SPENNITHORNE: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1890.


Wapentake and Petty Sessional Division of West Hang - Electoral Division of Middleham - County Court District and Poor Law Union of Leyburn - Rural Deanery of Catterick West - Archdeaconry of Richmond - Diocese of York.

This parish lies on the north bank of the Yore, between the parishes of Finghall and Wensley. The surface is varied, exhibiting in some places patches of rich pastoral beauty, and in others combinations of wood and water, more aptly described as picturesque. The parish comprises the townships of Spennithorne and Harmby, whose united area is 2,413 acres. The population in 1881 was 382. The township bearing the parish name contains 1,210 acres, and is estimated to yield a gross rental of £1,975; its rateable value is £1,743. The principal landowners are C. D. Chaytor, Esq., Spennithorne Hall; and the Hon. A. C. Orde-Powlett, Thorney Hall.

Though Spennithorne dates from Saxon times very few facts have been recorded relating to its history. At the period of the Norman Conquest the manor belonged to Ghilpatric, a Dane, who is supposed to have had his seat at Middleham. But the Dane was not permitted to retain possessions very long under the new regime. Alan Rufus, the Norman, to whom the Conqueror gave the whole of Richmondshire, distributed his vast lands among his retainers in feudal fashion, and in the division Spennithorne and Middleham were allotted to his brother Ribald, whose family assumed the surname of Fitzrandolph. In the early part of the 16th century Ralph Fitzrandolph married Elizabeth, daughter and co-heiress of Thomas, sixth Lord Scrope, of Masham and Upsall, and by her had a son, who died unmarried; and three surviving daughters, by one of whom this manor was conveyed in marriage to the Wyvills; but the land, as before stated, is now chiefly the property of C. D. Chaytor, Esq., and the Hon. A. C. Orde-Powlett.

The Chaytors are the representatives of the Clervaux, of Croft, the ancestor of whom accompanied the Conqueror to England. In the reign of Henry VIII. the long line of Clervaux terminated in an heiress, Elizabeth, who married Christopher Chaytor, Esq., of Butterby, in the county of Durham. Col. Henry Chaytor, great grandson of the heiress of Croft, was governor of Bolton Castle during the Parliamentary wars, which place he defended until reduced to eat horse flesh, and than capitulated on honourable terms. Sir William Chaytor, of Croft, was created a baronet in 1671. He survived his two sons, who died without issue, and his nephew succeeded to the estates; but the baronetcy was in abeyance until its revival in 1831, in another Sir William Chaytor.

The village of Spennithorne is situated on a gentle elevation above the river Yore, whose well wooded banks shelter it on the north and north west sides. It is distant three miles E.S.E. of Leyburn, and can be reached by rail within half a mile. In Domesday Book it is called "Speningtorp," which Dr. Whitaker explains as the thorp or village of the "Spening," or prickly thorn. Cade tells us that it was the site of a Roman station, but there are no evidences of Roman occupation now in existence. The church, dedicated to St. Michael, is said to have been erected by Robert Fitzrandolph, in A.D. 1166; but a Saxon edifice previously occupied the spot, as recorded in Domesday Book. So completely was this church demolished to make way for its Norman successor, that only two or three small fragments of it have been discovered; two stones with Runic ornament have been built into the east wall of the chancel; and a Saxon monument, recently discovered under the floor of the chancel, and now placed in the wall of the vestry. Of the Norman edifice only three noble arches remain, the rest of the fabric having lost its original identity by subsequent restorations in the style of architecture prevalent at the time. The first of these restorations appears to have taken place early in the 13th century, when the small Norman chancel was lengthened to its present dimensions, a south aisle built, another arch added to the north aisle, and the present tower erected. The Early English style prevailed at this time, and in the 15th century further alterations appear to have been made at a period when ecclesiastical architecture displayed a more perfect and more profuse ornament. The geometrical and flowing tracery of the east window and the two windows of two lights in the chancel; also (externally) the east window of the south aisle, and the window under the tower, were adapted to the Perpendicular style. During the Tudor period the walls were richly painted with fleur de lis, scrolls, texts, and frescoes. One of these wall paintings represents "Old Father Time," and though it was long coated with whitewash, in true churchwarden fashion, the colours are still fresh and vivid. Time is represented as a two-winged pilgrim, with grim visage, and hairless, except a single forelock. He holds in his left hand an hour-glass, and in his right a scythe, on the sharp edge of which his toes are resting. Another restoration occurred in the 17th century, as recorded in the following memorandum in the parish register, under date 1716:- "William Appleton, of Harmby, about one hundred years ago (as ancient inhabitants there relate), did of his proper cost and charge build the north aisle of the church, and likewise bestow the second bell in the steeple, as his name upon seems to import." The bell bears no date, but must have been given between 1662 and 1681, the dates upon the first and third bells. At the east end of each aisle was a chantry chapel; that in the north aisle was founded by the Fitzrandolphs, and was the burial place of that family. A long plain tomb of freestone is the only memorial now left of this knightly race. It bears no inscription, but is ornamented with a number of shields, the blazonings on which are nearly obliterated. The ancient oaken screen of this chapel dates from the Tudor period. In the south aisle was the chantry of the Scropes of Danby, in which many generations of the family have been interred. The church was again thoroughly restored in 1872, at a cost of about £2,000. The plans were prepared by, and the work carried out under the direction of Mr. Fowler Jones, of York, who has, with refined antiquarian taste, preserved every part of the old fabric that was capable of retention; and whatever has been rebuilt has been done in strict conformity with the style of the original. The gallery, erected in 1819, has been removed, and the tower arch opened out; an arch has been built between the north aisle and St. Mary's chapel, or Fitzrandolph chantry, and another rebuilt and enlarged on the side of the chancel, The chancel is fitted with stalls of old oak, and the nave with seats of pitchpine, fashioned after an ancient seat in the church; the pulpit, reading desk, and lectern are also of old oak, and the font of Caen stone. A stained-glass window, by Clayton & Bell, representing the Resurrection of our Divine Lord and the Good Samaritan, and another by Hardman, of Birmingham, depicting the Agony in the Garden, the Bearing of the Cross, and the Crucifixion, have been inserted. A new organ by Abbott, of Leeds, has recently been added, at a cost of £215.

In the churchyard is a tomb, surmounted by a cross, bearing the following inscription:- "The above cross from the Military Chapel, White Barracks, Sebastopol, was brought to England, A.D. 1855, by Major-General Sir C. Van Straubenzee, K.C.B., by whom this vault was enlarged A.D. 1860." In consequence of the crowded state of the churchyard a piece of land containing three quarters of an acre, lying between Spennithorne and Harmby, has been laid out as a cemetery, and was consecrated by Bishop Ryan, on the 18th June, 1883. The living is a rectory, in the gift of Marmaduke Wyvill, Esq., and held by the Rev. Chris. Edward Wyvill, M.A. It is valued, in the Liber Regis, at £20 10s. 5d., and is now worth £361. The rectorial tithes of Spennithorne and Harmby were commuted for land in 1776. The parish register dates from 1573.

The National School was erected in 1833, and has an average attendance of about 40.

The Wesleyans have a small chapel in the village, erected in 1871, at a cost of £160. It is in the Middleham circuit.

Besides the church the village possesses another venerable relic, the old manor house of the Fitzrandolphs, erected in the sixth year of Richard I. (1194), by Ralph, third son of Robert Fitzrandolph.

Spennithorne Hall, the seat of C. D. Chaytor, Esq., J.P., is a handsome mansion, occupying a delightful situation; and Thorney Hall, is another mansion in this township, the seat and property of the Hon. A. C. Orde-Powlett

Spennithorne, the residence of Major-General C. H. Ingilby, C.B., late of the Royal Artillery, is the property of Lieut.-Col. T. Van Straubenzee, C.B., and was erected in 1854, upon the site of a former building, which was destroyed by fire the previous year.

LOCAL WORTHY. - Spennithorne was the birthplace of John Hutchinson, a philological and biblical writer of some repute in his own day, though now almost forgotten. He was the son of a yeoman, and having received a liberal education, he became steward to the duke of Somerset who, when Master of the Horse to George I., gave him a sinecure appointment worth £200 a year. He was fond of natural history, and made an extensive collection of fossils, which Dr. Woodward undertook to arrange and publish an account of them. For some reason or other, Dr. Woodward never began the work. This so irritated Hutchinson that he determined to seek his revenge by the publication of a book himself. In this work, which he named "Moses's Principia," he ridiculed Woodward's "Natural History of the Earth," and also attempted to refute Sir Isaac Newton's theory of gravitation. In a second part of the work, published in 1727, he maintained, in opposition to the Newtonian system, that a plenum and the air are the principles of scripture philosophy. He also attempted to draw a parallel between the Trinity and the grand agents of nature - fire, light, and spirit. He was a distinguished Hebrew scholar, and fancied he had discovered in the construction of that language, the true system of natural philosophy in the writings of Moses. He continued to publish till his death in 1737. His works evince a strange combination of talent and eccentricity, and, for a time, found many warm admirers among pious churchmen. In 1748, his collected works, including posthumous MSS., were published in 12 volumes octavo.

Spennithorne also gave birth to Richard Hatfield who shot at George III. in Drury Lane theatre. "He was," says Mr. Barker, "an illegitimate scion of the Crossfield stock, received a good education, exhibited in youth good talents, combined with eccentricity; entered the army, and having served in Holland, under the duke of York, whose life he saved on one occasion, quitted the service: shortly after which he made his regicidal attempt." His insanity being proved at the trial, he was confined for. life in a lunatic asylum, where he died at an advanced age.

HARMBY township, containing 1,007 acres, lies between Spennithorne and Leyburn, and is chiefly the property of Lord Bolton, John Topham, Esq., Middleham; Mrs. Hampton; Mr. Wm. Pease, Hutton Hang; and the exors. of the late T. Topham, of Middleham. The gross estimated rental is £1,342, and the rateable value, £1,209. The village is situated on the side of a steep hill facing Middleham, from which it is distant about two miles. Near to it, the ridge is cut by a deep wooded gill, down which, a tiny stream formed in its course a beautiful little waterfall, but this has been shorn of its picturesqueness by quarrying operations carried on in the rock for lime burning. The Wesleyans have a chapel here, built in 1855, at a cost of £103. The Northallerton and Hawes railway passes through the township, and a station has been erected near the village.

The older and more correct name of the township is Harnby. In Domesday Book it is spelt Hernuebi, in later documents Hernebie, and is supposed to have been so named from a heronry which there was in the gill in ancient times. The manor was held in the 14th century by Andrew de Harcla, who, for his distinguished military services, was created earl of Carlisle by Edward II., and enriched with extensive grants of land. A few months afterwards Harcla fell under the suspicion of disloyalty, and was arrested as a traitor. He was tried at Carlisle by the chief justiciary, Sir Jeffrey le Scrope, and executed there on the 4th of March, 1323. Of his guilt much doubt exists. His lands were forfeited, and Harmby was bestowed on Henry le Scrope, whose descendant, Lord Bolton, is the present lord of the manor. The old manor house stood at the bottom of the village, and has its legend of concealed treasure. In the adjacent field was the chapel of All Saints, which, before its demolition in the latter part of the 18th century, was used as a barn.

[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.