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Hackfall and Postmodern Deep Mapping by Paul Dowson

Hackfall and Postmodern Deep Mapping: A case study of amplifying chosen images with implications for practice.
by Paul Dowson - 7 October, 2023


My objective in this short article is to present a deep map of Hackfall Woods which is located near Masham in North Yorkshire and to illustrate one way of going about crafting a deep map, using in this instance 6 images with accompanying text. It is a case study of sorts, and I hope it also raises for you as the reader the questions: which locality might you select; and what images would convey its special significance for you?

Iain Biggs, a leading researcher in deep mapping, says that it is through the creative coalescence of multiple things that a deep map starts to provisionally take shape (Biggs, 2018). From the list he provides I was drawn to affects, narratives, memories, identities and images, but others would find other things he includes equally relevant.


Box 1

Finding Hackfall

To find Hackfall Woods on an OS type map locate Masham (of Theakston’s Old Peculier fame) and follow the river Ure south for a distance of just under 2 miles. Here you’ll see a distinctive hook in the downstream course of the Ure and on the West bank at this point is ‘Hackfall’ as it is known.


I am not alone in my fascination with and attachment to this enchanted woodland glen. Its breath-taking topographical appeal combined with a sweeping bank of over a hundred acres of woodland and the sounds of moving water captured the senses and imagination of William Aislabie, who fashioned here a gothic garden in the mid Eighteenth century. Today it is sometimes described as Aislabie’s ‘lost garden’, however its pattern of pathways and most notably his elaborate follies can still be seen.

Although you can navigate my deep map by following the 6 images, I’d like to commence this piece with the famous poem that started me, as a youth, on the path that led me to Hackfall. It was the enigmatic and evocative Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Coleridge, 2019) which compellingly caught my attention and fascinatingly prefigured many of the things I discovered some four decades later at Hackfall. You may remember how it begins,

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure doom decree

Where Alph the sacred river ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea

There are many overlapping points between the poem and my experience of Hackfall.

For me, William Aislabie repeated in miniature what in legend Kubla Khan did. Like that of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, Hackfall facilitates a kind of portal that permits me the opportunity to derive my own associations and meaning from something that has been crafted by another human being set in a landscape, and intersection of histories that have their own awakening qualities.

In addition to providing more detail and stories about the sometimes resentfully represented ‘rich boy’ William Aislabie, I hope also to elaborate further on a number of other characters I have come to associate with Hackfall, spanning many contrasting times and centuries and including even a quintessential Modernist from a more recent history. Doing this, illustrates how a deep map becomes an interweaving of stories.

To help this task, I’d like to apply the narrative psychologist Polkinghorne’s four themes (1992), a post-modern epistemology that will inform my mapping of Hackfall as follows:


This is the idea that people’s realities are a product of their own constructions. I think you will quickly be conscious of this emphasis in what follows. Here I present my constructions and I hope they are an invitation to be more conscious of your own, on your first or next visit to Hackfall, or applied to your own place or project of interest.


Some of us are attracted to what others may regard as random things and the wonderful late-modern freedom to hybridise and creatively combine influences and subject-matter. Like Hackfall itself, this produces some unexpected turns in what follows. Like William’s pathways these can at times lead to things sublime, or at other times be deliberately playful.


If human knowledge is a construction, then as postmodernism suggests, no knowledge claim can be presented as relegating another one. What you will see and read here is the product of years of researching Hackfall, but I’m not trying to claim that my map is more accurate or qualitatively better than the next person’s. It’s my deep map and I’ve shared it with you to help you begin to navigate perhaps Hackfall for yourself, but certainly to encourage the practice of ‘constructing’ deep maps, particularly postmodern ones, which cast the mapmaker as bricoleur (see Roberts, 2018), someone who uses what they find along the way and combining a little bit of this and a little bit of that to form a pastiche of content.


Neopragmatism is a postmodern pragmatism. Applied to deep mapping, it seeks ways of operating that work, but - at the same time - assume foundationlessness and fragmentariness. Neopragmatism might yield ‘heuristic value’ (Polkinghorne, 1992) and suggest things which could be tried elsewhere. It also holds to what Polkinghorne, calls the notion of equifinality. This is to suggest that the same end (namely producing a deep map) can be accomplished in multiple ways.

1. Sawley map
Figure 1. Yorks 1930 extract. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Hackfall map

This 1930 map of Hackfall and its environs captures with the greatest of clarity some of the sights and features I highlight in this article. The curving course of the River Ure, which flows from north to south. Its distinctive hook surrounding Magdalen Field on its east bank. Opposite this is the expanse of Hackfall woods, which at over 100 acres is but a miniature of Mashamshire’s ancient woods. To the west the land rises to higher ground and note its so-called Oak Bank and gill. The Roman camp is positioned on Horsepasture hill, overlooking a river crossing of old.


My first image shows the distinctive hook in the river and something of the extent and woodland character of Hackfall. A friend of mine who lived in nearby Sawley had a similar map on his kitchen wall. I’ve always been drawn to woods and it prompted my question, ‘Where would I find the best woodland walk in this locality?’ He pointed to the hook in the Ure and one wet Sunday afternoon, energised by the sight of his map I drove the 17 miles from Harrogate to find it for myself.

A path from the Hackfall car park on the Masham to Grewelthorpe road leads one down through a large field and an initial outer edge of the Hackfall woods to the river Ure. The anticipation of getting to the river is heightened by hearing its deep and colliding tones before you see it. But then it comes into view; and much to the walker’s delight permits you to its very edge. There is something stirringly elemental about encountering moving water. It signifies and symbolises more than even the most articulate of us can put into words. It speaks of life and movement, of its source and its course, of its passing and even crossing. Beholding a wide river the eye is naturally drawn to the other side. ‘Come on’, the river may seem to say, ‘You’re here, but is there a way across?’ Such would-be explorations are again instinctual and deep-seated.

On a visit to Hackfall, at this very spot, it would be easy to miss arguably its most significant geographical feature. Remember here, to not so quickly follow the river downstream, but counter-intuitively head north and across the stile instead. On an old map you can find, Mowbray Wath which is where the river was crossed by foot. Depending on the season, this might have involved particular discomfort and challenge. In high water it was probably a cold-shock wade. But even so, it would feel like a kind of miracle to cross a major and expansive river by following a discernible stone shelf that diagonally passes from one bank to the other.

The name here was my first introduction to Roger de Mowbray, who was especially honoured by William Aislabie with adding the folly ‘Mowbray Castle’ between 1750 and 1767. If William had wanted visitors to Hackfall to enquire after the Mowbray narrative, it certainly worked in my case. Who was this Norman Northern baron and why should Aislabie point to his life and history? Furthermore, why would William form an association with Mowbray and why would I in turn develop that association too?

2. Raising a standard

Deep mapping can involve following a lead set in motion by another’s life, works or artistry. So my first visit to Hackfall was soon followed by the visit to an even more lost site than Aislabie’s gothic garden, the Cowton Moor fields that witnessed the Battle of the Standard, near Northallerton. Here I was to discover a fragment of what Mowbray witnessed, as a teenager, in the Northern repulse of the Scottish army in 1138. An account speaks of how well Mowbray handled this baptism of fire, but it must have been a truly terrifying coming of age as he encountered the sights and sounds of battle for the first time. After the Norman victory, I think he would have seen the horror of literally thousands of fallen opposition being piled into the so-called ‘Scot pits’ as given away by the name Scot Pits Lane labelled on old maps.

I was unexpectedly stirred with emotion when I found that place and took a moment to remember the pain of all their loved ones who would never see the return of sons, brothers, fathers and friends. It was a kind of madness as shocking as the Scottish frenzied all out, full-frontal charge as led by the contingent of Galwegians into the arrows of the English archers. But for Mowbray it oddly set the tone for many bewildering things he was yet to encounter, in a life that followed great ups and downs, reminiscent of the Yorkshire landscape. I reflect that it’s no wonder that this history has been covered over in more ways than one. And yet, the mighty grief of family as well as the fallen, even today, demands voice for their sad stories to be heard across the centuries of time.

Figure 2. From Smurthwaite (1984) Reproduced with the permission of Ordnance Survey.

Battle of the Standard Map

‘It’s all here’. All that creaks and is calamitous about the conflicts of men down through the ages. Perhaps it was the first time two specific world-changing figures, the young Roger de Mowbray and King David I (of Scottish fame) occupied the same place or space. The Scottish all-out assault was violently resisted by the ‘Normans’ as they called them and David slipped away to safety from the defeat. Mowbray didn’t wilt in the heat of battle, but he would never forget his first encounter of mortal conflict.


It was also thanks to William Aislabie that I was able to follow Roger de Mowbray to the site of the closest actual Mowbray Castle in neighbouring Kirkby Malzeard, which I think not coincidentally can be found within a few miles of Aislabie’s folly version. A person’s fortunes and even allegiances can swing, sometimes wildly, and some four decades later Mowbray would find himself in rebellion against the King of England (Henry II) and now allied with William I, King of Scots. This episode was one of profound defeat and his motte and bailey castle at Kirkby Malzeard was demolished in 1176.

As if to rebuild that castle, and with it to highlight the integrity and characterful stature of Roger de Mowbray, Aislabie set his folly high on a hill and clear to the eye of every onlooker. It would cause any visitor of William’s to ask, ‘Who was Mowbray?’ and I am sure he would have obliged by telling his stories and speak of his good governance in these parts and beyond and of his substantial legacy.

Having said this, I think William had a personal investment in the association with Mowbray, making this folly way more than just kindly tokenism or a rather absurd architectural righting of wrongs. From William’s perspective the good name of the Aislabie’s had been similarly besmirched, and there was also an air of injustice about how opponents had grievously treated the family and its interests. I refer of course to the South Sea Bubble fiasco (see Box 2) and how John Aislabie (William’s father) as Chancellor of the Exchequer was sent to the Tower having been scapegoated by senior colleagues of the Whig government.


Box 2

The Aislabies and the South Sea Bubble

According to Tim Richardson (2008) the Aislabies were no aristocrats but rather a mercantile family and acquired their estates through George Aislabie’s hypergamous marriage with Mary Mallory in about 1662-1663. Their son and the most well-known Aislabie, John (1670-1742), became heir to Studley Royal (of Fountains Abbey fame) and several other Mallory estates.

John Aislabie is perhaps best known for his political success and subsequent downfall. First as a Tory MP and later with the accession of King George I in 1714 as a Whig, his career flourished to the high point of becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1718. However, John Aislabie’s fate was sealed by his active sponsorship of the South Sea Company scheme. This was devised with a group of opportunistic minds to deal with the overwhelming national debt of the time and consisted of the company underwriting portions of the national debt in exchange for issuing South Sea Company shares.

The calamitous South Sea bubble episode refers to the substantial rise and then fall in the share price of the South Sea Company which took place during 1720. Investing in the South Sea stocks had captured the imagination of a huge range of investors from the King himself (it is widely reputed) to people who were new to this new pursuit of ‘paper fortunes’.

With the bursting of the South Sea bubble a host of investors were financially ruined. Within weeks, two-thirds of England’s nominal wealth had evaporated and there was a mounting sense of social disorder (Lebovitz, 2017). This led to Aislabie’s time in the Tower of London, along with every Director of the South Sea Company. It is said that Aislabie’s arrest was celebrated by bonfires in London. John Aislabie was the only notable British politician to be convicted for his role in the elaborate South Sea scheme, suggesting that he was unfairly singled-out in the Whig government for the South Sea debacle.


The note of ‘poor Mowbray’ was perhaps a projected version of ‘poor Aislabie’. John Aislabie spent the rest of his days on an elaborate form of ‘gardening leave’, pouring his energies into his gargantuan Studley Royal project. William himself became a Tory Member of Parliament (reminiscent of Mowbray’s great switch of allegiances) and I like to imagine that was in some way especially directed at once political allies who abandoned his father.

Returning to Mowbray, I also discovered that he travelled on at least two occasions, most probably three, to the Levant and was shocked to read that he was even present at the fateful Crusader defeat in the shadow of the Horns of Hattin (1187), which he survived most probably because of his value to ransom. Saladin himself may have perhaps personally chosen to spare him. In the context of his brothers in arms, the Knights Templars being captured and beheaded, this must have traumatised the reprieved Baron.

It’s difficult to comprehend particularly religious fervour in our contemporary age. Along with this, the life and horrors that resulted from medieval politics and conflict are equally alien. But such were Mowbray’s religious sensibilities that he gifted vast tracts of his land to Fountains Abbey (which the Aislabies later owned) as well as founding and supporting other religious houses and organisations.

3. The Roman marching fort

History and the mapping of history is a little bit like those old computer games where a territory comes into view only as you move into it. But the movement is a rewind of history as one goes back in time to try and comprehend – about which we can only speculate - what it must have been like for different people or peoples in former times. However, paradoxically, anything you learn or experience through a journey back through time, you bring forward to use in the present and it remains with you as you venture into the future. As all of us know it is possible to somehow enliven an aspect of history by attaching ourselves to it, or its characters of historical note. Nation states have done this particularly. This way, the myth of historical figures ‘live on’ across time. It is a traditional Chinese notion that the ’second death’ is when no-one remembers you or speaks your name (Kang and Tang, 1993). William Aislabie has helped to keep Roger de Mowbray from a second death.

In William’s garden at Hackfall there is the Mowbray Wath, the Mowbray Castle and the Mowbray Point. However, long before the Norman Mowbray who relates to a 1066 construction in many people’s minds, there are other histories this landscape reveals. At this strategic crossing place of the Ure (formerly known as Ulueswath) it has been said that the Saxons and Vikings fought. What is certain, rather than legend, is that the Romans used this locality to cross the Ure and behind Hackfall, high on what is known as Horsepasture hill, are the remains of a Roman marching fort that overlooked the crossing place of the Ure. A map showing this is my third selected image.

Figure 3. Yorks 1910 extract. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. Highlight added.

Roman Camp

The road that led down from the marching camp to the river is long gone, but the place where the Roman camp perched on Horsepasture hill is so obviously still there, all these centuries later. The Romans weren’t the first people in this locality to travel and trade, but like any group of people that have departed they left their roadways. Taking all the ages together, Hackfall is a kind of crossroads combining east-west and north-south routes. The Roman conquerors were ever pushing north, perhaps in pursuit of fabled precious metals. Centuries later the peoples of Scotland famously pushed back into England.


At the time of the Roman occupation of Britain there were many different tribes, and North of the legionary base of York into what today is Scotland, from the East coast to the West coast were the lands of the prominent Brigantes tribe. From Mowbray point, at Hackfall, one can see York (which is some 30 miles away). Looking from right to left i.e. South to North, the eye follows the Vale of York and North of this, what would be later called the Vale of Mowbray. I described this vast and significant flatland to a friend as the ‘Roman superhighway’. It was the course of the famous Dere Street which ran from York to the Antonine wall. As signified by the word vale, it was relatively flat and more fertile than the foothills around our area of focus. It sat between two areas of higher ground, the North Yorkshire Moors on the East and the foothills of the Pennines on the west.

However, a diversion West at this point including a crossing near what became Hackfall would have had economic or military significance. Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes, the only British queen the Romans recognised, cooperated with the invaders (see Box 3). For me, at least, Aislabie’s Hackfall caused this ghosted tribe and its Queen to emerge from shadows. It is striking in our school history lessons that beyond Boudica’s rebellion, we didn’t glean much of the detail of the numerous and distinct tribes that covered Britain before the Roman invasion, some of who sided with the Romans, some of who opposed them and some of who changed sides, like the Brigantes.


Box 3

Queen Cartimandua and the Brigantes

Queen Cartimandua was part of the British aristocracy and may well be one of the eleven monarchs whose submission is recorded on the triumphal arch in Rome (Hanson and Campbell, 1986). Cartimandua adopted a policy of appeasement with the Roman invaders and agreed a peace treaty. This would have been sealed by subsidies from Rome and the promise of help against opponents, either externally or internally.

Ptolemy’s geography maps the Brigantes tribe as occupying an expansive territory extending from coast to coast across an area we now associate with the North of England. The Brigantes comprised a loose federation of smaller groups and it is thought that Cartimandua’s consort Venutius may have been a younger son or chief of a smaller group that amalgamated with the tribe (Armitage, 2020).

It is easy to underestimate the tribal peoples which the Romans sought to rule in Britain. This may cause us to overlook, their distinct histories, their social organisation, their religious practices and their trade. Regarding the latter, it was probably the case that the Brigantes were trading lead, wool products and other commodities with Rome two centuries before Julius Caesar’s 55-54 BC incursions into Britain (Phillips, 1976).

In due course however the breakdown of Cartimandua’s marriage to Venutius lead to a Brigantian civil war and the Romans stepping in militarily to restore order. There is no source material to tell us what eventually became of Cartimandua however Venutius’s resistance was crushed and Brigantia was annexed sometime between 71 and 74 AD.


A walk up to Horsepasture hill and to the site of the Roman camp caused me to imagine the actual view from this point at the time of the Romans. It was there to provide an eagle’s eye view of the river crossing. Immediately to the south was an extensive forest of oak trees. Some local trees would have been felled to make the protective wall of the camp. It also guarded the road which ran West from the Ure to neighbouring lead mines. On a clear day, when distant York might be seen this is a breath-taking view. However, when the weather is inclement, windy or sending cold rain, there are few places more exposed to the elements.

For some reason I have always thought of those who fought for the Roman army in Britannia and especially for the Legio IX Hispana, which was based first in Lincoln and later in York. I am particularly interested in how the legion was made up of men from different parts of the Empire and how particularly cruel the path that led to Scotland must have been for those who had grown up in southerly and warmer climes. For all its rugged beauty they must have often cursed the Northern weather and Winters, starting in these foothills and perilously working their way to somewhere even further North and more mountainous. There is some truth to the saying ‘it’s grim up North!’

4. The ruin

Some knowledge of the former Roman presence in the locality of Hackfall may have had a part to play in William Aislabie’s somewhat outrageous classical folly which housed a banqueting hall to be enjoyed by William and his chosen visitors. Designed to look like one, it is known now as ‘the ruin’. At the same time, it perhaps also reflects William’s privileged classical sensibilities and also something of his ‘grand tour’ experience, which ended with illness in French Blois.

But another theory I have is that it is a miniature of the more significant and real ‘ruin’ that can be found on the opposite side of the Ure, elevated by steep banks on three sides above the hook in the river I’ve mentioned already. This can be seen in the aerial photo (constituting my fourth image) below.

A second theory is that Aislabie’s follies were very deliberately conceived and constitute a deep map in themselves. What I have done in this article is present something of my own deep map of the locality, but in doing this I have come to respect and honour the artistry of Aislabie’s version which, in a palimpsestic way, I have mapped on top of.

It’s not possible to know exactly what is in the mind of another person as they produce a piece of art or architecture. And the same applies to the deep maps of others. Indeed an artist probably doesn’t know themselves why they are drawn to certain things and what is the full substance of their association with them. It is something certainly psychological, possibly soulful and undoubtedly about personal identity. To pick up and run with deep mapping is a process of self-disclosure and it is also about making sense of other people, encountering new histories and new stories as well as profoundly appreciating how various power relations have acted upon different people (see forward for Mapping Power and Privilege section). These things emerge through a personalised lens of place and space.

Aerial photo of L’ermitage

Doesn’t the loop in the river mark the topographical and symbolic centre-point of the lands around Hackfall? It would be so easy to walk the public paths and totally miss the ‘real ruin’ as I like to call it. Jonathan Webb has given us a bird’s eye perspective with this photo. The steep wooded banks surrounding this promontory are perfect to establish a defensive position for a habitation or place of spiritual significance. They seem to fall away as quickly as John Marmion’s widow Matilda departed the place on the death of her husband. The aspect of L’ermitage is unbelievable.


The photo shows the ruin L’ermitage as it is called, and enables the viewer to see how this former early fourteenth century manor house (a dwelling of John Marmion and his wife Matilda) was dramatically positioned on this prominent spur with steep wooded banks known as ‘Magdalen Wood’. To discover this historic site on the map, to read these rather alluring names and to be placed on the opposite – Hackfall - side of a full-flowing river all come together to capture the imagination. The multiple ‘Private’ signs urge visitors to Hackfall to not even think about venturing further.

5. Turner’s painting

Figure 5. Hackfall (w/c over pencil with gum arabic on paper), Turner, Joseph Mallord William (1775-1851) (after) / Lady Lever Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool / © National Museums Liverpool / Bridgeman Images

Turner’s Painting of the Ure at Hackfall

Turner always had the gift of not only seeing what others couldn’t readily see, but also capturing his acute observations in his sketches and paintings. Studying his riverside painting of Hackfall is an immersive experience. It is noteworthy that he gives equal significance to both banks of the River Ure including the enigmatic ‘Magdalen Wood’ which lies on the opposite (Eastern) bank to Hackfall. The old river crossing once united these equally enticing pastures. Perhaps the female figure in Turner’s painting is the Magdalen herself, whose smile shows there is a way, even when there doesn’t appear to be one.


The artist and travel writer William Gilpin (1724-1804) said of Hackfall that sublimity was its reigning idea (quoted by Rattue, 2021) and this might have been part of the draw in JMW Turner (1775-1851) visiting, sketching and indeed painting Hackfall. My fifth image is Turner’s view of the Ure at Hackfall and high above every other point of interest in the painting is Aislabie’s folly, Mowbray Castle. This was produced around 1816 and shows a couple of other Hackfall structures, Fisher’s Hall (which is still there) and also perhaps a wooden one, which has long since disappeared.

It would be interesting to present this painting to adults and children and, without prompting or context, enquire what it is they see in the work? This may of course be markedly different to what Turner may have intended. Works of art often act as mirrors for those who look at them or into them. I appreciate I’ve already provided some information, but what do you see? This might suggest something of the significance that Hackfall might have for you.

But here, it’s part of my deep map of Hackfall, so this is what I see? Firstly, I don’t know who is honoured most by Turner’s visit to Hackfall? Is it the masterpiece artist Turner, or Hackfall Woods? To answer this, I think Turner emphasises nature’s wonder of the river here and the wooded gorge over anything humanly created or crafted, including Aislabie’s and his own tinkerings. Secondly, the distant Mowbray Castle perhaps alludes to a number of equivalent sublime views that can be seen from and about Hackfall. The Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great (1729-1796) seemed to favour the view looking north from Limehouse Hill of distant Masham and its spire (Northern Echo, 2005). An almost unsettling one is the view of Aislabie’s high and lifted Banqueting House on Mowbray Point from Fisher’s Hall (near the river) which looks like a perched giant owl and evokes a sense of the distance between powerful watching ‘overlords’ and the lesser mortals made to feel nearer to mice than men.

But my most important point is why did Turner include the female figure in the foreground and what does she signify? I have come to view Hackfall as a ‘memory theatre’ (see box 4) and Aislabie’s genius was to highlight this. So, Turner presents Mowbray and Aislabie in his landscape, but I think he adds the woman to signify one who was present there with him in his imagination. It’s a remarkably ‘romantic’ spot in the fullest sense of the word and Turner captures here one of those moments where it feels extraordinary to be alive, with the sun on one’s face and it lighting a breath-taking landscape and evoking the fondest of memories and people.

6. John Green & Co

My final image relates to the last character I’ll profile in this article on Hackfall and its history, although interestingly he isn’t present in the photo. Here I have chosen to write a few more words on the Timber Merchant from Silsden, John Green who purchased Hackfall in 1932. I have ironically named this, Hackfall’s Green episode and it explains how Aislabie’s Woodland Garden as you’ll find it today has almost everything, with the exception of the ancient oaks and beech trees as depicted in Turner’s painting. Like all things of stature, what a tragic void they leave.

Figure 6. Photo/information taken from 1933 Ackrill's Annual, Harrogate Library, North Yorkshire Council. Reproduced with the permission of Harrogate Advertiser.

Photo of Vyner and the Duke of York

Here the photographer at Harrogate Railway station captures a buoyant moment in time when Commander Clare Vyner welcomes to Yorkshire his royal guest George, the Duke of York (and future King). A shadowy black and white still photo perhaps highlights all the details we cannot know about the lives of others, even one as prominent as the Father of our late Queen. Vyner is more shadowy still, but there is a clear connection between his personal decisions and the loss of heritage trees at Hackfall. Noting this, only highlights the achievements of William Aislabie who enhanced the enchanted woods.


It is difficult to imagine the arrest to the senses that the devastating felling of these giants must have caused, culminating first in the jarring yeep of the tree’s fall, taking with it smaller trees and mature schrubs on its way down, and followed after with their ground-shaking thunderous landing on the woodland floor. Everyone, in turn, of these deafening and disturbing destructions must have been heard in neighbouring Grewelthorpe and beyond. ‘Yet another gone!’, locals might have grimacingly remarked. For some, they would find a time or a way to watch Green’s team from a distance, or before or after their hours find the fallen trees, or witness the accompanying defacing of the Hackfall ground where hardwoods had landed and then were manoeuvred away.

But who was responsible for the felling of these irreplaceable trees? Was it Green’s team of men who boarded in the Grewelthorpe pub between long days of hard labour? Was it Green himself, who gave the word and counted the money? Was Green’s entire business implicated along with the users of the Hackfall hardwoods? Or did responsibility lie with the Vyner family, the last private owners of Fountains Abbey?

In this memory theatre, so enter the stage, John Green, who came from a tree felling and timber trading family. Both he and his older brother, Arthur would head separate businesses, applying the formula of travelling distances to fell standing timber, for cash. They also bought and sold tracts of woodland. Interviewed by the The Keighley News on 24 December 1932 John Green said, ‘It is my intention to allow the public to visit this spot as previously.’ The reporter added, ‘although he would thin out some of the timber, Mr Green assured the News that the beauty of Hackfall would be in no way impaired’.


Box 4

Memory Theatre

When we speak of a memory theatre we do well to remember Giulio Camillo’s (1480-1544) original wooden structure which was crowded with carefully selected images and only large enough to hold one or two visitors. Camillo’s memory theatre placed the viewer at its centre and flooded them with a jumble of images (Malkin, 1999) the purpose of which was to unlock hidden memories and to facilitate metaphysical understanding.

William Aislabie’s Hackfall pathways and positioned spectacles whether grottos, fountains or follies achieve something similar, albeit more playfully and romantically. Like Camillo’s memory theatre, the visitor to Hackfall is surrounded by a profusion of signs, each of which might profoundly impact the viewer in ways beyond measuring. Interestingly, this same bombardment of images is close to the method of Coleridge in Kubla Khan.

Fast-forwarding Hackfall to its contemporary visitors, like myself, the metaphor of Hackfall as memory theatre still works, but in a postmodern fashion. In this article I have set out to show that all manner of fragments (both histories and historical characters) emerge from visits to Hackfall and its environs. They cannot be organised into a unified whole, any more than there is a unified self. In agreement with the postmodern drama researcher, Jeanette Malkin (1999), ‘there is no easy way to read or organise the sensual and discursive overload’. Indeed, like postmodern theatre, one is left with a cacophony of voices, disconnected stimuli and sights challenging description.


Hopefully, my deep mapping of Hackfall has brought to life and remembrance some of the players from the history of Hackfall, particularly Aislabie and Mowbray, but others too who trod the paths in and around Hackfall Woods, that of course pre-dated Aislabie’s Eighteenth Century gardens. In the next section I wanted to make explicit some of the theory that is embedded in my selection of the 6 images and my commentary on why I selected them.

Photo by Chris Broadbent.

Paul Dowson Photo

Here’s a picture of me taken by my friend Chris Broadbent beside the Mowbray Wath at Hackfall. It highlights how our favourite places animate us as people. I first visited Hackfall in July 2012 and I’ve been studying it and returning since. The picture for me raises the question of who over the years has trod the paths in and around Hackfall? And it may seem an obvious thing to point out, but each person would be able to say what struck them about the place. Invariably, this would tell us as much about them as it would about Hackfall.


Section 2 - Implications for practice

On artistic freedom

The practice of deep mapping comes with more freedom than is found in other areas and disciplinary studies. This reflects its recognition of the personal nature of both the map-making and also what is mapped. Perhaps implicit in its name are a couple of things: firstly, the suggestion to navigate depths and areas that have not been adequately documented or represented before, and secondly, two maps of the same place will be different from one another.

I guess there’s no limit to deep mapping and these aspects of deep mapping will make it attractive to those with creative sensibilities of all kinds.

I have already suggested the postmodern character of deep mapping and this underpins the idea that it’s not essential in deep mapping to conform to anything other than trying to clearly communicate ideas. A map after all, is an aid and is designed to add clarity rather than confuse. So a deep map could be a collage of reality and fiction. It could also take anything from the realm of the Arts and Humanities and repurpose it or reinterpret it.

On associations

Association was a key word in my deep mapping of Hackfall. I was probably unconsciously led to this by the fact that William Aislabie’s Eighteenth Century Hackfall is a so called ‘associative garden’ (Harwood, 1987). It therefore not only reflected Aislabie’s associations but is designed to trigger associations for others. As I have said, I have run and run with Aislabie introducing me to Mowbray. We might be more conscious, more deliberate and certainly from an ethical perspective be more thought-through about associations we develop and apply. I have appreciated the association with Roger de Mowbray and understand something of why William Aislabie seemed to benefit also from studying his life.

The Humanities scholar, Svetlana Nikitina (2009) speaks of the educational importance of facilitating learners to find and form thematic motifs that are meaningful for them as individuals. As an educationalist myself, I have always designed assessments that give the student maximum freedom whilst meeting the learning outcomes of a module to study or explore subject-matter that is significant for them.

With deep mapping, the person doing the mapping, or reading the map, is given an opportunity to really get to grips with working out, or working through, what is the ‘it’ in their ‘what is it?’ reaction. That is, to not only figuratively find on a pebble beach, a pebble that stands out from the rest but to understand why this one in a thousand pebble has significance for you.

The American depth psychologist, Robert Romanyshyn (2021) speaks of a topic choosing the person as much as, perhaps even more than, the person choosing it. This elaborates how association works. A connection with a specific history/story or place or space or person or object, possessing a kind of electric charge can indicate an association that is unconscious or has found our senses before we are aware why.


Box 5

A thing thinging

Perhaps the best way to define a ‘thing’ is to set it apart from a mere object and instead view it as ‘our thing’ with energy and influence to move us. This efficacious quality of a thing amounts to a thing ‘thinging’. For the German philosopher, Heidegger, a thing can be a ‘built thing’ (like a house or a bridge) as well as any constituent part of the world (for example, a creature or a tree).

But how does a thing do its thinging? Here Heidegger proposes his poetic construct of the fourfold (das Geviert). The fourfold are essential essences of the world that come together (or gather) which Heidegger labelled as earth, sky, mortals and divinities. There isn’t space to unpack Heidegger’s delightful but enigmatic theory here but Andrew Mitchell’s The Fourfold (2015) constitutes a clear and comprehensive treatment of this.

Applied to Hackfall, when viewed from below and from a distance, Aislabie’s perched banqueting house on Mowbray Point for me becomes a built thing. Check this out for yourself when you visit Hackfall, or in another landscape consider why you are noticing certain things and how they are managing to enliven your thoughts and emotions?


On triggering the memory

I have already spotlighted Camillo's enigmatic memory-theatre and how he set out to activate memories through deploying a set of images. It is possible that William Aislabie was in some way influenced by the work or thinking of Camillo, or more likely by the stream of classical knowledge that attached significance to the precise placement or arrangement of specific symbolic and mythic scenes and objects.

Like Camillo, perhaps Aislabie intended his Hackfall spectacles to activate unexpected awakenings or to use theatre studies researcher Bryoni Tresize’s term, generate an 'affective charge' (Tresize, 2014). As filmmakers know so well, moods can always be moved, emotions played with and sentiments evoked. Art and The Arts share this capacity to trigger all kinds of reactions and deep mapping is no different here.

For many though, the triggering is often about the memory and remembering, whether on the side of being bitter or sweet. The viewer is transported in their minds to another place with an accompanying image or cluster of images. Such supra-temporality is difficult to explain, particularly because memories and impressions present randomly and without notice, like the state of dreaming. But this 'daydreaming', like its nightly counterpart is basic to being human.

The mapmaker (like the filmmaker) knows that their maps have the power to transport viewers so and beyond reckoning. The French historian Pierre Nora (1989, as cited in Tresize, 2014) highlights that in our postmodern times memory is in short supply. Perhaps people are taken up with lives of immediacy. In addition, urban life and modern life has cut off our free passage to the land as well as the paths of our ancestors. We find ourselves in manmade spheres (see Sloterdijk, 2014) distracted by diverse and again manmade objects. But it is still possible (as it is desirable) to collect fragments and work our way to restoring worlds which might appear lost.

On testimonial imagination

I have spoken of Mowbray’s torrid initial encounter with mortality at the Battle of the Standard. The medieval world was never far from matters of life and death and that sense that things and patterns that had taken a long time to establish might be in an instance snatched away. Albeit seven centuries later, Aislabie’s association with ‘poor Mowbray’ was partly founded on a notable family and name suffering a significant loss.

Something we describe as elegiac captures the confusion, insecurity and felt consequences of personal loss of all kinds. The connected concept of Arcadia looks back to a golden age (and place) before the rampages that bespoil a kind paradisal peace on earth.

In the same way that people and states of being can be lost, death comes to ways of life, worlds within worlds, notable buildings and even ‘forests, as ancient as the hills’ to borrow Coleridge’s phrase from Kubla Khan. At the same time there is a wonderful counterpoising reality in that what is lost can be found again. Like mortality, this too is a confusing mystery.

Aislabie’s garden gave back to Mowbray the castle he lost at Kirkby Malzeard. Through empathetic imagination he discerned Mowbray’s unfinished business and enacted an idea to counteract the injustice. Hillman and Shamdasani in their famous dialogic book, Lament of the Dead (2013) state that ideas are voices and voices flesh out figures from the past.

The consequence of this is as Robert Del Naja (of Massive Attack fame) says, ‘You resurrect ghosts every time you bring something back from the past’ (Harrison, 2021). Nations, history educationalists and researchers have agency and responsibility in how and who they bring back and animate. Added to this, it is possible to use the past to animate a present reality. We saw how Aislabie did this by enlarging the Mowbray myth in his garden to highlight the plight of his father and family. The felling of most of Hackfall’s finest trees by John Green & Co highlights the significance of the Woodland Trust’s current work of protecting Hackfall’s present day trees and making sure up and down the country that no tree with a story or other significance is lost without process and consultation.

This segues into my final section on implications for practice which is about power, power-relations and the use of power, whether this is economic, social, political or personal. Deep mapping does of course permit us to map the powers in play, sometimes latent and other times stealthily at work in landscapes and localities. The Aislabies were part of a land-owning elite who could express their interests and messages to the world through garden projects of all kinds. Wealth and the funding for artistic endeavour has ever been very unequal and consequently excludes many more than it enables.

On mapping power and privilege

You cannot know how another person relates to a text (image) unless they tell you. And even then, you can’t see it, as they do. The images I have selected for this article illustrate this.

First of all, nature exercises a power of sublimity and this is evident in the in the Hackfall landscape. Turner, as artist, only highlights nature’s dominance and captures the sense that its wonders are to celebrated and shared. The works of men and women at Hackfall are, in comparison, a trifling thing. Before anything was built in and around Hackfall there was a ‘wath’ or crossing place. This must have pre-dated even the Romans and greatly added to the locality’s geographical significance and sometimes even its contestation.

Was the locality’s Norman Baron Roger de Mowbray more significant than its Eighteenth-Century landowner, William Aislabie? I think he was, but William was able to sympathetically depict the power of Mowbray’s life and story.

Injustices of all kinds need to be heard, even centuries after human beings have been seemingly silenced. This is where I find myself indebted to William Aislabie. Aislabie led me to the story of Mowbray, which in turn led me to the forgotten fallen at Cowton Moor, near Northallerton. I now plan to trace the footsteps of Mowbray to the famous Horns of Hattin.

Power is felt and exercised in many freedoms that are not enjoyed by everyone. In this sense, the privileged can find themselves to be the most free of people. William Aislabie at Hackfall used his privilege and freedoms wisely. Turner, because of his gift, gained a similar freedom to wander the land and overseas, in search of all the sights he wanted to both witness and capture.

John Green also for a time captured Hackfall but levelled its most precious trees. You might say it couldn’t happen today, but it does. The Powers need to protect heritage, including natural heritages of course.

In and around Hackfall it is not difficult to identify protagonists and antagonists. The characters who did good versus those who we may be unkindly tempted to think that somehow had misfortune coming to them. But what if we are able to find – and ‘map’ - ourselves in each and every character of this Hackfall narrative? A searching question that accords with the insight of the Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne, that every person somehow bears the whole form of the human condition (de Montaigne, 2003).

Descending the hill from the car park at Hackfall it is easy to recall the thundering charge of the sons of Scotland at neighbouring Northallerton. Or approaching the silvery Wath, to remember all those who used this crossing of old. To look up to the folly of Mowbray Castle and think of Turner’s travels, but also see Roger de Mowbray’s awesome journey from Hackfall to the Horns of Hattin. And finally, to express thanks to William Aislabie as well as his gardeners, who enhanced Hackfall Woods in many ways including making it possible to discover what may otherwise have become hidden histories.

Corresponding Author: Paul Dowson, Senior Lecturer, Bath Spa University.



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