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.

Tomorrow, 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.

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.