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Wapentake of Harthill (Hunsley Beacon Division) - County Council Electoral Division of Walkington - Petty Sessional Division of North Hunsley Beacon - Poor Law Union, County Court District, and Rural Deanery of Beverley - Archdeaconry of the East Riding - Diocese of York.
This parish comprises 3,970 acres, lying about three miles west of Beverley, and is wholly, with the exception of Killingwold Graves, the property of Ernest Richard Bradley Hall-Watt, Esq., who is also lord of the manor. The soil is loamy, resting on chalk, and the chief crops are wheat, oats, barley, and turnips. The rateable value is £5,160, and the population in 1891 was 466.
The estate formerly belonged to the family of Gee, from one of whom it was purchased, about 100 years ago, by Richard Watt, Esq., a wealthy Liverpool merchant, who had begun life as a stable boy at an inn in that town. The present owner, who assumed the name of Watt on his succession to the estates, is the grandson of Mr. James Hall, of Scorborough, the famous East Riding sportsman, who married Sarah, daughter of Richard Watt, Esq.
The village is a charming rural retreat, delightfully situated in a hollow on the York and Beverley road, amidst waving woods and plantations. It is the proud boast of the inhabitants that Bishop Burton is the "prettiest village in the East Riding," and it must be conceded that it has very good claims to this distinction. The church, dedicated to All Saints, is an interesting stone edifice, originally founded by St. John of Beverley, early in the eighth century. It comprises chancel, clerestoried nave, north and south aisles, south porch, and western tower containing a clock and three bells. The tower only is ancient. The body of the church was rebuilt, by subscription, in 1820, at a cost of nearly £1,700; and in 1865 the fabric was thoroughly restored, the fittings of the nave modernized, the old chancel taken down and a new one erected on the site, from the designs of J. L. Pearson, Esq., R.A., F.S.A., the celebrated architect. The entire cost was borne by the Watt family. The chancel has been recently restored at considerable cost by the present owner of the estate, under the direction of E. Kirby, Esq., Liverpool. The nave is separated from the aisles by arcades of four pointed arches, resting on octagonal columns. The interior has a noble and imposing effect. The ancient piscina, projecting and sculptured with foliage, has been preserved, and rebuilt into the south wall of the chancel. It is supposed to date from the time of Edward III. Amongst the monuments the most interesting is a recumbent alabaster effigy of the wife of William Gee, Esq., a former owner of the estate, who died in 1683; and kneeling beside her is the figure of her child with hands uplifted in suppliant prayer. This monument is in the chancel, and in the same part of the church is a funeral brass inscribed to Peter Johnson, a former vicar of the parish, who died in 1460. There is also a brass to "The ladye Isabell Ellerker," afterwards wife of "Xpofor Estoft, Esq.," who died in 1579; and in the floor of the nave there is one bearing an inscription in old church text, to the memory of Johanna, widow of Radulphus Rokeby, Esq., who died in 1521. The windows of the chancel are all filled with stained glass, to the memory of different members of the Watt family, and on the walls are mural tablets to other members of the same family. The churchyard having become too small, has been enlarged by the addition of a portion of the site of the Low Hall, which belonged to the appropriate rectory. Here stands the stump and part of the shaft of the ancient churchyard cross. A stone coffin was discovered in 1888, whilst some repairs were being done to the chancel wall. It was formed of separate slabs, and evidently dates from a very early period. The living is a vicarage, valued in the Liber Regis at £5 6s. 3d. It was formerly in the gift of the dean and chapter of York, from whom the patronage passed in 1888 to E. R. B. H. Watt, Esq. At that time the benefice was worth £100 only, but by the munificence of Mr. Watt another endowment of £200 a year was added. At the enclosure of the parish in 1767, the rectorial tithes were commuted for an allotment of 276a. 2r. 35p. and an annual payment of £163; and the vicarial tithes for an allotment of 26a. 3r. There are now 49 acres of glebe. A new Vicarage House has just been erected a few yards east of the older dwelling-house, from the designs of E. Kirby, Esq., architect. The Rev. Wm. Allwright Pearman, M.A., of Pembroke College, Oxford, has held the living since 1887.
The registers date from the year 1562. These valuable and interesting records are now being printed, and materials for a Parish History, collected by the vicar, in the Parish Magazine.
There are chapels in the village belonging to the Baptists and Wesleyans. The former, a plain brick building with the minister's house and Sunday school adjoining, was erected in 1770. The latter was built in 1840.
The Parish school was rebuilt in 1860, at a cost of £550, two-thirds of which was given by the Watt family, and the rest by the Government. It is mixed, with accommodation for 80, and has an average attendance of about 60. Mrs. Elizabeth Gee, who died in 1714, left for its support the sum of £100, with which was purchased 11 acres of land, now yielding about £23 per annum.
Mr. Ralph Hansby, by deed dated July 24th, 1614, founded a hospital in the village, and endowed it with land and houses, now let for about £60. In 1874, the charity was augmented by a legacy of £2,000, left by the late Wm. Watt, Esq., which is invested in the three per cent. consols. There are six inmates, each of whom receives £20 a year and two-and-half tons of coal. Pursuant to the founder's deed, the feoffees pay £1 6s. 3d. per annum to the vicar, and the almspeople are enjoined to attend the church.
In the village is a small lake or mere, and on the green beyond it formerly stood an elm tree of gigantic size, which was blown down by the wind on the 23rd of January, 1836. It measured 48 feet in circumference, but was so hollow that several persons could conceal themselves within it.
About a miles east of the village, in a romantic valley adjoining the high road, is Killingwold graves, or as written in mediæval documents, Kynewald graves. Here stood an ancient hospital for the reception of poor persons of both sexes, but its chief purpose appears to have been to receive and support poor women. It was dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen. There is no record of its foundation, but as Archbishop Roger, by a charter in 15th of Henry II. (1169), confirmed to this hospital his former grant of the assarts of Bimannesconge, it must have been founded previous to that date. King Edward III., by his charter of inspeximus, recapitulates this grant, with various others made by the Archbishops of York, who were the patrons of the hospital, as well as many donations made by private individuals. It continued to fulfil its charitable purpose till the Reformation, when its revenues were seized by Henry VIII., and the poor were thus robbed of what had been left for their benefit by the piety of former generations. Its gross income at the Dissolution was, according to Dugdale, £13 11s. 2d., or £12 3s. 4d. in the clear sum; but Tanner says it was valued at no more than 40s. per annum. The hospital lands comprising about 200 acres now belong to Warton's Charity (See Beverley). The names of only a few of the masters have been recorded. William, who is called Pharen. Epis., was admitted to the office on the 20th of March, 1399; William de Scardeburgh, on the 3rd of June, 1411; and Richard Bowet, a relative of the Archbishop of York of the same name, on the 15th of October, 1414.
In a field by the roadside near Killingwold graves is a broken pillar called "Stump Cross." Five feet only of the shaft remain, and this is fixed into a basement stone of modern date. It is supposed to have been one of the crosses which formerly stood on the principal roads leading to Beverley, marking the limits of the sanctuary of St. John of Beverley. On the shaft is an illegible inscription which Mr. Topham, of Hatfield in Holderness, thus deciphered in 1773 : - Orate pro anima Magistri Willielmi de Walthon (Pray for the soul of Master William de Walthon). The inscription led Mr. Topham and others to suppose that it was a sepulchral monument, but as Allen in his History of Yorkshire observes, " It is clear that no interment has been deposited beneath the monument; for in the month of July, 1827, Richard Watt, Esq., the lord of the manor, accompanied by the vicar and proper assistants, took up the pillar, and excavated to a considerable depth beneath the surface, but they found no indications of sepulture, except a single bone, which was pronounced to be the tibia of a man." It is evident that the inscription had no connection with the primitive intention of the monument, and was probably the work of a later age. There is a tradition that it was added to commemorate a murder committed near the spot.
Bishop Burton, originally known as South Burton in contradistinction to its near neighbour, North, now Cherry Burton, appears first on the page of history about the beginning of the eighth century, when, as we find from the writings of the Venerable Bede, it was the residence of a Saxon earl named Puch, for whom St. John of Beverley, then Archbishop of York, consecrated a church here. The historian further relates on the authority of Berthum, Abbot of Beverley, that Archbishop John miraculously cured the wife of Earl Puch of a lingering disorder which had long confined her to her bed.
There are few subsequent references to this place till the Norman Conquest. In the Conqueror's Survey it is thus described
"Land of the king. - East Riding. - Manor. In Burtone, Carle had fourteen carucates and a half to be taxed. Land to seven ploughs. Four pounds.
"Land of the Archbishop of York. - These berewicks, Schitebi, (Skidby) Burtone, belong to this manor (Beverley). In these are thirty-one carucates to be taxed, and there may be eighteen ploughs. The canons have there in the demesne four ploughs; and twenty villanes with six ploughs; and three knights three ploughs.
"In Burtone twelve carucates and six oxgangs to be taxed, and there may be seven ploughs. Ulviet had one manor there. Now St. John has in the demesne three ploughs and twelve villanes with three ploughs. Value in King Edward's time, fifty shillings; at present forty shillings." It further appears from the same invaluable record that the Earl of Morton had one carucate of land in Burton, which was held by Nigel Fossard, and the latter also held another carucate under the canons of St. John of Beverley.
It does not appear from any of the ancient documents how or when these lands were conveyed to the church, but they were evidently ecclesiastical property in Saxon times. Soon after the Conquest, South Burton became one of the episcopal residences, and it was from this circumstance that the place subsequently became better known as Bishop Burton. The earliest mention of the palace is in 1294, and the year following, John le Romaine, Archbishop of York, died here; but history is silent as to the time when this residence was abandoned. On the south side of the village, in a field called Knight Garth, are traces of an extensive range of buildings, supposed to have been part of the episcopal palace.
A little north-west of the village is Bishop Burton Hall, a fine red brick mansion with stone facings, rebuilt on the site of the High Hall, by the predecessor of the present proprietor, and considerably enlarged and improved by the present owner. The previous structure was supposed to date from the time of James I. The park and grounds have been beautifully laid out by Mr. Thomas, the wellknown landscape gardener.
Two worthies of the village may be mentioned. Sir William Gee, secretary to James I., and a member of his privy council, was born at the High Hall, and died in 1611. There is a striking monument of him in the north aisle of the choir of York Minster. It is of the Corinthian order and contains the effigies of Sir William, his two wives, and five children, in the attitude of prayer. William Spence, Esq., F.R.S., F.L.S., and F.G.S., an eminent naturalist, was also a native of the village. He assisted Kirby in producing the celebrated "Introduction to Entomology," which bears their joint names. He was also the author of some tracts on Political Economy, and of "Observations relative to the Circulation of the Blood in Insects." He died in 1860, and a marble bust of him has been placed in the Museum of the Literary and Philosophical Society, Hull.
Bishop Burton has been long famous for its race horses, and the Harlequin colours of the Watt family were often borne to victory in by-gone days at Doncaster, York, and other noted races. Black Cock was one of the many famous horses that went from the stables here.
The ancient Britons have left numerous traces of their occupation in the district. These consist of barrows, or sepulchral mounds, of which there are so many, in this and the neighbouring parish of Cherry Burton, as to give a colouring of probability to the conjecture that these secluded places were selected by the Britons as the consecrated depository of their illustrious dead. These barrows are circular in form, similar to those so plentifully scattered over the whole range of wolds extending to the neighbourhood of Malton. In one field, of about thirty acres, ten were opened by Dr. Hull. They differed considerably in size, varying from 20 to 100 feet in diameter at their base, and from four to 10 feet in height. Each contained the cremated ashes of the dead; in three of them urns were found, and in the others the bones were mixed with charcoal. No coins nor ornaments were met with. Other barrows were opened in 1826 by Richard Almack, Esq., of Long Melford, Suffolk. In some of these the bodies had been deposited without cremation, and the skeletons remained more or less perfect, lying in different directions about four feet from the surface. Within the park are ranges of mounds and levels, which are supposed to have been formed by the ancient Britons for agricultural purposes. A tesselated pavement is also said to have been discovered by a countryman whilst ploughing a field in this parish, but no other relics of Roman occupation have been met with.
Various etymologies of Burton have been proposed. Mr. Oliver, the historian, of Beverley, and some others suggest, with much probability, that it was so named from its appropriation as a cemetery for the Britons, bearh or bwi, in their language, signifying a place of graves, to which the Saxons added ton, a town, forming the name by which it is still known.
Scan, OCR and html by Colin Hinson. Checking and correction by Peter Nelson.