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Wapentake of West Gilling - Petty Sessional Division of Greta Bridge - Electoral Division of Startforth - Poor Law Union of Teesdale - County Court District of Barnard Castle - Rural Deanery of Richmond North - Archdeaconry of Richmond - Diocese of Ripon.
This parish lies on the south side of the Tees, and has the river Greta for its eastern boundary. Its total area, including roads, water surface, &c., is 1,159 acres, rateable value, £1,748, and population, about 160. Though small in extent, the parish abounds in beautiful scenery, and spots of poetic fame. Rokeby was the frequent resort of Mason, the poet, and the "Wondrous Scott" has made it the scene of one of his most beautiful poems. But Rokeby possesses an interest from ancient as well as modern associations. The Romans had a station here, and the camp at Greta Bridge, described on page 387, is partly in this parish. The Roman road, too, which led from the station at Catterick to that of Bowes, passes through Rokeby, and retains here its corrupted Latin name of the Street. Many altars and inscribed stones have been found in the parish, and are now preserved at the hall.
The manor of Rokeby was long held by an ancient and honourable family of that name, which, if we may believe tradition, was seated here in Saxon times. Robert de Rokeby lived in the time of the Conqueror, but it was not until the 14th century that the Rokebys figure prominently in history. Froissart minutely describes the rise of the family. From that ancient writer we learn that in 1327, the Scots, 24,000 strong, under the command of the Earl of Moray and Sir James Douglas, having ravaged Cumberland, entered Durham, where the smoke of burning villages marked their route. Edward III., then a mere youth, summoned the men of the north to meet him at York, where they assembled to the number of 40,000, and went in pursuit of the enemy; but, clad in heavy armour and encumbered by a long train of waggons laden with provisions, their march was but slow, whilst the Scottish army, on the other hand, was peculiarly adapted for predatory incursions. They were all lightly armed, and mounted on small, but active, horses, accustomed to a hilly country. Their commissariat arrangements were exceedingly simple. Each man carried a bag of oatmeal, and an iron girdle, on which he could bake the oatmeal into cakes; and any other provisions he wanted he freely helped himself to from the nearest farmstead. They were thus enabled to move from mountain to mountain, and from glen to glen, with amazing rapidity.
Wearied with fruitless marches and counter-marches, the young king issued a proclamation, offering the honour of knighthood, and land of the value of £100 a year (£1,500 of modern money), to the first man that should bring him certain intelligence of the position occupied by the Scots. On the fourth day, Thomas de Rokeby came galloping into the camp, and thus addressed the king:- "Sire, the Scots are at a distance of three leagues, posted on a mountain, where, for the last week, they have expected you. I have seen them myself, having been made prisoner, and released that I might claim the reward which you have promised." Guided by Rokeby, the English came in sight of the Scottish army encamped on a hill rising steeply from the bank of the river Wear; but the position was too secure for any successful attack, and, after watching each other for four days, and exchanging idle challenges, the Scots retired in the night to an eminence still more unassailable. The English followed, but dared not attack, and in a few days the Scots again successfully retreated in the night, and reached their own country.
Later, in the same reign, another Sir Thomas de Rokeby distinguished himself by his valiant services at the battle of Neville's Cross, and was afterwards chief justice of Ireland. We read of another Sir Thomas Rokeby in the reign of Henry IV. He was high sheriff of Yorkshire in 1408, and in that year he suppressed the rebellion of the earl of Northumberland at Bramham Moor, near York.
Ralph Rokeby was head of the family in the reign of Henry VII., and a rude ballad of that age, called "The Felon Sow of Rokeby," relates, in an amusing way, the difficulties encountered in conveying to Richmond a sow which Ralph Rokeby had given to the friars of that town. Another Ralph Rokeby, a lawyer, who lived in the reign of Elizabeth, wrote a Memoir of the House of Rokeby, in which he relates an incident which shows the lawlessness that existed even in the aristocracy three centuries ago. Christopher Rokeby, when present at a horse race on Gatherley moor, was assaulted by Christopher Neville, brother to Henry, earl of Westmoreland, whom the earl had sent with 100 men to kill him, but all the gentlemen on the field came to his assistance, shouting a Rokeby! and proceeded at once to deal hard blows upon the Nevilleites. Thomas Rokeby, Christopher's father, an aged man and a justice of the peace, by his great influence, restored peace on the spot, saying: "Gif, it grieves me to see him bleed that bleeds, yet peace, the peace !"
The estate remained in the possession of this family until the time of the Commonwealth, when Colonel Rokeby, the then owner, was so ruined by fines and confiscations, in consequence of his loyalty to Charles I., that he was compelled to sell his lands. Rokeby was purchased by the Robinsons, one of whom, Sir Thomas Robinson, built the present hall, and afterwards sold the estate, in 1769, to John Sawrey Merritt, Esq., of Cawood. This gentleman died in 1791, leaving a son and successor, John Bacon Sawrey Morritt, Esq., a distinguished oriental traveller and erudite writer. He represented in parliament, successively, the boroughs of Beverley, Northallerton, and Shaftsbury, He was twice married, and was succeeded at his death in 1843 by his nephew, William John Sawrey Morritt, Esq. Mr. Morritt died in 1874, and, having no issue, the estate descended to his brother, Robert Ambrose Morritt, Esq., J.P. and D.L., the present owner.
The original castle of the lords of Rokeby was, according to a tradition related in Ralph Rokeby's Memoir, burnt down by the Scots, in 1314, and the chapel and doorway, with the old groundsells of the walls, alone remained to mark the site until the extinction of the family. The Lord of Rokeby, in whose time the castle was destroyed, having married the heiress of Adam Maunsell, owner of Mortham, an adjoining estate in the same parish, left Rokeby and erected Mortham Tower. This was again rebuilt in the 15th century, in true Border pele style, and here the family continued to reside for some time after the estate passed out of their possession. This old fortress, now converted into a farmhouse, is situated on the high ground above the Greta. Sir Walter Scott, speaking of this pele, says, "The battlements of the tower itself are singularly elegant, the architect having broken them at regular intervals into different heights; while those at the corners of the tower project into octagonal turrets." The family arms, three rooks, appear on the outer wall; and at the end of the house is a barnekin, or walled enclosure, for the protection of cattle at night when the border thieves were raiding in the neighbourhood.
Near the tower, in a glade, is an altar tomb, which was removed from Egglestone Abbey by Mr. Morritt. The sides are ornamented with shields, but there are no legible features to determine with certainty whose bones it formerly covered.
Rokeby Hall, the residence of the later owners of the estate, is a handsome mansion erected by Sir Thomas Robinson, on the site of the ancient manor house destroyed by the Scots. It has been much enlarged and improved by the present family. The grounds around are exquisitely beautiful; and here, winding through woods and between steep rocks on Greta's side, is"A stem and lone, yet lovely, road As e'er the foot of minstrel trode!Further down the ravine, near the spot where"The Greta flows to meet the Tees,"is the Dairy Bridge, spanning the former river. It is an old rustic stone structure, densely covered with ivy, which gives it an extremely picturesque appearance. The hall is not shown to visitors, but the park and grounds may be seen by applying at the Morritt Arms Hotel, Greta Bridge.
The Church. - The old parish church was demolished about the middle of last century, and the present edifice erected on another site at the cost of Sir T. Robinson. Allen, in his "History of Yorkshire," published in 1826, describes it as "more like a domestic chapel than a parochial church;" it was most probably a very unworthy substitute for the old one. It has since been much improved. A chancel was added, at the request of the late Mrs. W. J. S. Morritt, by her trustees; and, in 1887, the church was restored by the present owner of Rokeby, in memory of Her Majesty's Jubilee. The old ceiling was removed and the roof lined with pitchpine. Some new windows were also inserted. The nave is lighted by single arched windows, several of which are stained glass memorials, and in the same part of the church are four handsome mural monuments. One, by the celebrated sculptor Nollekens, is to the memory of Sir Septimus Robinson, who died in 1766, and bears a long fulsome eulogy of the deceased from the pen of his brother Richard, Lord Primate of All Ireland, Baron Rokeby of Armagh. The other three are to the Morritt family. The benefice is a rectory, in the gift of the Lord Chancellor. In the King's Books it is valued at £4 3s. 6d., and is now worth £118, with four acres of glebe and a good residence.
[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.