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Yorkshire from A.D. 1000

by David Hey

Published by Longman Singapore Publishers (Pte) Ltd in 1986

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This was a chance find at one of my favorite spots for browsing: Academy Books on 18th St. just west of Fifth Avenue. They only had the one copy: maybe you'll be lucky elsewhere; try a search at Amazon, for instance! If you have an interest in this vast county, at any period, this book is well worth a bit of trouble to find. It's very entertaining reading and extremely informative. I was drawn to it as background for understanding the documents I've come across from the early 1400s to 1700, in researching ancestral lines. Here are two fairly lengthy passages about the Tudor era - it was hard to cut excerpts because the entire text should be read. An easy read! Don't miss it.


These passages are quoted from:

Chapter 3: "The Tudor and Early-Stuart Era"

This chapter has several subheadings:

  1. "The Medieval Background"
  2. "Dissolution and Reformation"
  3. Recovery and Growth"
  4. "Farming and Industry"
  5. "Houses"
  6. "The Poor"
  7. "Religion and Politics"
.

Here are excerpts from parts 4, 5 and 6.

Farming and Industry

Excerpt begins 10 pp into the section.

During the reigns of the Tudors and Stuarts the economy and character of many of the settlements in the West Riding became markedly different from those in other parts of Yorkshire. Communities that had once been among the poorest and least populous grew to be the most thriving. In the eastern parts of the West Riding some places remained purely agricultural, but elsewhere the pattern became increasingly complex. In western parts smallholders added a second string to their bow by combining agriculture with a craft. Having a dual occupation became the normal way of life. Weaver-farmers, metalworker-farmers, collier-farmers, tanners, leather-workers, charcoal-burners and other craftsmen were found in growing numbers in villages, hamlets and isolated farmsteads and cottages on the Coal-Measure Sandstones and the Pennine fringes, scattered settlements that were free from tight manorial control and regulation. Nor were the towns in these western parts restricted by guilds and corporations. Immigrants and innovators found few barriers in such open communities as these, where an insufficient livelihood could be gained by agriculture alone, but where industrial wealth increased the incomes of all classes of society.

In many West Riding communities a framework for life was still provided by the annual rhythm of the farming year organized around the church festivals. In 1574, for instance, the jurors of the manor court of Greasbrough and Barbot Hall ordered that swine should be ringed from the feast of St Bartholomew until the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and yoked from Candlemas until harvest was over. Such laws were the sensible, practical decisions of experienced farmers concerned with the proper arrangement of communal agriculture. The jurors ordered the fencing of the corn fields to keep out the livestock and forbade the ploughing of common headlands and balks, the grazing of cattle in the common meadows, the felling of timber and holly (for their leaves and bark provided winter fodder), and the putting of 'corrupt cattell or scabbed horses' on the common pastures. On the Pennines many of the small common fields disappeared in this period, and on the coal-measures the common fields of such places as Shafton and Worsbrough were enclosed by agreement. Other places retained their arable strips until the era of parliamentary enclosure. In 1633, for example, Wath had three fields known as Over field, Sandygate field and Brampton sike field, which were separated from Wath wood by 'a new dike of two yeards broade and two yeardes and halfe hie', and in 1649 Barnsley had four common fields called Church field, Old Mill field, Far field and Swinill 'where the freeholders enter and have common soe soone as harvest' without stint. Barnsley also had a large, unstinted common or waste.

In other places the best common pastures were already stinted and sometimes enclosed. A Star Chamber dispute of 1524 heard that the inhabitants of the Graveship of Holme had taken in their best pastures and were driving their cattle over their moorland boundary into the township of Thurlstone; the argument ended in violence and death. A century later the Rotherham commons were said to be stinted, and in 1637 the manor court of Barwick ordered that 'None shall oppress or overcharge the Commons or wastes by putting more goods thereon in summer than they can out of the profits of their farms or tenements keep in the winter'. The West Riding also had its share of ruthless landlords such as Sir Francis Foljambe who was said in the 1630s to have enclosed three-quarters of the common between Rawmarsh and Kilnhurst and to have threatened to ruin opponents by costly litigation (Hey 1979: 125-7). The very different nature of enclosure in the West Riding woollen district is revealed by the 1633 statement of two JPs from Agbrigg and Morley wapentakes that 'generallye where Inclosures are made with us Howses are erected upon them'.

By 1560 the town of Halifax contained 520 houses and the growth of the rural population was equally remarkable.

There is nothing so admirable in this town [declared William Camden] as the industry of the inhabitants, who, notwithstanding an unprofitable soil, not fit to live in, have so flourished by the cloath trade (which within these last seventy years they fell to), that they are both very rich, and have gained a great reputation for it above their neighbours.

James Ryder was even more fulsome in his praise in 1588:

They excel the rest in policy and industrie, for the use of their trade and groundes, and after the rude and arrogant manner of their wilde country they surpas the rest in wisdom and wealth. They despise theire olde fashions if they can heer of a new, more comodyus, rather affectinge novelties than allied to old ceremonies . . . so that yff the rest of the county wolde in this followe them but afar off, the force and welth of Yorkshier wolde be soon dubled.

The preamble to the 'Halifax Act' of 1555 (which allowed middlemen or wooldrivers to continue their trade) stated that the parish and neighbouring places

beyng planted in the grete waste and moores, where the Fertilitie of Grounde ys not apte to bryng forthe any Corne nor good Grasse, but in rare Places, and by exceedinge and greate industrye of the inhabitantes, and the same inhabitant es altogether doo Iyve by clothe making, for the greate parte of them neyther gette the Corne nor ys hable to keepe a Horse to carry Woolles, nor yet to bye much woolle att once, but hathe ever used onelie to repayre to the Towne of Halyfaxe, and some other nigh theronto, and ther to bye upon the Woolldryver, some a stone, some twoo, and some three or foure accordinge to theyre habilitee, and to carrye the same to theire houses, some iij, iiij, v, and vj myles of, upon their Headdes and Backes, and so to make and converte the same eyther into Yarne or Clothe, and to sell the same, and so to bye more Woolle of the Wooll-dryver, by meanes of whiche Industrye the barreyn Gronde in those partes be nowe muche inhabyted, and above fyve hundrethe householdes there newly increased within theis fourtye yeares past.

Halifax families made narrow kerseys, but further east the local product was broad cloth. In his report of 1595 'Brother Peck' was unable to find much evidence of the manufacture of 'new draperies' in Yorkshire, but noted

At Wackefeilde, Leedes, and some other smale villages, nere there aboutes, there is made about 30 packes of brode cloths every weecke, and every packe is 4 whole clothes; the sortes made in Wackefeild are pukes, tawnyes, browns, blues, and some reddes; in Leedes of all colours.

The West Riding kerseys and broad cloths were cheap goods which were made into garments for the poorer classes. At the periphery of the woollen cloth district even cheaper cloths such as Penistones and Keighley whites were manufactured. Penistones were being offered for sale in Blackwell Hall, London, by the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, and a letter written from the capital in 1587 mentions 'a coate of penniston' that was uncomfortably hot. Nevertheless, it was the cheapness of such products that attracted the poorer customers and thus enabled many a West Riding family to make a living. Elizabethan observers found the growth of industry and population in these parts a matter of wonder and inspiration. The 'cloathing townes' began to receive national attention.

In the towns men sometimes worked full-time as clothiers for a few large-scale employers. In 1629 Leeds manufacturers were said to be 'dayly setting on worke about forty poor people in their Trade'. Amongst their number was John Harrison, the Leeds philanthropist who built St John's Church, an almshouse, a grammar school and a street of houses. In the countryside cloth-making was a family occupation with children and women preparing and spinning the yarn and men doing the weaving. Most families aimed to produce one piece of cloth per week in time for the market. Apart from fulling, all the processes of manufacture were performed at home. The trade required little capital and could easily be combined with the running of a smallholding. Fulling mills were erected in the river valleys by local gentry families such as the Kayes of Woodsome Hall and the Ramsdens of Longley Hall, who were quick to exploit any opportunity to increase their wealth through industrial and agricultural improvements. The wooldrivers and chapmen who provided the raw materials and sold the finished pieces also became a prosperous class. Wool was bought at the great fairs of Doncaster, Ripon and Pontefract, in the weekly market at Wakefield, or directly from sheepmasters such as Henry Best at Elmswell. It was said in 1588 that 'the Hallyfaxe men occupie fyne wolle most out of Lincolnshire, and there corse wolle they sell to men of Ratchedall [Rochdale]'. In 1615 it was claimed that West Riding clothiers bought wool as far afield as Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. By that time Leeds and Wakefield were famous for their markets and for the homes of their merchants; Wakefield was the chief wool market, Leeds was the principal market for cloth. The chapmen carried the finished cloths to Hull to be exported overseas or they made regular journeys to London to the weekly cloth market at Blackwell Hall and to the great annual cloth fair near Smithfield on and about St Bartholomew's Day. The West Riding cloth trade was a great success story, but it was not one of uninterrupted progress. During the second decade of the seventeenth century, for instance, many complaints of bad trade were heard, and in the winter of 1622 a list of poor people in the parish of Huddersfield numbered 700, of whom 419 were children. But on the whole clothmaking provided steady employment for numerous smallholders and cottagers and enabled fullers and middlemen to prosper.

The iron industry provided further opportunities for West Riding families to increase their wealth. The Tankersley ironstone seam was mined in shallow bell-pits southwards from near the river Wharfe as far as Staveley in Derbyshire and the ore was smelted in large working units known as bloom smithies, which comprised a bloom hearth and string hearth, water-powered bellows and smaller smithing hearths. Some of these 'smithies', or 'iron mills' as they were sometimes known, appear only briefly in sixteenth-century records, but those on the river Dearne near Monk Bretton have given their name to the settlement of Smithies, and others are recorded in surviving leases. Thus, in 1607 two Silkstone yeomen took a lease of ' One Paire of Iron Smithies, Iron Mills, or Iron Forges' called Silkstone smithies, with their dams, watercourses and buildings and 'all manner of Iron Mynes and Mineralls of Iron' in Hugset wood and on the moors and commons. And in 1621 a lease of the 'Iron Smythies' in Wortley refers to 'all houses, buildings, stringe hearths, bloom hearthes', dams, water-courses, charcoal woods and ironstone mines in the neighbouring townships of Thurgoland, Dodworth and Silkstone. Excavation has revealed that Rockley Smithies, which were worked from about 1500 to 1640 comprised three water wheels, a bloom hearth, a string hrarth, a reheating hearth and a possible fourth hearth of unknown purpose, with a dam and watercourses, and a site for roasting iron ore. The 1552 will of Roger Rockley refers to ironstone mining in nearby Friartail Wood, to the use of his own woods for charcoal, and to bequests to 'every of my smith's workmen' (Crossley and Ashurst 1968).

The revolutionary new technique of the charcoal blast furnace was introduced by foreign workers to the Sussex Weald in the reign of Henry VIII. A late-medieval bloomery could produce 20-30 tons per annum, but sixteenth-century charcoal blast furnaces could cast up to 200 tons per annum to be reworked at a forge into 130-50 tons of bar iron. These new furnaces soon appeared in South Wales, in the west Midlands by 1560, and on the Earl of Shrewsbury's estates at Shifnal (Shropshire) and Goodrich (Herefordshire) by 1564. The same earl probably put his first south Yorkshire furnaces into blast during the winter of 1573-74, with the aid of 20-30 workmen descended from French immigrants who had settled in the Weald. The families of Vintin, Perigoe, Dippray, Maryon, Valliance, Russell and Tyler appear in local records about this time (Awty 1981). The first Yorkshire furnaces were at Kimberworth and Wadsley, with associated forges at Attercliffe known as the upper and nether hammers. Charcoal blast furnaces made cast iron that was too brittle for the smiths, so water-powered forges wrought it into bars under powerful tilt hammers. Some forges, such as Wortley, established nearby wire-mills and slitting-mills to supply wire-drawers and nailers. During the late-Elizabethan and early-Stuart era charcoal blast furnaces and their associated forges were erected in many parts of the West Riding and Derbyshire coalfields, but the triumph of the new technology was not immediate, for the old bloomeries continued to make bar and rod iron by traditional methods.

[The next four pages discuss Copley's charcoal blast furnace; the low quality of local iron and Sheffield's use of steel; the cutlery trades and Norton scythesmiths; the use of coal and turves rather than wood, in York' punchwood for pit props; and tanners.]

The growth of all these crafts and industries meant that many more horses and vehicles used the roads and that the government was forced to introduce a new system of maintenance and repair based upon the parish and supervised by the JPs at the quarter sessions. From 1555 onwards each householder was obliged to work four (later, six) days a year on the roads, and unpaid parish overseers of the highways were elected on an annual basis. The most important bridges were paid for out of county rates; thus, in 1602 the West Riding JPs agreed that 48 of `the most considerable' bridges should be kept in repair in this manner. Throughout Yorkshire, most traffic that was more than purely local headed to and from industrial sites, the market towns and the inland ports. A single horse normally carried about 240 lbs on its back but could tow up to 30 tons along a navigable river, so water transport was much cheaper than land transport for heavy, bulky goods. Nevertheless, by the reign of Elizabeth Yorkshire was connected to London by regular carrier services over land. By 1588 Doncaster corporation was employing three men to run a postal service to and from the capital, and further west carrying services were so regular by 1617 that the highway from Rotherham to Mansfield via Mile Oaks and Whiston was described as 'the Auncient Rode way or London way for carryers'. Twenty years later John Taylor's Carriers' Cosmographie noted the usual times of arrival and departure for carriers who had converged on the capital from all over the country:

The carriers from Sheffield, in Yorkshire, doth lodge at the Castle in Woodstreet, they are to be found on Thursdaies and Fridayes . . . The Carriers of Doncaster, in Yorkshire, and many other parts in that country, doe lodge at the Bell, or Bell Savage without Ludgate, they do come on Fridaies, and goe away on Saturdaies or Mundaies.

Carriers from other parts of Yorkshire operated on a similar basis. The marked growth in internal trade in Elizabethan and Stuart times was reflected in a rapid rise in the number of inns and alehouses. A national census of inns taken in 1577 lists 239 inns and nearly 3,700 alehouses in Yorkshire; most inns were in the market towns but alehouses sprang up everywhere and were a constant concern of the JPs who tried to regulate their numbers by a licensing system. When the West Riding JPs tried to stop the spread of plague in 1638, they restrained those who sold ale and beer 'in the open street to passengers and travellers . . . on the high road between Doncaster and Wentbrigg . . . [who] entertain and discourse with all manner of passengers and travellers, wanderers and idle beggars'. Travellers' descriptions leave no doubt that travelling was often an arduous task; when John Taylor hired a guide to take him from Wortley to Halifax in September 1639, he found that 'the ways were so rocky, stony, boggy and mountainous, that it was a day's journey to ride so short a way'. Road technology did not improve until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; the parish repair system could provide only a more regular application of existing methods. Yet despite these difficulties a great deal of traffic used the roads, particularly in summer, but if necessary at all times of the year.


End of this section and of this excerpt. Selections continue with "Houses" and "The Poor."

There is wonderful material online at the GenUKi [UK Genealogy] Yorkshire site; look there for "A Descriptive History of the Wakefield Battles; and a Short Account of this Ancient and Important Town" by George H. Crowther, M.S.A.; plus some nonconformist registers (the Coley register) and some birth, marriage and burial records; plus some maps and scanned images.


I have a number of wills in Halifax parish from this era in my pages - from Smiths and Waterhouses.





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