HIDDEN deep in the North Yorkshire countryside are two gateposts topped by stone balls. A straight drive runs between them and, flanked by an avenue of tall trees, disappears into the distance.

This is the entrance to Langton Hall, which is somewhere amid Winterwalk Wood. It was built on the banks of the Swale in 1770 for a man who was a close friend of the king and it was where, a fortnight ago, we learned that the widow of a First World War soldier was trying to pick up the pieces with her two boys under three when he didn't come home.

If our story begins at these delicate gateposts, in the lanes to the west of Northallerton, it ends in a hefty stone memorial in the middle of the Isle of Man.

The Smelt family bought the manor of Kirkby Fleetham in 1600, and, as they continued to acquire land and influence, in the early 18th Century, two of their sons represented Northallerton in Parliament: Leonard was the MP from 1713 to 1740 followed by his brother, William, from 1740 to 1745.

William had two sons, Cornelius and another Leonard.

Leonard joined the army, fought in the Austrian War of Succession in northern Europe at Dettingen and Fontenoy in the 1740s. He showed real skill as a military artist and map-maker, and became an “engineer extraordinary”.

Leonard Smelt, who died in Langton Hall in 1800, as painted by Joshua Reynolds

Leonard Smelt, who died in Langton Hall in 1800, as painted by Joshua Reynolds

In 1747, he was back in the North East building the “military road” which runs west from Heddon-on-the-Wall on the edge of Newcastle. English efforts to curtail the activities of Bonnie Prince Charlie had been hampered by poor roads so once the Scots were defeated, Leonard built a straight road so an army could be moved rapidly from Newcastle to Carlisle should the Scots cause any more problems.

That road is now the B6318 and its construction is regarded as having caused the most damage to Hadrian’s Wall of any single project in the 2,000 years since the Romans departed.

Leonard’s next work was in Placentia in Newfoundland – a vital part of the Empire due to its fish stocks – where he surveyed the fortifications.

In 1771, having left the army, he was appointed as the sub-governor to George III’s two oldest sons: the Prince of Wales, who would become George IV, and Prince Frederick. For almost a decade, he had day-to-day charge of their education, and historians trace their political views and the importance they placed on engineering back to his teachings.

George III gave him a house in Kew, which he regularly visited as this Yorkshireman was regarded as the king’s closest friend. His other friends included Samuel Johnson and Joshua Reynolds.

In 1792, after his wife died, he retired to Langton Hall where he died on September 2, 1800.

Leonard’s brother, Cornelius, took himself off to upper Swaledale where his son, also called Cornelius, was born in 1748.

This second Cornelius joined the army, fought in the American War of Independence and in 1805 became the first Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle of Man. It was a trying time in the isle’s history, as the old, aristocratic landowners tried to exert their will on the people with Cornelius caught in between. He was seen as being on the side of their people and when he died of cholera in 1832, he was so popular that a fund was set up which built a memorial to him in the centre of Castletown.

The Smelt Monument in Castletown on the Isle of Man. Picture: Google StreetView

The Smelt Monument in Castletown on the Isle of Man. Picture: Google StreetView

It is the only memorial to any governor on the island and despite its bulky dimensions, it is known locally as “the candlestick”.

So one of the Smelts has delicate gateposts tucked away in the rural lanes of North Yorkshire as a reminder of his life’s work while another has the focal point of a former island capital dedicated to him.

The gateposts at the entrance to Langton Hall. Picture: Google StreetView

The gateposts at the entrance to Langton Hall. Picture: Google StreetView

A FORTNIGHT ago we told how it was exactly 100 years since the Great Langton war memorial had been unveiled in its remote spot beside the lane that leads from the village to Langton Hall.

The first of the seven names on the memorial is that of Lt-Col Alexander Fife, of Langton Hall. He had joined the army in 1899, served in the Boer War where he had been severely wounded in the head.

He had retired to Langton, which his father had bought in 1891, and had settled to a life of agriculture when the First World War had broken out.

Great Langton war memorial, between Scorton and Northallerton

Great Langton war memorial, between Scorton and Northallerton

In 1915, he had married Mary Courage, of Kirkby Fleetham Hall, and then had joined up, becoming a battalion commander in the Machine Gun Corps. He died of pneumonia in a hospital on the French coast on February 7, 1917, aged 36.

The unveiling ceremony in 1921 was attended by Mary, who lived in the hall, along with one baby in her arms and a toddler by her side. She was supported by her parents.