When Arthur Kay proudly witnessed the laying of the final Yorkshire stone slate on the new roof of his already ancient crook frame manor house in the early fifteen hundreds little did he realise it would still be providing such splendid shelter for guests 500 years later.
Arthur’s building was by no means new when he inherited it from his uncle in 1506 at the age of eight, but by 1517 when he married Biatryx, daughter of Matthew Wentworth of Bretton, the old timber house had been stripped down to its original massive crook beams and replaced largely by the present stone building forming the east and south east front.
This magnificent part of the still beautiful Farnley Valley was held by the Norman Baldwin Teutonicus or Tyas as early as 1236 and his family lived there until about 1370 when the estate passed to Sir William Finchenden. His widow granted her manor of Woodsome to “ John Cay”, who in turn later married her daughter, Elizabeth. Thus the Kayes came to Woodsome and were to remain there in direct line for 348 years. It was only when the Kayes ran out of sons in 1726 and eldest daughter, yet another Elizabeth, married the heir to the Earl of Dartmouth that the name changed, although the Kaye blood was still very prevalent through the female line.
But it was due to Arthur and his immediate sons John and Robert, from 1517 onwards that the place as we know it today evolved. Windows were glazed, ceilings plastered and rooms panelled. We are able to glean direct facts from John’s excellent Commonplace Book, a kind of diary in which he noted most things of importance as they happened. This valuable relic may still be seen in the Folgar Library in New York, the Governors of which were kind enough to allow certain pages to be photocopied and which now can be seen in the Hall itself.
The Kayes prospered, not only locally but at the Royal Court where John Kaye was the first to be ennobled by Charles I. This cost the family dear during Oliver Cromwell’s period of office, as Woodsome was confiscated under the Roundheads and only restored after paying a fine of £500.
Large houses needed support, and this was provided in plenty by the well managed farm land. One of the largest barns in Yorkshire was built in the yard, now sadly almost vanished. Outbuildings were provided for the farrier, deep litter poultry and cattle, and a coach house, now the professional’s shop provided sleeping accommodation not only for the magnificent horses but also for their grooms and coach-men. A trout hatchery complete with running water provided the small lake with a continuous supply of fresh fish, and indeed until only a few years ago running water was supplied to the house from a source high up in the woods via wooden pipes.
Elizabeth Kaye’s marriage to the Dartmouths proved a blessing in disguise. This very clever family, the Legges, originally traders to Britain from Venice soon made their mark when in 1343 Thomas Legge became Sheriff and later twice Lord Mayor of London. They were great sailors, and as Baron Dartmouth, George Legge became Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet in 1688. His son George’s standing at the Court of Queen Anne was very high, and he became Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal.
This blessing in disguise, at least for Woodsme Hall, came about because whist the Kayes were very rich, the Dartmouths were mega rich, and owned several estates. Hence Woodsome, whilst used for hunting and for housing various members of the family, was left pretty much as it was in the 1500s and not “modernised” as so many stately homes were.
The house itself is fascinating, and a perfect example of its type both inside and out. Perhaps its highlight outside is the wonderful view from the stone balustrade overlooking what is arguably the most beautiful first tee in the country, whilst inside is the magnificent panelled hall with its unique fireplace and the names of Arthur and Biatryx Kay carved in the massive beam above it, and its minstrels gallery looking down upon it all.
The late Robert Calvert, former Captain and President of the Yorkshire Golf Union sums Woodome up when he reports “At the risk of distressing the Chairman of the Club’s Green Committee it is perhaps true to say that visitors remember Woodsome equally for the Hall as for the challenging course. Yorkshire played Hampshire here and many years later when memories were revived at Fulford the Hampshire recollection centred on dinner by candlelight and the welcoming fire in the grate!”