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Medieval Bishopdale

[This section is under construction].


The Domesday Book, produced in 1086 on the orders of William the Conqueror, was a survey for taxation purposes of all the lands in England. There were three entries in the Domesday Book for Bishopdale: for the villages of Turoldesbi, Crocsbi and Burton, to which was attached the berewick of Ecinton. For the images and detailed information of these entries, see Bishopdale, Domesday.

Deserted Medieval village of Croxby

We have already seen that two settlements were mentioned in the Domesday Book that no longer exist: Croxby and Eshington. The village of Croxby was almost equidistant between the modern farms of Blind Syke and How Syke. Traces of the foundations of the houses can still be seen in the field behind the converted barn called Crooksby. The three fields marked here in red were named Crooksby, Middle Crooksby and East Crooksby on the 1840 tithe map. The ridges and furrows in the medieval West Field can be seen clearly to the west of How Syke, but the field would have extended back as far as the village. A keen eye will also be able to identify some of the ridges and furrows of the East Field on the Thoralby side of the former village.

Deserted Medieval village of Ecinton

Feint evidence of the foundations of houses and of their associated tofts and crofts can still be found on the site of the hamlet of Eshington on the hillside above Spickels. A berewick of West Burton in the Domesday Book, it is still part of West Burton township. Eshington Bridge, Eshington Lane and several fields called Ashington or with Ashington in their name all preserve the memory of the settlement. A neighbouring field in Thoralby township is also called Ashington.

Medieval Bishopdale contained four villages or hamlets Thoralby, Burton, Newbiggin, Croxby and Ecinton) and a scatter of outlying farms, but was dominated by Bishopdale Chase.

1301 Lay Subsidy: Village Totals for the Wapentake of Hang 

A tax or subsidy known as a fifteenth was levied in 1301 in the reign of Edward I and lists the tax payers for each town and village and the amount that each was required to contribute. It was called a fifteenth because the amount payable was a notional fifteenth of the value of one’s moveable goods.


There were 28 taxpayers in Thoralby, paying a total of £7. 0s. 3d., the second highest figure in the Wapentake of Hang, exceeded only by Bainbridge, which included all of upper Wensleydale south of the river. Clearly, medieval Thoralby was wealthier at this time than any other village in the area except Bainbridge. This included Middleham, Leyburn, Masham and Bedale. Burton-in-Walden was also fairly high in the list with 20 taxpayers paying a total of £3. 17s. 0d.

1301 Lay Subsidy: Thoralby

and Burton in Walden

The names of the taxpayers for Thoralby and West Burton provide some interesting information. The terms ‘domina’ and ‘domino’ denote gentry status. We have already noted that Joan de Tatehale was a Lady and that Roger Oysel was probably a knight. Since both would have had a manor house, it is likely that there were two medieval manor houses in Thoralby. 


Surnames were only just beginning to stabilise at this time and many indicated either a place of origin or the trade or profession of the person so named. Therefore, this Latin list of the names of tax payers may give an indication of some of the trades represented in the dale at that time.


For instance, Anglicising the first names, Thomas Preposito was a provost, meaning a steward or bailiff of a manor, Richard Molendinario a miller, Robert Porter a gatekeeper, Richard Pellipario an animal skinner, Adam Raydon a counsellor, Henry Marisscallo a marshal, William Fabro a smith and the occupations of William Forestario and Randoplph Carpentario are self-explanatory. William was probably the forester or ‘bow-bearer’ for Bishopdale Chase.  Adam Parfay is interesting because his surname was an expression meaning ‘by my faith’. It may have been that this epithet had been attached as a surname to a priest.

Bishopdale Chase and the Forest of Wensleydale

Evidence of the presence of foresters in Bishopdale can be found in a list of taxpayers produced in 1301, which included the name of William the Forester. Bishopdale Chase, which was probably established before the Norman Conquest, came into the hands of the Neville family in 1310. It became a royal chase in 1483 when Richard III, who had married Lady Anne Neville, ascended the throne. 

The map below was produced by John Speed in 1610 and clearly shows what is called ‘Busshopsdale Chase’. The sale by King Charles I of the Lordship of Middleham to the City of London in 1628 gives an indication of the extent of Bishopdale Chase at that time. Specific exclusions from that sale included “all liberties and jurisdiction of chases as far as our chase of Bishopsdale extends in the towns of Walden, Thoralby, Newbigging, Aikesgarth and Bishopsdale.” So it comprised all of Bishopdale and Walden together with Aysgarth, the area I have shaded in red on the map. To the west, it bordered on the royal Forest of Bainbridge, which I have coloured green, while immediately to the south was Langstrothdale Chase, coloured blue, which also belonged to the Crown.

Hunting forests and chases were not thick forests but a mixture of woodland and open country. They also included arable land, pasture and villages, either because these existed before the chase was established, as in the cases of Thoralby and West Burton, or because the king had granted special permission for a limited amount of forest to be cleared, as may have happened at Newbiggin. Among the game that was protected for the king to hunt were deer, wild boar (which were hunted to extinction in England in the 13th century), wolves (which became extinct in England in the early 16th century, the dales being one of their last refuges), hares, rabbits and game birds. Two 16th century writers mentioned that Bishopdale Chase was famous for the size of its red deer.

The Foresters of Bishopdale Chase and the Carr

Foresters maintained and protected the forests and chases. As late as 1621, laws against hunting were still being enforced in Bishopdale: among those arraigned before the quarter sessions in Richmond that year were “A butcher of Niwbegin in Aiskarth, and two labrs of the same for breaking the King’s Park &c at Bushopdale, called Bishopdale Chase, and there shooting a doe younge with fawne with an arrow shot out of a crossbow”. A survey of the lordship of Middleham undertaken in 1605 recorded that the Bowbearer of Bishopdale and Coverdale Chase, the title by which the head forester was known, received an annual salary of £2 and that other employees of the lordship of Middleham included two other “keepers of ye game in Bishopsdale Chace” plus a “Paliser of Bishops dale Carre being a frith for the deare”. A frith was a protected deer park and a palliser was someone responsible for maintaining the fences of a deer park.


Seventy years earlier, in the 1530s, John Leland had referred to a “pretty carr or pool” in Bishopdale. The word ‘carr’ means swamp in Old Norse, so it seems that vestiges of the post-glacial lake in Bishopdale survived until the seventeenth century. The Carr originally stretched from below Hargarth Farm at the west end of Newbiggin to where Ribba Hall now stands (the area shaded dark blue), although by the 16th century, it had shrunk to the area shaded light blue with embankments at each end, parts of which are still visible. It was probably drained following the sale of Bishopdale Chase by Charles II in 1661.