medieval priory.
An information board reveals that it was home to 12 canons when the priory was suppressed in 1536. Two of them attempted to re-establish the monastery during the uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace and were executed at York as traitors.
Warter is filled with so much history little room is left for modernity. The only contemporary building visible to the visitor is the primary school, which is attended by children from the village and further afield, and came top of the last set of East Riding league tables.
Chairman of Warter Parish Council, Ian Massie, used to live in the old chapel in the centre of the village, moved away then returned about 10 years ago. What was it that drew him back to Warter?
‘It sits really nicely, does Warter, in a fold in the hills. I’m a great fan of the Yorkshire Wolds which are a very beautiful and very uncrowded part of the countryside. It’s somewhere where it’s possible to go for a walk and find some space, peace and quiet and tranquillity,’ he said.
Around Warter you find an ancient landscape teeming with wildlife. The numerous pheasants dotted around the surrounding fields are testament to the estate’s popular shoots.
And the village has a true community feel. ‘There’s a little village committee which organises everything from beetle drives to harvest celebrations. There’s also a produce show each year which is well supported every autumn.’
Although it boasts few new buildings Warter has moved on, Ian said. ‘The place has changed in character. In the very early days when I came here the great majority of the people who lived in the village worked on the estate.‘As agriculture got more mechanised you needed fewer people on the land. More people from outside have moved into the village but in general they have become very much engaged in the community and village life.’