Leeds nostalgia: Stank Hall barn goes back in time

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This week Times Past looks at Stank Hall Barn, the oldest building in Leeds and the efforts afoot to bring it back into use.

Sue Ottley-Hughes, co-chair of The Friends of Stank Hall Barn, tells Times Past about plans to bring new life to Leeds’s oldest building and why it was the ‘Las Vegas’ of feudal Britain.

Sue said: “It was a former hunting lodge attached to Rothwell Castle but it was far from anywhere, out in the woods, out of sight and mind and when the king came here to hunt, it would have been very much like a lads night out in Magaluf, very raucous. It would have been almost a case of ‘what happens in Beeston stays in Beeston.’”

The friends group is on the brink of taking over the running of the historic hall from Leeds City Council - they plan to renovate the hall to bring it back into use, create a Medieval garden and social activity centre.

Writer and archeology enthusiast Sue said the hall had some fascinating history.

“During recent archaeology field walking on the paths in and around the Stank Hall and Barn site by the Friends of Stank Hall we have discovered prehistoric flint scrapers, Roman pottery and a number of other early finds.

“The Roman element on the site shouldn’t be that much of a surprise – part of a Roman hypocaust (underground heating system for a dwelling or bath house) was found in the first half of 20th Century in the sewage works that stood where the White Rose Centre stands. Roman coins and small finds have been reported on the Cardinals Estate and up Churwell Hill – but it was still an unexpected couple of finds that clarified the fact in the Stanks site we are examining an occupation of some considerable antiquity.

“Above the site on the golf course, a private archaeological excavation apparently found the remains of roundhouses with many worked flints in the early 20th Century. Whilst further along the ridge in Middleton, the remains of a Beaker settlement were discovered when digging foundations for a recent housing development.

“Beeston too is an ancient site of likely constant occupation – in many ways it is too high and useful not to be, anyone who has ever tried to climb Beeston Hill in the ice and snow can attest that in its pre-20th Century condition of muddied trackways it would have been an effort to reach the top.

“In the 17th Century it is mentioned as the place the people of Leeds could retire to in times of trouble – during civil unrest. Thoresby reports that there is a near riot in the streets when there is an (untrue) report passing from man to man that Beeston has been set alight. The earthwork by Beeston Primary School known as Windmill Hill is, by it’s shape and the way it ties in with the other man-made and early earthworks that run along the top of Beeston ridge rising up from the Elland Road Football Stadium, likely to be Norman in origin or earlier. Two Roman roads intersected just where the Ring Road and B&Q now meld together and it is unlikely the Roman command would leave such a naturally defensible rise of earth be enhanced and utilised by any opposition.

“Certainly by the time that the Scots Army occupied Morley as unwelcome invaders for winter quarter in the 14th Century, Beeston was defensible enough to remain unoccupied and unmolested. A quick search on the Leodis website of photographic local history owned by Leeds City Council reveals the 20th Century demolition of ancient properties to make way for housing developments. You can see some fine medieval timber framed buildings being ripped apart to be lost forever, together with a Norman stone hall with small arched windows that echo those of the earliest form of Stank Old Hall when it was the Royal Hunting Lodge. Beeston Hall was also demolished to make way for housing, the fine timber hall of Cad Beeston remains but only thanks to dedicated work by those who toiled to keep it 20 years ago - now it perches on the far edge of Beeston Hill in private ownership and hedged in by small red brick houses.”

She adds: “We have one final lost great house in Beeston which remains hidden from everyone. In the 17th Century the great Leeds historian Ralph Thoresby bemoaned the loss of a great stone gatehouse of some antiquity which was being taken apart and demolished on Beeston Hill. From his description, it was probably something like the lovely Marmion Tower in West Tanfield. It guarded a timber framed hall which had fallen into disuse and was then derelict – but where was it?

“Beeston Hall was well known to Master Thoresby, as he frequently visited a friend there who was a lady historian. Cad Beeston too was alive and kicking at that time, as was Stank Hall. Somewhere under modern Beeston is the answer to this puzzle but it may take some finding. The great worked stones from the demolished tower may not have travelled far – in Turner’s painting from Beeston Hill a layer of fine square stones are used to improve the road surface.”

Jeremy Morton, from the friends group, said he hoped they would be able to sign paperwork which will enable them to get onto the site within the coming weeks

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