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Help and advice for YORKSHIRE: Definitions of the terms used to describe areas of land and habitation in the county of Yorkshire.

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YORKSHIRE: Definitions of the terms used to describe areas of land and habitation in the county of Yorkshire.

This page (and its associated pages) deals with the following terms:


Civil Administration.

  • County:
    • A sub-divison of any of the countries of the United Kingdom. Yorkshire is(was) by far the largest county in the U.K.
    • and has, since the Domesday survey (1086) contained around 10% of the of England (which gives it a larger population than Scotland). You will find the following terms used for Yorkshire:
      • The County of Yorkshire
      • The County of York
      • Yorkshire
      • and occasionally just "York", as in "married in Doncaster, York, England". but never the American way: "Yorkshire County".
      • It should be noted that an English county is the equivalent of what would be a state in countries such as the USA.
  • Riding:
    • Uniquely, Yorkshire was, previous to the much disliked 1974 re-organisation, sub-divided into 3 Ridings (from the Norse word "Thriding"), the North Riding, the East Riding and the West Riding (but see also below about the Ainsty wapentake). Administratively, each Riding was autonomous, each having its own County Town.
  • Wapentake:
    • A sub-division of a Riding, equivalent to the southern counties' "Hundred" and became obsolete around the year 1900. The word was probably derived from an assembly or meeting place, usually at a cross-roads or near a river, where a vote was taken by a show of weapons, "weapon touch". Some of the wapentakes were further divided for simpler administration. Some wapentakes were not contiguous (i.e. they have detached parts), see the map of the wapentakes for details. The names of the wapentakes with their Ridings were as follows:
      • North Riding:
        • Allertonshire, Birdforth, Bulmer, Gilling East, Gilling West, Halikeld, Hang East, Hang West, Langbaurgh (East and West), Pickering Lythe, Rydale, and Whitby Strand.
      • East Riding:
        • Buckrose, Dickering, Harthill (Bainton beacon, Holme beacon, Hunsley beacon and Wilton beacon), Holderness (North, Middle and South), Howdenshire, Ouse & Derwent. Additionally, not in any wapentake was the Borough and county of Kingston upon Hull (Hull).
      • West Riding:
        • Agbrigg & Morley (Agbrigg division, Morley division), Barkston Ash, Claro (Upper and lower), Ewcross, Osgoldcross, Skyrack (upper and lower), Staincliffe (East & West), Staincross, Strafforth and Tickhill (upper and lower).
      • Additionally, the Ainsty Wapentake:
        • This wapentake contained an area to the south of York, and may or may not include the City of York. It has variously been attached to the West Riding and the East Riding through history. For the period when the Genuki pages are set, it is assumed to be detached from all the Ridings and has a section of its own.
  • Division:
    • this term is used in two different situations:
      • 1. To describe a sub-division of a wapentake, e.g. Harthill, Bainton beacon division. 2. To describe the electoral divisions set up under the Redistribution of seats act, 1865. Each electoral division contained one or more wapentakes. The electoral divisions were as follows:
        • North Riding: Cleveland, Richmond, Thirsk & Malton, and Whitby.
        • East Riding: Buckrose, Holderness, and Howdenshire.
        • West Riding: divided into three parts:
          • Northern part: Skipton, Keighley, Shipley, Sowerby, and Elland.
          • Eastern part: Ripon, Otley, Barkston Ash, Osgoldcross, Pudsey, and Spen Valley.
          • Southern part: Batley, Normanton, Colne Valley, Holmfirth, Barnsley, Hallamshire, Rotherham, and Doncaster.
  • City:
    • Please note that the English definition and the American definition differ considerably.
      The popular English meaning is taken to be any large town, or any place with a Cathedral (and hence a Bishop). The actual meaning is a town that has received the title of "City" from the crown, and is usually the seat of a Bishop (but not necessarily so).
  • Town:
    • A densely populated area, typically smaller than a city and larger than a village. The point at which a village becomes a town is not well defined!
  • County Town:
    • The administrative headquarters for a county. In the case of Yorkshire, there are three county towns, one for each Riding: Northallerton for the North Riding, Beverley for the East Riding, and Wakefield for the West Riding. Contrary to popular belief, there are no civil administrative offices for the county of Yorkshire as a whole (not even in York!).
  • Township:
    • Very variable! A group of people/houses invested with certain powers for regulating their own affairs, such as repairing roads, providing for the poor, etc. A township may consist of a single town, one or more villages and/or hamlets, or (in mountainous areas in particular) scattered single houses.
  • Village:
    • A small group of houses, smaller than a town and larger than a hamlet (another ill-defined term).
  • Manor:
    • A unit of English territorial organisation, originally of the nature of a feudal lordship. It now consists of the lord's demesne if any (house and land for his own personal use) and of lands occupied by tenants, from which he has the right to exact certain fees or fines, and within which he has certain privileges.
  • Liberty:
    • A liberty was a manor, or group of manors, or other area lying outside the juristriction of the sheriff. It had a separate Commission of Peace.
  • Hamlet:
    • a small group of houses (4 or 5 for instance) smaller than a village and without its own church.
  • Dale:
    • A valley through which a river flows, usually (but not always) named after the river, e.g. Swaledale, Airedale (but not Wensleydale - named after a parish, but sometimes known as Yoredale or Uredale after the river Ure ).
  • Wolds:
    • The Yorkshire Wolds are the only range of hills in (what was) the East Riding.

Ecclesiastical Administraton

  • Diocese:
    • The district under the jurisdiction of a Bishop.
  • Archdeaconry:
    • An archdeaconry is the office or jurisdiction of an archdeacon and forms part of a diocese
  • Deanery
    • The district under the jurisdiction of a Dean. (There will be several in a diocese).
  • Parish:
    • An ecclesiastical parish
      • The district under the jurisdiction of a priest. The Genuki Yorkshire parish pages are all of this type of parish. These parishes were very stable for a good 300 years before 1832.
    • A civil parish
      • The smallest unit of local government. These only came into being after 1832. All the Genuki parish pages relate to before this date, and so include no civil parishes as such.
  • Peculiar:
    • is a parish or church which is exempt from the jurisdiction of the bishop in whose diocese it is located.
  • Chapelry
    • Literally, the bounds or jurisdiction of a chapel. A parish may contain one or more chapelries, each of which may or may not have a licence to conduct Baptisms, Marriages and Burials. If the chapel did not have licence, then these ceremonies would be conducted at the parish church.
For further information, please see the Church of England Hierarchy page.

Further Information.

A Glossary of old words and unusual words used within the Genuki Yorkshire pages.
Church of England Hierarchy.

Tana Willis Johnson's What is a wapentake
Tana and Brian Pears' The divisions and sub-divisions of England and its counties

A History of the North Riding (1890)
A History of the East Riding (1892) A History of Yorkshire (1892)


Written by Colin Hinson © 1996
in co-operation with the late Liz Agar.