6: The Devonshire Hotel

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The Devonshire Hotel, Newmarket Street

Next time you pass down Newmarket Street, pause and admire this architecturally important Georgian building. Why was such a fine building by a nationally known architect erected in Skipton?

It was built as a house, circa 1731, by Richard, Earl of Burlington. He was born in Yorkshire in 1694 and succeeded to the title as Third Earl in 1704. He was an architect and contemporary with Kent, Campbell and Flitcroft. They all admired the principles set out by Palladio, which they followed. Burlington put together a large collection of drawings by Palladio and Inigo Jones, which are now in the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Palladio’s principles stated that a building should have good proportions and symmetry, the windows admit a maximum amount of light, be built of stone with terracotta floors and timber ceilings and have a plain simple approach to decoration with a limited palette of colours.

Looking at the Devonshire Hotel we must first understand that the original house consisted of only the three storey part of the building, the two storey part to the West being added in the early 19th century. Burlington House (as it was once known) front and rear facade are symmetrical, having comparatively simple central Georgian doorways and are flanked by equally balanced windows on either side. The windows to the ground and first floors are of double square proportions and those to the second floor of square proportions. All are surrounded by simple stone frames. It is regrettable that at some time in the past, the original small paned timber window frames, glazed in crown glass, were replaced by Victorian style sliding sashes.  The front facade is constructed in coursed stone ashlar with projecting quoin stones, a moulded string course dividing the first and second floors and capped by a projecting moulded cornice with a triangular pediment embracing the centre three bays which are set slightly forward.

The Hotel was later extended with a small ‘Beer House’ to the rear, circa 1899. The Assembly Room to the west was added circa 1810. The Hotel has recently been further modified by Wetherspoons in 2003/4, making a creditable restoration of the orginal Palladian facades but regrettably, not reinstating the probable original form of the windows. Of the interior, much has disappeared, but the original staircase can still be seen.

The Clifford family had been Lords of the Honour of Skipton from 1307 to 1675 (with one brief interregnum from 1461 to 1485). On the death of Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset and later Countess of Pembroke, the last of the line and with no male succession, the estate was divided between her daughter Margaret, Countess of Thanet, and Elizabeth the daughter of Henry Clifford, Fifth Earl of Cumberland.

Elizabeth had married the Earl of Cork (whose family name was Boyle) and they later became the first Earl and Countess of Burlington.  The Earl and Countess of Thanet inherited Skipton Castle and much of the surrounding land and it appears the Earl and Countess of Burlington, after some argument, had Barden Tower and parts of Wharfedale from 1676. It would seem that some decorum was later achieved between the two parties which enabled Lord Burlington (the third Earl) to build his mansion in Skipton. At the time of Lord Burlington’s death in 1753 his estates, including the mansion, passed to his daughter Charlotte who was married to William, Duke of Devonshire. At the end of that century, the building became the New Inn and later the Devonshire Hotel.

Barry Rawson, March 2014.