News and Events

Aston Hall and "Capability" Brown


2016 was the tercentenary of the birth of Lancelot "Capability" Brown, the famous landscape gardener who radically changed the grounds and gardens of many estates in England during the 1700s and an exhibition of his work in Yorkshire was shown in the Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate in the summer of that year.

Brown redesigned several Yorkshire estates including Sandbeck and Roche Abbey near Rotherham for the Earl of Scarborough, Temple Newsam near Leeds for Viscount Irwin, Stapleton Park near Pontefract for Baron Stourton and the estates of the Earl of Holderness at Aston near Rotherham and Hornby Castle near Bedale.

Aston Capability Brown

Research for the exhibition in Harrogate showed that Robert Darcy, the fourth Earl of Holderness first employed Brown at Aston Hall in the early 1760s.    The old hall had been damaged by fire and the Earl asked the great British architect John Carr of York (1723-1807) to rebuild the house and Lancelot Brown to work on the grounds at the same time.   The formal gardens were replaced by lawns all the way up to the house with a ha-ha to keep animals out of the grounds, as shown in the photograph, without interrupting the views over what was then open countryside.  Nearby fishponds were made into lakes and trees planted in the parkland.    The Earl owned other properties, including Hornby Castle, Syon Hill House in London and two estates in Bedfordshire, and Brown worked on them all.   Whilst Brown was working on the grounds at Hornby, the Earl also employed John Carr to remodel the Castle.The Rector of Aston Church at the time was Reverend William Mason who was himself a garden designer and worked on several flower gardens for his friends and patrons, including the Earl of Scarborough at Sandbeck and William Weddell at Newby Hall.    Mason was working on the estate of Lord Harcourt at Nuneham Courtenay in Oxfordshire when he first met Brown and they became friends.    Mason assisted Brown on the Aston and Hornby Estates and an extract from Lord Holderness's accounts held in the British Library says "4 Feb 1760:  Paid Mr Brown £100 for surveying Aston Estate.    Brown's friend the poet, Rev. William Mason was the vicar of the parish, and the church and his garden formed part of the landscape".

When Capability Brown died in 1783, Mason wrote the epitaph for his memorial in Fenstanton Church near Huntingdon which reads:

Ye sons of Elegance, who truly taste
The Simple charms that genuine Art supplies,
Come from the sylvan Scenes, his Genius grac’d
And offer here your tributary Sigh's
But know that more than Genius slumbers here.
Virtues were his, which Arts best powers transcend.
Come, ye Superior train, who these revere
And weep the Christian, Husband, Father, Friend.

Blue Plaque in memory of Reverend William Mason: 30th March 2014

A blue plaque in memory of William Mason, Rector of Aston from 1754 to 1757 was affixed to the William Layne Reading Room on Aughton Lane, Aston near Sheffield on 30th March 2014. The ceremony was carried out by our Father Ian Jennings will.

William Mason was born in 1725 in Hull. In 1742 he became an undergraduate at St. John's College, Cambridge where he was awarded an M.A. He became a Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge and in 1754 he was ordained priest at St. Margaret's Westminster.

He became Rector of All Saints' Church Aston in 1754, was appointed Prebendary of Holme, York in 1757 and Canon and Precentor of York in 1762. As Precentor he was responsbile for the music at York Minster. In 1757 he was appointed one of twelve Chaplains to King George II.He was a poet, musician, composer and designer of gardens. His great friend was the poet Thomas Gray who visited Mason at Aston many times. Mason had many connections in literary and artistic London, counting among his friends, politican and writer Horace Walpole, painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and actress Mrs. Sarah Siddons.

He supported his friend from Hull, William Wilberforce, in his campaign against slavery and on 27th January 1788, during a sermon in York Minster where he preached for the abolition of slavery, he baptised Benjamin Moor, an American freed slave. He also worked hard for the improvement of conditions in York Prison and in York Lunatic Asylum, contributing generously to both.

He was a very caring parish priest and was "ever careful to attend to his personal duties. He is by far the finest preacher in the whole country, and village and town flock to hear him". He devoted a third of his income to good works. He installed new pews in the chuch and two of the bells in the tower. In 1789 he rebuilt the school in Aston, now known as the William Layne Reading Room.

Mason was injured whilst alighting from his carriage. Although he officated at Church on the following Sunday, he died from complications of his injury on the following Wednesday 5th April 1797.

Aston Carnival:  Saturday 5th August 2017
The Carnival will be held on Lodge Lane Playing Fields, Aston. The parade will leave Swallownest School at 11 a.m., arriving at the field at 12 noon.

We will once again welcome visitors to our tent where they can browse our photograph albums and documents and reminisce about times past.


Aston-cum-Aughton History Group

Heritage Open days at Aston
at the William Layne Reading Room

Friday 8th September 2017, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday 9th September 2017, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The William Layne Reading Room will be open on Friday 9th September from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturday 10th September from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
We will have displays of local photographs, maps and documents. Available to browse will be our albums of photographs of Aston, Aston Hall and All Saints Church, Aughton, Swallownest, Fence and Ulley.

The William Layne Reading Room
We will also have albums recording those men and women of Aston-cum-Aughton who were killed in the First and Second World Wars and an album of those who died at the Battles of the Somme.
Come and join us for an hour or two of remembering. Perhaps you can help us identify some of the people in our photographs. If you have any photographs of local people and places from the past, please bring them along. We would love to be able to scan them and add them to our records.
Our books about the history of Aston-cum-Aughton will be on sale on the day. (See "Our Publications" page for details.)


Aston-cum-Aughton History Group is collecting a pictorial history of the villages of Aston-cum-Aughton. If you have any photographs of people, places and events, we would love to have copies for our albums.

Please e-mail us on




Looking along Aston's main street
towards the Blue Bell Inn

Aston Parish War Memorial

On Friday 7th October 2011, the new Aston-cum Aughton War Memorial was erected on the green outside the William Layne Reading Room on Aughton Lane Aston. This was the realisation of the hopes of many people in the parish to have a war memorial to remember the fallen.

A dedication service was held at the War Memorial on Sunday 6th November at 2 p.m. conducted by Rev. Ian Jennings of All Saints Church, Aston, and prayers of dedication were given by Rev. Sean Adair of Central Methodist Church, Reverend Malcolm Purdy of Swallownest Baptist Church, Roy Dyson of the Roman Catholic Community, formerly St. Martin's Church, and Reverend Iain Somerville of Bethesda Pentecostal Church, Swallownest.

Jeff Blades

A wreath was laid by Mr. Gary Cooper on behalf of the Parish Council.
A service is held at the Memorial each year on Remembrance Sunday, attended by the clergy and congregations of local churches, the Boys Brigade, Girls Brigade, Brownies and Rainbows, children from local schools and a large gathering of local people.

Dedication Service for the new gravestone for Thomas Lee the "Indian Black Servant of Governor Verelst of Aston Hall"
Sunday 19th February 2012.

In the churchyard of All Saints Church, Aston is a headstone marking the grave of Thomas Lee who died on 30th June 1801.   Thomas was a native of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and was brought to England by Harry Verelst when he retired as Governor of Bengal in 1769.   In 1771, Thomas Lee was baptised at St. Margaret's at Lee in Lewisham, London and the entry in the parish register reads “Thomas Lee the Indian black servant of Governor Verelst was baptised July the 17th 1771”.

In 1773 Harry bought the Aston Estate from Robert, Earl of Holderness and brought his wife Ann and his servant Thomas to the newly built Aston Hall where Thomas lived until his death in 1801.   The wording on his gravestone tells us that Thomas was valued by the Verelsts.   

Thomas lived in Aston during the time that William Mason was Rector.   William was a friend of William Wilberforce who worked tirelessly for the abolition of slavery.  In this he was supported by William Mason and on the 24th January 1788, Mason baptised an American freed slave in York Minster and preached against the slave trade.   I like to think that Thomas may have influenced Mason’s views on slavery.

Thomas Lee gravestone



Unfortunately time and weather have eroded the stone and the inscription is no longer legible.   Aston-cum-Aughton History Group decided to have made an engraved stone to be placed in the ground in front of the original stone so that Thomas can continue to be remembered.    This stone has very kindly been donated by C. Pritchard & Son, Funeral Directors of Swallownest and has now been placed in the churchyard in front of Thomas’s headstone.

A dedication service was held at the graveside of Thomas Lee on Sunday 19th February 2012 at 11.15 a.m. The choir and clergy accompanied by members of the congregation processed from the church to the grave where Father Jennings spoke about Thomas coming to live in Aston 240 years ago and living as part of the community. When he died in 1801, the Verelst family and people from the village would have been standing around his grave to remember him, just as we are today. He thanked the history group for providing this new stone that will ensure that Thomas Lee will continue to be remembered.

Tea and coffee was served in the Narthex of the church after the ceremony.

The Memmotts of Aston and Utah

Following a successful visit to Aston in March 2008 by American descendants of William Memmott, Parish Clerk of Aston from 1781 to 1825, three members of the History Group travelled to Salt Lake City in August 2008 for a return visit and gave a presentation about the history of Aston at the Memmott Annual Reunion in Scipio, Utah.

We welcomed two members of the family in October 2009 and helped them trace more of their family ancestors in the local area. We also introduced them to the Derbyshire Peak District and Castleton. They are currently planning a return visit to Aston during May 2010.
Sixteen members of the Memmott family joined us on the 15th and 16th May 2010.
On the 15th May we met in the Reading Room and presented a brief history of Aston during the time of the Memmotts and also the Memmott emigration to Utah.


Thomas Memmott
Thomas Memmott 1838-1916

We visited Aston Church and then travelled on to St. James's Church at South Anston where a Memmott baptism had been held.

On Sunday 16th May 2010 we gathered in Aston Church for a dedication service for a Paschal Candle Stand given to the Church by the Memmott family in memory of William Memmott (1743-1827), Parish Clerk for 45 years and Frances Memmott (1770-1849), Parish Clerk for 22 years.

The service was followed by refreshments in the Narthex and a trip to the top of the Church tower by several of the visitors. It was a beautifully clear day and the views from the top were worth the climb.


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