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The Old Horn Inn is a vital community asset for the people who live in two historic villages in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire. Spennithorne and Harmby stand on the north bank of the River Ure in Lower Wensleydale, opposite  the castle of Middleham – the boyhood home of the future King Richard III. The three settlements are ancient … and so closely-connected were they in the years following the Norman Conquest that the owner of Middleham Castle styled himself ‘Lord of Middleham and Spennithorne’.  A grand hall, some remnants of which still stand, was built on the outskirts of Spennithorne.

According to the Domesday Book, compiled for William the Conqueror in 1089, ‘Speningetorp’ had a taxpaying population of twelve villagers and six smallholders; while neighbouring ‘Hernebi’ (Hjarne’s farmstead or village, in the language of the Danish settlers) had twelve villagers and eight smallholders. They worshipped at the parish church of St Michael and All Angels, built on rising ground above the river. Remnants of the Norman church (and the even earlier pre-Conquest building) can still be seen.

A hundred yards or so downhill from that church, stands one other historic and vital focal point of these settlements – the Old Horn Inn.

In the nineteenth century, the Old Horn served other purposes too. In the absence of suitable alternative accommodation, the Coroner would hold inquests at the inn. In 1880 an inquest was held on an eight year old boy who died after being kicked by a horse in a field. Eight years later, Dr J S Walton conducted an inquest into an 11-year-old child who drowned when the ice on the frozen river collapsed beneath him.

Although such functions are no longer fulfilled by the inn, the records of their existence surely demonstrate forcefully the pivotal importance of the Old Horn in the life of Spennithorne and Harmby.


In more recent times, the Old Horn’s role has become more sociable. A few yards from the front door is the Spennithorne and Harmby Cricket Club (now with a fine new pavilion – built by the club to replace a somewhat down-at-heel building erected by the BBC in the mid 1980s for the filming of a calamitous match featuring James Herriot and Siegfried Farnon for the original production of All Creatures Great and Small). In the twenty-first century, as in the twentieth, the cricketers like to gather at the Old Horn for refreshments after a gruelling match beneath the hot sun!

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Footballers, too, appreciate slaking their thirsts in the cosy bar after the final whistle has blown. Thriving darts and dominoes teams compete in local leagues, while Quizzes have seen the bar packed with villagers on Sunday evenings.

For many years, holidaymakers visiting this beautiful corner of the Yorkshire Dales enjoyed accommodation at the Old Horn. (It is our intention to restore these letting rooms in the event of a successful community purchase).

In summary, the aim and the vision of the Spennithorne and Harmby communities is to ensure that the Old Horn continues to be as vibrant and hugely-valued a key element of these two warm-hearted and welcoming villages in the future as it has been in the past.

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