RICCALL: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1892.


Wapentake and Petty Sessional Divison of Ouse and Derwent - County Council Electoral Division of Riccall - Poor Law Union and County Court District of Selby - Rural Deanery of Bulmer - Archdeaconry of Cleveland - Diocese of York.

This parish and township comprises 2,666 acres of land, lying on the east bank of the Ouse, belonging chiefly to Lord Wenlock, who purchased the manorial estate a few years ago. James Pratt, Joseph Creaser, and Eustace Barlow, Esq., have land here, and there are also some small freeholders. The rateable value is £7,099, and the population in 1881 was 781, and in 1891, 736.

This parish is situated on a low-lying part of the vale of York, where the land is scarcely 25 feet above the mean tide-level of the Ouse at this point, and much of the surrounding country would be submerged at high water were it not for the embankments constructed along both sides of the river, to confine the water within the channel. These banks are supposed to date from the 13th century, and, previous to their construction, the river, at high water, spread over the adjacent low-lying lands, depositing a thick covering of warp and sand of remarkable fertility. About 1,000 acres of the parish, known as Riccall Common, were enclosed by Act of Parliament in 1880, and are now under cultivation. They were divided among the land and common-right owners, and 20 acres were set apart by the Commissioners for garden allotments, in roods and half-roods, which are let to labouring men at 3s. or 4s. per rood. Six acres were set apart as a recreation ground, and 10 acres were awarded to the school.

The lands of the parish were formerly held of two manors, one belonging to the Prebendary of Riccall, in York Cathedral, and the other to the Bishop of Durham - afterwards to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The prebendal manor was held on lease by the late E. W. Richardson, and, after his death, the manorial rights were purchased from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners by Lord Wenlock.

The Prebendal Manor House, now the Vicarage, was originally erected in the 15th century, and rebuilt in the latter part of the reign of James I. One of its round towers remains, three storeys in height, containing its ancient winding staircase. The Bishop of Durham had also a palace here. It was called La Wel Hall (now Wheel Hall), and stood at the head of a "wheel" or sharp turn in the river, about half-a-mile above the village. It was protected on one side by the river, and on the others by three broad moats. The hall was pulled down about 100 years ago, and only the foundations of a wall near the river and traces of one moat now remain. A farmhouse occupies part of the site. It is the property of Eustace Barlow, Esq.

The only historical event connected with Riccall was the landing here, in 1066, of the Norwegian and Danish forces led by Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, and Tosti, the expatriated Earl of Northumbria. Their fleet, consisting of 300 sail, entered the Humber, and ascended the Ouse as far as Riccall, where they left their vessels in command of Olaf, Hardrada's son, and Eystein Orre, his betrothed son-in-law. Hardrada was a man of great stature and a valiant warrior, who had defeated the Saracens in many a hard-fought fight. Tosti was the brother of Harold who had, on the death of Edward the Confessor, assumed the Crown. He held for a while the earldom of Northumbria, but his government was so oppressive that the people rose in rebellion against him, and chose Morcar for their earl. Harold was despatched into Northumbria to oppose the insurgents, but, having an eye to future contingencies, he abandoned his brother's cause, and effected a reconciliation with the rebels by granting all their requests. Thus it was that Tosti, out of revenge for his brother's desertion of his cause, sought the aid of the Norwegian king in a vain attempt to snatch the crown from Harold. From Riccall Hardrada marched upon York, and at Fulford, two miles from the city, was met by Earls Edwin and Morcar, whom he completely routed. York submitted and gave hostages, but, in the battle which followed next day at Stamford Bridge between the English and the Norwegians, the latter were almost annihilated, and Hardrada and Tosti were numbered amongst the slain. Harold took possession of the treasure of the Norwegians, which was more than 12 lusty men could carry; and Olaf, Hardrada's son, was permitted to return with the remnant of the shattered fleet to Norway.

The memory of this expedition is perpetuated in the parish by a road called "Olave's Lane," said to have been constructed by Olaf for the passage of his army to and from the ships; and also by the name of "Danes' Hills," given to numerous mounds on Riccall Common. These are, doubtless, tumuli or sepulchral barrows of the ancient Britons, and near them are traces of an encampment of hut dwellings. These mounds are from 20 to 30 feet in diameter, and are arranged in a square, the sides of which point north, south, east, and west. There are about 20 of these barrows on Riccall Common, and another cluster between Skipwith and Thorganby, and the common tradition is that they were raised by the Danes, or rather Norsemen, to cover their dead after the battle of Stamford Bridge. Professor Phillips, who examined them, says :- " Tumuli of various magnitudes are here seen in considerable numbers, and they yielded to inspection burnt bones and carbonised wood; but, except one rather dubious flint arrow-head, no other trace of man or his works. The vague tradition of the country, preserving the memory of the Norwegian descent, speaks of the tumuli of Skipwith as the Danes' Hills - as if they had been raised over the Northmen's dead. But the fight so fatal to the invaders was at Stamford Bridge, and at the time of the battle Christianity had visited the Danes, and the dead were buried, not burnt." Dr. John Burton, in his Monasticon Eboracense, supports the traditionarv origin of the mounds, and says "the Danes were permitted to encamp here till they had buried their dead and their ships at Riccall could be ready for their re-embarking for Norway."

Skeletons and human bones have been frequently dug up in the neighbourhood of the river. In a field near Riccall Landing, some 60 years ago, a quantity of "bones and old iron" were turned up; and about 10 years ago, at the Old Landing in the West Fields, 10 human skulls were disinterred, but there was nothing to show whether they were the remains of Norsemen slain in their flight to the vessels, or those of soldiers who fell in the engagement at Selby between Lord Fairfax and Colonel Bellasis.

Riccall was a place of some importance at the time of the Norman Conquest, as may be inferred from its being in possession of a church at that early period. It is spelt Richale in Domesday Book; the etymology of this name is not very clear; Dr. Parsons hazards the conjecture that it is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Ricc Hall, signifying the mansion of the domain.

The village stands near the Ouse, on the road from Selby to York, five miles north from the former place, 10 miles south from the latter, and near the station of its own name on the Doncaster extension of the main line of the North-Eastern railway. A court leet and baron is held at the Greyhound Inn twice a year for Lord Wenlock, by Messrs. Leeming, Wilkinson, & Badger, of York; Mr. Walker, steward. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is apparently of very early origin, and must have been founded as least as early as the 12th century. It then consisted of a western tower, a nave without aisles, about the same width as the present nave, but a trifle shorter than it; and a chancel also about the width of the present one, but probably shorter, and perhaps with an apsidal end. Some time later, probably in the first half of the 13th century, the side walls of the nave were taken down, and north and south aisles were added. The arcades opening into them from the nave still exist. Some years later the chancel was rebuilt and enlarged to its present size, - probably when the Langton mentioned below was prebend, and in his memory; and still later, during the 15th century, the north and south aisles were taken down, rebuilt, and extended eastward about half the length of the chancel, arches being formed through the side walls of the chancel into them. A clerestory was also added, and the plan of the church has not undergone any material alteration since that period, except that the north chancel aisle has been pulled down to the foundations, and a south porch quite out of harmony with the structure has been added. About 1862 the restoration of the chancel was carried out by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, as owners of the great tithes; and in 1864 the thorough restoration of the remainder of the church was begun under the able hands of J. L. Pearson, R.A., as architect. The nave had then a roof of rough timber and a flat ceiling. This roof, together with those of the aisles, was removed, and new open timber roofs constructed in harmony with the general character of the church - that to the nave having richly traceried principals. The aisle roofs were again covered with lead, and lead was substituted for slates on the roof of the nave. The south aisle walls were in such a dangerous condition that it was found necessary to rebuild them entirely, and a new south porch was added in character with the aisle, and enclosing the old south doorway. This doorway (a very fine specimen of Norman art) was evidently the south doorway of the original church, and was removed to its present position when the aisles were added in the 13th century. The north chancel aisle was re-erected. The tower (with the exception of the door above mentioned) - the only relic of the oldest church - was found to be in such an insecure condition from the decay of the timber work upon which it was built, and the foundation being a quicksand, that it was absolutely necessary to take it down and rebuild it. The appearance of the church is now, as far as can be ascertained, identical with that which it presented when completed by the builders of the 15th century.

The work was carried out at a cost of £3,240, of which sum Lord Wenlock, the principal landowner, contributed £700, while the Dowager Lady Wenlock gave £150, and the Hon. and Rev. S. W. Lawley, rector of Escrick, £570; E. Whitehead, Esq., Riccall Hall, £120; Lady Wenlock, £30; and the Vicar (Rev. J. R. Farrow) £70. The sum of £700 was also borrowed from the Public Loan Commissioners on the security of the rates, and this was paid off in 1885.

The east window, and that on the north side of the chancel were lately filled with stained glass, by Knowles, of York, in memory of the members of the Simpson family, who are buried here, and who once lived at Riccall Hall; and the eastermost window but one in the south aisle is a stained glass memorial of Susannah, wife of the Rev. J. R. Farrow, vicar, erected by the parishioners and others.

At the south side of the chancel, close by the reading desk, are traces of a leper window; while towards the western end of the north aisle are clear indications of a hermit's cell. In the chancel may be seen what is supposed to be the tomb of the founder, the name of Langton being clearly seen on it, among much that is illegible, and one of that name being a Prebend here about 1350. The rebus, too, of the same name, viz., a large capital L with a "tun" or barrel, is on what is thought to have been part of a prayer desk, which was once in the chancel, and which is now in the safe keeping of the vicar, who is waiting for an opportunity of re-seating the choir stalls, and putting the relic back in its place.

The date of 1666 on one of the ribs of the chancel roof points to a time when so little was done in church matters, that it seems worthy of notice. The communion rails are supposed to be of the date of James I., and bear marks and dints as if the roof had fallen on them - as it probably did in the Puritan days - being repaired, as we have seen, in 1666.

In the west part of the churchyard stands in situ the base and pillar of what was doubtless once the churchyard cross, which, when the burial ground round the church was unenclosed, marked the main entrance to the sacred precincts. The old Vicarage House once stood at the east end of the church, and when it was pulled down - being in many respects unsuitable for its purpose - its site and the surrounding garden were added to the churchyard in 1869, and the whole fenced in at a cost of about £200. The well, formerly called "Lady Well," which used to supply the vicarage, still exists in the churchyard, but is now closed. It is 20 feet deep, and is lined with stones instead of brick, thus proving its antiquity.

The present Vicarage House, once the Prebendal Manor House, was built in 1869, Lord Wenlock giving the old premises and about ll acres of land adjoining, a gift which was met by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners with a grant of £1,400; this, with about £800, given by the then Dowager Lady Wenlock, was spent in building the modern part of the present vicarage, in restoring what remained of the old part (built in 1480), and in draining and laying out the grounds. A moat, traces of which still clearly remain, once encircled the house, which, judging from the foundations met with, was originally of large dimensions; a turret similar to the one standing on the west, probably being at the east end. The turret stair is a fine specimen of ancient brick work. Mr. Street, R.A., an authority on brick architecture, fixed its date, as before stated, at 1480, and pronounced its brick nowel to be an unique feature in its construction. The register commences in the year 1613.

The living is a discharged vicarage, in the gift of the Archbishop of York, and held by the Rev. John Rotherford Farrow, B.A., of St. Catherine's College, Cambridge. Its gross yearly value is £300, including 27 acres of glebe. The rectorial tithes are commuted for a rent-charge of £508, and the vicarial for £140.

There are chapels in the village belonging to the Wesleyans and Primitive Methodists; the former was built in 1864, and the latter in 1857. The Parochial school was established in 1791, and is endowed with about £7 per annum. The present premises were built about 60 years ago, by Paul Beilby Thompson, Esq., grandfather of the present Lord Wenlock. The school is mixed, and under a master. There are 185 names on the books, and 18 children (nine boys and nine girls) are free scholars.

Riccall Hall, the property of Lord Wenlock, and residence of Charles Thellusson, Esq., is a neat mansion of red brick, formerly the property and residence of the Wormley family, whose arms are sculptured over the front door, and was afterwards occupied by the Richardsons. There are several monuments of both families in the church.

There was formerly a detached portion of the parish known as the Nesses, situated on the opposite side of the river. This peninsula was, at the time of, and long after the formation of the parish attached to the east bank, but the river altered its course by cutting through the isthmus and silting up the old channel, thus detaching it from Riccall and connecting it with the west bank. The parochial connection with Riccall continued till March 25th, 1883, when, by a Local Government order, it was amalgamated with Wistow, in the West Riding.

The charities of the parish amount to £14 14s. 8d. a year, which sum is given in doles to the poor at Christmas.

[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.