From Wikishire
Jump to: navigation, search
North Riding
Looking up Borough Beck to the higgledy-piggledy buildings of Helmsley - geograph.org.uk - 432528.jpg
Helmsley along Borough Beck
Grid reference: SE617838
Location: 54°14’48"N, 1°3’16"W
Population: 1,570
Post town: York
Postcode: YO62
Dialling code: 01439
Local Government
Council: Ryedale
Thirsk and Malton

Helmsley is a market town in the North Riding of Yorkshire, standing at the point where the valleys of Bilsdale and Ryedale leave the moorland and join the flat Vale of Pickering.

The town is on the River Rye and on the A170 road, 14 miles east of Thirsk, 13 miles west of Pickering and some 24 miles due north of York. The southern boundary of the North York Moors National Park bisects along the A170 road, so that the western part of the town is within the National Park and subject to its planning rules.

The town is a popular tourist centre. The Cleveland Way National Trail starts at Helmsley, and follows a horseshoe loop around the North York Moors National Park for 110 miles through to Filey. The town square is a popular meeting place for motorcyclists as it is at the end of the B1257 road from Stokesley, which is a favourite with bikers.

The remains of Helmsley Castle tower over the town. Other places of interest include Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley Arts Centre.[1]


Aerial photo of Helmsley

The town grew up largely as a result of its position at a road junction and river crossing point. Helmsley is a compact town, retaining its mediæval layout around its market place with more recent development to the north and south of its main thoroughfare, Bondgate. It is an historic town of considerable architectural character whose centre has been designated as a Conservation Area.

The town is associated with the Earls of Feversham whose ancestral home Duncombe Park was built overlooking the castle.[2] A statue of William Duncombe, 2nd Baron Feversham stands in the town's square.

Helmsley is on the southern boundary of the North York Moors National Park approximately 200 feet above sea level. The town's geology is sandstone. To the west and the north of the town the moorland areas are predominantly limestone.

Helmsley lies in a hollow in undulating open countryside, flanked by heather moor to the north and the rolling farmland of the Howardian Hills to the south. The flat lowland of the Vale of Pickering stretches eastwards from the town towards Malton. The River Rye runs by the town to the south where it is joined at Rye Bridge by the Borough Beck flowing southwards through the town from the moors. Meadows south of the Rye form an important buffer and create an attractive setting for the town from the southern approach.[3]

The area was affected by flash flooding on the night of 19 June 2005.[4]


The name "Helmsley" is Old English and means 'Helm's meadow'. The name recorded in the Domesday Book is Elmeslac.

The Norse who dominated Yorkshire for centuries have also left their mark in the Old Norse, "gate" ending of the names of many of the streets.


Archaeological discoveries indicate that the area around Helmsley was first settled in around 3,000 BC and small farming communities have existed here ever since. Finds of beehive querns confirm local agriculture and the milling of grain since at least the Iron Age. There are also reports of finds of Roman pottery and a second century Roman coin.

The ownership of much of the town and its surrounding land has changed hands only twice since the Norman Conquest. After the conquest it was held by William the Conqueror's half brother the Count of Mortain and land to the west of Helmsley was a royal deer park. The ancient pollarded oak trees in Duncombe Park date from this period and the park is now a national nature reserve. In about 1100 the estate passed to Walter Espec, founder of Rievaulx Abbey. Walter Espec's heirs were the eldest surviving sons of his three sisters and the Helmsley properties devolved upon Robert De Ros, the son of the youngest sister, Adeline. In 1191 Robert de Ros granted Helmsley its Borough Charter, which established it as the market town.

Helmsley Castle

The De Ros charter created the burgage plots — long, narrow plots which can still be seen in the property boundaries on the west side of Castlegate and east side of Bridge Street. Large-scale sheep farming, wool production and weaving were the mainstay of Helmsley's economy for several centuries. Despite setbacks, including marauding Scots and the Black Death, Helmsley grew steadily throughout the Middle Ages. When wool production declined after the dissolution of Rievaulx Abbey, Helmsley's weavers turned to flax, much of which was imported. The weavers were located on Bond and Bridge Streets. By the beginning of the 17th century the form of Helmsley was largely complete, and many buildings in use today date from this period. The oldest surviving house is Canon's Garth, the vicarage. The town remained with the holders of the barony of De Ros through the Earls of Rutland and the Dukes of Buckingham until it was sold to the city financier, Sir Charles Duncombe in about 1689.

The ruined Norman castle is the most significant mediæval survival of the buildings in the town, although parts of the parish church and Canon's Garth are mediæval in origin. The 18th and 19th centuries saw major developments and expansion in the hands of the Duncombe family, beginning with the construction of Duncombe Park outside the town.

At the beginning of the 19th century the cottage weaving industry declined in the face of competition from new industrial cities. Despite this, the 19th century saw various major development in the town, notably the rebuilding of All Saints' Church, and at the end of the century, building of the town hall. More houses were built along Bondgate and, after the arrival of the railway in 1871, along Station Road. This period also saw older houses remodelled so that little thatch remained in the town. With the decline of weaving, agriculture became the mainstay of the economy.[5]

On 30 June 2011 the BBC2 programme "History Cold Case" featured an archaeological investigation into four two-thousand year-old skeletons found in Windy Pits caves, concluding that at least one had been the victim of a ritual killing, including scalping.[6] The findings, including the facial reconstruction of the scalping victim, were presented, at Duncombe Park, to local history experts.[7]


There are four churches in Helmsley. The Church of England parish church is All Saints.

Conservation area

The conservation area covers about 91.2 acres and contains some 433 buildings within its bounds. It contains all 51 listed buildings in the town, approximately 12% of the building stock, and two scheduled ancient monuments. Of the listed buildings, 48 are classified Grade II and three are Grade II*. Most small buildings in the conservation area are built of local cream and honey-coloured stone. Most buildings, even those of higher status, are constructed using rubble stone which has been laid to course. Most roofs are covered with pantiles. Some of the larger, more imposing town houses and civic buildings have been constructed using ashlar stone and slate as a demonstration of affluence.[8]


Helmsley Market Place

In the late 20th century a large amount of housing was built on backland sites in the older part of town and in residential developments outside its historic core and a small industrial estate was developed in the south-eastern corner.

The castle visitor centre provides an important attraction for the town. Helmsley is well provided with retail space but less well provided with office space. The main employers in are Duncombe Park Estate, Thomas's Bakery and the North York Moors National Park Authority. The industrial estate is a vital economic asset of Helmsley.[9]

Tourism plays an important role in the area's economy. The national park receives around 9 million day-visits each year. Day visitors make up 40% of all visitor days.

Culture, media and sport

Inside the Walled Garden, Helmsley
  • Helmsley Arts Centre, a 140-seat auditorium and 40-seat studio/exhibition space.
  • The 1812 Theatre Company, the resident amateur theatre company at the Helmsley Arts Centre

The five-acre Helmsley Walled Garden, originally built in 1756, is being restored as a working kitchen garden. A walled garden for the castle stood along the banks of the river to the south. Soon after the family moved out of the castle into Duncombe Park this walled garden was built. The garden incorporates glass houses designed in 1850 as a vine house. The ongoing programme of restoration uses appropriate plants where possible.[10]

Helmsley has an open-air swimming pool and a recreation ground providing facilities for tennis, bowls, cricket and football.[11]

The Cleveland Way, a horseshoe-shaped route around the North York Moors National Park starts in Helmsley. It follows the moor's western escarpment to meet the coast at Saltburn-by-the-Sea, and then follows the coast to end at Filey.[12]


Helmsley Archive

The Helmsley Archive is a collection of more than 5,000 images illustrating the history of Helmsley over the last 150 years. John Collier bequeathed his collection to Helmsley Town Council who, with the Ryedale Area Committee of North Yorkshire County Council, support the project. The archive is being augmented by local residents.[13]

See also

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Helmsley)


  1. "1812 : Helmsley Arts Centre". helmsleyarts.co.uk. 2011 [last update]. http://www.helmsleyarts.co.uk/1812. Retrieved 2 July 2011. 
  2. Duncombe Park History: GENUKI
  3. "Helmsley Conservation Area Appraisal". 2005 [last update]. http://www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/download.php?id=32235. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  4. Herbert, Ian (2005-06-21). "Villagers fled from flash floods, on a night of chaos and confusion - Environment - The Independent". The Independent (London: Independent News & Media). SSN 0951-9467. OCLC 185201487. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/villagers-fled-from-flash-floods-on-a-night-of-chaos-and-confusion-495985.html. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  5. Helmsley Design Statement Working Group (2008 [last update]). "Helmsley Design Statement". http://www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/download.php?id=32235. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  6. "BBC News - Ryedale Windy Pits skeletons were 'sacrificial'". bbc.co.uk. 2011 [last update]. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-13904504. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  7. "The Skeletons of Windy Pits", in Series 2 of the BBC2 "History Cold Case" series, broadcast 30 June 2011
  8. "Helmsley Conservation Area Appraisal". 2005 [last update]. http://www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/download.php?id=32235. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  9. "Documents | Yorkshire Forward". yorkshire-forward.com. 2011 [last update]. http://www.yorkshire-forward.com/media-centre/documents?created%5Bmin%5D=&created%5Bmax%5D=&query=Helmsley. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  10. "Walled Garden Information". ryedale.co.uk. 2006 [last update]. http://www.ryedale.co.uk/ryedale/helmsley/walledgarden/wgardeninfo.html. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  11. "Helmsley Recreation Ground - Home". helmsleysports.org. 2011 [last update]. http://www.helmsleysports.org/index.htm. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  12. "Home - Cleveland Way - National Trails". nationaltrail.co.uk. 2011 [last update]. http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/clevelandway/. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  13. "Home - The Helmsley Archive". helmsleyarchive.org.uk. 2011 [last update]. http://www.helmsleyarchive.org.uk/. Retrieved 3 July 2011.