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Sculpture Garden in Thirsk Hall's Parkland Jeff Lowe ‘King’
March 2023
Reading time 4 Minutes

Previously best known for its links to James Herriot, Thirsk is growing to be a cultural hub for art-lovers thanks to the sculpture garden in Thirsk Hall's parkland. We take a look around

Thirsk Hall, an imposing Grade II* listed three-storey townhouse, has been the Bell's family home for 300 years (it was built in 1723 and extended in the 1770s by York architect John Carr, who also designed Wentworth Woodhouse and Harewood House). It's currently the home of aesthetes Bill Gerrish and Daisy Bell. 'John was one of the greatest architects in the North in the Georgian period,' says art dealer Bill. 'There are quite a lot of architectural features that are really important.'
Geoffrey Clarke ‘Plane & 2 Slabs I’ Geoffrey Clarke ‘Plane & 2 Slabs I’

The couple moved in around three years ago and have been working on turning Thirsk Hall into a ‘culture centre for the North’ ever since. ‘That includes opening up the sculpture garden, hosting events and putting on a music festival,’ Bill adds. ‘That’s allowing us to grow, not just Thirsk Hall, but Thirsk itself into a cultural hub.

‘Daisy and I both come from an arts background. Daisy has worked for museums and I’ve worked for commercial galleries. I set up my own company four or five years ago specialising in 20th century and contemporary art. The sculpture garden gives us an opportunity to host similar exhibitions here in Yorkshire.’

Inspired by some sound advice from an inspirational artist, Daisy and Bill launched the sculpture garden in 2021. ‘Norman Ackroyd, who is probably one of the most famous landscape artists in the country, has held a couple of exhibitions in Thirsk. He said to me that he always thought the space behind the house was perfect for a sculpture park, so that’s something that we had in the back of our minds,’ Bill recalls.

‘It’s quite an unusual house. The front of it looks out into the town of Thirsk, whereas the back of the house has a 20-acre parkland and garden which not many people are aware of because of the surrounding redbrick walls. Even those who have lived in Thirsk for years don’t actually realise there’s such a big space here, and I think it was important for us (during lockdown especially) to open up this green space.’

A retrospective exhibition displaying large-scale sculptures by internationally-acclaimed artist Michael Lyons, celebrating his life, went on display outdoors in York in 2019, and over lockdown, when the artworks were due to be moved, Bill offered the sculpture garden as a temporary base. ‘That was our first exhibition,’ he explains. ‘It’s important for us to give an opportunity for the general public to see these major artists in the North. A lot of these artists are internationally-known and if we can provide a service for local schools or art fans to see this, we’re very keen to do that.’

Read More: A Racecourse, Independent Shops, and Rural Arts: What To Do in Thirsk

Setting up a sculpture garden isn’t an easy job, as Bill explains: ’Obviously moving around large-scale sculptures is difficult but we’re very lucky that we have a great team that help us. We went through a long planning process, and there are also things like insurance, security and staffing to think about – but I think we’re lucky that we’ve had the experience and we were able to bring people together to make that happen. It’s been a real team effort.’

The garden has been proving popular with visitors, which led Bill and the team to set up some indoor exhibition spaces too. The garden now has two indoor spaces where Thirsk Hall host smaller exhibitions of paintings and other artworks. ‘We’ve got a really good programme going,’ Bill says. ‘We’ve got six indoor exhibitions a year and a new installation every spring in the parkland of major names and world-famous artists. It’s really exciting.

‘It’s important for us to give an opportunity
for the general public to see these
major artists in the North’

Emily Young ‘Still Dancer 1’ Emily Young ‘Still Dancer 1’
Jeff Lowe ‘Lock No.3’ Jeff Lowe ‘Lock No.3’

Bill is pleased that they’re bringing a boutique artistic experience to Thirsk, adding to the area’s cultural offering. ‘There’s plenty to do here – The World Of James Herriot, The Ritz Cinema, RuralArts and the racecourse – and we’ve just launched a glamping site [five luxury bell tents which will sit within the historic walled garden] which opens in spring, so there’ll be an opportunity for people to stay in affordable accommodation for an entire weekend too.’

As a commercial sculpture garden, all the money made from sales is put back into the projects at the house. ‘The property is Grade II* so we’re really trying to protect the site for future generations – not just our family, but future generations of Thirsk too,’ says Bill.

‘Local garden historian Anne Nesbitt recently wrote her thesis on the garden and its history, going all the way back to the 1600s, and there are very good records of how it’s changed,’ Bill reveals. ‘We’ve put a lot of work into the garden and we run private tours and the National Garden Scheme here. We also run quite a lot of events throughout the year. I’ve just been planning an Easter bunny trail which will time well with daffodil season. This year we planted 2,000 daffodil bulbs and we’re trying to invest in the garden to return it to how it would have been in the Georgian period. We run a beer and pizza night in the summer to encourage young people to enjoy an evening among the sculptures, and we also run a barbecue night later in the year.’

Thirsk Hall Sculpture Garden Thirsk Hall Sculpture Garden

‘We’re also putting a project together with the
Royal Society of British Sculptors. Their members
will apply to put their sculptures in the parkland
and we will choose the best five to be installed’

Willoughby Gerrish and Georgie Gerrish in The Orangery at Thirsk Hall Sculpture Garden. (Marble sculptures by Rob Ward & Sculpture in The Orangery by Jon Kipps) credit Joe Lang Willoughby Gerrish and Georgie Gerrish in The Orangery at Thirsk Hall Sculpture Garden. (Marble sculptures by Rob Ward & Sculpture in The Orangery by Jon Kipps) credit Joe Lang

In 2020, they planted 500 trees and installed 20 bird boxes around the site to encourage wildlife, and their herb garden development was completed in 2021. But Bill is particularly proud of their kitchen garden. ‘We inherited this huge kitchen garden and it was full of weeds so it was quite stressful, but we got together with a community service group and members have been growing vegetables for a food bank and flowers for a local care home here,’ Bill says proudly. 'We’ve been working with them for around 18 months and these guys have been taught how to plant, how to grow veg and how to mow – real life skills. The amount of progress they’ve made in the kitchen garden is amazing.’

The sculpture garden is currently displaying sculptures by Rob Ward, Jeff Lowe, Michael Lyons and Zak Ové to name just a few, while in The Orangery you can see work by Gerald Laing, and Gallery One is the temporary home for work by Gordon House. Bill promises a jam-packed schedule of exhibitions and events throughout 2023. ‘That includes the work of Emily Young, Britain’s greatest living stone sculptor,’ he reveals. ‘She’ll be showing a selection of large-scale work in the garden and a selection of smaller pieces in the gallery space.

‘We’re also putting a project together with the Royal Society of British Sculptors. Their members will apply to put their sculptures in the parkland and we will choose the best five to be installed. In July we change the exhibitions again, and we’ll be featuring a big exhibition of the work of abstract painter Howard Hodgkin. Then we’re doing a ceramic show. On top of that, we’ll install another 20 large-scale pieces, we’ll do some artist residencies and contemporary artist Robbie Fife will have his first large-scale show in our exhibition space, which is really exciting because he’s a young artist from just outside Thirsk. While we’re keen to bring international names to Thirsk, we’ve got to be mindful in supporting local artists as well.’

Read More: Meet the Amazing Artist from Hull Whose Work Has Been Compared to Antoni Gaudí's

Thirsk Hall will once again be opening up the garden to the National Garden Scheme, supporting charities nationally, and they’ll also host a Flower Power event, offering plant enthusiasts the chance to meet, learn about and buy rare plants. Plus, Thirsk Hall Festival will return, where music lovers can enjoy live music and entertainment, sponsored by Severfield and Timothy Taylors, and in support of the Herriot Hospice @ The Lambert. Finally, to celebrate 300 years of the Hall, they’re collaborating with a highly-acclaimed local chef (who is currently being kept under wraps) for a banquet-style lunch in Gallery One.

Thirsk Hall Sculpture Garden and Gallery One is open from Wednesday to Saturday, 11am-5pm. To find out more and to book tickets, visit


Favourite place to walk in the North.
On Sutton Bank where the White Horse is. There’s a great sign which reads: the finest view in England – and it is! It’s the most magical place to look out over Thirsk.

An item you couldn’t live without.
My children and my wife. Does that count?

A book you recommend.
My favourite book is Just Kids by Patti Smith. She wrote this amazing book about her relationship when she was in her early 20s with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. But it’s also about being a musician and an artist. It’s so beautifully written.

An artist who inspires you.
I work with a lot of contemporary artists. The idea of working with, especially young contemporary artists, and being a part of their journey, is something I feel very fortunate to be part of. Equally I’ve been working with Emily Young for about 20 years now (I was about 18 when I first met her) and to be pulled along on this journey by someone who’s creating such amazing work is a really special part of my job. We did a big David Hockney show last year in the main space featuring his early drawings and prints – I’m very fortunate to be able to work with some big names and it’s something I’m keen on opening up to others.

Your favourite plant.
I’m a big daffodil and tulip fan! In late November everything’s a bit miserable and we’re all out there on our knees planting tulips and it's quite a tough, but there’s a lovely moment in April when you know they’re all going to come out and suddenly there’s just a beautiful bloom and it makes it all worth it. There’s something quite special about that magical moment.

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