Wapentake and Petty Sessional Division of West Gilling - Electoral Division of Gilling - Poor Law Union and County Court District of Richmond - Rural Deanery of Richmond East - Archdeaconry of Richmond - Diocese of Ripon.
This parish, comprising an area of 2,668 acres, lies between the parishes of Gilling and St. John, Stanwick, and is chiefly the property of Eleanor, duchess dowager of Northumberland, Stanwick Park; the earl of Zetland, Aske Hall, Richmond; John William Page-Page, Esq.; Sir Henry Havelock-Allan, M.P., Blackwell, Darlington; Ralph Wilkinson, Esq., Scorton; T. W. Nelson, Esq., London; George Stelling, Esq., Barton; Robert Scott, Cockerton, Darlington; George Harker, Northallerton; George Trotter, Melsonby; G. T. Simpson, the Misses Wilkinson, Messrs. Swainston, and Mr. N. Alcock. There are no dependent townships. Gross estimated rental, £3,728; rateable value, £3,330; population, 562.
The surface is generally of an elevated character, and is, in many places, pleasingly varied and picturesque. Freestone is abundant, and a valuable bed of encrinitic limestone was worked for several years. Copper ore is also known to exist, and, in 1860, a company was formed for working the metal. Seven veins were discovered, but one only was developed, which yielded about 1,000 tons of ore per annum. The works were carried on for about 14 years, and then discontinued for want of sufficient capital.
In the southern part of this parish, and extending into that of Middleton Tyas, is Gatherley Moor, a noted place for horse racing and other sports in Camden's time. That stupendous earth-work, known as the Scots' Dyke, which extended from Scotland to the centre of Yorkshire, passed through Melsonby parish and over Gatherley Moor to the Swale, near Richmond, where it is still visible. Its origin is not known with certainty, but it is generally supposed to have been the work of the ancient Britons.
The village of Melsonby (probably the by or town of Milson, a patronymic from Miles) is situated on the Richmond and Darlington road, five miles N. of the former, and 7½ miles S.W. of the latter. There formerly stood here a Benedictine Nunnery, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. It was founded by Roger D'Arc, in the latter part of the reign of Stephen or the beginning of Henry II. It stood in a field opposite the Rectory house, where traces of it may still be seen, but was dissolved before the Reformation, when it consisted of a prioress and nine nuns, whose annual income was about £26 2s. 10d.
The Parish Church, dedicated to St. James the Great, is a well-proportioned edifice, in the Early English style, with handsome massive tower, described by Longstaffe as a "Norman Keep, in miniature," having "several unusual characteristics." The other parts of the structure are nave, north and south aisles, porch, and chancel. The fabric was thoroughly restored in 1871, at a cost of about £3,000, raised chiefly through the exertions of the rector, the Rev. William Ellison, assisted by the dowager duchess of Northumberland, Miss Brackenbury, and some of the landowners of the parish. The arch between the tower and the nave was opened out, and the roofs of the nave and chancel were raised to their original pitch. The chancel window, of three lights, on which are depicted Our Saviour, with St. James on one side and St. John on the other, was the gift of the rector. There are also stained glass memorials to two former rectors, and to members of the Smith, Barker, and Cathrick families. There are four bells in the tower, one having been added at the restoration, at the cost of the rector, and the fourth, in 1876, by Mrs. Mackworth Dolben, of Finedon Hall, Northamptonshire. The clock was the gift of Mrs. Scourfield Woods, of Benton Hall, Northumberland, in 1872; and a brass tablet on the wall informs us that "The opening of this Tower was chiefly effected by Miss Hannah Brackenbury, the last member of the ancient family of Brackenbury, of Sellaby and Denton, in the County of Durham." The church is paved throughout with Godwin's encaustic tiles, and seated with open pitchpine benches. The registers date from 1573. The living is a rectory, valued, in the King's Books, at £10 2s. l1d., but now worth, according to the Diocesan Calendar, £650. It is in the gift of University College, Oxford, and is held by the Rev. Henry Ellison, M.A., of that college, and rural dean.
There was a chantry, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, in the church, supposed to have been founded at an early period by one of the Melsonby family, who endowed it for one priest to say mass daily for ever for the soul of the founder and all Christians. The chaplain's yearly stipend was £3. At the suppression, 1 Edward VI., the endowments were granted to George Ward and Robert Morgan, at an annual rent of 8s. 4d.
The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel is a commodious building, erected in 1866, at a cost of £542, raised by subscription. The old chapel, built in 1844, is now converted into two dwelling houses. Melsonby is in the Darlington (Bondgate) Circuit..
The National School was rebuilt, chiefly at the expense of the rector, in 1863, and is mainly supported by him. It has an endowment of £24 per annum, left by William Cocken, in 1757, for the education of six poor boys. There is also a day school in connection with the Wesleyan chapel, erected in 1857, at a cost of £740. It is a mixed one, under the charge of Mr. Etty Potter, and is attended by about 100 children. Both denominations have their separate reading rooms in the village.
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