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Walton - Wakefield - West Yorkshire
Squire Charles Waterton the Naturalist
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Edward Hailstone

Following his death in 1865, Charles Waterton, in accordance with his wishes, was buried at the far eastern end of the lake not far from the point where Drain Beck feeds the lake (Drain Beck feeds the lake and then leaves it near the main car park).

Walton Hall was heavily mortgaged. Waterton's son, Edmund, was as different to the Squire as chalk is to cheese; it seems that he cared little for the things that his father considered important. Edmund was a spendthrift and was eventually forced to flee to the continent to escape his creditors. Early ambitious plans to build a mausoleum on the island were abandoned.

In 1871, the hall was let for 21 years to Edward Hailstone, a colourful character of some distinction. Hailstone was a collector of books, furniture, art and antiques. He moved his valuable collection to the hall. During his tenancy many parts of the hall were occupied by his extensive collection. (read more)

In 1876, after Edmund Waterton had been declared bankrupt, the extensive library, built up by the Watertons over many a long year, was sold to clear some of the debt.

Worse was to follow: in 1878, the estates were sold to none other than Edward Simpson, son of 'Soapy' Simpson, the Squire's old adversary from the bitter Soap Works pollution battle years before. The price paid by the Simpsons was £114,000 - a huge sum then (and quite acceptable now!), based on the expectations of large reserves of workable coal on the estates. The Simpsons continued to live in Thornhill House in School Lane, Walton, whilst the tenancy of Mr Hailstone continued until his death.

Following the death of Hailstone in 1891, the Simpsons took up residence in Walton Hall, but things were not well in the soap works world and by 1908, Edward Simpson left the Hall to live in Walton Cottage in the village. The soap works at Thornes had not been modernised and, in common with other such works in the country, fell prey to the powerful competitors. This period saw the emergence of large industrial giants such as the Lever Brothers. Meanwhile, the Hall was let to a son of Lord St. Oswald from nearby Nostell Priory.

However, all was not lost for the Simpsons, and, following an advantageous marriage, their fortunes revived. This was in 1920 when Edward's son, Edward Thornhill Beckett Simpson, was married to Catherine Percy Tew, the daughter of a wealthy banking family that lived at Heath Hall near Wakefield. With the family fortunes restored, the Simpsons returned to live in Walton Hall, where they continued in residence right up to 1940.

During the Second World War (1939 - 1945), many mansions throughout the country were requisitioned to help with the war effort, and Walton Hall was no exception. In 1940 it was made into a military hospital.

After the war, the Hall became a maternity hospital, this was despite the necessity of carrying patients by stretcher across the narrow wrought iron bridge that links the island with the mainland. On 14th June 1942, the first baby to be born at the Hall since the birth of Edmund Waterton, was delivered in the shape of Lorna Ann Eaton, whose parents lived in the village. (1) (2)

The estates of Walton Hall were sold in 1959 and, in 1967, the hospital board's lease on the Hall expired. This was the beginning of a sad and forlorn period for the Hall.

In 1969, there was a proposal put forward for the acquisition of the Hall and Park by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). This would surely have met with the Squire's approval. But it came to naught.

In 1973, a scheme was put forward for the demolition of the Hall. Wakefield has a bit of a reputation for neglecting, and sometimes destroying, its past but, on this occasion, the 'knock it down' tendency did not prevail and the Hall survived. True, this proposal was for the erection of a sports pavilion with a large recreational area catering for all manner of outdoor sports. Somewhat later, wakefield Metropolitan District Council did allow the golf club to knock down a stretch of wall in front of the club house (actually, the golf club demolished the wall first and despite an enforcement order against them, the golf club persevered and succeeded in obtaining retrospective planning permission for their actions).

In 1974, plans were put forward for the Hall to be made into a community home and the Park to be made into a golf course. This proposal ended up in the bunker at the time.

The Walton Village Action Group had opposed the 1974 plans but in 1977, approval was obtained for the use of the lake as a water ski centre. Walton Hall was renovated and refurbished by the then owner.

The Hall started its new life as a hotel but soon became a little frayed at the edges. In the 1990s the Hall changed hands and the present owners of Waterton Park Hotel have restored some of its former splendour and converted the rather ugly squash court building adjacent to Walton Hall Farm into a annex to the hotel. Now the hotel seems to be doing well. The leisure centre attached to the hotel is not too obtrusive, and the lake is well stocked with fish and popular amongst anglers and wildfowl alike.

The stables and farm buildings have been converted into private residences (Brockswood Court) and public access to the Park continues. The Park itself still serves as something of a refuge for wildlife as well as accommodating the Waterton Park Golf Course. However, the occasional sound of a shot gun or an air rifle in the park, and neighbouring Haw Park Wood, suggests that the wildlife is not as safe as it was in Waterton's time.

The Trans Pennine Trail passes close by to the Hall, along the course of the Barnsley Canal, and footpaths to Walton, Haw Park Woods and Anglers Country Park all pass through the Park.

The Grotto, sadly, is overgrown and largely laid to waste, but it still serves as a nature reserve.

 

Notes.
1. A History of Walton, Peter Wright, 1985, Countryside Publications, ISBN 086157 191 6
2. Bit of a family connection - some of my wife's relatives were also born at the Hall. JSS.

Aftermath - Walton Hall after the Watertons
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