Rushpool Hall is one of the finest specimens of Victorian architecture to be found in North Yorkshire. It was constructed at the head of the valley gardens in Saltburn-by-the-Sea in the years 1863 and 1864, for Mr John Bell. Bell was one of the pioneer iron masters of Bell Brothers, a company that controlled and worked the ironstone mines in Skelton. It followed that the magnificent Rushpool Hall was built with the first ironstone raised from the Bell Brothers' Skelton shaft mine.
Rushpool Hall is attributed to the great gothic revivalist Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), who was possibly the most prominent and successful architect of modern times. Scott was a man of phenomenal energy, influence and success throughout nineteenth century Britain. English Heritage have noted Scott as being responsible for 607 listed buildings in England. This number is far more than any other British architect to date. Scott also designed or altered over one thousand buildings, including almost every Cathedral in England and Wales. Other notable buildings he was responsible include the British Foreign Office, St Mary’s Cathedral (Glasgow), King’s College Chapel (London) and the Albert Memorial, requisitioned by Queen Victoria herself.
Scott's reputation was international, and his buildings can be found across many countries, such as Bombay, New Zealand, South Africa and Newfoundland, to just name a few. Scott's Midland Grand Hotel in London has, only in more recent years, been magnificently restored and subsequently reopened as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, pictured below.
Apart from the foregoing, the actual builder of Rushpool Hall is as yet unconfirmed, but we do know that a second architect, Cuthbert Brodrick (1821-1905), of Leeds Town Hall (1852-1858) and Leeds Corn Exchange (1860-1862) fame, was advertising around Leeds and Newcastle areas in the spring of 1863, requesting tenders from interested parties to build this outstanding country mansion, designed by his colleague Sir George Gilbert Scott.
The Hall is situated on the North Yorkshire Coast, but with the beautiful North Yorkshire Moors only ten minutes away. The Bell family were able to enjoy the best of both worlds, the coast and the countryside, apart from when they spent the winter months of the year in their other house, at Algiers in the Middle East. John Bell died in 1888, aged seventy, at his residence in Algiers, after having become a major player in Teesside iron works, employing six thousand men at his peak.
Following John Bell's death, another iron and steel pioneer moved into Rushpool Hall, in the shape of Sir Arthur Dorman (1848-1931), a partner in the Dorman Long Iron and Steel Works, who had rented the house from the Bell family. Dorman Long employed twenty thousand people by 1914, and during World War I was a major supplier of shells. In the 1920s, Dorman Long took over the concerns of Bell Brothers and Bolckow and Vaughan, and then became involved in the construction of many bridges, including the Tyne Bridge, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, elements of the Tsing Ma Bridge and the Sutong Bridge. Mrs Margaret Bell (John's widow) and her daughter Sybil returned to live at the house after Arthur Dorman moved out to live at Grey Towers, having retained their ownership of the property.
Sir Joseph Walton, coal owner, active Wesleyan Methodist and Liberal Party MP, purchased the property after it was renovated in 1906, following the great fire of 1904, which almost destroyed the Hall, after a maid's candle accidentally caused a curtain to catch alight. The construction of the ironstone outer walls is probably the main reason that the Hall survived the fire. Walton took a deep interest in Foreign Affairs, and in the development of the British Empire, meaning that he travelled extensively through India, Africa, Burma, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, as well as visiting China, Japan, Persia, Mesopotamia, Russia, and the Balkans. Walton gained the soubriquet “The Member for China” in Parliament and was created a Baronet, of Rushpool, in the County of York, in 1910. He later died in 1923. After the Walton's left the Hall, it stood empty for twenty years, before having periods as a school and a hotel, following their departure.
Among the many famous visitors to Rushpool Hall is Winston Churchill, Sir Herbert (Louis) Samuel, and Gertrude Bell. Churchill, who was well acquainted with Walton, spoke at a meeting in Rushpool's grounds, apparently to great applause, in the run up to the 1912 election. Samuel also spoke at the 1912 meeting, and at the time he was Postmaster General (1910-1915). He was, in fact, the first practicing Jew to hold a British Cabinet office. A further link between the Hall and the Middle East is provided by Samuel, in that he was nominated High Commissioner for Palestine from 1920-1925. Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), a famous explorer and archaeologist, was the grandniece of John Bell, and resided at Red Barns in Redcar. She would most certainly have visited Rushpool on many occasions as a child, to see her relations. She later spent many years as a traveller and political officer in Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Arabia, and played a major role in establishing the modern state of Iraq. Gertrude Bell has been described as one of the few representatives of His Majesty's Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection.