Demoniacs at Skelton Castle

WhereGreat Broughton Village HallType of EventTalk
WhenMonday 18th April at 7.30pmTutor Tony Nicholson

In presenting this story, he began by referencing the Guardian’s recent series on the 100 greatest British novels of which Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy was No 7 (chronologically). Lawrence as was to be explained was an integral part of this story.

In 1843 William Cooper came to Skelton Castle to hack his way in with a sword through the dense undergrowth. The castle was in a parlous state owing to the dissolute lifestyle of John Wharton who inherited the property in the 1780s. Wharton also inherited 5 other estates including those at Gilling and in County Fermanagh. He then was the beneficiary of Peg Pennyworth, a hugely wealthy but notoriously thrifty aunt. He inherited £150,000 from her.

With his funds he destroyed the original de Brus castle completely, losing its original medieval character, and built a faux castle in its place. Only the original chapel now remains, built into the present kitchen. John Wharton ran for parliament 7 times for the seat of Beverley, which involved bribing the 2,000 strong electorate on each occasion. He was a leading member of Brooks’s Club, a leading Whig society group where fortunes were won and lost playing cards. John lost all of his fortune and his goods were sold at auction. He spent his last years in King’s Bench Debtors prison.

 John Hall Stevenson inherited Skelton Castle at the age of 13. He went to Cambridge University where he met with a group of contacts to whom he remained close throughout his life. One of these was Lawrence Sterne and the two always referred to each other as cousins although not related. The group fought against the Jacobites in the 1745 uprising and formed a close group who met at Skelton Castle regularly. This became a club and the notes of their meetings were long sought after in vain. These notes have now been discovered and prove that ‘The Saltburn Club’ as it was called was not a Hellfire Club as Sir Francis Dashwood’s example but a drinking society which met at the Ship Inn Saltburn. Tony went on to explain that this was the origin of the Crazy Castle -Crazy Tales and he identified several characters in the series including David Garrick and Charles Turner of Kirkleatham Hall.

Once Tristram Shandy was published Lawrence Sterne became a feted ‘Literary Lion’ and once again several of the characters in the novel can be identified amongst the demoniacs of Skelton Castle. 

Tony gave several examples including ‘Uncle Toby’ who was a local person whose hobby was the study of fortifications. He published several very dry books on the subject and subsequently became a local doctor. He wrote up most of his medical records which are still held at Teesside Archives. One series of harsh treatments on young William Challis lead to bursting a maxillary artery resulting in the unfortunate patient almost expiring several times before recovering to live a long and productive life as a blacksmith and horse doctor. This gentleman was the builder of Tony’s house.

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