Fountains Hall is a quirky Jacobean house, built into a steep hillside, probably to a design by Robert Smythson, on the edge of the precinct of the medieval Fountains Abbey. Indeed, its stones came from the Abbey, plundered by the builder, the unlikeable Stephen Proctor, in the first decade of the seventeenth century.
Periods of neglect in its long history kept it intact and charming. In the late 1920s it was renovated by Commander Clare and Lady Doris Vyner and during the Second World War the house was used to accommodate evacuees.
The Vyners’ daughter Elizabeth joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service and died of lethargic encephalitis, or sleeping sickness, aged eighteen, on June 3rd 1942. Her death reminds us that not all the victims of war die by enemy action, but for their loved ones the loss is as great and the grief no less hard to bear.
Elizabeth Vyner’s younger brother, Charles De Grey Vyner, served as a pilot in the Royal Naval Reserve, and was reported missing in action when his plane crashed into the sea off Rangoon on May 2nd 1945. He was nineteen.
Word reached his family on May 12th. After the euphoria of VE Day on the 8th there could hardly have been a more cruel blow.
After the War Elizabeth and Charles’ parents erected a memorial, poignantly placed above the main door of the Hall, a stained-glass window flanked by carved figures of brother and sister in uniform. It was designed by John Seely and Paul Paget and was unveiled on April 9th 1953 by Elizabeth’s godmother, after whom she was named, HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
The memorial is visible only to visitors leaving the house, unless on entering they reach the top of the stairs and turn.
Its inscription reads, “When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today. From this their home, they went forth to war.”