GREAT DRIFFIELD: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1892.


Wapentake of Harthill - Petty Sessional Division of Bainton Beacon - Poor Law Union and County Court District of Driffield - Rural Deanery of Harthill - Archdeaconry of the East Riding - Diocese of York.

This parish comprises the townships of Great Driffield and Elmswell-with-Little Driffield, containing a total area of 7,600 acres. By a Local Government order, which came into operation March 25th, 1885, Little Driffield (previously a separate township) was divided, and one portion amalgamated with Great Driffield and the other with Elmswell and Kellythorpe, and the name changed to Elmswell-with-Little Driffield. In the township of Great Driffield, under the re-arrangement, there are 4,990 acres, and a population of 5,701. The rateable value is £23,440. Viscountess Downe, of Baldersby Park, near Thirsk, is lady of the manor and principal landowner. The Earl of Londesborough and W. H. Harrison-Broadley, Esq., of Welton, Brough, have also estates here.

Driffield is a place of very remote antiquity. The numerous tumuli in the district tell of its occupation by the Ancient Britons in considerable numbers. This primitive race passed away before the dawn of history, and all that is left of them lies under these sepulchral mounds; but, by the careful and intelligent researches of modern antiquaries, the secret of their graves has been unlocked and the story of their lives laid bare. We know what manner of men they were; the relics found along with their bones tell us how they lived, and craniologists have determined to a nicety, by the form and size of their skulls, the mental calibre of the race. About three miles north-east of the town, in a secluded piece of well-wooded ground measuring four acres, there are about 200 of these tumuli, so thickly scattered as to leave little more than three feet between any two of them. They are of various shapes and dimensions, from 18 inches to 4 feet in height, and are known as Danes' Graves, from a tradition that the Danes were here defeated in battle by the Saxons, and these mounds were raised over their dead. Many of them have been opened, and found to contain a single skeleton each, but no weapons, ornaments, or other articles. There is no record of any such conflict here, and the absence of weapons throws a grave doubt over the tradition. It is more probable that these tumuli are the graves of ancient British inhabitants, as there are several British pit-dwellings to be seen in the locality. Mr. Mortimer, of Driffield, has examined many of these and other tumuli on the Wolds, and in his Museum may be seen a very large collection of arrow-heads, spear-points, and other early weapons of warfare, together with skeletons of Britons, Anglo-Saxons, and Danes.

That Driffield was a place of importance far back in the centuries is beyond doubt. We are told in the Saxon Chronicle that Alfrid, king of Northumbria, died at Driffield on the nineteenth before the kalends of January, in the year 705, and a tablet in the church of Little Driffield states that he was interred within that edifice. It is, therefore, very probable that Driffield was a royal residence in those days, and in a field at the north end of the town is a mound bearing the name of Castle Hill, which, we may suppose, was the site of the royal palace. It was protected by a moat, which still remains, nearly 20 feet deep on the western side. Alfrid was an amiable and peaceful sovereign, who had spent much of his early life in the pursuit of learning in the monastery of Iona, and was afterwards known as Alfrid the Wise. There are conflicting accounts as to the cause of his death. William of Malmsbury says he died of a painful disease; but tradition avers that he was wounded in a battle at Ebberston, that he managed to escape from the field to the shelter of a cave hard by, whence he was removed next day to Little Driffield. The cave, which is now scarcely perceptible, has been known from time immemorial as Ilfrid's Hole.

Across the stream which appears to form part of the moat is Moat Hill, from which proclamations were issued to the people, laws passed for the government of Northumbria, and from which the Saxon Church received its charter of extension from the learned and amiable king.

It is contended on very strong evidence that the famous Battle of Brunanburh was fought at Battleburn, a few miles to the west of Driffield, and that the army of Anlaf was encamped at Elmswell, in this parish. A series of earthworks at this place points to such a conclusion. By the side of an entrenchment near the supposed site of the battle, Mr. Mortimer opened sixty graves, all apparently Anglo-Saxon. In a distinct portion of an adjacent burial ground, the bodies were found to have been cremated, or partially so, from which circumstance it is inferred they were those of Scandinavians, amongst whom the practice of burning their dead still existed. Mr. Holderness, of Driffield, has written an exhaustive pamphlet on Brunanburh and its site, and those of our readers who wish to go more deeply into the question cannot do better than study that work.

Previous to the Norman Conquest the manor of Driffield formed part of the possessions of Earl Morcar. It is mentioned in Domesday Book as containing 50 carucates of land to be taxed, and possessing two churches. The manor was afterwards held by the Earls of Chester, and, later, it was given by Henry III. to his sister Joan, on her marriage with Alexander, king of Scotland. After the death of Joan, the manor reverted to the Crown, and was subsequently conferred upon John de Baliol. Baliol became king of Scotland, which crown he swore to wear as the vassal of the king of England, but, shortly afterwards renouncing this vassalage, the manor was forfeited, and it remained with the Crown until 1336, when it was granted to Geoffrey le Scroope. It subsequently passed through other hands, and now belongs, as before stated, to Viscountess Downe, of Baldersby.

Great Driffield is one of the chief market towns of the East Riding, being centrally located in the best all-round agricultural district in Yorkshire. It is pleasantly situated at the foot of the Wolds, whence flow numerous clear crystal streams, which unite eventually, and add their contribution to swell the waters of the river Hull. These streams have long been famous for the delicacy and flavour of the trout they produce, and are well preserved by an association formed in 1833. The town is distant 20 miles north by east from Hull, 34 by rail and 22 by road from Scarborough, 13 north from Beverley, 12 south-west from Bridlington, and 196 north from London. It is the junction of the Malton and Driffield, and the Hull and Scarborough branches of the North-Eastern Railway.

The district around is well-wooded, and abounds with varied sylvan and pastoral scenery. There is abundance of luxuriant pasture land, and the arable land is singularly adapted for the growth of cereals. The corn business is the chief feature of trade in the market, held weekly on Thursday. There are several extensive steam and water flour mills on the various streams in the town and neighbourhood. A large cattle market is held on each alternate Wednesday, and meets with great success. The breeding of Leicester sheep in the neighbourhood has been successfully cultivated, and developed to an extent unprecedented in England. The late Sir Tatton Sykes, Bart., by his indefatigable industry and superior judgment, gave an impetus to horse-breeding in the locality, and the superior quality of the animals produced is acknowledged far beyond the limits of the county.

The manufacture of linseed and cotton cake for cattle may be regarded as the staple industry of the town, and is carried on respectively by the Driffield and East Riding Pure Linseed Cake Company, Limited (established in 1861 and reconstructed in 1888), and Matthews, Son & Co., Limited. The latter firm are also manufacturers of artificial manures, which are extensively used all over the country. Brewing is carried on to a considerable extent; the water is particularly adapted for the purpose, and Driffield ales are consequently known far beyond the limits of the district. The recent and growing demand for agricultural implements has revived the brass and iron foundry business, of which there are several extensive works.

The configuration of the town is somewhat unique. The principal street extends almost in a straight line from north to south, through the centre of the town, in a direction parallel with a stream which takes its rise about a quarter of a mile further north. Several inferior streets also take a continuous line parallel with the stream, whilst from the main street, on each side, at right angles, are numerous thoroughfares and divergent streets, which are spacious although limited in extent.

The town has never been incorporated, and is governed by a Local Board of Health, consisting of twelve members, formed in 1874. The streets are lighted with gas, from works established in 1835, by private enterprise; and waterworks were constructed in 1884 by a company, with a capital of £12,000 in £10 shares. The reservoir has a capacity of 360,000 gallons, and is supplied from springs and a well 223 feet deep.

The Church of All Saints is a stately and well-proportioned edifice, of which its tower is its glory. It is all that a tower should be - simple and massive in its early stages, and then leading the eye up to dignified enrichment, which fitly crowns it and breaks the sky-line. There is a Decorated doorway on the west front, and in the upper stage are large belfry windows and considerable ornamentation. The battlements are bold and distinct, and the great corner pinnacles grow well out of the great corner buttresses. On the west front are the arms of the Hothams, Beestons, Ingleberds, Rouths, Swillingtons, and St. Mary's Abbey, York. The massing of these shields on the tower seems as if these families, as well as St. Mary's Abbey, were joint contributaries in the erection of the tower; but tradition assigns its erection solely to a member of the first-named family. He had taken a solemn vow to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in the event of his recovery from a dangerous illness; unable afterwards to undertake the pilgrimage, he obtained a commutation of the vow, and built this tower. Sir Gilbert Scott assigns its erection to the reign of Henry VI. (1422-1461). The other parts of the church are chancel (with organ-chamber and vestry), nave, side aisles, and south porch. The clerestoried nave is separated from the aisles by arcades of four circular arches, springing from cylindrical columns. The chancel, with its Pointed arch, is later; but the circular headed doorway of the Norman chancel has been retained on the south side. The south aisle is a very fine example of Decorated work, with square-headed windows, apparently rebuilt in the 14th century. At the east end there was a chantry chapel, founded in the 15th century by John Tebb, for the souls of himself and Joan, his wife, the patronage of which was vested in the Lords Scroope, of Masham. The ancient piscina remains, and there is another one in the chancel. In the east wall of this aisle, over the window, was formerly the effigy of a bishop with his crozier, and a nimbus; it has recently been removed to another part of the edifice.

The church was thoroughly restored in 1879-80, from the designs of Sir G. Gilbert Scott, R.A., at a cost of over £12,000. The roof of the nave was carried up to its original pitch, and an aisle was added to the chancel, to provide an organ chamber and vestry, and the north aisle, south porch, and chancel rebuilt. The interior of the church is spacious, and will seat 654 persons. The register dates from 1556.

King Henry I. gave the church of Driffield to Gerard, Archbishop of York, one of whose successors conferred it upon the prebend of Driffield in York Cathedral, and the incumbent was from that time the vicar or deputy of the prebend. The living is a vicarage, with Little Driffield annexed, joint yearly value £380, in the gift of the Archbishop of York, and held by the Rev. Horace Newton, M.A., of St. John's College, Cambridge, prebendary of York, rural dean, and surrogate.

The Catholic Church of our Lady and St. Edward in Westgate, is a building of red brick, in the Norman style of architecture, built by Lady Herries, of Everingham, in 1886, at a cost of £2,000, and a beautiful oil painting in massive gold frame has been recently presented by Lady Sykes. It represents the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, showing them resting by the wayside; the Blessed Virgin is nursing the Infant Saviour, and St. Joseph is looking on. The Presbytery was the old Manor House, which was purchased for the purpose, and adjoining is a school attended by about 30 children. The priest in charge is the Rev. Francis Gerrard.

The Baptist mission here dates from 1788. The present chapel in Middle Street South was erected in 1861, at a cost of about £1,500, and it was altered and improved in 1884, at a further outlay of £700. There is a gallery all round, and attached is a Sunday school for the accommodation of 150 children. The chapel is fitted with pitchpine benches to seat 300. Minister, the Rev. Isaac Watson.

The Congregational Church in Exchange Street, was rebuilt in 1866, at a cost of £3,000, raised by voluntary subscription. It is a spacious brick building in the Gothic style, fitted out in pitchpine to seat 500 persons. There is a fine organ by Messrs. Bindley and Foster, of Sheffield. Pastor, Rev. R. F. Bracey. The Manse, situated on Bridlington road, was built in 1889, at a cost of £600. Near the church is the Sunday school, erected in 1860, at a cost of £700, for the accomodation of 450 children.

The present Wesleyan Chapel was rebuilt in the year 1880. It occupies the site of an older and smaller building, which was erected about the year 1828. It is a handsome and imposing structure of red brick with stone dressings. The entrance is approached by a broad flight of steps, the front of the building being adorned with massive stone pillars. The total cost amounted to £7,000, most of which was raised by voluntary subscriptions. The internal fittings are of the most substantial character, pitchpine being the wood principally used. A capacious gallery runs round the whole interior of the building, which is also provided with a handsome rostrum and a good organ. Accommodation is provided for about 1,200 hearers. The chapel is brilliantly lighted by gas suns from the ceiling, and side lights under the galleries. In close contiguity there is a commodious schoolroom, capable of holding 400 scholars, a band-room, comfortable minister's vestry, and a number of other room, for the various meetings carried on. The present ministers are Revs. William Hill and Thomas J. Spragg, both of whom were appointed to the Driffield Circuit by the Wesleyan Conference of 1889. They are assisted in their work by a large staff of intelligent and capable local preachers. Attached to Driffield,and forming part of the circuit are the following places, viz. Nafferton, Garton, Wansford, Frodingham, Beeford, Foston, Brigham, Cranswick, Skerne, Beswick, Lockington, Lund, Middleton Wold, Middleton, North Dalton, Bainton, Southburn, Tibthorpe, Wetwang, Fridaythorpe, Fimber, Sledmere. There is a total membership of 979 in the circuit, the regular attendants at the services conducted amounting to probably four times that number.

The United Free Methodist Church, in Bridge Street, was built in 1863, at a cost of £700, and it was enlarged and refitted in 1889, at a further outlay of £300. On the ground floor is a school-room with two class-rooms. Rev. D. W. Pennell, minister.

The Primitive Methodist Chapel in George Street, is a large and handsome edifice of brick with freestone dressings, in the Norman style. It was erected in 1873, at a cost of £5,000, inclusive of organ and furniture, and there is still a debt of about £1,600 upon it. The front is elegant, and flanked by a tower. The interior is surrounded by a gallery, and fitted with pitchpine pews of modern type, to seat 1,000. It is well lighted by large windows filled with cathedral glass surrounded by a coloured border. On the south wall is a marble monument to Thomas Wood, who was for 60 years a member, and died in 1881, at the age of 85. Adjoining are two school-rooms, nine class-rooms, preacher's room, and committee room. The circuit includes Driffield, Nafferton, Kilham, Langtoft, Weaverthorpe, West Sutton, Sledmere, Fimber, Wetwang, Garton, Little Driffield, Wansford, Frodingham, Beeford, Gembling, Kelk, Hutton, Cranswick, Walton, Beswick, Lockington, Lund, Etton, Middleton, Bainton, North Dalton, Kirkburn, and the following places which have no chapels, Ruston Parva, Butterwick, East Sutton, Pry Mill Cottages, and Kilnwick. The Society has also a Mission Room in North Street.

A School Board was formed in 1871, and a Board school erected in 1873. It is a large block of buildings comprising three departments, with a total accommodation for 700 children. There are about 600 names on the books.

The National School, established in 1818, rebuilt in 1854, and since enlarged by the addition of class-rooms, contains also three departments, boys' girls', and infants'. There is a total accommodation for upwards of 500 children.

The Mechanics' Institute was established in 1837; the present premises in Exchange Street, were built by the late E.D. Conyers Esq., in 1856, for the magisterial and county court purposes. The Institute numbers 230 members, and has a library of 5,000 volumes. Petty Sessions are held here each alternate Thursday, and a County Court every two months.

The Police Station in Eastgate North, with apartments for the superintendent was erected in 1843. Driffield is the head of the Bainton Beacon Division, and the force consists of one superintendent, a sergeant, and 11 constables.

The Corn Exchange is a stone-fronted building, erected in 1841, at an expense of £2,600, raised in £10 shares. It is used for public meetings, concerts, lectures, &c., and will hold 450 persons. The Temperance Hall, the property of the Temperance Hall Co., Ltd., is a commodious brick building in Mill Street, capable of containing 700 persons.

A Cottage Hospital was erected, in 1873, by public subscription, for the reception of eight patients, and an Accident Ward was added in 1886.

A Cemetery, containing seven acres, was formed in 1864, at a cost of £5,500. The grounds are neatly laid out and planted with trees and shrubs. There are two mortuary chapels, and a house for the superintendent. The cemetery is under the control of a Burial Board of nine members.

Driffield is the head of a Poor Law Union, which comprises the following townships : - Bainton, Beeford, Bracken, Brigham, Butterwick, Cottam, Cowlam, Dalton North, Driffield Great, Eastburn, Elmswell-with-Little Driffield, Fimber; Foston, Foxholes, Frodingham North, Garton, Gembling, Harpham, Helperthorpe, Hutton Cranswick, Kelk Great and Little, Kilham, Kirkburn, Langtoft, Lowthorpe, Luttons Ambo, Middleton, Nafferton, Neswick, Rotsea, Buston Parva, Skerne, Sledmere, Southburn, Sunderlandwick, Tibthorpe, Towthorpe, Wansford, Watton, Weaverthorpe, and Wetwang. The total extent is 110,280 acres; the population, 18,830; and the rateable value, £135,337.

The Workhouse is an extensive block of buildings, erected in 1867, at a cost of over £17,000. It stands on seven acres of land, off Bridlington Road, and has accommodation for 225 inmates.

The Driffield Canal was constructed under an Act of Parliament obtained in 1767. It is five miles in length, extending from the town to the river Hull, which it joins about 1½ miles south-east of Brigham. By means of this canal Driffield is in direct navigable communication with the port of Hull for small craft not exceeding 60 tons burthen.

Under the Local Government Act of 1888, Driffield forms two electoral divisions, North and South Driffield, each of which sends a member to the County Council of the East Riding.

ELMSWELL-WITH-LITTLE-DRIFFIELD is a township containing 2,580 acres, and valued for rating purposes at £2,845. The number of inhabitants, in 1891, was 334. The Earl of Londesborough, who is lord of the manor, and Viscountess Downe are the principal landowners. The soil is clay, loam, and gravel, and the subsoil clay, chalk, and gravel.

LITTLE DRIFFIELD village stands about one mile west of Great Driffield. On the extensive green, in its centre, fairs for cattle, sheep, and horses are held annually on Easter Monday, Whit-Monday, August 26th, and September 19th. These fairs have been held from a very early date, and, until recently, any villager could, by ancient custom, sell ale on those days without a licence, by hanging out a green bush for a sign. The church of St. Peter is an interesting structure, from its associations of 12 centuries ago, when Alfrid the Wise, King of Northumbria, was laid to rest within its walls, as related on page 164. Of the antiquity of this church there can be no doubt. In Domesday Book it is recorded that "In Drifelt are two churches"; one of these stood at Little Driffield, and was the mother church of the parish, the other probably occupied the site of the present church of All Saints, at Great Driffield. St. Peter's was, unfortunately, rebuilt, with the exception of the tower, chancel arch, and south wall of the chancel, in 1809, and the monstrosity which arose must have been most offensive to every cultured eye that had seen its dilapidated but grand old predecessor. The church was thoroughly restored in 1890, at a cost of £1,200, raised chiefly through the energy and perseverance of Canon Newton, who contributed £250 towards the work. The designs were furnished by Mr. Temple L. Moore, architect, of London, who has converted the hideous low-backed deformity into an elegant Gothic edifice, with a roof of high pitch. The walls have been strengthened by moulded buttresses, which greatly improve the external appearance, and on each side three Early Decorated windows of two lights have been inserted. The east window, which is quite a feature in the church, is an Early Decorated one of three lights, between two bold buttresses, which have been carried up to the roof where they terminate in gablets. The interior has a light and cheerful aspect. The roof is of hammer-beam construction, richly moulded, and adorned with carved bosses and heraldic shields. The chancel is furnished with choir stalls. The carved oak altar table was given by the Misses Holtby, of Elmswell, as a memorial of their late father. The pulpit is a plain square wooden one, and formerly stood in Pocklington church.

During the progress of the work of restoration, the remains of at least two earlier churches were discovered; the bases of several pillars were found in the foundations of the walls and the capitals beneath the floor, showing that there had formerly been a north aisle. It was also manifest that the chancel had been curtailed in its dimensions, and fragments of chamfered chevron and other mouldings, presumably part of a noble chancel arch, were found. The lower stage of the tower is Norman work; the upper part appears to have been rebuilt in the 14th century. The tower arch is Norman, and, in removing its many coats of whitewash, it was discovered that this arch had been built into another arch, which had probably belonged to the Saxon edifice. There are no ancient monuments. The rebuilders, in 1809, used whatever they could put their hands on, and monumental stones and sepulchral slabs were used for building material.

The chief interest of this little country church lies in its associations. Within its walls, 12 centuries ago, a king was wont to kneel, and here also he found his last resting place. On a marble tablet in the chancel is inscribed - "Within this chancel lies interred the body of Alfred, King of Northumberland, who departed this life January 19th, A.D. 705, in the 20th year of his reign. "Statutum est omnibus semel mori" (It is appointed unto men once to die). This inscription is modern and has been twice or thrice renewed, but an older one and differently worded is said to have been painted in fresco on the walls of the church taken down in 1807. Several searches have been made for the bones of the king, but neither tomb nor monument has been found. It has, however, been discovered that the spacious chancel of the early church was contracted at a subsequent rebuilding, and, consequently, if the body was interred near the north wall, the grave would be, after the contraction of the chancel, without the walls and in the churchyard.

The register dates from 1578. The living is annexed to that of Great Driffield.

The Primitive Methodists have a chapel in the village, built in 1878, at a cost of £300. The National School (mixed) was erected in 1845, by voluntary contribution, and enlarged in 1871. There is accommodation for 50 children, and about 30 in attendance.

ELMSWELL is a hamlet about two miles south-west of Great Driffield, consisting of four farms, the property of the Earl of Londesborough. There are several fine springs of water shaded by lofty elms, from which the place has derived its name. The Hotham family is said to have had a residence here. Elmswell House is a venerable brick building bearing the date 1656. The walls are of considerable thickness, and in one of the rooms is a very fine carved old oak mantelpiece.

KELLEYTHORPE is a hamlet in this township, situated about one mile west-by-south from Great Driffield, and belonging to the Earl of Londesborough.

[Description(s) from Bulmer's History and Directory of East Yorkshire (1892)]


  • Transcript of the entry for the Post Office, professions and trades in Bulmer's Directory of 1892.

Scan, OCR and html by Colin Hinson. Checking and correction by Peter Nelson.