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Wrea Head Hall History

Wrea Head was built in 1881 by Mr John Edward Ellis MP who was the grandson of John Ellis the chairman of the Midland Railway and a family wealthy from mining interests. He and his wife Maria Rowntree of the famous “chocolate family” commissioned a new country house to be built on an estate of some 250 acres including a number of farms on the outskirts of Scalby Village. It takes its name from the raised land behind the house known as Wrea Head. You can see the Ellis initials on the lead hoppers at the top of the down pipes on the front of the house and the letter ‘E’ on the weather vane on the bell tower.


John and Maria had three sons, John, Arthur and Harold and twin girls Marian and Edith but the family was struck by tragedy when both John and Arthur died.  John expired of Rheumatic fever in 1889 and Arthur took his own life at Cambridge a few years later in 1891.


In London, Harold, now their only remaining son, attended a lecture given by a Canadian widow, Mina Benson Hubbard, who had explored and mapped part of Labrador. Courageously, and unusually for a woman at the time, Mina had successfully completed the expedition in which her husband, Leonidas, had died of starvation, and had written a book, ‘ A Woman’s way through Unknown Labrador’. Harold and Mina’s wedding took place in Montreal and they had three children: Muriel (Mahlo), John and Margaret. John Edward lived to see his first grandchild, Muriel.


John Edward came from a prosperous Quaker family in Leicestershire. His grandfather, also John Ellis, lived at Belgrave Hall, Leicester, a handsome house now belonging to Leicester County Council and open to the public. As an eminent and influential figure of the time, the elder John Ellis had established a strong ethos of public service: he was chairman of the Midland Railway, a Liberal M.P., and promoter of the Leicester and swannington Railway his portrait now hangs in the National Railway Museum, York. John’s son, Edward Shipley Ellis, father of John Edward, was also Chairman of the Midland Railways and a successful Business Man.


John Edward and Maria began their married life in Nottingham, but spent holidays near Scalby and having developed a strong affinity for the area and its people, decided to build a house there. Their architect was Edward Burgess, who also built the imposing Rowntree’s department store (now demolished) in Westborough, Scarborough. The result was Wrea Head, a comfortable family home set in farmland. Inside, a portrait of John Edward proudly hung in the entrance hall, and there were watercolours by De Wint, an extensive library housing many interesting and unusual volumes, and above the drawing room fireplace a tapestry by William Morris and co designed by John Henry Dearle.


Mr Ellis spent 25 years of his life as an MP in the service of his country. A book of his life story “The Life of the Rt. Hon. John Edward Ellis M.P” is available and a copy may be found in the library. Some of the information and pictures here are taken from this book.


Ellis was returned to Parliament for the newly created constituency of Rushcliffe in the 1880 general election. In December 1905 he was appointed Under-Secretary of State for India in the Liberal administration of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, a post he held until 1907, and was sworn into the Privy Council in January 1906. Ellis remained a Member of Parliament for Rushcliffe until his death in December 1910, during the general election of that month.


When Mr John Edward Ellis died he left Wrea Head to his wife Maria. It would have been the normal practice of the time for the House to have been passed on to the eldest son and for the widow to have moved out to the Dower House on the estate but in this case this was not to happen. Instead Mrs Ellis remodelled the North wing into a set of apartments for her surviving son and his wife and she remained firmly in situ in the main house. (In rooms 14, 15 & 16 you can still see the panelling and fire places of the bedrooms and sitting room). It seems that things did not work out as planned and Harold and Mina eventually moved away to London.


His daughter Marian went on to marry Charles Alfred Cripps the 1st Baron Parmoor. Edith, known as Edie, remained at Wrea Head, alone after her mother died at the age of 95. She had bought the estate from her brother, Harold after he had divorced Mina and remarried – he spent the rest of his life in St. Moritz with his second wife. In her youth, Edie had been imprisoned in Holloway with fellow Quakers activists for distributing pacifist pamphlets and, like other members of the family; she worked tirelessly for the pacifist cause. Education was Edie’s other passion, and she set up the Edith Ellis Education Trust;  Edie did not marry or have any children and spent most of her later life trying to bring Christians to realise their responsibilities as peacemakers. In this cause she travelled widely and wrote innumerable letters to those who might influence world opinion especially seeking interviews with church leaders. In 1948 she gave Wrea Head and its contents to the North Riding County Council for the purposes of education and for the community to enjoy. Edie continued to live in the west wing of the house and was eventually cared for by her niece, Mahlo, towards the end of her life.


In 1981, after 30 years of functioning as an adult education college, the county council took the decision to sell Wrea Head. The contents of the family home were auctioned and the proceeds from the sale went towards the building of the Ellis wing at Grantley Hall near Ripon which itself was used for educational purposes until its subsequent sale in 2004.


The house was sold to the Walker family who converted it into an Hotel. They owned it for a number of years and then sold it on to the Turner family who built up the English Rose Hotel chain that owned a number of hotels in and around Scarborough.


Gerry and Mark purchased the House in March 2012 and have started a programme of restoration and refurbishment.


The layout of the house has changed very little over the years but the room usage has. The Bar was originally the Drawing Room, the Library was the Morning Room, the Rose Room was the Billiard Room and the ground floor suite was the Study and servant’s hall. The dining room has continued to serve its original function but previously it would have been panelled to the ceiling as evidenced by the cut marks on the corner sections of panelling which would have continued up to the plaster cornice. This was probably undertaken by the council to lighten up the room for teaching purposes but it’s hard to be sure without any original photographs (something we are trying to find). We also found on removal of the wallpaper some large marks in the plaster of the walls in matching positions around the room that look like they may have held large carved beams holding up an ornate ceiling.  Bedroom 2 is ‘made up’ from the two original dressing rooms for the two master bedrooms now rooms 1 & 4. Rooms 7 & 9 were originally bathrooms and the rooms on the second floor were the servant’s rooms.


Despite some minor internal changes over the last century all of the hotel’s rooms are still contained within the original Mansion which appears from the outside today much as it did when originally completed nestling within the now mature grounds.