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Yorkshire Times
Voice of the North
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Caroline Spalding
Features Correspondent
10:37 AM 6th May 2020

Heritage Walks: Druid’s Temple, Harrogate District

An exceptional folly is found close to the village of Ilton, approx. 3 miles south-west of Masham in North Yorkshire. It could very well be Yorkshire’s equivalent to Stonehenge, except that the Druid’s Temple was in fact commissioned in 1820 by William Danby, then the Sheriff of York, as a possible solution to help ease local unemployment.

Labourers were paid a shilling a day for its construction and Danby offered a regular salary for a person willing to inhabit the “temple” for a period of seven years. It remains unclear whether the offer was ever taken up by a obliging hermit, but the setting, deep within a forest on Danby’s estate of Swinton Park, and containing standing stones towering ten feet, a large stone table, altar stone and a cave have subsequently provoked many stories of mystery, even devil-worship. The site appears to have remained largely unknown for a long period – nothing was reported in the newspapers or recorded in private correspondence and diaries of the time. One report, however, appeared in a letter to the Leeds Mercury in 1871, enthusiastically detailing the writer’s “discovery” of such a “well-preserved relic”.

Druid's Temple. Photo from yorkshire.com
Druid's Temple. Photo from yorkshire.com
If true, the reasons for its construction offer an interesting insight into the zeitgeist of certain classes of that era. It is said by the website thefollyflaneuse.com that in creating the temple, Danby was seeking to establish himself in league with the harbingers in the fields of geometry, astrology and architecture, in other words, a respectful, civilised individual. This was a time after the Age of Enlightenment from which grew a new respect for science, and a lessening of control from the Church, perhaps changing the parameters slightly of those seeking to become a person of reverence.

That said, the Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason as it is also know, was largely a European movement, which, some argue, had little impact in England. All this notwithstanding, superstitions were rife during the Victorian Era, particularly the fascination with Spiritualism, which arrived from America c1852. Spiritualism, a belief that the dead can communicate with the living, became popular for many Victorians who had begun to shun conventional religion and may well have fuelled stories linking the “Temple” to the occult.

Please note that the site is currently closed due to the coronavirus. Once lock-down has lifted, however, you’ll need OS Explorer Map 298 to plan your route. Options include following the Ripon Rowel Walk (https://www.visitharrogate.co.uk/things-to-do/ripon-rowels-walk-p1227861); taking the tracks across Grewelthorpe Moor or even combining it with a spot of trout fishing at the nearby Leighton Reservoir.

Facts were drawn from and further information can be found at:

http://www.suttonincravenpc.org.uk/history_ofbuildings.html
https://thefollyflaneuse.com
https://historicengland.org.uk
https://www.visitharrogate.co.uk/things-to-do/the-druids-temple-p1237221
http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/ancient-sites/druids-temple-ilton/
https://heritagecalling.com/2017/04/01/fashionable-fakery-8-fantastical-follies/
http://www.victorianweb.org/religion/spirit.html
http://www.thevictorianhistorian.com/beliefs-superstitions
http://www.matthewpemmott.co.uk/2008/03/lammerside-castletower-mallerstang.html
https://www.yorkshiredales.org.uk
https://saddind.co.uk/how-the-pots-and-pans-memorial-finally-got-off-the-ground/
https://potsandpanscottage.com/2018/06/18/the-story-of-the-pots-and-pans-stone/
https://en.wikipedia.org