At Ease in Easingwold
Margaret Lilly samples the charms of this historic coaching town
Photographs: Paul Heaton (Fotocraft Images)
The main appeal of this attractive market town is the amount of green space around its centre: wide stretches between houses and roads are edged and cut by cobbled paths and cobbles make up much of the old centre, around the Market Place.
Easingwold is almost equidistant between York and Helmsley and is just off the A19. ‘Twas not ever thus: until almost the end of the last century this main arterial ran right through the town, down Long Street which fortunately is off the old part, a straight thoroughfare running north to south and once choked and fuming. Now there is room to breathe and many shops have benefited from easier access, since the A19 now runs around the western edge.
In olden days, Long Street saw much activity from the coaching trade, being the first staging post on the thrice-weekly service between York and Newcastle. Many public houses catered for travellers and there are still a good number in the town, but the posh place was the George Inn, now the AA-starred George at Easingwold, facing the Butter Cross. Although still olde-worlde in the bar lounge, with a range and old timbers, only the 18th century frontage remains of the original.
Apart from cafes and pubs, the hotel was the only smart place to eat but at last, in an elegant Georgian house, there is a smart restaurant, the Olive Tree. It is in the corner of Windross Square which is off the south-west corner of Market Place. (A clump of privet hedge is outside; home to a host of sparrows where some kind soul had hung nut feeders within.)
Little Lane runs one way from this little square, to Long Street, and the one way into the market place is Chapel Lane. The Methodist chapel on here stands on the site where John Wesley preached in 1786. I doubt he’d be enamoured of the modern disappointment there now: but for a large cross on the pebble-dashed apex of the hall it could be an ordinary brick building.
The stone-built Catholic church on Long Street is much prettier with its little bell tower and is administered by the monks of Ampleforth Abbey. A powerful Catholic family held sway over the town in times past when it was an Archdeaconry Manor. That may explain why the first Methodist to visit was roundly abused; indeed John Wesley had missiles thrown at him. He preached in the first Wesley chapel on Spring Street which runs up north from the market place to Uppleby. This is possibly one of the nicest places to reside – a mixture of 17th and 18th century properties from terraced cottages to villas – and all stand behind wide grass stretches. But the Georgian influence is paramount, especially around Market Place, on the west side of which are some beautiful houses, some still with coach archways, and mellow brick is the predominant material. But not at the parish church. St John the Baptist & All Saints is set in stone and contains some fascinating relics: the cross on the north wall is of 15th century timbers from the ancient church of St. Crux in York; in the vestry is the former high altar dated 1696; the parish coffin dates from around the 1650s according to the V. & A. Later details include work by Robert Thompson, the ‘Mouseman of Kilburn’ and the painting of the chancel ceiling and front of the gallery in medieval colours of red and green. During restoration between 1979 and 1991, a lych gate from Huntington parish church was added. Built on the highest point of the town, where a windmill once stood, it is close to Tanpit Lane which leads down to the library and into Market Place. On the opposite diagonal corner is the Galtres Centre, the social hub of the town. Not only is it well-used by all the local clubs and societies but it shows films and attracts some good entertainment. A few steps away is the tourist information centre where guest accommodation can be found.
Standing four-square in the centre is the town hall, built in 1859. Opposite is a small park where the blossom trees will be out soon, under which are shady seats, and on one corner is a monolith in Polish granite which has a plaque which states: ‘A sweet refuge for the weary wayfarer in his sweating toil’. It is a water fountain placed there in 1873 by one John Haxby; his widow commissioned the stone to enclose it in 1883. In the town hall are the office and printing works of the Easingwold Advertiser, a weekly newspaper started in 1892. An interesting book on the History of Easingwold can be purchased there.
Along one side of the town hall is the Butter Cross around which the market is held. Now a covered, stepped plinth, it was re-built from the original cross. Here the buses stop and I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing they wouldn’t stand, for ages sometimes it seems, with their engines running. Another small walled garden contains the war memorial and round three sides of Market Place, up Spring Street and Chapel Street are the majority of shops. Among them are several quality establishments for fashion and menswear and others on Long Street include interior design and house décor; these are set back along an inner roadway.
It strikes me that Easingwold is happy in its own skin. It has a difference in its layout to most other market towns, it has kept its architectural integrity (even some of the larger properties converted into apartments retain their period character), it serves and entertains its inhabitants well, and stands in a peaceful part of North Yorkshire, sufficiently removed from cities and motorways.
* In the district of Hambleton, the town once stood in the Forest of Galtres.
* The Butter Cross in the market place dates from the 17th century. The market started in 1639.
* A market is held here every Friday and a farmers’ market one Wednesday in the month.
* The spire clock above the town hall was erected in 1869 and denotes North, South, East and West around its sides.
* The Galtres Centre on Chapel Lane was built in 1983 and is the social hub of the town.
* The tourist information office is on Chapel Lane. It has leaflets on town walks and the Georgian architecture.
* Millfields, on the north-east corner of town, is a lovely recreational area, with wetland, woodland, playground and skate park.
* The Byway cycle route passes through the town.
* There is free on-street parking.