NATALYA WILSON visits a Ryedale village with a fascinating history.

MANY people who have been to Kirby Misperton might never have realised they have ever even visited this ancient Ryedale village.

But ask the same people if they have visited Flamingo Land and chances are they will wax lyrical about the breath-taking rides and unusual animals they have seen in the world-famous theme park.

However, those same visitors will probably be unaware that Flamingo Land – or Flamingo Park, as it was once known – was built in the grounds and around the lakes of Kirby Misperton Hall, built in the 19th century by King George III as a home for the Blomberg family.

But the village’s roots spread much further back than that.

Kirby Misperton – which used to be called Chirchebi Myperton in the 11th century – is mentioned several times in the Doomsday Book and there are several Saxon stones from the original church incorporated into the present St Laurence’s Church – known locally as ‘the Kirk’, which overlooks the village to one side, and the hall and Flamingo Land to the other.

In John Speed’s renowned map of 1610, the village is called Kirby-over-Ker, which has been pronounced ‘Kirby Owker’ by villagers for many years.

The history of Kirby Misperton Hall makes for fascinating reading. As a mark of gratitude to George III, Fred Blomberg had an obelisk built in its grounds and in 1845, after Blomberg’s death, the manor passed to Captain James Anlaby Legard and then the Tindall family.

The hall was bought by Colonel Twentyman in 1903, where he went to great pains to develop genuine Chinese gardens and piazzas by shipping in Chinese and Italian laborours to do the work.

However, the whole estate was sold in 1938 and during the war years was occupied by troops, before re-opening as a country club in the 1950s.

But its destiny was to change forever in 1960 when Edwin Pentland and Frances Hick bought Kirby Misperton Hall and saw its potential as a zoo. The first animal to arrive was a baby elephant – and it was a baby elephant that resident Edith Collier remembers when she worked there after moving to Kirby Misperton in 1963.

“It was very different in those days, for example, there was a baby elephant walking free and a giant tortoise, it was a lovely place to work and I worked there for quite a spell,” she recalled.

Edith, who moved to Kirby Misperton from her native Ryton when she married husband, Trevor, has seen many changes in the village she loves to call home.

“When I was an infant, there was a village blacksmith and a carrier’s cart which went to Pickering, and I remember in my youth there was a tailor and butcher,” she said.

“We moved here to a wooden bungalow initially, and back then everyone knew their neighbours and it was a vibrant village. I was postlady and knew most people, such as Mr Harding, who was a joiner and undertaker, and postman Frank Buckley, who, if people were on their own on their birthday, would open up the letterbox and sing happy birthday to them, he was a real character and would always have a quip about something,” she chuckled.

“There was a marvellous shop and post office which have both gone now and we have a nice church but very few go these days – it’s all quite sad.”

Now, she says, the village has doubled in size and population with lots of new houses and gone are the days when everyone knew their neighbours.

“But we have a lovely village hall and a super bus service which is very useful, it really is a nice village,” she added.

Most villages have a pub at their epicentre and until recently, Kirby Misperton was lacking such an establishment – that is, until Chris and Linda Brooker took over in May, along with daughter Rose and son-in-law and head chef, Mark Davies.

Mark, whois originally from Malton, moved away some years ago and he and his family, who are natives of Oxfordshire, took over the helm at Ashfield Country Manor in May.

“I’m a local lad and fancied coming back up to North Yorkshire. My son is now 18 months old, and I wanted him to go to school here, and the ideal opportunity arose when this place came on the market,” he said.

Ashfield Manor had been closed for a year, but the family is enjoying building it back up to serve not only the visitors to Flamingo Land, whose gates are opposite, but also the villagers.

“We have two darts teams and lots of villagers come down for a drink or a meal,” said Mark.

The rest of the family are enjoying the move – though, says Rose – it has been a bit of a culture shock.

“It’s very different coming from a large town to a small village – it is very quiet in comparison, and the villagers are all very nice and given us plenty of support, which has really helped us settle into life here.”