In the wilds of North Yorkshire you will find Newby Hall, a place of fun and frolics for all the family, but it is also home to the church of Christ the Consoler, a permanent memorial to a murdered son, Frederick Vyner.
The young man was the son of the widowed Lady Mary Vyner and they were a well-connected family, her daughter, Henrietta, being married to the Earl de Grey, a prominent member of Gladstone’s Liberal government and later Viceroy of India.
In 1870, the 23-year-old Vyner set off on the grand tour of Europe, and once in Athens, he joined a small group of tourists for a day trip to the site of the Battle of Marathon, some 25 miles away. Unfortunately for them, on their way back through the mountains, they ran into a band of brigands and were taken hostage.
Hostage taking was not unusual in Greece at the time and most instances were settled peacefully through the payment of ransom. In the case of Vyner and his fellow travellers, the notorious gang demanded the enormous sum of £32,000 (about £3 million at today’s value).
Even so, it seemed the deal would be made and one of the captives, Lord Muncaster, was released so that he could return to Athens to arrange for the money to be raised. Meanwhile, Vyner was quite enjoying himself. His captors treated him well and he joined them in foot races and boulder throwing competitions.
But things were to go tragically wrong. As well as the ransom, the gang also demanded a full pardon for their nefarious activities which the Greek government refused to concede. Instead, troops were ordered to rescue the group by force. The brigands panicked and in the confusion, Vyner and the other captives were shot dead.
What became known as the ‘Dilessi Massacre’ was reported across Europe and caused an international incident as furious speeches were made in Parliament and Queen Victoria herself was openly critical of the Greek government.
Lady Mary Vyner was heartbroken at the loss of her son and she and the de Greys decided to use the money they had raised for the ransom to build two churches on their land as a monument to young Vyner’s memory, Christ the Consoler at Newby and St Mary’s at Studley.