Thursday, 26 May 2011

Article - Thieving footmen and ghostly goings-on in High Melton Hall

Pevsner (1959) suggests that the central tower of High Melton Hall dates from the medieval period yet the main section was built around 1757 with a wing being added in 1878.

The centre of the building is three storeys high; the wings two storeys. The Hall and Estate was formerly occupied by the Fountayne, Montagu and Lindley Wood families.

During the 18th century John Fountayne was the Dean of York.

Hatfield, in his Hints to Pedestrians (1849-50), describes the setting of Melton Park: “The numerous hedgerows on the slope to the left, decorated with the full bloom of the fragrant hawthornes, and extending from the wall of Melton Park, the seat of Andrew Montagu Esq. eldest son of the late Richard Fountayne Wilson Esq. who represented the County of York in Parliament in the session of 1826, are literally crowded with timber trees, which give an additional richness to the prospect.”

During the 20th century, the Hall was the scene of a theft. In 1908, 18-year-old Percy Finn, a second footman at the Hall, stole a tiara, the property of Mrs Montagu, wife of FJO Montagu and then tried to obtain £500 from her for its safe return.

Unfortunately for Finn, he left a trail of clues, which eventually resulted in the police arresting him.

In 1926, Melton and Barnburgh Halls were purchased from Captain FJO Montagu through private treaty by Messrs GW Meanley & Sons, Mexborough builders and contractors.

The greatest changes were made in the late 1940s when more than £200,000 was spent on High Melton Hall and it was converted into a teacher training college, a new residential block being built in the grounds.

Shortly after, the Doncaster Chronicle of July 10, 1952 carried an article headlined ‘High Melton College: a monument to extravagance’ and which stated: “Can this lavish expenditure possibly be justified? We believe it is sheer nonsense to spend £206,000 on a training college for 100 students. They will begin their lives as teachers in surroundings as remote from reality as those of a fairy tale palace.”

Doncaster MP Anthony Barber, asked Florence Horsburgh, Minister of Education, to re-examine the £206,000 training college project. He stated that many of his constituents were ‘most disturbed’ at the £75,000 to be spent on a residential block.

The Doncaster Chronicle of July 1, 1954 stated that ‘High Melton Hall, the country home, the prison, the barracks is now a building for people who want to learn’.

It also talks of the Hall ghost: “It is reputed to appear in one of the rooms in the old tower where the walls are so thick that wardrobes and bookshelves have been built into them.”

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