Thirsk and Sowerby Blue Plaques Trail
Welcome to the Blue Plaques Trail, a walk around 19 historical sites in Thirsk and Sowerby. These plaques record important buildings or people associated with our town. The idea of Blue Plaques was the brainchild of Councillor Jim Jackson of Thirsk Town Council.
1. Thomas Lord - Thirsk Museum
This was once a single dwelling, timber framed, thatched and with an earth floor. Go through the archway and look up; the old roof line is clearly visible. The yard gives a view of a typical Thirsk roofscape.
2. The Cross Keys
One of the oldest in the street, this building still shows remnants of the original timber frame that would have supported panels of wattle and daub. The steply pitched roof was once thatched. Like all yards in Thirsk, the space behind the pub was lined with cottages, stables and outbuildings, including a smithy, the landlord being both blacksmith and publican.
3. Thirsk Hall
Owned from the 15th century by the Earls of Derby, the Manor of Thirsk was sold in 1723 to a local landowner, Ralph Bell. This mansion probably stands on the site of the mediaval Manor House; close by was an ancient dwelling, once the home of a priest who served the charity of St. Anne but later used as a House of Correction for local offenders. Across the road, the trees behind the railings are the remnants of the "Marage", an ornamental garden with ponds and watrfowl, later abandoned and now built over.
4. The World of James Herriot
This house was built in the early 19th centuary by the Rhodes family who owned a brewery across the road where the chimney remains as a landmark. The brewer himself lived in the house opposite; its stone facing is unique in Kirkgate.
5. John Gilbert Baker - Bakers Alley
The draper's store owned by the Baker family was burnt down in 1864, to be replaced by the present Victorian block. The buildings on the Kikgate side are clearly much older and mark an early enroachment onto the Market Place. The alley retains the central gutter that once served as the only drain for nearby houses. In the fire that destroyed his family home, John Gilbert Baker lost his books and botanical collection, but the disaster prompted him to seek a post at Kew where he achieved an eminent position and high honours in his field of study. The plaque was unveiled in 2005 by Professor Simon Owens who, like his renowned predecessor, is keeper of the Herbarium at Kew.
6. George Gibson Macauley - Town End
In the late 1880's five members of the Macauley family came to Thirsk from Huddersfield to run the White Mare Inn. The brothers were keen cricketers and one, George senior played as a professional. After his marriage, he and his wife moved to the Commercial Hotel on this site and it was here that George Gibson Macauley was born in 1897. a pupil at Barnard Castle School, he played for Thirsk Cricket Club during the holidays and earned praise in the local press for his batting. After the death of his father, George's mother remarried and, as Mrs Ellen Lee, ran the Golden Fleece. This plaque was unveiled by Roy Wilkinson and Robin Smith of Yorkshire County Cricket Club in the presence of many former Yorkshire players and members of the Macauley family.
7. Bamlett's (Tesco site)
The coming of the Leeds-Thirsk railway to the Town End terminus in 1848 encouraged the growth of light industry next to the railway; as well as the goods yard there were maltings supplying local breweries, a saw mill and then, in 1860, Bamlett's agricultural engineering works. For over a century Bamlett's mowing and reaping machines were sold round the world until the company went out of business in the 1980's. This block now serves as offices for a variety of organisations.
8. The Court House
In the 18th and early 19th century the Justices of the Peace for the North Riding of Yorkshire met in the main market towns. When the court was held in Thirsk the magistrates met in the upper room of the Market Hall until it was burnt down in 1834. From 1854 onwards, local courts were held in the Police Station. It was not until 1885 that a separate Court House was built. It is now occupied by Rural Arts North Yorkshire (RANY).
9. Thirsk & Sowerby Town Hall
Thirsk was never incorporated as a Borough and so never had an official Town Hall. Although there were Assembly Rooms above the Savings Bank built in Castlegate in 1849. It was not until 1910 that a group of citizens formed a company to build a Club Room and Town Hall for the joint benefit of Thirsk and neighbouring Sowerby. The articles of the company show that the Club itself was intended to promote the Conservative and Unionist cause. In 1978 the Town Hall was bought from the company by Thirsk Town Council and Sowerby Parish Council with assistance from Hambleton District Council.
10. Ritz Cinema
Mechanics Institutes were established from the 1820's onward in towns and cities to encourage self-improvement among working men. This building provided committee rooms, a library and reading room, together with a large upstairs hall for lectures. With the coming of compulsory schooling under the 1879 Education Act, attendances at the institute slowly declined and the movement had run its course by the end of the 19th centuary when the premises were put to other uses. When the cinema closed in the mid 1990's, Thirsk Town Council, together with a band of volunteers stepped in and the cinema was rescued, today it is a very popular volunteer run attraction.
11. Joan Maynard - Lansbury House (76 Front Street)
The house was named after Labour politician George Lansbury (1859-19400 by Matt Maynard, father of Joan. Lansbury was leader of the Labour Party (1931 to 1935), but came to prominence many years earlier as a champion of social justice in London's East End.
A lifelong socialist and pacifist, many of whose values Joan shared, he was first elected an MP in 1910 but resigned in 1912 to fight a by-election in favour of women's voting rights. He was later imprisoned for supporting the suffragettes. As a founder and editor of the "Daily Herald" he opposed involvement in the First World War.
Elected Mayor of Poplar, he was imprisoned for leading a rebellion against levying rates on the poor which subsidised richer areas of London. He clashed with other Labour leaders but from 1929-1931 served as a minister under Ramsay MacDonald. He resignedover the draconian measures proposed to deal with the economic crisis and became leader of the opposition. His last years were spent trying to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War.
Angela Lansbury, star of film, stage and television was his granddaughter.
12. The Lambert Hospital
Born in 1786, William Lambert served as a surgeon to the Grenadier Guards during the Peninsular War (1808-1814) before coming to Thirsk where he took over the practice of his father-in-law Dr. Jonah Wasse. He died in 1856 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary's where there is a memorial to his family in the chancel.
13. Bill Fogitt (Boots Chemist)
In 1836, William Jackson Foggitt founded a chemist's business here which was carried on for three generations until 1935 when it was bought by Boots, the company which trades there today, though the original premises were rebuilt in the 1960's. The Foggitts were active members of the local community as magistrates, Methodists and noted preachers. William Foggitt was a naturalist and a friend of botanist John Gilbert Baker. Through an interst in meteorology the family built up a formidable body of weather observations which provided descendant Bill Foggitt with data for his celebrated appearances on television as Thirsk's own weather prophet.
The present, tastless 1960's building does not warrant a photograph.
14. The Golden Fleece Hotel
The last years of the 18th centuary saw the start of the great coaching era when the building of good turnpike roads made rapid horse-drawn travel possible. Thirsk was a stage on the Royal Mail's Edinburgh to London run via York. The Mail stopped here to change horses every afternoon at 4 o'clock while the "Express", the "Highflyer" and other famous coaches kept an equally punctual schedule.
15. The Three Tuns Hotel
By custom. a widow was entitled to a life interest in one third of her husband's estate; this was her "dower" and wealthy families often provided a "dower house" for her to use. Before this building became an Inn, it is thought to have been the dower house of the Bell family who bought the lordship of Thirsk in 1723 together with the mansion in Kirkgate. Between the inn yard and the Cod Beck there were ornamental gardens, later the site of a nursery garden which has given its name to the housing complex built on the site.
16. Former Register Office
In 1837 the state began registring all births, marriages and deaths. The records for each district were kept by a local Registrar and by the 1840's a place was needed to house the registers and to provide an office for him. In 1847 the Guardians of the Thirsk Union bought a plot of land here and built these premises. This was also the office of the Clerk to the Guardians and later the Rural District Council which was formed in 1894.
17. Thirsk Infants' School - Thirsk Library
This building housed Thirsk Infants' School which was founded in 1833 and paid for by public subscription. It was insisted that the school was undenominational, unlike those run by religious bodies. State education was not introduced until 1870. After the school closed in 1979, local people campaigned to move the public library from the old Assesmbly Rooms in Castlegate to these premises. The Thirsk Infants' School Trust still owns the building and makes grants to local organisations.
18. Fox Wynd (7 to 11 Ingramgate)
These three dwellings are distinct in style from any other buildings in Thirsk. They were designed by the highly original Victorian architect Edward Buckton Lamb (1805-1869), and were built to house employees of Lady Frankland Russell's Thirkleby Park Estate, which already owned much of the land in this part of town. Lamb had already worked for her at Thirkleby, where he rebuilt All Saints Church in 1851 and at St Mary's Bagby a few years later.
19. Thirsk Union Workhouse
Before the passing of the Poor Law Act of 1834, each parish took responsibility for its own poor, but the system was inefficient. The new Act created "Unions" grouping parishes together and requiring the provision of a Workhouse to shelter the old and infirm and to house the unemployed in return for work of a menial and repetative nature designed to deter all but the most desperate from seeking parish assistance. The Thirsk Union Workhouse served some forty parishes and was planned for 120 paupers but later extended to hold 200 if need be. It was considered the best run in the Northern District. The workhouse system was not abolished until 1929.
20. Hannah Packer
Hannah Packer was born in Thirsk in 1841, one of the daughters of John Packer from Baldersby who was House Steward at Thirsk Hall. Following the death of John Bell he set up in business as a wine and spirits merchant. In 1860 Hannah Packer married Richard Carter, a bank clerk, and lived above the bank in Bank House, Market Place, Thirsk. Following Richard Carter’s sudden death Hannah moved to Liverpool and became a nurse and in 1879 Matron. She then became Matron of York County Hospital. There she met Dr Davidson and they went to work in some of the poorest regions of Uruguay.This was at the time of the gold rush, but then this failed and the company went bankrupt. Hannah and Dr Davidson set up a miners’ cooperative and produced enough gold to keep going. There was then a Civil War and Hannah and Dr Davidson set up an emergency hospital, which received a commendation from the International Red Cross. Hannah Packer brought professional nursing to Uruguay. She is revered in Minas de Corales and the local hospital has been renamed in her honour.