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Wapentake and Petty Sessional Division of Ryedale - Electoral Division and Poor-Law Union of Kirbymoorside - County Court District and Rural Deanery of Helmsley - Archdeaconry of Cleveland - Diocese of York.
This is an extensive and thinly-populated parish, adjoining that of Kirbymoorside on the west. It includes the townships of Muscoates, Nawton, Skiplain, Welburn, and Wombleton, comprising a total area of 7,589 acres, and containing a population of 912. Kirkdale is watered by the Hodges beck, which here, for part of its course, runs through an underground channel in the limestone rock. The stream disappears at Hold Caldron mill, about a mile above the church, and emerges again into daylight about half-a-mile below that edifice. The lower grounds are rich and fertile, and the acclivities well wooded. The scenery is charmingly picturesque. Lily Wood in the early summer is carpeted with acres of lily of the valley.
The township of Welburn, which contains the parish church, has an area of 1,647 acres, and is rated at £2,208. The inhabitants number 130. The principal landowners are the Earl of Feversham and the exors. of W. F. Shepherd.
The village of Welburn is situated about 1½ miles S.W. of Kirbymoorside. Near is Welburn Hall, once a fine specimen of Elizabethan architecture, but now fast hastening to decay. It was of old the residence of the Strangways, owners of the estate, afterwards of Sir John Gibson, who built a substantial addition of stone to the old lath and plaster structure in the beginning of the 17th century. Subsequently the hall and estate passed to the Robinsons, and thence by the marriage of an heiress (Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Robinson, Esq., of Welburn), to the Rev. Digby Cayley, whose three daughters and co-heiresses married into the families of Cayley, Wrangham, and Smith.
The hall and gardens still bear many traces of their former magnificence. In a corner of the latter is a two-storey summer house or temple, the ceiling of which is embellished with a fresco painting of the goddess Virtus with the inscription, "Ad Æthera Virtus," and an elevated doorway, once approached by a terrace, is inscribed, "Tandem hoc didici, animos sapientiores fieri quiescendo."
The monks of Rievaux had a grange at Welburn and the name still attaches to the farm.
The church, which is dedicated to St. Gregory, is situated in a beautiful and sequestered part of the valley, about one mile north of the village. It is an edifice of undoubted antiquity, and of almost unequalled interest to the archæologist, its very stones being redolent with the memories of a thousand years. It has undergone many changes since its erection, but it still retains many traces of the original Saxon work. The west end, the oldest part of the structure, contains a Saxon doorway; which now forms the entrance to the tower, which was added in 1827; and another arch of the same period may be seen in the south porch. The arches of the nave are transition Norman. The chancel has been recently rebuilt by the University of Oxford, to which the church was granted by Henry, Earl of Danvers, in 1632. The altar rails, of dark oak, are dated 1635; and two stalls on the south side of the chancel were the gift of Lady Gibson, of Welburn Hall, in the 17th century.
The most interesting feature, however, of the church is its sculptured and inscribed stones, which speak to us in their silent but eloquent language of the faith of our fathers. One of these, over the south doorway, is the memorial of the Saxon builder, or rather rebuilder, of the church, and is, we may say, almost unique, there being only other three churches in the kingdom where the original inscription, recording the date of erection, is still extant. The stone measures 7ft. 5in, by 1ft. 10in., and is divided into three panels; in the first and third of which is the following inscription, cleanly and boldly cut in Saxon characters: GAMAL. SUNA. BOHTE . SANCTUS . GREGORIUS . MINSTER . THONNE . HIT . WES. EL. TO . BROCAN. & TOFOLAN . & HE . HIT . LET . MACAN . NEWAN . FROM GRUNDE. XTE: & scs . GREGORIUS . IN EADWARD DAGUM . CNG. & IN TOSTI . DAGUM . EORL. † This was the language of Yorkshire about the time of the Norman Conquest, and done into modern English, reads: "Orm, the son of Gamal, bought St. Gregory's minster when it was all broken down and fallen, and he had it made new from the ground, to Christ and St. Gregory, in Edward's days, king, and in Tosti's days, earl."
In the middle compartment is a dial, in which the day is divided into eight parts instead of twelve. On the upper margin is inscribed, "THIS is DQKGES SOL MERCA" (this is the day's sun mark), and in the semicircle, "ÆT ILCUM TIDE" (at each, or every, time.) On the lower margin is, "† & HAWARTH . ME . WROHTE & . BRAND . PRS." (And Hawarth made me, and Brand priest).
From this inscription we learn that the church was rebuilt by Orm in the time of King Edward (the Confessor) and Earl Tosti, that is between the years 1056 and 1065. Mr. Haigh is of opinion that the stone is a coffin lid reversed, the sculptured part being hidden in the wall.
There are several other sculptured stones of very early date built into the walls in different parts of the church, as if they had been used by Orm, the builder, to help out his material. On one is a rude representation of the Crucifixion, on another, a very intricate pattern of interlace work which must have occupied a considerable time in its execution. But the most interesting is one near the west end of the church bearing a cross in the midst of beautiful scroll work, with traces of a Runic inscription distributed in spaces in the angles and other parts of the cross. This is now almost obliterated, but those acquainted with that alphabet have been able to make out "Cyning (King) Æthilwald, pray for his soul." If this reading be correct, the stone must have been the lid of the coffin of King Æthilwald, which the builders had taken from the ruins of the old church and inserted in its present place. Æthilwald was the son of King Oswald, and reigned over the Deiri from A.D. 642 to 655. The Venerable Bede tells us that ÆthilwaId having become acquainted with Cedd, and knowing him to be a holy, wise, and good man, desired him to accept some land to build a monastery, to which the King himself might resort to offer his prayers, and hear the Word of God, and where he might be buried when he died. Cedd agreed to the King's proposal, and chose himself a place for the monastery among Craggy hills, which looked more like lurking places for robbers and dens of wild beasts, than the habitations of men. Here, then it is inferred, was the monastery which St. Cedd built, and in which Æthilwa1d was buried. The above historian calls the place Læstingan, that is the gan or district belonging to the Læestings, which has generally been identified with Lastingham, the ham or abode of the Læstings, a place six miles distant.
Another and more cogent proof of the existence of a monastery here is drawn from the inscription over the south door before quoted. The church is therein styled a Minster, a name derived from Monasterium, which was applied to those churches only that had monasteries attached to them. The outline of the site of the building may be traced in the field in front of the church, and this, it is supposed, was the spot where the monastery stood, and from which the sculptured stones in the church were removed.
The parish register commences in 1579. The living has been constituted a new vicarage. It is in the gift of Oxford University, and is worth £255. The present incumbent is the Rev. R. Bramley, B.A.
Not far from the church is Kirkdale Cave, "the most productive fossil bone cavern in Britain," which has been rendered famous by the researches of Professor Buckland, and by allusions to it in Hugh Miller's "Testimony of the Rocks." The cave is in the oolitic limestone, and was discovered during some quarrying operations in 1821, and was examined and explored the same year by Professor Buckland. It extends in a zig-zag direction about 300 feet into the rock, and varies in height and width from three to five feet, except in one or two spots, where it is sufficiently high to permit a man to stand erect. The floor was covered with a layer of mud, about a foot thick, and crusted over with stalagmite. Imbedded in this mud was a miscellaneous assortment of animal remains which had been preserved in a wonderful state of freshness, and still retained their animal gelatine. They were carefully examined by Dr. Buckland, who found amongst them the bones of the following animals:- hyena, lion, tiger, bear, wolf, fox, weasel; elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, horse; ox, deer (three species); hare or rabbit, water-rat, mouse; raven, pigeon, lark, duck, partridge. The hyena, elephant, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus belonged to a species long extinct, and some of the others are now only represented in tropical and sub-tropical regions, but all were inhabitants of this country at some very remote period, when our climate must have differed widely from what it now is. The vale of Pickering was then a lake, in which the huge hippopotamus disported himself.
But how are we to account for the presence of the remains of such large animals in this narrow fissure of the rock. They could not, by any possibility, have squeezed themselves in whilst alive, and the absence of any sand or gravel is conclusive proof that they had not been floated in by the action of water. The bones were mostly broken and gnawed in pieces, and intermixed with teeth. Amongst the latter the teeth of the hyena were most abundant, the number found representing between 200 and 300 of those animals. Hence, in the opinion of Dr. Buckland, it was a veritable hyenas' cave, and the bones had been carried in by them for food.
There are now two entrances to the cave, but no one, except now and again some ardent student of nature, cares now to explore it, as there is but little chance of finding even an odd bone.
CHARITIES - The poor parishioners have £3 5s. a year, left by five donors, and the dividends of £100 Navy five per cent. annuities, purchased with £100 left by John Dodsworth, in 1815.
MUSCOATES is a township containing 966 acres, divided into four farms. Its rateable value is £1,003, and the number of inhabitants 71. Mrs. Grace Peacock possesses the manorial rights, and is also the principal landowner; but Lord Headley, York Union Banking Co., and the Earl of Feversham also own land in the township.
NAWTON. - This township contains 1,144 acres, and 350 inhabitants, and is valued, for rateable purposes, at £1,432. The Earl of Feversham and Messrs. William Frank and Bentham King are the largest proprietors. Each freeholder claims the manorial privileges of his own land. The village is situated on the road from Kirbymoorside to Helmsley, and adjoins Beadlam. There are chapels here belonging to the Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists, the former built in 1875, and the latter in 1876, superseding one built in 1796. Waterworks were constructed in 1879, at a cost of £1,500. The water is collected at Pie Thorn, on the East Moors, conveyed about six miles to the filter beds, near Weathercote Farm, and thence to the reservoir, near the village, which has a capacity equal to one month's supply.
CHARITIES. - John Stockton, formerly an innkeeper and farmer here, who died in 1841, bequeathed the whole of his property, with the exception of a few small legacies, for the education of poor children of certain neighbouring townships. A chancery suit, instituted by a distant relative, diminished the amount. About 20 schools are benefitted by the charity. The schoolmaster of Nawton receives £15 for this township and £5 for Beadlam, for which there are taught gratuitously from the two townships 18 and six children respectively.
SKIPLAM TOWNSHIP, containing 2,572 acres, extends from three to five miles N.W. from Kirbymoorside. The inhabitants, who number 67, live in scattered houses. The Earl of Feversham is lord of the manor and owner of the township which is valued for rateable purposes at £1,236. The monks of Rievaulx had a grange at Skiplam, to which belonged a pew in the parish church. Wethercote, another farm in the township, was formerly the property and residence of the Richardsons, by one of whom, Ralph Richardson, who died in 1732, it was sold to an ancestor of the Earl of Feversham, the present owner.
The romantic mill called Hold Caldron, with its rustic bridge and falling water, is within this township, and near it the beck, as before observed, disappears in the limestone rocks. To the north are Lily Wood and Sleightholme Dale, spots not less romantic, making it a favourite place of resort for pic-nic parties and pleasure seekers.
WOMBLETON. - This township, containing 1,187 acres, is chiefly the property of the Earl of Feversham, who is also lord of the manor; Capt. the Hon. Cecil Duncombe, Miss Shepherd, C. Sadler, and T. C. Aydon, Esqrs. The village is situated 3½ miles S.W. of Kirbymoorside. The Primitive Methodists have a chapel here, built in 1819, and the Wesleyans have another, erected in 1874. The school, licensed also for Divine service, was built in 1844, and enlarged in 1875. It receives £15 from Stockton's charity, for which 18 children are taught free.
We beg to acknowledge our indebtedness to Mr. T. Parker, of this village, for much valuable assistance in compiling our short sketch of Kirkdale. The museum of this enthusiastic collector of antiquities and curiosities is well worth a visit. Here may be seen two curiously carved antique bedsteads, five oak cabinets, one of which is said to have belonged to the priory of Keldholme, a massive table of the time of James I., a collection of old pewter, an old black jack or leathern jug, a large key of Whitby Abbey, numerous relics of the early Britons consisting of British hatchets, flint spears and arrow heads, handmills and Roman coins, a number of Indian and Chinese curiosities, mediæval weapons, and many other interesting objects which we have not space to enumerate.
[Description(s) from Bulmer's History and Directory of North Yorkshire (1890)]
Scan, OCR and html by Colin Hinson. Checking and correction by Peter Nelson.