According to property website Zoopla, on average, Britons move home every 23 years. This creates a diverting image of millions of us upping sticks and all swapping houses every two decades or so. It also means that the above average among us has moved far more frequently than that and, at the other end of the game, some manage to stay rooted all their lives. The Wyvills of Constable Burton, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, haven’t experienced the arrival of a fume-belching pantechnicon with its cheery crew for about four and a half centuries. Apparently, the family has even been in the same county since the 12th century, their distant ancestor, Sir Humphrey de Wyvill, having arrived on these shores with William the Conqueror.
Before the Conquest, the manor of Bortone (denoting some sort of fortified farm) was owned by Tor. It was given to Count Alan of Brittany, the builder of Richmond Castle and, sometime in the 12th century, passed to Roald de Richmond, constable of Richmond Castle and founder of Easby Abbey. Hence, Bortone became known as Constable Burton; this, naturally, avoids confusion with Burton Constable some miles to the east – which, apparently, is named for the de Constable family. Neither Burton is anything to do with policemen.
In 1338, Geoffrey le Scrope, lawyer, soldier and diplomat for Edward III, was given licence to impark his woods of Constable Burton, Coverham and Caldbergh and also to build a crenellated fortalice (small fort) at his manor of Constable Burton…
The Wyvill family gained Constable Burton through marriage sometime in the early 16th century. Sir Marmaduke Wyvill was MP for Ripon and his grandson, another Marmaduke, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth; indeed, it is said that he entertained her at Constable Burton Hall, though I do not believe she made it as far north as Yorkshire. In 1584, Sir Marmaduke became the very first MP for Richmond – and the first of several Wyvills to represent the town. Constable Burton Hall at that time seems to have been a turreted building, possibly a descendant of the 14th century crenellated fortalice, but was replaced by the current hall, an elegant Georgian pile, built for another Sir Marmaduke Wyvill in 1768 by the architect John Carr. Anyway, the point I’m taking so long to get to is that the Wyvills have had plenty of time to sort out the garden, which they open to the public whilst maintaining their privacy in the house.
Every early May Bank Holiday, Constable Burton Hall hosts a tulip festival, showcasing the products of Bloms Bulbs. Our local gardeners, the Pals with Trowels, organised a trip and, provided I promised to stay out of trouble and do what Mrs Britain told me to, I was allowed to tag along.
Cars are directed to park in a field and, after a short walk, the house and garden gradually reveal themselves through the trees. A brief, charming, introduction by Charles Wyvill – and we’re off. It wasn’t all tulips, of course, though they were stunning and, as a total novice, I had no idea there were so many varieties. Did you know they were originally cultivated in the Ottoman Empire? Well, you do now. Constable Burton’s gardens are mostly informal, but diverse in theme, and strolling round them was an effortless and relaxing way of spending a few hours. I’ll let the photographs do the talking; as usual, captions should appear if you hover your cursor over the images. My personal favourites, though, were the acers, the cedars of Lebanon and the daffodil field which, though well past its prime on the bulb front when we visited, is planted with beautiful trees, including some rather lovely magnolias, and bisected by an elegant avenue of limes, believed to be 350 years old.
There’s a wonderful, uncommercial, informal, atmosphere at Constable Burton. It joyfully lacks the corporate feel of so many large garden attractions, to the extent that you could almost pretend you were visiting friends. Teas and buns, at least at tulip festival time, are served by amiable, and sometimes delightfully confused, ladies from a large tent. I liked it very much indeed, even if my tea was so weak it could barely make it out of the cup and the scone was masquerading as a rock cake. There was a gin stall, too, for the very desperate. Naturally, Bloms wanted to show off their products, and a separate tent housed an impressive, colourful, display of cut tulips. However, I found this made me feel weirdly guilty, and inexplicably sad, to be gazing at so many things of beauty whose lives had been curtailed merely for our pleasure. I hadn’t even had any gin.
As for tiptoeing through the tulips, I apologise for reminding anyone old enough to remember the dreadful version of the song by Tiny Tim, and to anyone foolish enough to want to listen to it now. I didn’t know it was that bad; you have been warned…
Details of opening hours and events from Constable Burton’s website.