THE basic facts of the matter are that one Northallerton’s most prominent old mansions, and a former police station to boot, has been converted into a 30-bedroom hotel called the Northallerton Inn.

It is a Georgian property, built in the early 18th Century in the High Street, almost opposite the church, for persons unknown. For the latter half of the 20th Century, it was a library, and from 1976 to 2017, it was the divisional headquarters of Northallerton police.

Such institutional uses meant that most of its old features have disappeared over the years – the police are more interested in fighting crime than preserving heritage.

The Northern Echo:

It is the fourth of five police stations in Northallerton. When the North Riding Constabulary was established in 1856, under Captain Thomas Hill, its first chief constable, its headquarters were established in a house formerly occupied by a miller in East Road next to the court house (it must have been opposite the top of Zetland Street, where the Treadmills development is taking shape).

In 1880, a proper police headquarters was built on the site, but this was outgrown by 1910 when a £9,429 headquarters was built in Racecourse Lane. This, too, was overwhelmed by the enlargement of the force, which in 1976 moved out to Newby Wiske Hall, while the local officers were based in the property on the High Street, which was for a while at least referred to as Friarage House.

When Alverton Court was developed as a 21st Century police and fire headquarters, the divisional office on the High Street became empty but now, after five years lying empty, it has been reborn as a hotel.

So those are the basic facts behind the opening of the Northallerton Inn, and they don’t make a very gripping narrative – so much so, that we didn’t include them in last week’s column because the swashbuckling story of Admiral Policarpus Taylor, and his £3m house in Norton-on-Tees, was so much more interesting.

But, delving behind those basic facts we find that the first chief constable was a remarkable man, serving the fledgling force for 42 years, and that his son was even more extraordinary…

Captain Thomas Hill was from Thornton-le-Dale on the North York Moors and had was a captain in the North Yorks Militia when he applied to become the first chief constable. He had just 50 constables beneath him to cover the whole of the county, although Richmond, Middlesbrough and Scarborough kept their own borough forces.

Within a year, he had recruited a further 55 constables which, with military precision, he organised into eight divisions: Leyburn, Whitby, Pickering, Stokesley, Gilling near Richmond, Easingwold, Malton and Northallerton.

He acquired 16 horses – known as “county horses” – and ten police carts, and throughout his tenure horsepower remained the motive force for the constables who covered 2,000 square miles. In the 1880s, he refused to countenance the new bicycle for his officers as, he said, when in the saddle, they couldn’t see behind properly.

When Capt Hill retired in 1898, at the age of 75, he was the oldest and longest serving chief constable in the country.

The Northern Echo: Alan Hill-Walker, Northallerton's Victoria Cross winner

He lived in Romanby House, at the top of Romanby Green, where he brought up his son, Alan (above), who attended Richmond Grammar School and then joined the 58th Northamptonshire Regiment.

He was sent out to South Africa, where the Boers had declared independence from the British in Transvaal. The 58th was sent to suppress the Boers, and one of the engagements in an unsuccessful campaign was the Battle of Laing’s Nek on January 28, 1881. After the retreat had been ordered, Lt Hill remained behind, trying to help his wounded fellows.

He picked up Lt Lancelot Baillie, who was lying severely injured on the ground, and tried to lift him into the saddle of his horse. He couldn’t manage so instead he carried Baillie towards safely only for Baillie to be shot dead in his arms.

Having laid the unfortunate fellow on the ground, Hill returned to the battlefield and, under terrible fire, brought out one wounded man on his horse and then returned for a third time and, despite his own bad injuries, rescued a third.

The Northern Echo: An Imperial War Museum picture believed to have been taken in 1884 at site of the Battle of Rorke\'s Drift. It apparently shows Victoria Cross winners Gonville Bromhead, James Henry Reynolds and, ringed, Alan Hill-Walker

An Imperial War Museum picture believed to have been taken in 1884 at site of the Battle of Rorke's Drift. It apparently shows Victoria Cross winners Gonville Bromhead, James Henry Reynolds and, ringed, Alan Hill-Walker

Such were his injuries that he invalided home where, on August 7, 1881, a huge crowd greeted him at the town’s railway station and processed with him to Romanby House, and the following year, there were more great celebrations when it was announced that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross - he is Northallerton's only Victoria Cross winner.

Once recovered, he returned to South Africa, rose to the rank of major and retired in 1901. In 1902, he married Muriel Lilias Oliphant Walker, whose father owned Maunby Hall (below) to the south of Northallerton. He combined his wife’s surname with his, to become Hill-Walker, and they lived in Maunby Hall.

The Northern Echo: Maunby Hall, the home of VC winner Alan Hill-Walker, and his son, Thomas Harry Hill-Walker

One of their sons was Lt-Cmdr Thomas Harry Hill-Walker who was in charge of HMS Pintail when, on convoy duty near Grimsby, it was bombed on November 1, 1940. He was one of nine crew members who were killed.

He is in Maunby churchyard in the same plot as his father, the major, who died in 1944 when he was the oldest VC winner in the country. Capt Hill, the first chief constable, lies in Northallerton.