Topcliffe Parish information from Bulmers' 1890.


Geographical and Historical information from the year 1890.

Wapentakes of Birdforth and Halikeld; Poor Law Union and Rural Deanery of Thirsk - Archdeaconry of Cleveland - Diocese of York.

This extensive parish, comprising 14,715 acres, including roads and water, is intersected by the Swale, which river divides it nearly equally between the wapentakes of Birdforth and Halikeld. lt contains the townships of Dalton-with-Islebeck, Eldmire-with-Crakehill, and Topcliffe in the former; and Asenby, Baldersby, Dishforth, Marton-le-Moor, and Rainton-with-Newby in the latter wapentake. The inhabitants, who number 2,261, are chiefly employed in agricultural labour. The soil is various, but generally fertile.

The township of Topcliffe contains 4,041 acres of land lying on the left bank of the Swale, and is chiefly owned by Lord Leconfield, Petworth Castle, Sussex, who is also lord of the manor; the trustees of Mrs. Walker, of Maunby Hall; and several small freeholders. The gross estimated rental is £9,040, the rateable value, £7,917, and the population, 615. The township is in the Petty Sessional division of Birdforth, and County Court district of Thirsk.

The village is picturesquely seated on the crest of an eminence rising boldly from the east bank of the Swale, about 4½ miles S.W. of Thirsk. Though it has "dwindled to the quietude of a rural village," it was once a market town of considerable importance: and we may suppose from the name of its tutelar saint (Columba) that it had its church in early Saxon times. But very little is known of its history in those early days. In the year 946, says an old writer, "King Edred came to Tadenclif (Topcliffe), and there Wulstan, tharchebyshop of Yorke, and al the Northumbrian witan plighted their troth to the King, and al the nobilitie of the northe countrie made their homage to Edred, the king of England, at this towne." As soon as Edred and his army had departed, the Northumbrians renounced their allegiance and chose Eric, the Dane, to reign over them. Whereupon Edred again marched his army into Yorkshire, burnt the minster at Ripon, ravaged the country, and so harried the people that they were fain to renew their submission, and purchase his clemency by large sums of money.

In the reign of Edward the Confessor, the manor of Topclive, as it is spelt in Domesday Book, was held by Bernulf, but after the Conquest, this, and many other manors, were given by the Conqueror to William de Percy, as a reward for his valour at the battle of Hastings. The following is an extract from Domesday Book: "In the manor of Crakehill, Dalton, Asenby, Skyeton, Bernulf had 26 carucates of land to be taxed, where they may be 15 ploughs. William has now three ploughs and five villeins, and 14 borders with 13 ploughs. There is a church there and two priests, having one plough and one mill of five shillings, wood pasture, four quarentens long and four broad. The whole manor three miles long and two broad. Value in King Edward's time, £4, now, 100 shillings." Contrary to the custom of the age, William wore the hair on his face, and was, in consequence, distinguished as als Gernons, William with the Whiskers, and his posterity have ever since constantly bore the name of Algernon. The Percys erected their fortress on Maiden Bower, an artificial mound on the tongue of land between the Swale and the Codbeck, and this was the principal residence of the family until the early part of the 14th century, when Henry de Percy purchased the barony and castle of Alnwick. But succeeding Percys continued to pay occasional visits to their Yorkshire home, and to maintain here an array of feudal pomp which has often swayed the destiny of kings. It was here that Henry Percy, the fourth earl of Northumberland, in 1489, fell a victim to royal arrogance and his own rashness, at the hands of an infuriated mob. The Parliament had granted the king (Henry VII.) a subsidy for carrying on the war in Brittany. The country had been impoverished by the long struggle between the rival Houses of York and Lancaster, and this land tax was felt as a grievous burden by the people. Discontent was openly manifested in the northern counties, and in Yorkshire, the impost met with an organised opposition. The Earl, whose duty it was, as Lord Lieutenant, to enforce the payment, wrote to the king apprising him of the discontent and praying for an abatement, but the monarch refused to abate a penny. The royal answer was announced somewhat harshly to the assembled people at Topcliffe, who, thereupon, burst into the manor house and murdered the Earl and many of his servants. Skelton, the poet laureate, wrote the following lines on this subject to Henry VIII. on that occasion

"Trustinge in noblemen that wer with hym there:
But all they fled from hym for falshode or fere,
He was envyronde aboute on every syde,
Withe his enemys that were stark mad and wode:
Yet while he stode he gave them woundes wyde,
Alas! for routhe! What thouche his mynde were goode,
His courage manly, yet there he shed his bloode,
All left alone, alas! he fowte in vayne;
For cruelly amonge them ther he was slayne."

The funeral obsequies of the unfortunate nobleman were carried out on a scale of magnificence probably never before or since witnessed in England. The mutilated body was embalmed, and placed in a leaden coffin with an oaken covering. The funeral set out from Topcliffe for Beverley, and immediately after the hearse came a host of mourners extending for miles in solemn and gorgeous pageantry. The cost of the funeral amounted to £1,510, equal to £12,000 in modern money. The hearse cost £210 (modern money); the coffin, £130: Following the hearse were 12 lords in splendid apparel costing £210; 20 gentlewomen in gowns costing £150; 60 squires and gentlemen in gowns and tippets costing £800; 200 yeomen in gowns costing £1,200; 160 "poor folk" in black gowns, as torch bearers, costing £420; 500 priests at a cost of £400; 1,000 clerks (clergy) cost £160; 100 grooms in gowns costing £500; and £1,233 was distributed in funeral doles amongst 13,340 poor persons who came to pay their last homage to the dead. Slowly this long and mournful procession wended its way, halting the first night at the castle of Wressil, the next at that of Leckonfield, both seats of the Percy family, reaching the minster of Beverley on the morning of the third day, where a requiem mass was sung, and the body deposited in the Percy chantry.

Sir Thomas Percy, grandson of the above nobleman, took a prominent part in the Pilgrimage of Grace, for which he was attainted and executed at Tyburn, 1537. Sir Thomas Percy, his son, was advanced to the earldom of Northumberland by Queen Mary, and in the following reign he, in conjunction with the Earl of Westmoreland and other gentlemen in the north, entered into a conspiracy which had for its object the liberation of Mary Queen of Scots from her unjust imprisonment, and the re-establishment of the old religion. The first meetings of the insurgents were held at Topcliffe, but before the scheme had been fully elaborated, the conspiracy was reported to Queen Elizabeth, and the Earl narrowly escaped capture in his own house. The leaders had proceeded so far in their designs to abandon them now with any, hope of clemency from the Queen; and immature as their plans were, they assembled their forces at Durham, took possession of the cathedral, and caused mass to be celebrated before several thousand people. Thence they marched to Staindrop, Darlington, Richmond, and Ripon, restoring the ancient service in each place. At the latter place they put to flight the force led against them by Sir William Ingleby, and proceeded to Knaresborough and Wetherby, and thence to Clifford Moor. They next meditated a descent on York, but receiving information that the Lord President of the North was there with 5,000 effective men, they proceeded to Barnard Castle, and laid siege to that fortress. The garrison, under the command of Sir George Bowes, offered a gallant defence for 11 days, and then capitulated on condition that they should be allowed to march with their arms and ammunition to York. This was their greatest and last success. On the approach of the royal forces, the rebels dispersed, and their leaders fled to Scotland. The Earl of Westmoreland escaped thence to Flanders, but the Earl of Northumberland was basely betrayed and delivered up by the Earl of Moreton, Viceroy of Scotland. He was conveyed to York, and there beheaded in Pavement, opposite the church of St. Crux, 1572, and for two years his head was exposed on Micklegate Bar, when it was stolen in the night by some persons unknown.

James I., when on his way from Edinburgh to London, to take possession of the English crown in 1603, spent one night at Coxlodge, as this house was called, and here his unfortunate son, Charles I., dined on the 11th of May, 1646, when on his way with the Scottish army from Newark to Newcastle. It was here also, in the same year, that the Commissioners of Parliament paid the sum of £100,000 to the Scotch Commissioners on condition that the latter with their army would quit all their garrisons south of the Tyne within ten days.

"The history of the Percy family is a scene of war and blood; six of the earls died violent deaths, as did many of the collateral branches. Henry Percy, first earl, was slain at the battle of Bramham Moor, 1408. Henry, second earl, was killed at the battle of St. Alban's, 1455. Henry, third earl, was slain at the battle of Towton, 1461. Henry, fourth earl, was murdered by the mob at Topcliffe, 1489. Thomas, seventh earl, was beheaded at York, 1572. Henry, ninth earl, shot himself in the tower, 1585. Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester, brother to the first earl, was beheaded at Shrewsbury, 1403. Henry, Lord Percy, eldest son of the first earl, was slain at the battle of Shrewsbury, 1403. Sir Ralph Percy, third son of the first earl, was slain by the Saracens in the Holy Land, 1400. Sir Thomas Percy, fifth son of the second earl, was killed at the battle of Northampton, 1460. Sir Ralph Percy, seventh son of the second earl, lost his life at the battle of Haggelamore, 1463. And Sir Thomas Percy, second son of the fifth earl, was executed at Tyburn for a conspiracy, 1537. It is very remarkable that John Nevil, created earl of Northumberland by Edward IV., 1464, after the attainder of the third earl, lost his life at the battle of Barnet, 1472; and that John Dudley, created Duke of Northumberland by Edward VI., 1551, after the title became extinct by the death of Henry, sixth earl without issue, and the attainder of Sir Thomas Percy, 29 Henry VIII., was beheaded, 1553, as if some fatality attended the title."

Of the old baronial fortress of the Percys not a vestige remains except the moated mound on which it stood. Neither the time of its destruction nor the manner of its disappearance has been recorded, and what is even still more strange "there are no buildings in the neighbourhood that have been built with stones from such a ruin." The outworks and foss show that it must have been of considerable extent. Leland, who saw the mansion, describes it a "pretty manor place, standing on a hill, about half-a-mile from the town, almost on the rise of the Swale." Traces of ditches, earth works, and terraces, are still visible, but nothing to indicate the style of architecture or the scale of its magnificence. Attached to the castle, if such it was, was an extensive park, covering nine square miles, now divided into farms, but still bearing the name of Topcliffe Park. The present manor house, just over the Codbeck is a modern building, erected it is said on the site of the stables of the old castle, and near it may still be traced the foundations of old walls.

The Church is dedicated to the Scoto-Irish saint, Columba, from which it is inferred that the first edifice was erected in early Saxon times. When domesday survey was made there was here a church with two priests. It was, with the exception of the chancel end, wholly rebuilt in 1855, at a cost of £3,160. The ancient sedilia and piscina still remain in the south wall of the chancel. The church now consists of nave, north aisle, chancel, tower, and porch. Several of the windows are stained-glass memorials; that in the east end is a very large and handsome one of four lights, on which are depicted various scenes in the life and passion of Christ. This window, and the carved oak reredos below it, were the gift of Thomas Petch of Marton-le-Moor and a few friends, in memory of Mary, his wife, who died in 1869.

Among the ancient memorials, the most interesting is the monumental brass of Thomas de Topcliffe and his wife. It measures six feet by three, and is of Flemish workmanship in the highest style of art. It represents, beneath a double arched canopy, the effigies of a civilian and his lady, both attired in long tunics and mantles. Tabernacle work with figures of angels playing upon musical instruments appears upon either side, and rises above the effigies into clusters of niches with rich drapery. The effigies are placed upon a ground of diaper of a flowing pattern, and beneath their heads are embroidered cushions, each supported from above by an angel with outstretched wings. On either side is introduced an escutcheon bearing a chevron between three peg tops, and the evangelistic symbols appear in the angels of the plate. His feet rest on a lion, hers on a dog with collar and bells, In the centre compartment over each is a crowned figure on a throne, bearing up the ascending souls of the deceased. On the border of the plate is a black letter inscription, with the date 1391. The Christian name of the man is now lost, but Gough in his edition of Camden mentions this brass, and gives the name Thomas de Topcliffe. This family was of ancient lineage, and by marriage allied to the Percys. Several of them figure in the ecclesiastical history of the country. Under the tower is a large monument to Sir Metcalfe Robinson, of Newby, Bart., who died in 1688. Other members of this family, now represented by the Marquis of Ripon, lie buried in the church.

There are four bells in the tower, the two oldest of which bear the date 1620 and 1622, and the legend "Jesus be our speed." There were formerly two chantries in the church, one founded by the Percys, and the other, it is supposed, by the Topcliffes. This church was an ancient rectory, under the patronage of the Percys, till one of that family appropriated it to the cathedral church of York, and, in 1258, a vicarage was ordained therein, In the King's Books the living is valued at £19 19s. 3d., and is now worth £600.

A Free Grammar School was founded here in 1549, but by whom is not known. It is endowed with about £82 per annum, arising from various bequests. The present premises were rebuilt, by subscription, in 1822, on the site of one erected in 1695. Between 70 and 8O boys attend the school. There were formerly 40 free scholarships, but these have been abolished by the feoffees. A school for girls and infants was erected in 1842, and is attended by about 100 children, 30 of whom are paid for by the feoffees at the rate of one penny per child per week.

The Wesleyan Methodists have a chapel in the village, built in 1840, and to which a Sunday school was added in 1882.

The market cross remains, but the market itself has been obsolete for many years; a fair, however, continues to be held on the 7th and 8th of July, for sheep and cattle. The charter conceding these privileges was granted in 1327, and contained a clause for the abrogation of both market and fair, should the same be to the nuisance of neighbouring markets and fairs.

CHARITIES. - The charitable bequests to the parish, which are numerous, are under the control and management of a body of 12 trustees or feoffees, instituted by a decree of Commissioners of Charitable Uses in 1674, who distribute the produce in certain proportions among the several townships, in compliance with the intentions of the donors. There are upwards of 20 acres of poors' land, left by various persons, yielding an annual rental of about £54, and some small rent-charges amounting to about £10.

ASENBY TOWNSHIP, containing 1,135½ acres, is situated on the west bank of the Swale, The soil is light and gravelly. The owners are Lord Leconfield (lord of the manor); Dr. Rockliffe, Hull; and J. Cunliffe Kay, Esq., Godmercham Hall, Kent. Rateable value, £1,915; and population, 171. The tithes have been commuted for rent-charges amounting to £334 10s., of which £250 are payable to the impropriator, £64 10s. to the vicar of Topcliffe, and £20 to the Dean and Chapter of York. The village of Asenby, or Aisenby, that is, God's town, from Aisr, one of the Norse gods, is distant about half-a-mile from Topcliffe, on the opposite side of the Swale, The poor of the township have the rent of three acres of land (£8 8s.), left by George Rocliffe in 1735; a rent-charge of £5, left, in 1798, by William Kay, Esq.; and the interest of £44, poors' stock. Asenby is included in the petty sessional division of Wath, and the county court district of Ripon.

BALDERSBY TOWNSHIP lies between the Swale and the old Roman road, new called Leeming Lane, containing 1,752 acres, the manor, and chiefly the property, of Viscountess Downe. The North-Eastern railway intersects the township, and there is a station a short distance from the village. It is valued for rating purposes at £4,530, and contains a population of 290. It is in the petty sessional division of Wath, and county court district of Ripon. Baldersby village, so named from Balder, a Danish personal appellation, stands about 5½ miles south-west of Thirsk.

Midway between Baldersby and Bainton is the beautiful church of St. James, erected and endowed through the munificence of the late Viscount Downe, by whom the first stone was laid, May 22nd, 1856, a few months before his death. The building is in the Early Decorated style, and consists of a nave, with aisles, a chancel, with organ chamber on one side, and a tower and spire at the southwest corner, 160 feet high, contains a peal of eight bells. The interior of the church is fitted up and finished in an elegant, but chaste, style. The chancel is lined with alabaster, and on the floor is a superb slab of white marble, inlaid with an ornamental cross of brass, at the foot of which is inscribed, "Make them to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting." Surrounding the cross is a brazen border, on which is, "In memory of William Henry, seventh Viscount Downe, who founded this church of St. James the Apostle, A.D. 1856." The roof is richly ornamented in gold and colours, and the floor is paved with encaustic tiles. All the windows are filled with stained glass. That in the chancel end is a very handsome one of three large lights, on which is vividly depicted the Transfiguration. In the west end is a circular window, with the Agnus Dei in the centre, surrounded by angels; and below this are two windows, containing the armorial bearings of the Dawnay, Darrall, Newton, Percy, Etton, Playdall, Legard, and Burton families. The font is a very fine piece of work, octagonal in form, and resting on eight columns of polished granite.

The living is a perpetual curacy, with a district embracing the townships of Baldersby and Rainton-with-Newby. It is in the patronage of Viscount Downe, and worth £500 a year.

The School, built about the same time as the church, is chiefly supported by Viscountess Dowager Downe.

Near the church have been built many neat cottages, with gardens attached, for the workmen on the estate.

DALTON-WITH-ISLEBECK. - The latter place, containing 385 acres, was detached from the township of Bagby in March, 1888, and added to that of Dalton for all civil purposes, but it is still ecclesiastically under Kirby Knowle. The united area is 1,632 acres, the population 249, and rateable value £5,888. £2,566 is the assessment on the property of the North Eastern Railway Co., whose line intersects the township, which is in the petty sessional division of Birdforth and county court district of Thirsk. The village of Dalton is situated on a branch of the Codbeck, about one mile from Sessay on the main line of the North Eastern system. The Church, dedicated to St. John the Divine, is a handsome structure, built by the Dowager Viscountess Downe, in 1868, from a design of W. Butterfield, Esq., architect, London. It is of a mixed style of architecture, and consists of nave, with bell turret at the west end, chancel, porch, and vestry. All the windows are filled with stained glass. A carved rood screen separates the chancel from the nave. Above the communion table is a beautiful cross, of olive wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, brought from Jerusalem. The edifice is not yet consecrated, nor licensed for marriages or burials. The living, worth £150 a year, is in the patronage of Viscount Downe, and held by the curate of Topcliffe.

In connection with the church is a school, built by the Dawnay family, in 1872, to accommodate 70 children.

There are also chapels in the village belonging to the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists.

DISHFORTH is a township in the petty sessional division of Hallikeld and county court district of Ripon. Its acreage is 1,714, and population 302. The principal landowners are the Marquis of Ripon, K.G., Studley Royal; Northing Snowden, Esq., Dishforth; the Crown; Messrs. R. and T. Walburn, Dishforth; John Barker; trustees of Asenby; and Mr. Brewer, banker, Boroughbridge. Lord Leconfield is owner of the manorial rights. The village is pleasantly situated on the Thirsk and Boroughbridge road, four miles N. of the latter place.

The Church, formerly a chapel-of-ease, is an ancient structure, restored in 1885, when a new chancel was built, a north aisle added, and other improvements effected at a cost of £800, raised chiefly by subscription. An old sepulchral slab lies in the pavement before the entrance, on which are still visible the spaces once occupied by funeral brasses. It is said to have been brought from Topcliffe. The living is a perpetual curacy, held in conjunction with Martin-le-Moor, worth £80 a year, in the gift of the vicar of Topcliffe.

The school is endowed with £8 per annum, and is attended by about 70 children.

The Wesleyan Methodists and the Baptists have places of worship in the village.

ELMER-WITH-CRAKEHALL, or, as now more generally written, Eldmire-with-Crakehill, is a township comprising the above two hamlets, which form separate manors, belonging to Viscount Downe and Lord Leconfield. The township comprises four farms and six cottages; total area, 900 acres; rateable value, £1,134; and population, 71. It is in Birdforth petty sessional division and Thirsk county court district.

MARTON-LE-MOOR township, containing 1,614 acres, is the manor and property of Lady Mary Vyner, Newby Hall, Skelton. The rateable value is £1,190, and population 169. The township is included in Hallikeld petty sessional division and Ripon county court district. The village, small and irregularly built, was formerly surrounded by moors, but these have long been enclosed, The chapel-of-ease is a small plain building. The living, a perpetual curacy, worth £104 a year, is annexed to Dishforth. The tithes have been commuted for £440 12s. 6d., of which £370 is payable to the impropriators, £48 10s. to the vicar of Topcliffe, £18 to the vicar of Kirby Hill, into which parish the township extends, and £14 2s. 6d. to the dean and chapter of York. There are 12 acres of glebe. RAINTON-WITH-NEWBY township contains 1,511 acres, and is rated to the poor at £3,204. The inhabitants number 394, and are chiefly employed in agricultural labour. The principal owners are the Marquis of Ripon and the Dowager Viscountess Downe, each of whom own the manorial privileges of their respective estates. There are also a few small freeholders. Rainton is a pleasant village, containing a number of well-built houses, distant two miles from Topcliffe and 4½ miles from Ripon. There was a chapel here, which was given at an early period to Fountains Abbey. Not a vestige of it remains to mark the spot, but a field, which bears the name of Chapel Flatt, was probably the site. The village is supplied with excellent water, conveyed in pipes by gravitation from springs on Hutton Moor, in Hutton Conyers township. The scheme was completed in 1876, at a cost of about £600.

An infant school was erected by the Marquis of Ripon in 1872, at a cost of £400. Service is held in it by the vicar of St. James's, Baldersby. The Wesleyans have also a chapel here, built by subscription in 1869, upon a site given by the marquis.

A spear-head and a battle-axe, two relics of the stone age of our history, were found here about 30 years ago.

This township is in the petty sessional division of Hallikeld and county court district of Ripon.

Baldersby Park (formerly Newby Park), the ancient seat of the Robinson family, ancestors of the Marquis of Ripon, was sold by the late Earl de Grey to the late Mr. George Hudson, long known as the "Railway King." Mr. Hudson* greatly enlarged and improved the magnificent mansion and beautiful grounds, and in 1853 sold them to the late Viscount Downe. Baldersby Park is the residence and property of the Dowager Viscountess Downe, who married, in 1863, Sidney Leveson Lane, Esq., J.P. and D.L., third son of the late John Newton Lane, Esq., J.P. and D.L., King's Bromley.

* George Hudson, the son of a respectable farmer at Howsham, in the East Riding, served his apprenticeship to a linen draper in the city of York, and was subsequently admitted to a share in the business. A distant relative named Botterill, passing over many nearer kin, left him, in 1827, the handsome sum of £80,000. After this Mr. Hudson took an active part in the public business of the city, was returned to the council, and elected lord mayor for two successive years. He took an active part in promoting several railways, and was appointed chairman of the various companies. He was a man of great business tact and energy, and every undertaking seemed to prosper under his management. The shares of the railways with which he was connected stood higher in the market than those of others, and each year they paid increasing dividends; and nearly the whole body of the railway world threw their fortunes into his lap. A grateful body of shareholders purchased and presented to him the splendid mansion at Albert Gate, London; and the title of "Railway King" was, by common consent, conferred upon him. He was now literally rolling in wealth, and his soirees and levees were attended nightly by the highest aristocracy in the land. In 1845 he was elected M.P. for Sunderland. The tide of fortune, however, soon passed the turning point, and the idol of the speculative world became the object of vituperation. Suspicion fell upon him; he was accused of peculation, and of selling to the railway company, at a high rate, 10,000 tons of iron purchased by him as chairman when the markets were low, thus pocketing £38,500. Other charges were laid against him, and the consequence was that the shares of the railways with which he was connected fell very low in the stock market. An inquiry was instituted, and the result was a demand on Mr. Hudson for £300,000, which he refused to pay; but eventually compromised it for £90,000. He was involved in expensive law suits with other companies, and in the end was utterly ruined. To ward off the pinch of poverty in his latter years, a few of his early admirers in Sunderland, which place he represented in parliament for several years, subscribed a sum of money, with which an annuity was purchased.

[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.

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