Village focus: Castles in the air at Wressle

Wressle Castle
Wressle Castle
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IT IS a village with no shops and no pub, and an order preventing there ever being one. There is a local station but the trains stop there only three times a day, and not at all on Sundays - so it is not most people’s idea of a hive of activity.

But they did once build an airship nearby.

Wressle, on the eastern bank of the River Derwent, three miles north-west of Howden, is perhaps best known today as home to East Yorkshire’s only remaining medieval castle.

Still in private ownership, and considered by Historic England to be a “building at risk”, its fortunes have improved considerably thanks to a two-year restoration project, and the Falkingham family, who have farmed in the village for four generations, are able to open it to the public on a few days each year.

Originally tenant farmers, the Falkinghams bought their land, and with it the castle, when the estate of which it was once part was sold off in the 1950s.

“It’s a very community minded place,” said Sarah Falkingham, whose farmer husband, Robert, kick-started the castle’s restoration.

“When we had the floods in 2000, everyone went out with sandbags to stop the Derwent. And there’s a very lively village hall.”

But the entertainment there is strictly abstinent. Though the details are lost in time, local legend has it that a landowner of long ago discovered his labourers imbibing at the Loftsome Bridge Coaching House, a mile away, and decreed that they should never have the opportunity again.

Wressle is a veritable metropolis compared to Loftsome Bridge, whose population in the 1820s was just 20.

A swing bridge with a toll barrier used to cross the Derwent there, but it was swept away by the A63, and there is a water treatment works there now, with two wind turbines.

Wressle itself had a windmill, on Mill Farm, in the 19th century, but neither it nor its modern variants had anything on the enterprise that went on four miles away, at Spaldington airfield, in the 1920s.

It was there that Barnes Wallis, architect of the later Dam Busters raid on Germany, developed the R100 Airship, a craft intended to enter commercial service.

Built in an unheated shed with a leaky roof, the 720ft craft resembled an ocean liner, with a double staircase to a sumptuous dining room for its 100 passengers.

It reportedly flew to Canada and back, but two months later the Air Ministry’s rival airship crashed in France on its maiden flight to India, killing 44, and the airship programme was abandoned.

Mike Simpson, a farmer who now turns waste wood into biomass on the site of the former airfield, said: “When we arrived, there was nothing left but a road in and out.”