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A Thriving Village

As far back as 1301 Burton village, which is located in the Wapentake of Hang West in the North Riding of the County of Yorkshire (now North Yorkshire), had some industry. This included a collier (charcoal producer), dyers, wool-combers and hand-knitters. However, information about Burton-in-Bishopdale in the following 300 years is extremely sparse. There is some evidence of considerable ridge and furrow cultivation, probably of cereals, in post-Norman medieval times. In addition, the present layout of the village around the Green indicates a degree of planning, also dating from medieval times. West Burton Hall, a large house at the top end of the village, was probably the most important building. The old hall, however, has long since vanished. It is surmised that it was destroyed by fire. The stables and coach house of the hall, built in 1707, have been converted into a residence and any remaining stones, steps and other items not destroyed used in other buildings in the township.

It appears that the Reformation, the Renaissance and even the Wars of the Roses between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians passed the village by without any major impact on day-to-day life. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for some months in 1568 in Castle Bolton, just three miles away and clearly visible from West Burton, yet the local import of even this event was seemingly minimal.

By the mid-17th century Burton had become a thriving township. At least five of the existing buildings in the township date from that period. They all have two storeys and are built of coursed rubble with stone slate roofs. Some have casement windows with chamfered (beveled stone) surrounds and stone mullions. Four of the buildings are in Walden: West Rounton Gill Farmhouse (which may actually date back to the 16th century), the barn at Walden Head Farm, which was originally a farmhouse and may also date from the 16th century, Cowstonegill Farmhouse and Whiterow Farmhouse. The other building is the pair of cottages in West Burton called Inglenook. In addition, parts of other buildings, such as Ryder’s Farm, Black Bull House and Wensleydale Cottage, have provided structural and other indications of their existence before 1700.

A constable was sworn in to keep the peace for the first time in 1640. He was needed to quell occasional bouts of riotous behavior as well as to organise the maintenance of roads and bridges. He did not always do the job properly. In 1685 the constable was found at the Yorkshire North Riding Quarter Sessions to be negligent in his duties and was fined two shillings and sixpence.

The stocks, still on the Green, were erected soon after the first constable was sworn in. They were certainly used in 1660 when a Quaker, Samuel Watson of Stainforth Hall, was punished for trying to hold a religious meeting in the village against the wishes of many of the inhabitants.

A lead smelting mill, the only one on the south side of Wensleydale, was built. Burton Mill, originally called Braithwaite Mill, was situated near Cote Farm in Walden to serve the large number of small mines whose remains are scattered over the nearby moors. It was owned by the Purchas family whose home was Braithwaite Hall in Coverdale. The mill was small but important for the village because it created substantial local employment. Records of mill sales exist from 1684 and at the end of the century it certainly had a 12 foot diameter waterwheel, bellows, hearth and utensils. Only the rectangular chimney of the 38 foot long mill now remains.

By 1700 some of the basic features of present-day West Burton had come into existence and the layout of the central part of the village had been firmly established. There was at least one alehouse and probably more, because in 1670 the constable was accused of not making a correct return to the Alehouse Sessions of the North Riding Court. There was at least one butcher because a butcher called John Richardson was charged at the Quarter Sessions in 1605 with sheep-stealing. And there was at least one shoemaker as a Thomas Wharton, shoemaker, was charged in 1699 with selling 20 pairs of shoes worth three shillings and four pence made with unseasoned leather.

Despite such aberrations West Burton was a relatively peaceful and law-abiding village. This was mainly because of the very strict feudal management system. The Lord of the Manor of Thoralby appointed ‘juries’ of 12 people for both Burton and Walden. They issued regular instructions on methods of cultivation or grazing on farmland and repair of gates, bridges and roads. They gave verdicts on who owned what land and who was authorized to carry out which occupations. They also charged and punished any minor misdemeanours of the population. In May 1696, for example, charges were made by the Burton jurors on four people for illegally catching salmon in Walden Beck and three others for illegally killing rabbits.


This history of West Burton & Walden is based on the booklet written by Julian Bharier & Marianne V. Thompson (ISBN 0 9525905 1 4). Their acknowledgements included: Margaret Ritchie, Jean Kington, Mary Brown, Dorothy Davison, Jean Dobbing, John Miller, Sally Stone, John & Mary Piper, Brigadier and Mrs Wilfrid Ponsonby, Stephen Moorhouse, staff from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Mrs A Johnson, Mrs K. Deighton, H.E.Moody, Mr. D. Nottage and James Hogg.

Before they died Julian & Marianne kindly gave permission for us to use their booklet as a basis for a revision. We have edited, updated and added to their text.

Jane Ritchie and Sally Stone 2020

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