WEST TANFIELD: Geographical and Historical information from the year 1890.


Wapentake and Petty Sessional Division of Hallikeld - Electoral Division of Wath - Poor Law Union and County Court District of Ripon - Rural Deanery of Catterick East - Archdeaconry of Richmond - Diocese of Ripon.

This parish is situated on the north bank of the Yore or Ure, where that river divides the North and East Ridings. It comprises an area of 3,285 acres, inclusive of roads and water, and had in 1881, 547 inhabitants, who are chiefly employed in agriculture. The soil is partly clay, gravel, and limestone. The scenery is varied, interesting, and beautiful. The parish has no dependent townships. Rateable value, £3,881.

Tanfield was at an early period the seat and manor of the Marmions, a family whose heroic deeds have been recorded in undying song. William Marmion was one of the confederated barons who opposed Henry III., and others of the name figure prominently in the wars of the first three Edwards. One of the. family particularly distinguished himself at the siege of Norham in the reign of Edward II., where he performed that chivalrous feat recorded by Bishop Percy in his beautiful ballad, "The Hermit of Warkworth," and which also probably guided Sir Walter Scott in selecting Marmion as the hero of the poem of that name. The story of the deed is thus told by Leland in the quaint English of the period

"About this tyme there was a great feste made yn Lincolnshir,* to which cam many gentilmen and ladies; and emonge them one lady brought a healme for a man of were, with a very rich creste of gold to William Marmion, Knt., with a letter of commanndement of her lady, thet he should go into the daungerest place in England, and there to let the healme to be seene and known as famous. So he went to Norham; whither withyn 4 dayes of cumming, cam Philip Mowbray, guardian of Berwicke, having yn his bande forty men of armes, the very flour of men of the Scottisch Marches. Thomas Gray, capitayne of Norham, seynge this, brought his garrison afore the bariers of the castel, behynd whom cam William Marmion, richly arrayed, as all glittering in golde, and wearing the healme, his lady's present. Then said Thomas Gray to Marmion, 'Sir Knight, ye be cum hither to fame your healme, mount upon yor horse, and ryde lyke a valiant man, to your foes even here at hand, and I forsake God, if I rescue not thy body deade or alyve, or I myself wyl dye for it.' Whereupon he took his coursere and rode among the throng of enemyes; the which layd sore stripes upon him, and pullid hym at the last oute of his sadel to the grounde. Then Thomas Gray with all the hole garrison lette pryk yn emong th Scottes, and so wonded them and all their horses, that they were overthrowan, and Marmion sore beten was horsid agayn, and with Gray persewid the Scottes in chase. There were taken 50 horses of price, and the women of Norham brought them to the foote men to follow the chase."

* He was Lord of Witringham and of other manors in that county.

The last Lord Marmion was an idiot, and Elizabeth Gray, the heiress, carried the estates in marriage to Henry Fitzhugh, who died at Ravenswath in 1424. Tanfield remained in the possession of this family until the reign of Edward IV., when Elizabeth, one of the three sisters and co-heirs of Henry, Lord Fitzhugh, married Sir William Parr, who was knight of the shire for Westmoreland in the 6th and 12th years of that reign (1466 and 1472). With this family the manor and estate remained until the attainder of William Parr, Marquis of Northampton, for joining in the attempt to place Lady Jane Grey upon the throne, when they were forfeited to the Crown, and were subsequently granted by James I. to Edmund Bruce, Lord Kinloss, whose descendants were subsequently raised to the earldom and marquisate of Ailesbury. In 1886 the manor and estate were purchased from the trustees of the Marquis of Ailesbury, by Thomas Arton, Esq., Micklefield, Rawdon, near Leeds. Capt. Dalton and H. Webster, Esq., Snape Castle, are also landowners, and there are also several small freeholders in the parish.

The village of West Tanfield is pleasantly situated on the north bank of the Yore, 3½ miles S.E. of Masham. The river is here crossed by a good substantial stone bridge of three arches, uniting the North and West Ridings. The church (St. Nicholas) is a large ancient edifice of unknown age, consisting of chancel, nave, and west tower. The church was restored in 1860, but all its ancient features were retained. One of the most remarkable of these is a recess or chamber formed within the north-eastern portion of the chancel arch, the original purpose of which is not known. In another wall is a hagioscope or "squint." Adjoining the chancel is the Maud Marmion chantry, founded in the reign of Henry III., for a master, warden, and two brethren, to pray for the souls of Lord and Lady Marmion, and for all their ancestors and successors. On the north side of the nave are seven recumbent stone effigies of the ancient lords of Tanfield, all much worn and mutilated except those of the Lord and Lady which rest on the same monument, and are still in good preservation. There are six bells in the tower; the three oldest are dated 1685, 1695, and 1724; the others were added in 1874. The benefice is a rectory, valued in the King's Books at £18 0s. 5d., and now worth £514. Patron, Thomas Arton, Esq.; rector, Rev. Francis Earle, M.B. and rural dean.

The Wesleyans have a chapel in the village, a small plain stone structure built in 1798.

Near the church are the remains of Tanfield Castle, a dilapidated gateway tower which guarded the entrance to that feudal fortress. It is supposed to have been built by John, Lord Marmion, who fought in the Scottish wars of Edward II., and obtained from that king a charter granting permission to make a castle of his manor house, then called the Hermitage. But nothing more is known of its history. There is a tradition that when the castle was destroyed, the materials were purchased by several of the neighbouring gentry, and that the halls of Snape, Kirklington, &c., were built with them.

Brinsoe, Nosterfield, and Thornbrough are hamlets in this parish. At Nosterfield is a small Wesleyan Chapel, built in the early part of this century and restored in 1888; and at Thornbrough a Methodist Chapel, erected in 1871.

Camps. - On Thornborough moor is a series of earthworks, consisting of three circular inclosures, of very considerable extent, lying in a line stretching from north-east to south-west. The north circle is still very perfect, and the middle one is in a tolerable state of preservation; but that on the south has lost much of its original magnitude, although the general character is still well preserved. The outer rampart is about 40 feet in width and 15 feet in height, and encloses a level area 540 feet in diameter. The circles are about 660 yards apart, and are entered by openings in the circumscribing ramparts opposite each other, and all lying in the same line. What was the original purpose of these enclosures, or by what people they were constructed, it is impossible to say with certainty, but it is evident they constitute one great plan. They are supposed, by some writers, to have been the work of the ancient Britons, and the general character of the remains favours this supposition; and as slightly corroborative evidence we may state that a flint arrow head was found near one of the enclosures a few year ago. Bishop Gibson, in his edition of Camden, believes them to have been tilting circles, and the openings are on the opposite sides of the entrances by which the champions entered; whilst the spectators viewed the scene from the raised terrace of earthwork. They have also been attributed to the Saxons and to the Danes, but in neither case has any conclusive evidence been adduced in support of the assertion.

CHARITIES. - Ten poor widows of the parish receive the rent of 14 acres 18 perches of land, which now lets for £20 a year. The sum of 50s. a year, left by various benefactors, is also distributed in food among the poor.

[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.