THIRSK, a small market town and a parish in the wapentake of Birdforth : 9 miles from Northallerton; 10 miles from Easingwold; 11 from Boroughbridge; and 23 from York. This town is pleasantly situated in the vale of Mowbray; and is conjectured to derive its name from the ancient British words, Tre -a town, and Isk -a river, or brook.
The market, which is on a Monday, is well supplied with the necessaries of life, and fish is brought here from the coast in great perfection. A great quantity of poultry, butter, and eggs, are bought up here by dealers, and conveyed into the populous towns of the West-Riding, where they are re-sold. The fairs, which are numerous, will be found stated in the list of Yorkshire Fairs, appendant to the 1st vol. of this work and they tend considerably to enrich the town & its immediate vicinity. Of manufactures there are none, except a few coarse linens, owing probably to that important requisite in manufacturing establishments - fuel, being scarce and dear. There is here no established banking concern; but business is transacted for Messrs. Backhouse & Co. Darlington, by Mr. Story, in the Market place; for Messrs. Britain & Co. of Ripon, by Mr. Hansell, in Millgate; and for Messrs. Raper, Swann, and Co. York, by Mr. Arnitt, in the Market place. This town had formerly a strong Castle, which stood at the south western extremity of the town. Thirsk castle claims a high antiquity; it is said to have been built in 959, by the family to whose lordship the neighbourhood was anciently subject. The first mention of this name in history, is, however, after the conquest, when we find Robert de Mowbray, a powerful Norman Baron, created Earl of Northumberland, in 1080. The castle itself was a noble pile of building, uniting the magnificence of a royal palace, with the strength and security of a baronial fortress. It was here, that Roger de Mowbray conspired with the Scotch King. and began his rebellion against Henry II. The revolt was however speedily suppressed, and on the 13th of March, in the year 1175, the castle was assailed by Lord de Valence, in the name of the King, and surrendered, not without the show, but without the reality of resistance. Henry, who was then at Northampton, ordered all the castles that still remained in private hands to be destroyed, and this seat of feudal magnificence shared the common lot. So complete was the demolition here, that not a vestige of the castle now remains, but a high artificial mount serves to indicate the site on which the keep formerly stood, and the place still bears the name of the Castle yard.
The church, which is a handsome Gothic edifice, at the northern extremity of the town, was, it is generally supposed, built out of the ruins of the castle. Both the exterior appearance, and the interior arrangement of this structure are deservedly admired. From the steps leading up to the altar, the view is peculiarly grand, presenting to the eye a lofty and extended vista of Gothic arches, terminated by the organ, which corresponds in its decorations with that majestic order of architecture. The internal length is 160 feet, and the length of the cross aisle 60 feet (Jefferson's History of Thirsk). This church is dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen; the living is a perpetual curacy, the Archbishop of York is the patron, and Matthew Butterwick, Esq. is the lay rector, in addition to the church, the Quakers have a meeting house, and burial ground, in Kirkgate; the Independents, a chapel, near Sowerby flats, built in 1803; and the Methodists, a handsome new chapel, in St. James's Green, built in 1816, on the site of their old place of worship.
Thirsk is a parliamentary, but not a corporate Borough. Old Thirsk, as it is called, possesses the right of sending two members to parliament, by 50 burgage holds, 49 of which belong to Sir Thomas Frankland, who has the appointment of the bailiff, and which bailiff is the returning officer. The present members are Robert Frankland, Esq. and Richard Greenhill Russel, Esq.
Old Thirsk consists of a long range of cottages on each side of the road leading to Yarm and Stockton, and of a square, surrounded by the same kind of buildings, called St. James's Green. Upon, or near this square stood an ancient chantry, founded by William de Mowbray, in the reign of Henry I. but of which time has long since swept away every vestige. Till the year 1818, a venerable Elm, the wonder and the ornament of the Green stood here; but on the night of the 5th of November, 1818, a set of luckless boys, in their mischievous sports, set fire to this piece of vegetable antiquity; sufficient was left of it to make two substantial chairs for John Bell, Esq. the lord of the manor. Under the spreading branches of this tree, the election of members of parliament for Thirsk had been conducted so long, "that the memory of man is not to the contrary :" and here, it is said, fell Henry Piercy. the fourth Earl of Northumberland, then Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire, a victim to popular fury, raised by oppressive taxation (See Topcliffe). The rivulet which divides the old and the new town, is called Cod-beck, over which there passes a substantial stone bridge, of three arches, of sufficient capacity to receive the floods which the heavy rains, and melting snows of winter frequently occasion. The new town stands within the Precincts of the ancient castle of the Mowbrays: in the centre of the town is the Market place, which, if the Toll-booth, now in a ruinous condition, with the Shambles, and some few dilapidated buildings were removed, would be one of the first squares for a public market in the kingdom.
The population of Thirsk has increased during the last ten years, at the rate of about 15 per cent. In 1811, the total amount was 2,158, and in 1821 - 2,533. The air is generally considered pure and salubrious, and a fine spring of chalybeate water at a small distance from the town, resembling the Scarborough and Cheltenham waters, and used both for drinking and bathing, may contribute to the health, and consequently to the longevity of the inhabitants. The surrounding country is rich and delightful; and all tourists concur in the opinion that the vale of Mowbray, of which Thirsk is pretty nearly the centre, is scarcely to be equalled by any tract of country in the kingdom, for fertility, expansion and picturesque scenery.
[Description(s) edited mainly from various 19th century sources by Colin Hinson. ©2010]