The earliest reference to the hall came in 1066 when it was mentioned in the Domesday Book. It began its long history as little more than a single square tower surrounded by marshy fields, and remained as such until 1578 when ownership passed to the Bowes family. Robert and Emily Bowes built a two storey manorial hall on the site which was decorated with a three foot high frieze of allegorical figures and foliage in base relief which was designed to be enjoyed from ground level. Some of this frieze has survived to the present day, and can still be seen.
The hall was bought in 1727 by Sir Conyers Darcy, who took it upon himself to transform Aske into the beginnings of what we know it as today. By the time Darcy arrived, the hall had been neglected for quite some time but he quickly set about restoring and extensively adding to the original buildings. A survey of the estate found in the Dundas Papers held at the North Yorkshire County Record Office shed a little light onto some of Darcy’s changes, declaring that he ‘swept away the complex roofing [except the towers], removed the porch and projecting blocks in the corners of the wings, and completely refenestrated the house’. The person chosen by Darcy for this was William Wakefield, an amateur architect who also designed Duncombe Park in Helmsley.
In 1763 the hall was purchased by Sir Lawrence Dundas, 1st Baronet, who, ably assisted by his architect John Carr, sought to realise Aske’s potential as one of the great houses of 18th century northern England. His aim was to create a ‘suitable seat for a new dynasty and a controlling influence in the parliamentary borough of Richmond’. The first stage of the project saw the completion of the offices, bakehouse, wash-house and laundry. The Dundas Papers tell us that the next stage of Carr’s design meant the demolishing of the rear sections of the hall, and the creation of a new scullery, kitchen, steward’s parlour, housekeeper’s room, strongroom, family rooms, and a new staircase.
The final set of notable changes to the design of the hall itself came when it was under the ownership of Thomas Dundas, 2nd Earl of Zetland. Whilst substantial, the vast majority of these changes were cosmetic rather than structural, and were probably architected by Ignatius Bonomi, who also worked on Durham Cathedral and St Nicholas House, Richmond. A Jacobean trim was added to the front of the hall, as were two balconies, one of each wing. Cresting was put above these balconies, and also over the centre of the house, the latter bearing the Dundas arms. The most major change was the remodelling of the Jacobean tower on the west front, where the square turrets were replaced with round ones.
In 1962-63, the house was reduced in size by the 3rd Marquess & Marchioness of Zetland and their architect Claud Phillimore. The wings were reduced, the ballroom removed and the much smaller house that exists today emerged.
In 1887 the imposing stable block was built, which, in more recent years, has been developed into a commercial office block with great success. The offices retain lots of original features, and, with plenty of thriving businesses of every type populating them, the stables is both a picturesque and vibrant place to work.
Aske Hall is a Grade I listed building, and is open to the public for guided tours as part of the Heritage Open Day event in September each year. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org at Zetland Estates for more information.