Magnificent Duncombe Park is a Grade I listed Italianate mansion with baroque influence nestled within a 450-acre estate of parkland, gardens and nature reserves. It is the home of the Duncombe family who assume the hereditary title of Baron Feversham. Although the house remains private, the landscaped gardens and nature reserve are open for visitors to enjoy. The wider estate includes waymarked walking trails and the chance to go orienteering through the woodlands, the River Rye valley and surrounding farmland.
Close to the market town of Helmsley and within the North Moors National Park, Duncombe Park is one of the most impressive historic homes in Yorkshire. Its past is closely entwined with that of neighbouring Helmsley Castle and Rievaulx Abbey.
The land was purchased by the Duncombe family around 1687, but it was not until 1711 that Thomas Duncombe built the original house. Duncombe, born Thomas Browne, succeeded to the Yorkshire estate on the death of his brother-in-law, Sir Charles Duncombe, assuming his surname when he did. The house was built by William Wakefield to a design by renowned architect Sir John Vanbrugh; famous for Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard. Duncombe’s son extended the grounds to include the Rievaulx Temples and Terrace, now owned and managed by the National Trust.
The estate was eventually inherited by Charles Duncombe, MP for Shaftsbury, and by 1790 he was also the High Sheriff of Yorkshire. He did very well for himself, accumulating a fine art collection and earning the title First Baron Feversham.
In 1843, the house was remodelled and updated by Sir Charles Barry (known for rebuilding the Palace of Westminster / Houses of Parliament). However, the changes were relatively short-lived as a fire in 1879 destroyed the main block. Rebuilding did not commence for another 24 years. It was reconstructed by William Young based on the original Vanbrugh design. From the 1920s until 1985, the house was used as a girls’ school before it was restored and used by Peter Duncombe, 6th Baron Feversham as his private residence.
The 35-acre gardens include a yew tunnel, ornamental parterres and a secret garden near the Orangery. They have been described as ‘the supreme masterpiece of the art of the landscape gardener’. Walks though the wider park are now part of the National Nature Reserve. Dissected by paths, the wider park is a rare style of natural landscape that includes wildflower meadows and occasional glimpses of temples and ‘eyecatchers’. Mature trees up to 500 years old, pollarded oaks and grassy meadows lead down to the river and are a haven for deer and wildlife.
Formerly part of Rievaulx Abbey grounds, the area known as Rievaulx Terrace includes a Doric-style Temple which appears to sit on a promontory in the River Rye. The terrace paving came from the choir of the nearby 12th Century Rievaulx Abbey, now a romantic ruin. The curving terrace leads to another temple, said to have been inspired by Rome’s ancient Temple of Fortuna Virilis. From the terrace, look for the nearby ash tree. At 148 feet it is thought to be the tallest ash in England.
Duncombe Park is frequently used for TV and film shoots and for weddings and corporate events. The award-winning International Birds of Prey Centre sits onsite and is one of the largest collections of hawks, falcons, owls and raptors in England.