Wapentake of West Gilling - Electoral Division of Startforth - Petty Sessional Division of Greta Bridge - County Court District of Barnard Castle - Poor Law Union of Teesdale - Rural Deanery of Richmond North - Archdeaconry of Richmond - Diocese of Ripon.
This parish is situated on the left bank of the Greta, amidst scenery whose praises have been sung by the immortal Scott:-
"O, Brignall banks are wild and fair,
And Greta's woods are green."
The area comprised within the parochial limits is 2,115 acres, including roads and water surface; the gross annual rental, £2,148; and rateable value, £2,035. The inhabitants, in 1851, numbered 173; and in 1881, 131. The soil is a variable mixture of loam and clay, and is fairly productive, but the greater portion is in pasture. Quarries of fine grey slate are wrought on Brignall banks.
The origin of the name has been variously explained. By some writers it is said to be compounded of the Saxon words, byrig, or burgh, a fort, and knoll, a hill; but Dr. Embleton, in his "Place Names of Teesdale," derives it from the Saxon briggen, bridges, and this appears to be confirmed by the old form of the name, Briggenhale, found in the Pipe Rolls of the reign of Henry III.
The manor of Brignall, which is co-extensive with the parish, was held soon after the Conquest by a family styled De Rye, whose ancestor came to England with the Conqueror. King John gave Margery de Rye, together with the manors of Brignall and Cliffe, in marriage to Charles, son of William Charles, keeper of the King's wardrobe. From this family the manor passed by purchase, in 1380, to Sir Richard le Scrope. A family bearing the local name possessed lands here at a very early period, but they do not appear to have ever held the manor. Agnes, daughter and heir of Richard de Brignall, married William Philip, of Stillington, who thus acquired the Brignall lands, and settled here some time in the reign of Edward III. They held their lands of Lord Scrope by military service, and two of them are named among the archers at the battle of Agincourt. James Philip was steward to Henry, Lord Scrope, of Bolton, in the reign of Henry VIII., and in that capacity he appears to have exercised his authority with a merciless hand. He exacted forced loans from the tenants, and any refusal was met by eviction. He was engaged in frequent litigation and quarrels with his neighbours, and one of them, Avery Uvedale, of Marrick, says, in his complaint against him - "His extorcione is almost cryede owt apon in everye poore widdowe's mowthe," and he "soo vexithe many poore menne with proces and suits in the lawe, that they be utterly undoone and almost readye to goo abowt in the cuntrye on begging wt staff and pouke."
With this James Philip is associated a diabolical tale. About the year 1789, two leaden tablets were found concealed in a tumulus on Gaterley Moor. One side of each tablet is divided by perpendicular and horizontal lines into 81 small squares, and in each of these are figures ranged in arithmetical proportion from 1 to 81, and so disposed that the sum of each row - horizontally and diagonally, as well as perpendicularly - is equal to 369. Under one of these diagrams is J. Phillip. The other side of each bears several astrological or magical characters, and an inscription as follows: "I do make this, that James Phillip, John Phillip his son, Christopher Phillip and Thomas Phillip, his sons, shall fle Richemondshire, and nothing prosper with any of them in Richemondshire." - "I did make this, that the father James Phillip, John Phillip, and all kin of Phillip, and all the issue of them, shall come presently to utter beggery, and nothinge joy or prosper with them in Richemondshire." Belief in witchcraft and other forms of sorcery was very prevalent in that age, and probably these magical tables were the work of some one who had suffered at the hands of James Phillip, and had adopted this species of diableric to bring down upon him and his kin the malediction of heaven. Be this as it may, it is a curious coincidence that, after the curse, no branch of the family flourished. All the sons of James and their issue died out, and their sister Agnes carried the representation of the Phillips to the Robinsons, afterwards of Rokeby.
In the latter part of the 18th century, Brignall estate was in the possession of the Edens, of Windlestone, in the county of Durham, by one of whom it was sold, in 1817, to John Bacon Sawrey Morritt, Esq., of Rokeby, for the sum of £66,000, and it has since descended with Rokeby estate.
The village is pleasantly situated on the left bank of the Greta, four miles S.S.E. of Barnard Castle. The Church (St. Mary) was built in 1834, chiefly at the expense of the late J. B. S. Morritt, Esq., and is a neat edifice in the Early English style, consisting of nave, chancel, and tower. The old church stands in a remote part of the parish, and is now in ruins, a large quantity of the material having been used in the erection of the present one. The old font has been preserved and is still in use, and also the old pre-Reformation bell, with the inscription "Sancta Maria, Ora pro nobis." The living is now a rectory, in the patronage of the Bishop of Ripon, and worth £290 per annum. Rector, the Rev. Robert Tilbury, M.A.
Greta Bridge is a hamlet situated on both sides of the river which gives it its name, and is partly in this parish and partly in that of Rokeby. Here, in a field behind the Morritt Arms Inn, is a small but well defined Roman Camp. The walls, which have had a stone facing, enclose about four acres. Many inscribed stones and other relics of Roman handiwork have been found here. Sir Walter Scott thus alludes to this camp in his poem of "Rokeby"
"Behold the boast of Roman pride!
what now of all your toils are known?"
A grassy trench, a broken stone !"
Further up the river, above Brignall, is Scargill Cliff, another interesting spot to readers of "Rokeby." The poet represents Guy Deuzil and his lawless band living here in a cave with
"A little entrance low and square,
Like opening cell of hermit lone,
Dark winding through the living stone."
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