Medieval Thoralby

[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.

The Medieval Village of Thoralby

Evidence suggests that medieval Thoralby, Newbiggin, Croxby and Eshington were all linear settlements with a double row of houses either side of the main street, while West Burton was a nucleated village with houses around the edge of the village green. In the case of Thoralby, the village extended from the start of Eastfield Lane to Town Head. The houses in Thoralby will have been single-storeyed with steeply pitched roofs thatched with ling. Some of them will have had accommodation for livestock at one end. The photograph of Cosmeston medieval village in South Wales provides some indication of what Thoralby might have looked like around 1350, although the thatch at Cosmeston was straw rather than ling. Note the steep pitch of the thatched roofs, which helped rain to drain off them rather than soak through. The same steep pitch, denoting a former thatched roof, can be seen on this building at Town Head. Aerial photography confirms that each house in Thoralby had a small yard or toft, with a croft behind in which the occupants would have grown vegetables. Some of these tofts and crofts still exist, although others have been combined into larger fields.

The Tofts and Crofts of Medieval Thoralby

The image below shows part of an aerial photo of Thoralby taken in 1975. It is possible to see the foundations of many walls that have since been demolished. Some of these indicate the presence of tofts and crofts behind most of the houses in the village. I have indicated with broken lines toft and croft walls that have been removed subsequently. These walls indicate that the village once extended further north-eastwards than it does today, which would have placed the green closer to the centre of the village. The fields in that direction certainly look like crofts that would have been attached to houses and all of those enclosed in the solid yellow line include the word ‘croft’ in their names today. Furthermore, several 18th century maps, including this one produced by Jeffreys in 1772, show the village extending further north-eastwards than it does today – beyond Goose Lane to the start of Eastfield Lane.  The houses at the eastern end of the village were removed to make way for Warnford Cottage, which was built in 1807 by James and Richard Willis. This photo shows clearly the ridges in the field below and to the east of Warnford that denote the position of the old croft walls.  The ridges denoting former walls around Town Head are more complex and may indicate an earlier Celtic settlement, probably more recent than the one on Burton Moor. The remains of tofts and crofts similar to those at Thoralby can be seen in many local villages, including West Burton and Newbiggin.

Inquisition on the Lands of

Robert de Tateshale, 1298

An inquisition on the lands of Robert, Lord de Tateshale in 1298 provides interesting insights into farming practises and the social hierarchy in Bishopdale in the Middle Ages. At his death, Robert de Tateshale owned the manors of Thoralby, West Witton, Crakehall and Well. At Thoralby, Robert had held a ‘capital messuage’, which would have been his manor house. There were 80 acres of arable land that Robert retained for his own use, plus some herbage (right of pasture without owning the land)  at ‘Hyghnyng’. He also had two vaccaries (medieval commercial cattle farms) and three sheep folds (medieval commercial sheep farms), one of which was at ‘Swynewathcote’.


At Thoralby, there were 10 bonders and 15 cottars with similar numbers at Newbiggin and West Burton. Bonders and cottars were different type of serf who held land in return for service to the lord. Robert was entitled to a third of the profits from a water corn mill in Thoralby and received an income from a fulling mill used for cleansing and thickening in the process of manufacturing woollen cloth. There is evidence to suggest that the fulling mill was on Bishopdale Beck downstream from the bridge in or near a field called Tenter Garth. The corn mill was probably on Heaning Gill. The bridge carrying Eastfield Lane over Heaning Gill is still called Millbeck Bridge, suggesting that the in earlier times the beck was known as Mill Beck. Robert also owned a mill, probably a corn mill, at Newbiggin.


Roger Oyselle appears to have been a man of some substance in the village, owning a messuage or manor house and three bovates of land at Thoralby in freehold and four bovates from Robert de Tateshale in return for scutage, implying that he was a knight. A bovate was between 15 and 20 acres. All Robert de Tateshale’s lands at Thoralby, Well and Crakehall passed to his widow, Joan, who died in 1310, leaving her estate to her sister Mary, the widow of Robert de Neville, Lord Middleham. They remained in the hands of the Neville family until the death of Richard III in 1485.

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, (see The manor Houses and the Village Green Section, further down the page).


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.

The original document was in Latin, below is a table for Thoraldby in which personal names have been translated into English unless the Latin is ambiguous. A number of apparent surnames, such as molendinarius (Latin for miller) may in fact be descriptive labels rather than hereditary surnames, i.e. they should be interpreted as John the miller, rather than John Miller.

The Chantry Chapel of All Hallows, 1316 – 1548

Medieval Bishopdale had no church because it was part of the parish of Aysgarth, as it is today, but there was a chapel at Thoralby founded by Mary de Neville, the Lady of Middleham, in 1316. It stood in the field formerly known as Chapel Close, in front of the house called Chapel House, both of which are now called Chapel Garth. This was a chantry chapel founded to perform masses for the benefit of Mary’s soul and those of her father, her mother and her late husband, Robert de Neville. Dedicated to All Hallows, it was referred to in a 14th century document as “the Great Chapel at Thoralby”. Since this was almost certainly a domestic chapel, the manor house that had previously belonged to Mary’s sister, Lady de Tatersale, was probably nearby. The chapel was still in use when an ecclesiastical survey was carried out in 1535 prior to the dissolution of the monasteries in which it appears that Thoralby Chapel was under the care of Coverham Abbey. The Abbey’s holdings in Thoralby were valued at 70 shillings and Adam Myddleham, the last perpetual chaplain at Thoralby, received an income of 100 shillings. When the chantries were dissolved in 1548 under Edward VI  and their revenues were seized by the Crown, the only thing of any value at Thoralby was a gilt chalice.

The Manor Houses and the Village Green 

The aerial photograph below shows clearly the marks in the fields around the village where some of the toft and croft walls used to be, but it also shows something else of interest. In the field in front of the bungalow called Machell View, there are ridges that are not associated with tofts or crofts. They indicate the walls of a large structure that could well have been a medieval manor house. There are traces of more walls in the field to the left of the possible manor house. There is a good chance that this was the site of Lord and Lady de Tatersale’s manor house. The site of Sir Roger Oysel’s house is less clear: it might have been where Hallgarth now stands or perhaps at the other end of the village on the site of what is now the Old Hall.

This photograph also enables us to speculate about the dimensions of the village green, which was probably much larger in medieval times than it is now. We have a lane called Low Green, a farm called Low Green, and a house and cottage called Low Green. There is also have a house, cottage and farm called High Green. These may delineate the boundaries of the medieval green, with Low Green Lane running along the low side of it and the road now known as Smithy Close running along the other side.


It was also common practice for the manor house to be on one side or end of the village green, which separated it from the rest of the village, which seems to be the case here. This would also explain why there was a cluster of houses away from the main village around Machell Hill: they would have been at either end of the green. The only pre-20th century houses built in what would have been the green are Stanley House, Prospect House and Chapel Garth, but all three are of 19th century origin. The chantry chapel would have encroached on the bottom end of this green, which was not an uncommon occurrence, but it appears that the site of it may have reverted to being part of the green after the chantry was dissolved.

Pinfold - 1483

Thoralby, Newbiggin and West Burton each had a pinfold, as did most villages. The earliest reference to a pinfold in Thoralby was in 1483/4. It is not clear whether it has remained on the same site ever since, but it has certainly been on its present site between the village green and Brookside since at least 1800. This was where the bailiff impounded stray livestock until a fine was paid to the lord of the manor or, in later times, the village constable. It seems that some people tried to avoid paying the fine by breaking their animals out of the pinfold because the constabulary accounts for Thoralby for the first half of the 19th century include payments every few months for repairing or replacing the gate and gate-lock or rebuilding the pinfold walls.

A Survey of the Lordships of Middleham and Richmond, 1605

A Survey of the Lordships of Middleham and Richmond in 1605 stated that ‘Bishops dale Chace’ in the lordship of Middleham consisted of six parts: Burton, Walden, Thorolby, Bishopsdale, Newbigging and Aisgarthe. It named all the tenants in each of these townships, and listed how many houses there were, how many outhouses (most of which would have been barns), how much meadow, arable and pasture and how many pasture gates or beast gates there were on the open pasture.


The information is summarised in this table, which includes the annual rent paid to the king and the annual value. The numbers of tenants and houses show clearly that in the early 17th century Thoralby had twice as many tenants and almost twice as many houses as any other settlement in and around Bishopdale, although the figures for Aysgarth should be ignored because only part of the township was in Bishopdale Chase.


In the whole of the lordship, Thoralby was second in size and value to Middleham itself. Perhaps the most significant figure is the amount of arable land, a total of 339¼ acres in Bishopdale Chase as a whole, which reflects the need for rural communities to be largely self-sufficient at that time. Most of the crops would have been oats, used to make haverbread and oatcakes, which formed the main element of the staple diet of dales folk at that time, but some vegetables would also have been grown to add variety to the diet.

Below is a table showing the names of the Thoralby Tenants in 1605, showing houses,outhouses and lands, held, fines paid in the last 20 years, yearly rent to the King and the yearly value of things held. Transcribed from, Three Seventeenth Century Yorkshire Surveys, Editors: T.S. Willan & E. W. Crossley, published, 1941, pp.102-5. The original manuscript is in the possession of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. Book, courtesy of the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes.

The table is transcribed in the order it was published, which was not alphabetical. I do not know whether this order is significant or not, so if you wish to locate a particular surname, use the Search box in the table. The only surnames from 1605, that are still in the village today are: Atkinson and Sadler.

Totals of the above table and the cleare improvement.

Some Observacons concerning these two Lordshipps

Although the Lordship of Middleham was sold by Charles I to the City of London in 1628 to pay off some of his debts, there were several exclusions from the sale, including Bishopdale Chase, although the lordship of Thoralby was included in the sale. A further document entitled “Some Observations concerning these two Lordships” (the lordships of Middleham and Richmond), written sometime after 1628, provides some interesting glimpses of Bishopdale in the 17th Century.


It states: “There are few or no woods or tymber trees in the two Lordshipps besides the woods growing in Radale, Bishops dale Chace & the Heaning.” This reminds us that the Forest of Wensleydale and Bishopdale Chase were not heavily wooded.


Another statement it made was: “The greatest part of these two Lordshipps consists of Medow and Pasture, ℓ Out Common, wth a small quantity of Arrable land, it being not able to beare Corne for ye coldness of the soyle and the length of winter there.” Fairly self-explanatory, but ‘corn’ in this sense means wheat. As already mentioned, oats, vegetables and probably a little barley were grown.

This statement reminds us that, until the end of Elizabeth’s reign, people everywhere in the north, including those in Bishopdale, were expected to provide military service to protect against marauding raids from Scotland. “That so often as occasion should require they should be ready to attend the Lord Wardens of the Marches against Scotland with horse ℓ men well furnished for warre at theyre owne charge as long as need should require…But this service ceased at the coming in of King James.” It will have been this requirement that led to the men of Bishopdale being involved in the Battle of Flodden Field I mentioned earlier.

It seems that enclosures had begun by this time because the document states: “The enclosures are most of them rich grounds ℓ lye all in the dales encompast wth mounteynes, moores and fells.” It is likely that the principal enclosures were near the village in the lordship of Thoralby, which the City of London sold in 1661 to a Major Norton, who lived near Richmond. Enclosures probably had more impact on how the dale looked and on how its economy developed than any other event since the Anglo-Danish settlements.