NESTLING deep in the Ryedale countryside, just a stone’s throw from Kirkham Priory, Westow, on the surface at least, appears to be a small quiet village with a pub and a village hall at the heart of its community.
And though there’s a church about a mile from its centre, there’s no village shop and no school, and the streets – at the time of my visit – were practically deserted.
But dig deeper and you’ll find a close-knit and vibrant community which is very proud of its village, its heritage and its friendliness.
Taking a stroll along the main street, just past the hub of the Blacksmith’s Arms pub, you might do a double-take, as I did, to peer through a large window to glimpse Peter Hutchinson hand-sewing a beautiful red hunting jacket.
It might not be the sight you expect to see in such a small place, but it is far from being a novelty in the village, as Peter is the eighth generation of his family of tailors to have been born, live and work in Westow.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” he tells me, while weaving his needle and thread around the neatest buttonhole I’ve ever seen.
“My family has been in business here for 300 years, and I wanted to continue this.”
Peter is no ordinary tailor.
He makes hunting clothes for people all over the country.
He shows me an immaculate pair of riding breeches, explaining that there are only one or two tailors left in the country that make these.
But it is not just country folk that he makes exquisite clothing for.
His clientele also includes royalty and he makes clothing for those at Clarence House, the residence of Prince Charles, and for Commander Tim Laurence, Princess Anne’s second husband. He also crafts suits for executives in the City, a far cry from this sleepy Ryedale village.
“I have been travelling to London for 50 years, but there’s nothing I love more than coming home,” said Peter, adding that he is one of only five or six ‘original’ villagers living there.
“I love the countryside and I’m a country person, and I think Westow is a very friendly place to live.”
He tells me that not much has changed in the village over the years, but there is one thing he is glad of.
“We are very lucky that our pub has re-opened, it’s brilliant and it is at the heart of the community,” he said.
This is a sentiment that is echoed by another Westow resident, retired headteacher and former church warden, Tony Hagyard.
Tony and his wife, Florence, moved to the village in 1973 and he has never looked back.
“I bought this plot of land from a farmer, Sid Hodgson – it was his lambing paddock – and in the time of the Civil War, was part of the land belonging to the Squire of Westow, George Montaigne, a nephew of the Archbishop of York and one of Charles I’s parliamentary cavalry – quite a character, by all accounts.”
Montaigne is buried in the beautiful church of St Mary’s and his resting stone is just one of the fascinating features that Tony points out to me.
The church itself – originally called Ad-Mora, part of the wider parish of West Buckrose – has gone through many changes over the centuries.
Though its foundations are Saxon, the Norman tower is perhaps all that remains of the original, as the church was demolished and remodelled, though on a much smaller scale, using the original stone, in 1862. The graveyard, too, is fascinating, as Tony points out that the residents of Westow are buried on one side, those of Firby on another and the people of Menethorpe on another, as the church is roughly equidistant from each.
Equally fascinating are some of the items housed within the church, including the pulpit made by the Mouseman of Kilburn, the Norman font, the royal arms of George III over the chancel and the Cresset Stone, dating from the 11th or 12th century, one of only nine in Britain, all associated with monasteries, which was used by the monks at Kirkham Priory to light their way at services.
“I love Westow – I find it an interesting place, it’s peaceful, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a stretch of heaven,” said Tony.
“The people are very friendly and I have made some good friends in the village and through the extended parish.”
Nonetheless, though it retains much of its original character and features, the village is always developing.
The cricket club, which has just been given a £25,000 grant from Ryedale District Council towards a new pavilion, hosts many events, says Julie Price, who has been secretary for 20 years. One of these is the Christmas fair being held on December 5.
The village hall is also busy with events for and hosted by the community, and the playing fields, created with funds raised by the villagers, is an area that is also well-used by the village’s children. The community also raised funds and planted 700 bulbs on the approach to Westow.
The pub, as mentioned previously, re-opened last year, after a hiatus of nine months, a move which has been welcomed by many of the villagers.
Mark and Jane Scholefield, who were both born in Westow but moved away, refurbished the Blacksmith’s Arms, and it is going from strength to strength.
“It’s great to come back to Westow,” said Jane, who, along with Mark, previously had Will’s Bar in Malton.
“We’ve had a lot of local support, it’s really friendly here and a lovely village, we do a lot with the village, including quiz nights for the village’s charities, it’s lovely to have come back to our roots.”