Village focus: Taking to Warter

The village of Warter
The village of Warter
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Once, Yorkshire was a patchwork of estate villages, cosy settlements within bigger tracts of private land. Just last month, one of the last, West Heslerton, near Malton, was sold for £20m to a farming company.

Time was said to have stood still there, so the sale of its 43 houses and 2,116 acres was considered big news.

Warter, on the other hand, is seldom written about unless in the context of David Hockney, who painted its surroundings on panels 40 feet long, as the centrepiece of his Woldgate exhibition at the Royal Academy.

Visitors to Warter, of whom, as a consequence, there are many, are often oblivious to its unusual status.

Almost lost in the farmlands and just off the B road between Pocklington and Driffield, Water is one of two estate communities in the vicinity - the other is Londesborough, the Victorian home of Yorkshire’s “Railway King”, George Hudson, and now in private hands.

There was a medieval priory at Warter, but for the last three centuries its 63 houses and 12,000 acres, valued at around £40m, have been in the hands of a single owner.

Shortly before the millennium, the businessman Malcolm Healey bought it from the Marquis of Normanby. Rival bidders were said to include two knights: Mick Jagger and Elton John. Today, it operates as the biggest in-hand farm in England, growing wheat, barley, and oilseed rape, as well as peas for Bird’s Eye and potatoes. The estate also runs a shooting operation.

“The whole village belongs to the estate and a great number of the villagers are employed by it,” said the local vicar, Rev Geoff Hollingsworth, whose congregation comprises nine parishes and 11 communities.

The disparity arises because the churches of Warter and the neighbouring hamlet, Kilnwick Percy are no longer part of the Church of England estate; the former now the Wolds Heritage Centre and the latter part of the Buddhist Madhyamaka Kadampa retreat centre.

Warter does, however retain a village shop and a C of E primary school, which also takes in children from Huggate and Pocklington.

“At the end of the school day and during the holidays, the village feels very different,” said Rev Hollingsworth. “There is a very distinct feel to it.”

It is the picture perfect village green, with its row of white, thatched cottages that at once sets Warter apart. It was criticism in the 19th century of the standard of accommodation in the village that had led to their construction. Astonishingly, given the way it looks today, a report of the time condemned the place as “extraordinarily shabby and filled with hovels”.

At the time, some 550 people lived in Warter, but, by the beginning of the present century it stood at 159.