Above : Rushpool Hall c.1980 during the Medieval Banquet period before Manxguard renovations.
Chris Scott Wilson Writer
A House With a History
The most common reminder of East Cleveland’s iron-stone heritage is rows of terraced miners’ cottages. Less obvious are the ironmasters’ houses.
John Bell controlled Bell brothers considerable mining interests, including Saltburn’s Huntcliff and Cliffe pits. He chose a site nearby on the narrow back road between Skelton and Saltburn to build his house, Rushpool Hall. Built, fittingly of ironstone, construct-ion spread over 1862-1865. Italian artists created a ballroom with arched pillars, a marble staircase, even a suite of rooms complete with a swimming pool below the conservatory where Edward VII is said to have attended bathing parties prior to his coronation. Luxury did not come cheap. The price tag was £100,000.
The Bell family lived there for some years, then Rushpool was leased to Arthur Dorman, later Sir Arthur, of the Dorman-Long Com-pany which dominated much of Teesside's iron & steel business in the first half of the 20th century. In 1893 the hounds of the Cleveland Hunt switched scent lines in the hall’s grounds when a strange animal broke cover. The kill was the sole survivor of three kangaroos Sir Arthur had brought back from Australia in the hope they would adapt to the English climate. Later, Sir Arthur moved to Greytowers at Nunthorpe and the Bell family again took up residence.
On 20th February 1904, fire broke out at 8 pm. A curtain blowing onto a candle in a maid’s room in the west wing was later blamed. While the butler raised the alarm, Mrs Bell was taken by wheelchair to Rigwood House, leaving her daughter Sybil to supervise the removal of furniture to the outhouses.
Saltburn fire brigade could find no pressure in the hydrants. A bucket chain was improvised from the lake 300 to 400 yards away while calls were sent to Brotton, Redcar and Middlesbrough. The Skelton engine arrived at 10 pm., too late to save the house’s south end.
The Middlesbrough engine raced 16 miles through darkness, then thundered across the Halfpenny bridge before one horse, exhausted, fell dead in the traces as it came to a halt under the flame reddened sky at Rushpool. After witnessing the roof collapse in the hall’s centre, the brigades combined to fight the blaze but it was a battle they lost. By dawn the building was a smoking ruin.
Two months later Mrs Bell and daughter Sybil left Cleveland to live in the south, but one year after the fire the press announced Rushpool Hall’s smoke-blackened shell was to be restored.
After re-roofing and interior remodelling, Sir Joseph Walton MP for Barnsley, moved in with his family. It is said he hosted a meeting at the hall in 1912, attended by Sir Winston Churchill who was heckled by Suffragettes. The story adds that the ringleader’s fervour was doused in the same lake which had provided ammunition against the great fire.
Like all country residences, Rushpool has its own ghost stories. Eerie organ music has often been heard, and a grey lady seen disappearing through a wall in 1975. The face of a nun has also been seen peering in a ground floor window. On investigation, freshly fallen snow revealed no footprints.
During this century (20th) after a lengthy period closed up, the hall even became a mixed boarding school for a period in the 1940s. When the teachers first arrived to organise their class-rooms the furnishings had deteriorated to the point where carpets and curtains disintegrated at the slightest touch. Rushpool has also served as a country club, but more familiarly under various owners as a hotel. By the 1970s, officially listed as providing accommodation, only occasional functions and Medieval banquets were held. The owner’s main interest was breeding Borzois, Russian wolfhounds, for competition.
During the past year (1985-86) Manxguard Properties have extensively renovated the hall, restoring its former glory. Black swans and rare ducks now swim in the lake and a fountain plays in the hotel’s lavish new conservatory. Visitors can sit and imagine the luxury enjoyed by the ironmasters 120 years ago. Rushpool now looks set for another century.
- oOo -
Originally published as
MASTER'S CHOICE AT A PRICE
in the East Cleveland Advertiser.
Below : Caught in the act. The great fire of 1904
above : The chimneys stand gaunt against the sky on some enterprising photographer's post-card. Interesting that all the foliage wasn't burnt off the outer walls. As the hall was only left derelict for one year, there would not have been enough time for it to regrow.