THORNTON WATLASS: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1890.


Wapentake and Petty Sessional Division of East Hang - Electoral Division of Masham - Poor Law Union of Bedale - County Court District of Northallerton - Rural Deanery of East Catterick - Archdeaconry of Richmond - Diocese of Ripon.

This parish comprises the townships of Thornton Watlass, Clifton-upon-Ure, Rookwith, and Thirn, covering an area of 3,709 acres, and containing 426 inhabitants. It lies on the left bank of the Ure, where the river enters the plain of York, The soil varies from gravel to loam, but is generally fertile. A large portion is laid down in pasture.

The township of Thornton Watlass embraces 1,482 acres, chiefly owned by Sir C. E. S. Dodsworth, Bart., and Sir F. A. Milbank, Bart., who is also lord of the manor. Its rateable value is £1,991, and population 183.

The village is small, and stands about three miles S.W. of Bedale, and two miles from the Ure. Half-a-mile north of the village is an ancient British barrow, now called Gospel Hill, from the early Dissenters having held their prayer meetings upon and around it.

Thornton Watlass Hall, the seat of Sir Charles Edward Smith Dodsworth, Bart., is an ancient gabled stone house of two stories, situated in a well wooded park, and contains many valuable pictures.

The paternal ancestor of this family was John Smith, yeoman, of Ecclesfield, in the West Riding, who married the sister and heiress of John Silvester, of Newland Park. Silvester, originally a blacksmith's apprentice at Barnsley, became chief engineer at the Tower of London in the time of Charles II., and constructed a chain (then thought an impossibility) to be drawn across the Thames, to prevent the Dutch fleet sailing up the river to attack London, John Smith's grandson was created a baronet in 1783, and married the sister and heiress of Frederick Dodsworth, D.D., of Thornton Watlass, whose surname her children assumed. Thomas Dodsworth, of Dodsworth, West Riding, receiver to Henry, third Lord Fitzhugh, K.G., acquired the Thornton Watlass estate in 1415, by marriage with Agnes, daughter and heiress of Hugh Thoresby, Chief Captain of Richmondshire, and niece of Cardinal John Thoresby, Archbishop of York and Chancellor of England, who built the choir of York Cathedral. Of this family were Sir Edward Dodsworth, Commissary General to the Parliamentary Army, and Roger Dodsworth, the famous Yorkshire antiquary. The Thornton estate is said to have descended by blood from an unknown period before the Norman Conquest.

The church of St. Mary is a handsome stone edifice, rebuilt, with the exception of the tower, in 1868, at a cost of £1,800. It is in the Perpendicular style, and comprises chancel, nave with north aisle, transepts, porch, and massive west tower. This tower, like many others on the border, appears to have been used as a place of security in troublous times. It contains apartments for domestic purposes, and, like the tower of Bedale Church, was provided with a templum claocinæ, or, in more intelligible language, a w.c. The east window, of three lights, is a memorial of Timothy Hutton, Esq., and was the gift of James Pulleine, Esq. Another window commemorates the Rev. George Tufnell, late rector of the parish. The register dates from 1574. The living is a rectory, worth about £400, in the patronage of Sir F. A. Milbank, Bart., and held by the Rev. John D. Anderson, M.A., University College, Durham.

A new school, with master's residence, was built by subscription in 1872. It is endowed with the interest of £100 left by one of the Dodsworth family; average attendance, 54.

There is a reading room with billiard table in the village, chiefly supported by Sir Charles Dodsworth, who has also presented a library of upwards of 300 standard works.

CHARITY - Julia, Lady Dodsworth, in 1885, left the sum of £200, the interest thereof to be applied, by the rector and churchwardens and the owner of Thornton Watlass Hall, for the relief of deserving poor persons resident in the townships of Thornton Watlass, Thirn, and Burrill-cum-Cowling.

CLIFTON-UPON-URE is a small township containing 569 acres of land, lying on the eastern bank of the Ure. It is in the Leyburn poor law union and county court district, and is valued, for rating purposes, at £718. The population,. in 1881, was 64.

Previous to the Norman Conquest the manor of Clifton belonged to Cnut the Dane; subsequently it came into the possession of the lords Scrope, of Masham. From this family it passed by the marriage of Elizabeth, niece and co-heir of Geoffrey, Lord Scrope, the last baron of the line, to Sir Ralph Fitz Randolph; and on his death, without surviving male issue, it fell to the share of his youngest daughter, Agnes, wife of Sir Marmaduke Wyville. The Prestons were the next owners, and from one of these Clifton was purchased in 1735, by John Hutton, Esq., of Marske. On the death of the late Timothy Hutton it was inherited by his relative, James Pulleine, Esq., whose daughter, Lady Cowell, wife of Major-General Sir John Clayton Cowell, K.C.B., is the present owner.

Clifton Castle, the seat of Sir John and Lady Cowell, is a handsome Grecian structure, erected in 1806, by the late Timothy Hutton, Esq., on the site of the castellated mansion of the Scropes, parts of the massive walls of which form the cellars of the present building; and another fragment, with its loopholes, may be seen in the yard of the present house. The castle is situated in a park of 76 acres, and is surrounded by beautiful pleasure grounds and gardens overhanging the Ure. A few years ago, when splitting up an old apple tree that stood close to the castle, a shilling, of the reign of Edward II. (1307-1327), was found embedded in the wood.

ROOKWITH township contains 995 acres and 53 inhabitants, and is valued, for rating purposes, at £900. The soil is rich varying from gravel to strong clay, and the chief crops are turnips, barley, oats, and clover. The whole township is the property and manor of S. C. Lister, Esq., of Swinton Park, who purchased it from the late Marquis of Ailesbury. It is included in the poor law union and county court district of Leyburn, from which place it is distant 7½ miles south east.

THIRN, or THORN is a small township of 638 acres, chiefly the property of Sir C. E. S. Dodsworth, Bart., and Christopher Clarke, Esq. Sir F. A. Milbank owns the site of the old manor house, and with it all the manorial rights. The rateable value of the township is £904, and the number of inhabitants, in 1881, was 126. It is in Leyburn county court district. The village is small, and stands near the Ure, four miles S.W. of Bedale, and one mile from Thornton Watlass. There is a Wesleyan Chapel here, built in 1835, and also a reading room, with billiard table, established and supported by Sir C. Dodsworth.

The Hermitage, the seat and property of Christopher Clarke, Esq., is a good modern building, pleasantly situated on an eminence, commanding extensive views of the surrounding country. Twenty-five churches lie within the range of vision. Charlcot, the property of Sir C. F. S. Dodsworth, and the residence of his agent, Captain Christopher Clarke, was erected in 1885, and is pleasantly situated on the north bank of the Yore.

[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.