Ralph Hedley’s hunting pictures on the North York Moors

I was in Helmsley recently and missed the chance to visit the site of two unusual paintings by Ralph Hedley.

Spout House/the old Sun Inn is on the B1257 as it runs from Helmsley to Stokesley, across the North York Moors National Park. There are not many houses up there, but Spout House has been there for hundreds of years. Built in the 1500s as a farm house, it became the Sun Inn in 1714, and closed in 1914 when it was replaced by the new Sun Inn built close by.

The interior of Spout House/ the old Sun Inn, is featured in Hedley’s Hunting morn (1895), and the exterior is in his Counting the game (1902). Both pictures show rural huntsmen, and both were arranged, possibly commissioned, by Allan Bowes Wilson of Hutton Rudby.

A letter of 12 September 1893, from Allan Bowes Wilson, arranged for Ralph Hedley to go to the old Sun Inn to paint members of the Bilsdale hunt. Wilson said Hedley would be staying 4 miles away at ‘Chop Yat Hostel’, and invited him to bring his bicycle.

‘Chop Yat’ (now called Chop Gate) means ‘pedlars’ way’. The word ‘chop’ is said to derive from an Old Norse word ‘ceap’ or ‘kaup’ for pedlar or chapman. ‘Yat’ is a local dialect word for gate or route.

Years after he arranged for Hedley to paint Hunting morn, Allan Bowes Wilson commissioned Counting the game for £50. It shows the results of a day’s shooting laid on the ground outside the old Sun Inn. The window that features in Hunting morn is seen from the outside in Counting the game, and is surrounded by sun-flowers.

Allan Bowes Wilson ran a sailcloth factory in Hutton Rudby, founded by his father George Wilson. Bales of his sailcloth appear in the bottom right hand corner of Ralph Hedley’s painting The sail loft (1908) which is on show in the Northern Spirit display at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle. One of the bales in the picture is inscribed –









'Hunting morn' as an advert for Bovril.

In his letter Allan Bowes Wilson identified the men of the Bilsdale Hunt depicted in Hedley’s painting Hunting morn

  • Whipper-in ,Bobby Dowson
  • Hunt master, Robert Kitching
  • Huntsman, Nicholas Spink
  • Nicholas Spinks’s brother, Richard, was the ‘plain-clothes man’, not wearing the ‘hunting pink’.

The woman with the tray was Phoebe Barr, of the family who ran the Sun Inn, and the girl at the window is her niece, Ruth Ainsley.

'Hunting morn' as an advert for whiskey.

Colour prints of Hunting morn were used, apparently without Hedley’s permission, to advertise Bovril and Norman Brown whiskey. An extra man appears in the advertising prints and the girl in the window disappears in one of them.

There are also more subtle differences. The round table in the painting has turned legs, whereas they are plain in the prints. The rectangular table disappears altogether in the Bovril print.

Two people who didn’t miss a chance to visit Spout House/old Sun Inn, took some great photos in 2005. You can find them at –


9 Responses to Ralph Hedley’s hunting pictures on the North York Moors

  1. R Openshaw says:

    Another interesting point about Spout House, is that after Bobby Dawson’s death, a gravestone was commissioned by the Hunt, carved with hunting regalia, however the vicar at the time did not allow it to be placed in the churchyard as he viewed the fox head as a pagan symbol, and so it was placed in front of the New Sun Inn where it has been ever since.

    The Sun Inn has been in the Ainsley family since the late 1600s, the last landlord passed away earlier this year (2013). It is being refurbished and is soon to reopen under new management and will now be serving food.

  2. John Millard says:

    Love the story of the gravestone – but I have him as Dowson rather than Dawson.

    The ‘Paul Rose Walking’ link above, has photos of William Ainsley and the Sun Inn in 1905 and 1911 – as you probably noticed – and it’s good news that the Sun Inn will reopen.

  3. Robert Adam Garbutt says:

    The hunt master in the Painting is not Robert Kitching but my great great great grandfather Robert Garbutt who was master twice I think

  4. Christopher Martin Watson says:

    Robert Kitching that is mentioned in the painting is actually Robert Garbutt who is my great great grandfather by marriage. His daughter Monica married my great grandfather Robert (Hooky) Watson in 1881.

    • David Lowe says:

      Interesting! My Great Aunt was called Monica Belshaw (nee) Garbutt, she had a copy of the painting and my mother also has one, definitely Garbutt not a Kitching. But I am seeing one of the Kitchings on Saturday I will enquire if there was a Quaker member of their family who hunted with the Bilsdale and drank at Spout House in 1895.

  5. John Millard says:

    Christopher Martin Watson,

    Thank you for your comment on the blog “Ralph Hedley’s hunting pictures on the North York Moors”.

    You could well be right in pointing out that the man shown second from the left, facing away from the viewer, is Master of Bilsdale Hunt Robert Garbutt, not Robert Kitching.

    A letter of 1893, from Ralph Hedley’s friend and patron Allan Bowes Wilson, of Hutton Rudby, made arrangements with Hedley to paint the picture, and he said Robert Kitching was to be included in the painting. But plans could quite easily have changed.

    Garbutt and Kitching were apparently joint Master of the Bilsdale Hunt when the picture was painted in 1895.

    Robert Garbutt was master of the Bilsdale Hunt twice… at least according to John Fairfax Blakeborough in his snappily-titled book published in 1907 “England’s oldest hunt: being chapters of the history of the Bilsdale, Farndale and Sinnington Hunts, collected during several years”. On page 47 Blakeborough has a huge list of all the masters of the Bilsdale Hunt. It lists R. Garbutt as Master of the Bilsdale Hunt in 1886-7 (with Nicholas Spink) and 1889-97 (with R. Kitching).

    Do you have any photos or further information about your great great grandfather?


  6. Vincent Allenby says:

    Very interesting to view Ralph Hedley’s painting of which I’ve discovered of late, due to tracing my family back quite extensively. I knew of a public house being within the family at some point, but had no idea of such a direct connection with the Spout House/Sun Inn. It transpires it was the home of my Gt Gt Gt Gt Grandfather, William Ainsley & Gt Gt Gt Gt Grandmother Amelia Hunton & subsequently stayed within the family with my Gt Gt Grandmother Martha Allenby (nee Ainsley) & her son my Gt Grandfather James Allenby returning there for a period.
    So to see these works of art are rather fascinating to say the least!

    Vincent Allenby.

    • I am wondering if we have any descendants in common. On my tree there is more than one James Allenby, spouse Christiana. Elizabeth and many others. Helmsley and surrounding estate.James may have resided at Griff Lodge on the Duncombe Park estate. There is supposedly a connection with the famous Edmund Lord Allenby

      • Vincent Allenby says:

        Hi Diane,
        Oddly enough I’ve just read an article on Edmund Allenby, I have account of my Grt Aunt Margaret Mumby (nee Allenby, twin sister of my Grandfather Alfred Allenby )telling me about meeting him on a public occasion. As far as I’m aware he’s possibly a distant relative although visually he quite resembles Allenbys in our family line.

        My Grt Grandfather James Allenby resided at his grandparents public house The Spout House/Sun Inn Bilsdale with his mother (my Grt Grt Grandmother) Martha Allenby (nee Ainsley) who died there. My Grt Grt Grandfather Thompson Allenby (Marthas husband) on her death set sail for Australia with apparent hope of having his family join him in the antipodes. Unfortunately he passed away there before my Grt Grandfather James Allenby and siblings could join him.
        It would be interesting to know if our family trees connect? I do know our Allenby family are deep rooted in York ,Helmsley and Bilsdale for sure.

        Look forward to hearing from you Diane,

        Vincent Allenby.

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