Kirby Knowle Parish information from Bulmers' 1890.


Geographical and Historical information from the year 1890.

Wapentake and Petty Sessional Division of Birdforth - Electoral Division of South Otterington - Poor Law Union, County Court District, and Rural Deanery of Thirsk - Archdeaconry of Cleveland - Diocese of York.

This parish is situated in the Vale of Mowbray, at the base of the Hambleton Hills, and is bounded on the other sides by the parishes of Cowesby, South Kilvington, and Felixkirk. It includes, in addition to the township of its own name, those of Bagby-with-Islebeck, and Balk, having an aggregate area of 4,328 acres, and had in 1881 a population of 462. The total extent of the township of Kirby Knowle is 1,556 acres, of which about one-third is arable land, one-third meadow and pasture, and the remainder woodland arid common. The rateable value is £1,090, and the population 114.

The village of Kirby Knowle is situated about five miles N.E. of Thirsk. It nestles in a low warm valley, begirt by an amphitheatre of hills, or knolls, which hide it from the view of the approaching traveller until he is close upon it. This position among hills, or knolls, has been appended to the name, Kirby-under-Knoll, to distinguish this Kirby from the many other places bearing that name in Yorkshire. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and appears to have been at that time (1086 A.D.) the berewic, or manor-village to Bagby. It was then the property of Hugh, the son of Baldric, and tenanted by one Orm. Shortly afterwards the whole district was granted to Robert de Mowbray, of whom it was held by subinfeudation by Baldwin le Wake, afterwards by Hugh de Upsall, and then by the family of Lascelles, by one of whom, Sir Roger de Lascelles, who died A.D. 1297, a castle was erected here, called Kirby Knowle Castle. This Roger left four daughters, co-heiresses, one of whom married Sir Robert le Constable, and received one-fourth of the manor of Kirby Knowle for her share. She survived her husband, and subsequently became possessed of the whole estate, which she conveyed to her son, Sir John Constable, from whom was descended another Sir John, who married, first, Margaret, daughter of John, Lord Scrope, of Bolton Castle, and secondly, a daughter of Henry Neville, fifth earl of Westmoreland. About the year 1568 the castle was accidentally destroyed by fire, only one of the four towers of which it had previously consisted remaining entire. Sir John, now far advanced in years, commenced the work of restoration, but did not live to complete it.

The Constables remained firmly attached to the old religion, and for their recusancy, as the crime of professing the Catholic faith was called, and loyalty to the Crown, their estates were sequestrated by the Cromwellian parliament. In 1653 the manor was purchased by Mr. James Danby, of York, who repaired the old parts of the mansion, then in a ruinous condition, and built the south front and western wing, giving it the name of Newbuilding, which it has ever since retained. Mr. Danby left two daughters, co-heiresses, Ursula and Milcah, who married two brothers, Sir Thomas Rokeby and Joseph Rokeby, Esq. The first couple leaving no issue the whole estate devolved upon Milcah and her husband. This Milcah was a very learned lady, the mistress of many languages, and read the Scriptures in the original tongues, She was a writer too, and handled abstruse and metaphysical subjects with the greatest ease. Her son and heir, Mr. Joseph Rokeby, repaired and modernised the mansion. Dying unmarried he was succeeded by his nephew, Joseph Buxton, Esq., who made some addition to the mansion. He was never married, and on his decease the estate was inherited by Francis Smyth, Esq., son of his sister, Phœbe. Mr. Smyth was an industrious antiquary, and an F.A.S. He died in 1809, leaving a widow, in whom the whole estate was vested, and family. After the death of Mrs. Smyth the estate was sold, with the consent of the Rev. Joseph Smyth, the eldest son, to Colonel Gregory Elsley, of Mount St. John, from whom it has descended to the present owner, Charles Elsley, Esq., J.P. and Recorder of York.

The mansion occupies an elevated situation on the southern side of a green knoll, sheltered with woodlands, and commanding extensive and beautiful views of the surrounding country. One of the towers of the old castle was retained in the erection of the present mansion, and also the spacious arched vaults, "sufficient," says Mr. Grainge, "to contain the winter's stores of a large garrison." From one of these vaults is a subterranean passage, which, according to tradition, leads to Upsall Castle, but the entrance is now walled up. In the old part of the building is a secret chamber, three feet six inches square by six feet high, to which access is gained by narrow winding passages in the thickness of the wall. The only place for the admission of light is a small aperture nine inches by four inches. This could not be seen from without, and a stone, which exactly fitted it, could be inserted at pleasure, and then all was darkness. This chamber was doubtless used in the days of religious persecution as a hiding place for the Catholic priest when hunted by pursuivants.

The Church was rebuilt in 1873, on the site of the old one, and consists of nave, chancel, square tower, and south porch. It contains several memorial tablets and brasses to members of the Danby, Rokeby, Burton, Serjeantson, Walker, Bean, Millar, and Smyth families. The edifice, which was taken down for the erection of the present one, was built on the foundations of a still earlier church some time last century. In this structure the Early English chancel arch had been retained, and this has been rebuilt into the north wall of the present chancel, for an organ chamber. The ancient piscina, holy-water stoup, and some old gravestones, with cross and shears, were discovered during the work of rebuilding in 1873, and have been placed in positions where they will be preserved for future generations. A stone, carved on both sides with Runic characters, was also unearthed, which, with the dedication to St. Wilfrid, goes far to prove that one of the primitive Northumbrian churches stood here, In the churchyard are the shafts of two ancient crosses, and an old baptismal font. The living is a rectory, valued in the Liber Regis of Henry VIII. at £8 2s. 1d., and now worth £372, including 66 acres of glebe. The patronage has been vested in the Franklands, of Thirkleby, since 1673. The present rector is the Rev. Francis Payne-Gallwey, B.A., of Trinity College, Cambridge.

The tithes of the parish were commuted in 1839 for rent-charges; those of Kirby Knowle amounting to £189; of Bagby to £205; and of a small detached portion of the parish which lies in Carlton Miniott to £16.

The school was erected in 1862 by the late Charles Heneage Elsley, Esq., of Newbuilding, and is endowed with £5 a year by the present owner of Newbuilding for five scholars, who are taught free. The rector and T. W. Lloyd, Esq., of Cowesby Hall, also subscribe liberally towards its support.

In the elevated moorlands, which rise a short distance to the east of the village, there occurred in 1799 an extensive landslip, and the naked scar defining its extent is still visible. At one part of the ascent is a small lake covering about three roods, and shaded with trees, which impart to the water a dark and dismal appearance, reminding the spectator of

"That lake whose gloomy shore
Skylark never warbles o'er."

In our local nomenclature the terminals by and thorpe point out, with few exceptions, the districts colonised by the Danes; and from the goodly array of both bys and thorpes in Yorkshire, it is evident that the Norsemen must have settled in very considerable numbers in this county. Another relic of their occupation of this district has come down to us in the name of Woolmoor farm in this township. In an ancient document of A.D. 1279, it occurs as Ulnesmote, which has undergone a gradual transformation into the present name. Its Scandinavian origin is apparent in its older form. Ulnes, from Ulloh, has been replaced by its modern equivalent wool; and moor is a corruption of mote, a meeting; the whole word signifying the wool meeting, or wool mart. As in later times the Woolsack has been the seat of the presiding genius of the law, so probably this may have been the spot where the Scandinavian law-man dispensed justice, and executed judgments on the criminals within his district.

BAGBY-WITH-ISLEBECK forms a township of 1,794 acres, distant about 6½ miles from the mother church, and entirely separated from the rest of Kirby Knowle by an intervening portion of the parish of Felixkirk. About one half of the area is laid down in meadow and pasture, and the remainder is under the plough. The rateable value is £2,252, and the population in 1881 was 279. Lady Payne-Frankland, who is lady of the manor; R. Bell, Esq., Thirsk Hall; Mrs. Kitchingman, Thirsk; William Lambert, Esq., Sowerby, are the principal landowners.

At the time of the Domesday Survey, Baghebi was the head of a manor, to which there belonged six berewicks (grange or manor villages, from bere, barley), among which were included Kirby Knowle and Islebeck. The village of Bagby is situated on a gentle eminence 2½ miles S.E. of Thirsk. There was a hospital for lepers founded here about the year 1200. It is supposed to have been subordinate to St. Leonard's Hospital, York, but no traces of it are now to be seen.

Bagby had its church at a very early period, but in time it appears to have been subordinated to Kirby Knowle. In 1345, in consequence of the distance of the parish church and the bad state of the roads, license was granted to the inhabitants to bury their dead within their own chapelyard. The township of Balk is also included in the chapelry, the total area of which is 2,544 acres. The chapel, dedicated to St. Mary, is a neat stone edifice, rebuilt about 29 years ago by Lady Frankland-Bussell. It was re-roofed in 1887. The curacy is annexed to the rectory of Kirby Knowle.

The Wesleyans have a chapel in the village, erected in 1819.

Richard Dobbes, Lord Mayor of London in 1551, was a native of Bagby. He was born of humble parents, and raised himself to opulence by perseverance and industry.

CHARITIES. - The following benefactions have been made to the poor of the chapelry. The Rev. J. Wilkinson, by will dated 1667, left the sum of £20, to which the freeholders added £5 more. Thomas Kitchenman, by will in 1713, left a rent-charge of £2, payable out of land at Beeston. Robert Ward, of York, in 1767, left the sum of £33. Jane Watson, Woodcock, left to the poor widows of Bagby £20, which was expended in the erection of a poorhouse, now converted into a cottage and let for 16s. a year, which is distributed as directed by the testator. There is also a rent-charge of 10s. a year out of Broad Close, for the poor of Bagby. Of the Wilkinson and Ward bequests only £7 10s. now remains, which is invested in the Savings Bank, and the interest thereof distributed in January yearly.

The hamlet of Islebeck, with an area of 377 acres, was, under powers of the Divided Parishes Act, detached from Bagby and added to Dalton on the 25th March, 1888, for all civil purposes, but it still remains an integral part of the ecclesiastical parish.

BALK is a small township containing 892 acres of land under assessment, chiefly owned by Viscount Downe, Baldersby Park; Lady Payne-Frankland, Thirkleby Park; Mr. Joseph Hare, Balk; and W. Lambert, Esq., Sowerby. The township contains 69 inhabitants, and is valued for rateable purposes at £846.

The village is small, and stands about 3½ miles E. by S. of Thirsk. It is included in the chapelry of Bagby.

[Description(s) from Bulmer's History and Directory of North Yorkshire (1890)]


  • Transcript of the entry for the Post Office, professions and trades in Bulmer's Directory of 1890.

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