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Freak storms, fires and model railways – the rich history of Highfield House

The striking architecture and picturesque settings of Highfield House make it one of the most recognisable buildings in Driffield which, over many years, has provided the backdrop for countless family occasions from weddings and Christenings to milestone birthdays.

When current owners Andy and Lindsey Lampard moved into the Grade II listed building in 2015, they embarked on a journey to find out more about the history of the house and its previous owners.

Andy’s parents Phyllis and Stan Lampard took the research further and worked with Chris Hand to produce a number of interesting documents charting the history of how the current Highfield House came into being.

Reporter Debbie Sutton caught up with Phyllis for a fascinating insight into the history of Highfield House.

The site that Highfield House occupies belonged to North End Windmill – a large tower mill used for milling corn built in 1819.

It was a leading example of modern technology at the time, thanks in part to the state-of-the-art steam driven equipment inside which had seen substantial monetary investment from its owner Richard Tate.

However, following a freak storm in 1860, the mill was destroyed and due to an unpaid mortgage, Richard Tate declared bankruptcy and the site was put up for sale.

It was bought by Henry Angas, a prosperous local draper, in 1864. Having run a well-established business in Driffield, he was looking to build a new villa residence in the town.

He engaged the services of Manchester architects firm Paull and Aycliffe to design his new home – a Gothic Revival House – which became known as Mill Field Hill.

Following Henry Angas’ retirement, Mill Field Hill was sold to Harison Holt, the son of another draper from Hull, in 1882.

Holt commissioned Victorian architect Temple Moore, well known for his Gothic revival churches, to help renovate and extend the property.

He gave it the black and white cladding, which Highfield is so well-recognised for, a look which was inspired by the design of Holt’s wife’s ancestral home in Cheshire called Highfields.

Holt’s wife Adolpha was the daughter of Henry Oslow and his wife Charity.

Charity was the daughter of William Baker of Highfields Farm, located two miles south of Audlem in Cheshire.

The Baker family had been associated with the Highfields estate since at least the mid-1600s, however; sadly, amidst the great agricultural depression in the late 19th century, John Bellyse Baker had to dispose of their lands and sell Highfields, which would have been upsetting for the Baker family.

But Adolpha was able to keep the memory of her ancestral home alive, thanks to her husband Harrison Holt, who had Mill Field Hill rebuilt in the style of his wife’s ancestral home in Cheshire and gave it its new name Highfield House after the name of the Baker family home.

Harrison Holt chose the architect Temple Moore for the transformation project. Temple Moore was brought up on the Londesborough estate in the East Riding of Yorkshire. One of Moore’s earliest commissions as an architect was from his future wife’s uncle, Reverend Horace Newton, to extend his house, Beechwood in Driffield.

This extension took place in 1878, the same year that Moore also redesigned a temporary wooden church in the town.

Highfield House became arguably one of, if not the grandest 19th century houses to be erected by a self-made man in the whole of the East Riding.

For the layout of the gardens at Highfield, Holt commissioned local landscape gardener William Bradshaw, who laid out the gardens in a naturalistic manner.

On 4th July 1893 at around midnight, a fire broke out at Highfield House and caused significant damage. How the fire began remains a mystery, and thankfully there was no-one in the house at the time of the outbreak.

It is believed the blaze originated in the area of the grand staircase and spread upwards. Great praise was given to the fire brigade and locals who helped to extinguish the flames and save as much of the property as they did.

The cost of repairing the damage of the fire was between £4,000 and £5,000, which was a considerable sum at the time.

Whether it was because of the fire or other reasons, Harrison Holt and his family moved to Kirkbymoorside in north Yorkshire in 1895.

It is not clear in which year Highfield was sold or if it was just rented, but the 1911 census for Driffield revealed that it was occupied by Sir George Augustus Duncombe, a retired London banker.

In 1919, he was titled the 1st Baronet of Highfield. George had no surviving male descendant and the title became extinct on his death in 1933.

Highfield was then purchased by businessman and philanthropist Alfred Bean upon his retirement.
He and his wife Elsie had a long history of supporting local youth organisations and held many fundraising garden fetes at Highfield House during their time there.

Best remembered for financing the construction of the Alfred Bean Hospital in Driffield, upon his death, the proceeds from the sale of Highfield House went to the hospital fund.

In 1944, Highfield exchanged hands once more and was sold to Castleford glass bottle manufacturer Clarence Widdop Johnson, or Harry as he preferred to be called.

His son Douglas, who has happy memories as a boy growing up at Highfield, including using one of the second-floor bedrooms to house his model railway layout, returned to Highfield House last year and visited the Mallard suite, which has been created by current owners Andy and Lindsey inspired by Douglas’ love of his model railway.

In 1956, following the death of C.W Johnson, his wife and family moved back to Leeds and Highfield House was sold by auction on 26th July 1957.

It was bought by Harold John Taylor, known as Alty Taylor, with the intention of running it as a Country Club.

Highfield Country Club was opened on 23rd August 1957 and began its phase in history as a venue for special occasions and functions which ran until 1999.

Over the course of several years, the 34-acre estate was split into lots and resulted in areas of the estate being sold off for housing developments. One of which became Lowndes Park.

In 1967, while attending a rugby club dinner, Alty Taylor met Edward Simpson, a wool merchant from Bradford, and offered him a ready-made business as owner of the Highfield Country Club. The offer was accepted and Edward sold out of the wool trade and into hospitality.

The Highfield Country Club finally closed its doors in 1999 and the house was eventually sold by auction to property developers, who had plans to convert the house into apartments, although no building works took place.

After the developers left, Highfield and its grounds fell into decline. Its resurrection began under new owners David Taylor and his partner Elizabeth, and was accelerated when Andy and Lindsey took over in 2015.

Although their original intention was to enjoy the house as their family home and office, they soon realised it was the perfect home to share and so began their labour of love to renovate the property into a spectacular weddings and celebrations venue, an exclusive boutique hotel and speciality restaurant.

Since officially opening last year, Highfield House has already received numerous awards and accolades and has become re-established as one of the leading events and special occasion venues in the region.

Phyllis told the Wolds Weekly that researching the history of the house has been a fascinating journey.

She said: “I am very interested in ancestry and as soon as we got this place, I wanted to know who had lived here to get the whole feel of the place.

“It has been a really interesting journey and I have thoroughly enjoyed finding out about the history of the house, how it has evolved and changed and about the people who lived here.

“I have also been so grateful to all the people who have come and shared some of their memories of the house and that has helped us to build a full picture of the house. I hope others will find it as interesting as we have and enjoy sharing in the history of Highfield House.”

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