A NORTH YORKSHIRE garden laid out in an old quarry by a member of Darlington’s Pease family is to open to the public this weekend.

On Sunday, there is a rare opportunity to see around the grounds of Skeeby Manor, on the outskirts of Richmond. It is a 17th Century house but its roots are much older and much deeper – somewhere there is said to be a subterranean passage which leads nearly two miles to Easby Abbey.

And it has a connection to one of Richmond’s saddest 18th Century stories: the tale of Baby Isabella.

Skeeby is to the north-west of Richmond, on the road to Scotch Corner. It gets its name probably because a Viking named Skyti, which may have meant “archer”, settled there beside the beck. The beck provided enough power to turn a couple of mills, and outcrops of stone at Skeeby were being quarried by the 12th Century as the village’s other main occupation.

It is believed that when Easby Abbey was begun in 1152, its walls were made from Skeeby stone.

On the edge of one of the quarries, on the site of today’s manor house, a guest house for pilgrims visiting Easby Abbey was built. It was obviously a very luxurious guest house because a tunnel was built to connect the two – presumably so the pilgrims didn’t get wet if it was raining during their visit.

As it was the village’s most important medieval building, it grew into the impressive 17th Century manor house. In the 20th Century, it caught the eye of Evelyn Ada Pease, the daughter of Arthur Pease, of Hummersknott, Darlington, and grand-daughter of Joseph Pease whose statue stands in pride of place in Darlington’s High Row.

Evelyn’s father Arthur had been the Liberal Unionist MP for Whitby (1880-85) and then Darlington, which he had held when he died in 1898. Arthur was only 60, but his death meant that his children largely avoided the great crash in the family fortunes of 1902.

Evelyn, who never married, was awarded an OBE in 1918 for being the commandant of the First World War Red Cross Hospital which treated wounded servicemen in Frenchgate House and Swale House. Her obituary in the D&S Times in 1950 described her as “a woman of many and varied interests and an assiduous social worker”. She was a JP, president of Skeeby WI and “an ardent supporter of the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England, a staunch churchwoman and Conservative”.

She was widely travelled across the British Empire, often painting as she went.

In 1939, she decided to turn the old quarry behind the Manor into a garden, a task carried on after her death in 1950 by her niece, Dr Mary Ethelwyn Pease, who inherited the property and lived there until her death in 1981.

Since then, the Manor has been cared for by Val and Ian Hepworth who are opening the one-and-a-half acre undulating gardens – including “the Dell” quarry garden – on Sunday, from 10am to 4.30pm. Admission is by donation (which includes tea and cake) and is raising money for the Richmondshire Buildings Preservation Trust which is raising £800,000 to convert the old grammar school into a community hub.

AS dawn broke on Friday, May 9, 1718, Skeeby Manor, which for centuries had taken in visitors, found itself accommodating a most unexpected guest and at the centre of a scandal.

A servant girl was going about her early morning tasks – the Manor is unusual in having four large stone fireplaces – when she heard a little cry outside. She opened the large, heavy door and spotted a basket on a bench just outside. She peered inside and found a newborn baby, hungry, cold and crying, and wrapped up in clean linen and an old blanket. It had a bottle of sugary water beside it.

The servant girl dashed back inside and, at that early hour, raised her mistress, Jane Clarke, who was the wife of the owner, Thomas.

Jane brought the bundle in and tended to the baby, a girl. She deduced from the bottle of sugary water that she had been abandoned by someone other than the mother – but who?

All Skeeby was immediately sensationalised by the scandal, but no local girl could be found who had suspiciously ceased to be pregnant.

The following Monday, two of Skeeby’s most respectable men, Robert Hartley and James Allen, were despatched to Richmond to inform the mayor, Thomas Metcalfe, of the incredible goings-on. The mayor instructed a serjeant-at-mace to write down the evidence so that a proper investigation could begin.

Back in Skeeby, the Clarkes arranged for the baby to be baptised at St Agatha’s Church in Easby. But what to call the foundling? Easby’s parish register records that on May 18 “Isabella, a child found in Skeeby” was baptised, apparently taking the name of the servant girl who found her.

The story of Isabella has been brilliantly pieced together from official records by Richmond historian Jane Hatcher, and the next document she unearthed told of the North Riding Quarter Sessions of mid-June 1718, which were held in Thirsk. Three women from Marrick Priory, to the east of Richmond, were called to summonsed to account for their parts in the Skeeby scandal.

First up was Dorothy Bowes who said that her daughter, Margaret, had given birth to an illegitimate girl on May 7. She said that she had told her younger daughter, Elizabeth, to remove the baby and find a nurse for it, but she had never enquired what Elizabeth had done with it.

Second on the stand was Margaret Bowes, a single woman, who testified that she had been seeing Richmond butcher George Clarkson, with a view to marriage, for four years. On one occasion late the previous summer she had fallen for his persuasions and the result was a baby girl which her mother had ordered be removed.

Finally, Elizabeth Bowes told at about 9pm on May 9, she had left home with the baby and its bottle in a basket. She had passed through Richmond and had arrived in Skeeby at about 2am, where she had set the package down on a bench outside “the best like house” – the impressive Manor had impressed her as having owners wealthy enough to provide for a poor orphan.

The court seems to have ordered the Bowes women to take baby Isabella back home with them.

But there are no happy endings to the story. Margaret may have got her baby back, but she discovered that her lover George had been unfaithful – a month after she had fallen for his entreaties, he had got Margaret Foss in the family way, and her illegitimate daughter had been christened in Richmond church on June 2, 1718.

And finally, the Marrick parish register records the burial on December 12, 1725, of “Issabell Bowes, a girl” without giving any parentage. Presuming that it was the baby Isabella, she had died only seven-and-a-half years after being abandoned outside Skeeby Manor.

BLOB The Manor House garden at 43 Richmond Road, Skeeby, DL10 5DX, is open on Sunday, April 14, from 10am–4.30pm. Park on the public roads around the village. More information on 01748-822617.

BLOB With many thanks to Jane Hatcher for her help with this story