Wapentake and Petty Sessional Division of Hallikeld - Electoral Division of Hovingham - Poor Law Union of Thirsk - County Court District of Ripon - Rural Deanery of Catterick - Archdeaconry of Richmond - Diocese of Ripon.
The parish lies on the borders of the West Riding, adjoining that of Ripon, and comprises, besides the township of its own name, those of Melmerby, Middleton-Quernhow, and Norton-Conyers, covering an area of 4,708 acres, of which 1,041 acres are within the liberty and wapentake of Allertonshire. Field labour is the principal employment of the inhabitants, who numbered, at the last census, 739. The township of Wath contains 741 acres, 253 inhabitants, and is rated to the poor at £2,609. The estate and manor of Wath, with the advowson, were purchased from the trustees of the Marquis of Ailesbury in 1886, by Joseph Bailey Newsome, Esq., of Wellfield, Staincliffe, Dewsbury, for the sum of £35,000; but the transfer, we believe, has not yet been completed. The village is situated on the banks of two rivulets, which unite their waters a short distance hence, and was significantly named Wath, that is, Ford, because formerly the two streams were here crossed by fords.
The church (St. Mary) is an ancient Gothic structure, consisting of nave, with north aisle, chancel, south transept, and a tower, which was built about 70 years ago, and contains a clock and a peal of five bells. The fabric was thoroughly restored, in 1873, at a cost of £2,691, when the old flat leaden roof was removed, and the present one of higher pitch erected. During the progress of the work several stones, belonging to a church of earlier date than the present one, were found imbedded in the walls of the nave. From the evident Saxon character of the sculpture on some of these it is very probable that Wath had its church before the Norman Conquest. The transept has long been the burial place of the owners of Norton-Conyers, and brasses, monuments, and inscribed stones tell the names of those who have here been laid to rest for ages past. In a canopied recess, under the south window, is the tomb of John De Apulby rector, who was, as a small printed label informs us, "Founder of this chapel of St John Baptist, A.D. 1333." In the same recess is an incised coffin lid, found in the churchyard in 1874, and inscribed "HIC JACET ROBERT FRATER RECT." This belongs to the early part of the 14th century. The oldest of the sepulchral brasses is that of Richard Norton, chief justice of the King's Bench, and Katherine, his wife, A.D. 1420. The adornments of another, consisting of six weather-worn shields and evangelic symbols, are all that remain of the funereal memento of Sir John Norton, who died in 1520, and his wife, Margaret, daughter of Sir Roger Ward, of Guiseley and Gwendale. Here is also a fine marble monument to Lady Catherine Graham, wife of Sir Richard Graham, Knight and Bart., of Netherby, who died in 1649. Above is the Graham escutcheon, and under this are a male and female figure, each kneeling before a death's head, and below are the effigies of their six children. There are also tablets to various members of the Graham family. In the south window are some fragments of stained glass, dating from about the year 1333, which was formerly in the east window, above the altar of St. John Baptist. The chancel retains its ancient sedilia and double piscina, and is lighted by two beautiful stained glass memorial windows. Above the vestry was a priest's room, which was opened out at the restoration, but stairs leading to it still remain. In the wall which separates the vestry from the chancel is a narrow hagioscope, through which the altar could be seen.
The living is a rectory, valued in the King's Books (temp Henry VIII.) at £17 17s. 1d., but is new worth, according to the Diocesan Calendar, £737 per annum. It is in the gift of the lord of the manor, and is held by the Rev. William Collings Lukis, M.A. and F.S.A.
Wath Free School was erected in 1684, and endowed by the Rev. Peter Samwaies, D.D., with an estate of 45 acres at Bellerby, and a yearly rent-charge of £5 out of an estate at Middleton-Quernhow, which he bequeathed to Trinity College, Cambridge, The Bellerby estate was sold about 10 years ago, and the money invested in the three per cent. consols. The rent-charge, paid by Trinity College, is now £7 10s. half-yearly. The school is now under government inspection, and is free to the sons of all parishioners.
A Girls' and Infants' School was built in 1837, and enlarged in 1876. It is also under inspection, and is supported by voluntary contribution.
The Police Station, with court room, three cells, officers' rooms, and inspector's residence, was erected in 1872. It is a neat brick building, situated about the centre of the village. Petty Sessions are held here.on the last Saturday in each month. Sir Reginald Henry Graham, chairman of the bench.
CHARITIES. - Dr. Samwaies also founded an Almshouse for two poor parishioners, which he endowed with the interest of £60. There is at present only one beneficiary, who receives 2s. 6d. per week. He likewise bequeathed to the poor of the parish an annual rent-charge of £10 out of the estate which he had devised to Trinity College. Mr. W. Squire, of Wath, who died in 1829, left £100 for the benefit of the almshouse, which is now invested with the Charity Commissioners; and in 1854 the old hospital buildings were taken down, and two good commodious cottages erected on the site, the rents of which increase the charity. Two small cottages in the rear of the new buildings are appropriated to the hospitallers.
In 1706 the Rev. Stephen Penton left the residue of his personal estate to found a Dispensary for the benefit of the poor of Wath. With the money a house and two acres of land were purchased at Sharrow, which was sold about 20 years ago, and the proceeds invested in the consols. The labouring class pay 10s. and the tradepeople 14s. yearly for medical attendance. Wine and beef tea is given on the doctor's recommendation.
MELMERBY township comprises an area of 1,109 acres, and had, in 1881, a population of 305. The present rateable value is £3,660. Sir Reginald Henry Graham, Bart., is lord of the manor, but the principal landowners are J. T. Pearson, Esq., Mr. Richard Waddington, John I'Anson, Esq., Mr. J. Wilkinson, and Mrs. S. P. Wandesford. The village of Melmerby (the by or dwelling of Melmor, the Dane) is situated about five miles N. by E. of Ripon. About half-a-mile from the village is Melmerby station, on the Leeds, Harrogate, and Northallerton railway, where also join branch lines from Masham and Thirsk. There is a small Wesleyan chapel in the village, built in 1826. The poor receive 10s. a year out of the rent of three cottages and an orchard, the property of Mrs. Cooper, of Topcliffe.
MIDDLETON-QUERNHOW township (764 acres) is small, but fertile and picturesque. It is rated to the poor at £1,722, and in 1881 had 83 inhabitants. William Wood, Esq., colliery proprietor, Oulton is the chief owner, and there is an estate of 105 acres belonging to Trinity College, Cambridge.
This township formerly belonged to the Herberts, to one of whom, Sir Thomas Herbert, Charles I., a short time before his execution, presented a silver clock, as a testimony of his royal favour. Their old hall, or rather a portion of it, is still standing in the village, but is in a very dilapitated condition.
NORTON-CONYERS is a picturesque and well-wooded township lying on the east bank of the Yore, about four miles from Ripon. It is a detached member of the liberty and wapentake of Allertonshire, containing 1,041 acres, including water surface, and is wholly the property of Sir Reginald Henry Graham, Baronet. Its rateable value is £1,507, and population, 98.
This manor was held from an early period by the Conyers, lords of Sockburn, in the County of Durham, whose descendants were subsequently styled Norton-Conyers, and a little later they adopted the name of Norton only. Of this family was Sir Richard Norton, Knight, lord chief justice of England, who died in 1421, and lies buried in the transept of Wath church. From him was descended Richard Norton, Esq., one of the Council of the North in the reigns of Henry VIII. and Edward VI., and high sheriff of Yorkshire in the 10th year of Elizabeth. This gentleman, whose hair was white with the snows of 70 winters, took a prominent part in the attempt of Earls Neville and Percy and other Catholic nobility and gentry in the north, in 1569, to restore the old religion. The Rising proved a failure, and Sir George Bowes pursued the fugitive rebels with a bloodthirsty vindictiveness, boasting that between Newcastle and Weatherby there was not a town or village in which he had not executed some of the inhabitants for taking part in the Rising of the North. Tradition avers that Norton and eight of his sons were captured and executed, but it appears from contemporaneous history that the elder Norton and one son escaped to Flanders, and another son was executed. Wordsworth has immortalised their name in "The White Doe of Rhylstone," and their story is also told in the old ballad "The Rising of the North." The family estates were forfeited, and Norton was granted to the Musgraves, from whom it passed by the marriage of Catherine, daughter and co-heiress of Sir Thomas Musgrave, of Cumcatch, to Sir Richard Graham, Knight and Baronet, of Netherby. The second son of this marriage inherited the maternal lands, and for his services to the royal cause during the Civil Wars, he was created a Baronet in 1662. From him Sir Reginald Henry Graham, Bart., is descended.
Sir Richard was a gallant officer in the army of Charles I. At the battle of Marston Moor (1644) he received 26 wounds, and when all was lost he fled to his house here, which he reached that night, but expired about an hour afterwards. The apparent foot mark of his horse is still visible on the broad oak staircase. Such is the account which tradition has preserved, but it is not borne out by ascertained facts. Sir Richard was certainly wounded at Marston, but his death did not take place until 1653, nine years after that battle.
The Hall, which is situated in an extensive and well-wooded park, is interesting for its historical associations rather than its architectural beauty. Here James I. slept when on his way to London in 1603, and the bed and chair are still preserved in the "King's Chamber." His son, the unfortunate Charles I., spent five days here, the guest of Sir Richard Graham; and in more modern times the picturesque old place is said to have been chosen by Charlotte Bronté, as the scene of her favourite novel, Jane Eyre.
The township consists of a few scattered houses, and extends from half-a-mile to two miles S.W. of Wath.
Scan, OCR and html by Colin Hinson. Checking and correction by Peter Nelson.