Wapentake of Allertonshire - Electoral Division of Topcliffe - Petty Sessional Division of Birdforth - Poor Law Union, County Court District, and Rural Deanery of Thirsk - Archdeaconry of Cleveland - Diocese of York.
This parish comprises an area of 3,666 acres, of which about 2,900 acres form the township of Sessay, and the remainder that of Hutton Sessay. It is intersected by the main line of the North-Eastern system, on which there is a station about half a mile from the village of Sessay. The soil varies in different places, but is generally fertile; about one-half of it is in tillage, the rest grass, woodland, and waste. Agriculture is the chief industry of the parish, and consequently there is but little fluctuation in the number of inhabitants. In 1881 the population was 456, a decrease of a little over 30 since the commencement of the century. Viscount Downe is the sole owner of the township (and lord of the manor), the rateable value of which is £9,130. Population, 325.
The name of the parish is unique among English place-names; there being, we believe, no other place in the kingdom bearing the same appellation. Its derivation is very doubtful; possibly it may have some connection with the Anglo-Saxon settan, to place, set, or populate, as suggested by the Rev. J. Overton, in Gill's "Vallis Eborcensis;" or, it may be derived from sele, a seat or hall, and ay, water.
Sessay for several generations belonged to the Darrells, to whom it came at an early period, by the marriage of the daughter and heiress of Richard Percy, of Kildale, with William Darrell. This William was a member of an ancient family, one of whom had distinguished himself at the siege of Ascalon, in the Crusades, under Richard I., and was awarded a Saracen's head for his crest. The site of their hall is occupied by what is now called Church farm, where, it is supposed, the church and village also originally stood.
From the Darrells Sessay was transferred, by the marriage of the daughter and heiress of George Darrell, to Sir Guy Dawnay, of Cowick, who died in 1552, and from whom the present owner, Viscount Downe, is lineally descended. Sir Payan Dawnay, ancestor of Sir Guy, came to England with William the Conqueror. From him descended Sir William Dawnay, whose valiant exploits in the Crusades attracted the notice of Richard I. He is said to have killed in single combat a Saracen chief, and also to have slain a lion; and, in perpetual memory of these feats, the king ordered that he should have for his crest a demy-Saracen in armour, with a ring in the dexter hand and a lion's paw in the left, which remains the family cognizance to this day.
These feats were told by the household ingle by one generation after another, but in process of time the story assumed a very different form - the Saracen was converted into a local giant, and the lion's paw became a miller's pickaxe. This giant, it is said, sorely troubled the people of Sessay. He preyed upon their flocks, and carried off for a dainty morsel any unlucky wight that might fall into his clutches. One hot summer's day the giant lay basking near the mill, and the miller, a fore-elder of the Dawnays it is said, seeing the monster wrapt in slumber, seized his pickaxe and killed him. The king who then ruled the land, in reward for the brave deed, gave him all the land of Sessay, "to have and to hold from thenceforth and for ever."
The village, long and scattered, stands on the north side of a small tributary of the Swale, five miles S.S.E. of Thirsk. The church (St. Cuthbert) was rebuilt in 1847-8, at the sole cost of Lord Viscount Downe. It is a neat stone edifice in the 14th century Gothic style, erected from the designs of W. Butterfield, Esq., London. In the tower is a trio of bells, one of which, according to the Latin inscription upon it, was given by Edmund Darrell and his wife, Isabella. Edmund Darrell, who married Isabella Etten, died in 1438, and the bell must, therefore, have been presented previous to that date. The font, a magnificent embroidered altar cloth of crimson silk velvet, and a communion service of gold were the gift of the Viscountess Downe. A new organ has since been added, and in 1886 a handsome brass eagle lectern was presented by Dorothy Smithson. There are three funeral brasses in the chancel to members of the Kitchingman family, and one to Mrs. Smelt. Another and more interesting one is that of "Master Thomas Magnus,"* on which he is depicted in his priestly robes. At the time of the dissolution of religious houses he was master of St. Leonard's Hospital, York, and was subsequently appointed to the rectory of Sessay, where he died, in 1550, and was buried in the chancel.
* There is a curious tradition concerning his birth and origin current in Yorkshire. He was found, it is said, in a basket in Sessay church porch, on St. Thomas' Day, and was brought up jointly by the inhabitants, who consequently called him "Thomas amang us." The child grew up and, becoming learned and pious, entered the Church, wherein he rose to a high dignity. His name, which breathed suspicions on his birth, was changed into Thomas Magnus, or Thomas the Great. A somewhat similar story is told of him at Newark, in Nottinghamshire, where he founded a school.
The living is a rectory, valued in the King's Book at £17 0s. 2½d., but now worth about £600. It was given by the Darrells to St. Mary's Abbey, York; but shortly after the Dissolution the patronage was transferred to the Dawnays, with whom it remains. The present rector is the Rev. G. B. Dupius, M.A. The rectory house is a handsome residence, in the Italian style, Surrounded by large pleasure grounds. There are about 66 acres of glebe land. The tithe rent-charge is £625. The register dates from the year 1612.
The school is a neat Gothic building, erected in 1848, and enlarged in 1874. It is attended by 72 children.
Formerly there was an extensive deer park in the parish, but the deer were removed to Cowick about 150 years ago, and the park converted into farms.
In taking down the new mill, which occupied the site of the mill mentioned in the Dawnay legend, about 12 years ago, a stone coffin was found containing human remains.
HUTTON SESSAY TOWNSHIP, containing 729 acres, is the property of Viscount Downe and Mrs. M. J. Robinson, Sowerby. It is valued, for rateable purposes, at £1,001, and has 131 inhabitants. The village is small but picturesquely situated amidst well-wooded scenery, about two miles from Sessay. There are in the townships chapels belonging to the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists.
Scan, OCR and html by Colin Hinson. Checking and correction by Peter Nelson.