Pat's Reading Room

Yorkshire from A.D. 1000

by David Hey

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[section in its entirety]

York was no longer the flourishing city that it had been at the height of the Middle Ages, but it was still the political, judicial and ecclesiastical capital of the north, the seat of The King's Council in the Northern Parts and the home for much of the year of the Council's officials. The presidents took over the late-fifteenth-century house of the abbots of St Mary and converted it into the King's Manor, and in 1565-68 Sir Thomas Eynns, the secretary, built Heslington Hall in the new symmetrical style with large mullioned and transomed windows and a classical doorway. But Yorkshiremen could not match the great country houses of Elizabeth's advisers, such as the Northamptonshire seats of William Cecil at Burghley and of Sir Christopher Hatton at Holdenby and Kirby; they had neither the means nor the confidence to build on a large scale until the security of Elizabeth's reign was well established. In 1587 Thomas Cecil, William's son, rebuilt Snape Castle when he gave it four sturdy corner towers like those of the 200-year-old Bolton Castle further up the dale. Towers gave a comforting sense of might and security and were retained by many an Elizabethan builder, together with battlements, great gate-houses and courtyards in the Tudor Gothic style of Hampton Court. All this was done more for display than defence and with an element of regularity provided by striking grid-patterns of glittering windows. Burton Constable Hall, built in Holderness by Sir John Constable or his son Sir Henry, has many of these features (though it was remodelled in the eighteenth century) and so did the demolished Howley Hall that Sir Robert Savile and his son John built in the West Riding in the 1580s.

Behind the symmetrical facades interiors were arranged in a traditional manner around a large central hall that was normally still open to the rafters. A passage that ran through the house separated the hall from the service rooms and the lesser chambers, and draughts and kitchen smells were kept away by a screen, which in Elizabethan times was often carved in a wonderful manner (as at Burton Agnes) with a musician's gallery on top. Beyond the dais end of the hall were parlours and the principal private room known as the great chamber, and in the larger houses a long gallery stretched all the way along the upper floor. The great chamber which Sir William Fairfax commissioned for Gilling castle some time between 1575 and 1585 is the finest surviving example in England, a showpiece of contemporary art. Barnard Dinninghof, the German glass painter, was responsible for the stained-glass windows and perhaps for the whole design. The heraldic theme of the glass is continued in the plaster frieze which depicts 443 coats of arms of almost all the Yorkshire gentry, while in a corner of the frieze the images of three male and three female musicians are a pleasing reminder of one of the uses of the room. The marquetry panelling of the walls, the ribs and hanging pendants of the plaster ceiling and the carved oak chimneypiece framing the Fairfax coat of arms complete a memorable display.

The great houses of the late sixteenth century were conscious demonstrations of the power and wealth of the leading Elizabethan families. These romantic piles with their dramatic skylines, enormous windows, formal entrances and ingenious designs reflected the arrogant spirit of the nation's rulers. North of the Trent the richest and most powerful figure was George Talbot, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, Earl Marshal of England and husband of Bess of Hardwick. The residences of the Talbot and Cavendish families, scattered throughout the north Midlands and Yorkshire, were the inspiration for others who had acquired the wealth and confidence to build. The old house at Chatsworth, which William Cavendish (a previous husband of Bess) had erected in the 1550s, was the chief model. Such houses were tall and compact, with chimneys and turrets silhouetted against the skyline and a long gallery at the top extending above a traditional two-storeyed hall. Only fragments survive of such once-mighty buildings as the Earl of Shrewsbury's principal seat at Sheffield Manor and Hercy Sandford's hall at Thorpe Salvin, but old illustrations and archaeological investigation have revealed some of their former importance.

Robert Smythson, who had begun his career at Longleat and Wardour Castle in Wiltshire, designed several houses for the Talbots and Cavendishes and for other leading families in the Midlands and the North, notably at Wollaton, Worksop and Hardwick. Pontefract New Hall and Heath Old Hall, two of his earliest Yorkshire buildings, have been demolished, but the county still has a major example of his work at Burton Agnes and possibly also at Fountains. The history of the two sites is very different, for Fountains Hall was built close to the ruins of a great Cistercian abbey, but Burton Agnes had been the residence of a powerful lord for many generations; the church of St Martin, tucked behind the Victorian stable block, is full of the monuments of the Griffiths and the Boyntons, and nearby is the splendid vaulted undercroft of Roger de Stuteville's Norman manor house. Sir Henry Griffith, who had spent his earlier life in Staffordshire, probably settled here in 1599 when he became a member of the Council of the North. Datestones on the house range from 1601 to 1610. Glittering bay windows, gables, finials, battlements, chimney stacks and strapwork designs adorn the front, but the symmetrical facade disguises a traditional interior arranged around a small internal courtyard, with a cross-passage and an elaborately carved oak and plaster screen separating a lofty hall from the service rooms. Another old-fashioned feature is the gatehouse, built in 1610 in the style of the Elizabethan turret house at Sheffield or Sir Mauger Vavasour's banquet house at Weston Hall in lower Wharfedale; it is one of the best Jacobean gatehouses in the country, and like the hall itself is largely of brick. But Burton Agnes was up-to-date with its long gallery on the top floor and in the Renaissance spirit of its wood-carvings, wainscotting, plaster ceilings and alabaster work.

Fountains Hall was built about the same time, with stones from the ruined abbey, by Sir Stephen Proctor. His father, Thomas, had been granted a patent for smelting iron and lead with a mixture of charcoal, coal and peat, and had been a successful entrepreneur. Stephen Proctor was an unscrupulous and ambitious man and a zealous Calvinist. He purchased the Fountains estate in 1597, received a knighthood in 1604, and two years later obtained the lucrative post of Collector of Fines on Penal Statutes. Armed with these powers, he persecuted his Catholic neighbours in the sensitive years following the Gunpowder Plot and worried them further by endless lawsuits over land, minerals and common rights. He was much resented as an upstart of humble origins and a fervent Puritan. His house was unusually high and not very deep, for it was built against a steep bank for dramatic effect. Its architect is not known for certain, but it has the hallmarks of a Smythson design. Fountains incorporated an Elizabethan innovation by which the servants were moved downstairs into the basement, a practice that remained normal in country house design until the present century.

Gentlemen of lesser means were neither able to employ architects nor to build entirely anew, but they sometimes had sufficient resources to refashion their timber-framed houses and to encase them with stone, even if the work had to be spread out over more than one generation. The Kayes of Woodsome Hall provide an apt illustration. Arthur Kaye inherited the manors of Farnley and Slaithwaite, purchased the manor of Lingards, and bought Denby grange upon the dissolution of Byland Abbey. His son John continued to purchase property and in 1573 acquired the manor of Honley, where he erected an iron forge at Smithy Place. The Kayes owned at least seven local mills, some of them for grinding corn and others for fulling cloth, and they used their Denby grange lands for coal-mining and the quarrying of stone. They also possessed timber and coppice woods and moorland turbaries and were keen agricultural improvers. Their house was originally timber-framed and arranged in a traditional manner, but Arthur and John carried out considerable improvements. The names of Arthur and Beatrix Kaye are written in big, ornate letters over the fireplace that they inserted into their open hall sometime before 1562; a similar chimney was placed in the low parlour and the house was made more pleasant by glazing the windows and by plastering decorative patterns on ceilings. John built more chimneys, added further rooms, panelled the interior and paved the hall and courtyard. By about 1580 these improvements had been completed and the house had been encased in stone. At that time, however, it was still surrounded by a moat and John had 'made new the drawbridge'. Twenty years or so later John's son, Robert, built a north wing and a colonnade of Tuscan columns and then paved and walled the outer court. Robert and his son, John II, were both JPs and the new social standing of the Kayes was recognized when John III (1616-62) was made a baronet.

Two West Riding houses illustrate the different ways in which existing timber frames could determine the layout of rooms even after a building had been remodelled and encased in stone. The exterior of Oakwell Hall bears the initials of John Batt and the date 1583 but gives no clue to the antiquity of the interior, except that the thirty lights of the great seventeenth-century window illuminate two storeys; through the porch, however, is a cross-passage with service rooms to the right and a screen on the left leading into a medieval open-hall and a parlour wing beyond. The other house is Guiseley rectory, which Robert Moore rebuilt in stone in 1601. All the external details of the symmetrical facade are of this date, but an internal inspection reveals a medieval aisled hall with timber posts dividing the main block from a smaller range of rooms to the rear. Even where no earlier timber frame existed builders continued with familiar styles. The Nunnery at Arthington was built by a member of the Briggs family in 1585 to a similar plan to Guiseley rectory though there is no evidence of an earlier timber-framed building on this site. The new stone houses of the Elizabethan and Stuart gentry were rooted in the vernacular tradition, even though their visual impact must have been dramatic.

During the reign of James I Yorkshire gentlemen continued to build in styles that had been forged during the Elizabethan era. Howsham Hall, which was erected about 1619 for Sir William Bamburgh, baronet, has mullioned and transomed windows ending in glittering canted bays that seem to fill the whole of the south front, but its attractive skyline was a novel feature with regular-spaced merlons and ball finials. Several Yorkshiremen did well out of lucrative posts under the early Stuarts and were able to build on a scale that matched their official positions. Sir Richard Hutton, a judge of the Court of Common Pleas, built Goldsborough Hall about 1620, William Pennyman, one of the six Clerks of Chancery, erected Marske Hall five years later, and Sir George Calvert, a principal secretary of state, began Kiplin Hall in 1622; Calvert subsequently declared himself a Catholic, resigned his position, and as Lord Baltimore, founded the New World colony of Maryland. Sir Richard Graham, a man of humble origins who served the Duke of Buckingham and Charles I, acquired Norton Conyers through marriage in 1624 and transformed the medieval hall with delightful rows of Dutch gables; his descendants still live there.

The most powerful Yorkshiremen of this era were Sir Arthur Ingram and Sir Thomas Wentworth, first Earl of Strafford. Ingram was a native of Rothwell who devised financial schemes to keep James I and Charles I independent of Parliament and who grew enormously rich from the spoils of office. He owned estates in Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Suffolk as well as an imposing town house behind York minster on the site of the archbishop's palace and 'a very fayre new lodge of brick' at Sheriff Hutton. His principal residence was at Temple Newsam, a former property of the Knights Templar which the Darcys had converted into one of the earliest brick houses in the West Riding. Ingram demolished the east range (for courtyards were now out of fashion) and rebuilt the house in the same severe style as the north front of Robert Cecil's Hatfield House in Hertfordshire.

Meanwhile the Wentworths were building on a similar scale. The family had resided in their ancestral village since the early Middle Ages, but it was only during the early seventeenth century that they rose to prominence in the county. Sir William became Sheriff of Yorkshire and one of James I's first baronets; his son, Sir Thomas, became Charles l's chief adviser and one of the most famous figures of his age. The Wentworths erected a brick Jacobean house at Wentworth Woodhouse in the new compact style, three storeys high with projecting wings, and with two detached lodgings and a kitchen connected to the main building by a covered passage; an Elizabethan-type banquet house stood in the garden. Sir Thomas presided here over a household of sixty-four people. He also extended the King's Manor in York and may have been responsible for enlarging Ledston Hall, a thirteenth-century grange of Pontefract Priory which had been converted to domestic accommodation after the Dissolution by the Witham family. The entrance front was given angle turrets capped with ogee-shaped domes, like those at Hatfield House and Blickling Hall, and attractive rows of Dutch gables with flat tops carrying pediments, like John Smythson's designs for Bolsover Castle and Welbeck Castle, designs which he had copied from houses in Holborn on a visit to London in 1619. New styles spread gradually from the capital to the provinces as rich families imitated the buildings that they had visited during their London season; thus in 1640 Sir Henry Slingsby of Scriven was 'much taken' by Lord Holland's Kensington home and thereupon 'took a conceite' to rebuild Red House at Moor Monkton in the Ainsty of York.

During the second and third quarters of the seventeenth century gentlemen and wealthy clothiers in the Halifax district created a unique style of domestic building. Though their gabled halls were arranged in a traditional manner, the decorative details applied to the exteriors were amazing in their virtuosity. An influential prototype was the (demolished) Methley Hall, a fifteenth-century structure enlarged between 1588 and 1611 by Sir John Savile and his son, Sir Henry. Sir John was a founder member of the Society of Antiquaries and a friend of William Camden, the author of Brittania (1586) and Remains Concerning Britain (1605); his youngest brother, Thomas, also had a considerable reputation as an authority on British antiquities. It was therefore natural for the Saviles to favour elements taken from Gothic architecture as well as classical forms. Methley was the first house in the West Riding to have an enormous hall window divided by numerous mullions and transoms. The master masons responsible for the building were probably those members of the Akroyd family whose names appear in the contemporary Methley parish register. John, Abraham and Martin Akroyd also erected the first West Riding buildings to have distinctive windows shaped like a rose or a Catherine-wheel. The original source of inspiration for these may have been Robert Smythson, the great Elizabethan architect, who in 1599 designed a circular window divided into twelve lights. The (demolished) Bradley Hall at Stainland, which the Akroyds built for Sir John Savile, had a rose-window that was undoubtedly the model for that at Barkisland Hall a generation later. The Saviles were apparently also responsible for introducing Halifax masons to the classical columns and entablatures that normally adorned the porch entrance below a rose-window, for it was Sir John's younger brother, Sir Henry, the celebrated mathematician, Greek scholar and Warden of Merton College, who invited the Akroyds and Bentleys to Oxford to extend the Merton Fellows Quad and the Bodleian Library.

The (demolished) hall at High Sunderland was the first 'Halifax house' to have classical columns. These, together with the unusual curvilinear designs of the pilasters on the garden gateways, must have caused quite a stir, for such features were surely imported from outside the region. However, Abraham Sunderland also used such aspects of the vernacular tradition as low proportions, battlements and pinnacles, string courses, and mullioned and transomed windows, and he incorporated a previous timber-framed house within his new building. When he had finished about 1629 he had combined classical and medieval features in a new, elaborate fashion which inspired the next generation of local gentlemen and clothiers to do likewise. Wood Lane Hall at Sowerby is an outstanding example of the fully developed style. The masons who built it for John Dearden in 1649 drew up some of the best features of neighbouring 'Halifax houses.' The finials that rest on top of the battlements resemble those at Kershaw House, Luddenden; the great hall window, the battlements and the rose-window are modelled on those of Elland New Hall; the design of the doorway lintel is similar to an earlier one at Warley; the plaster ceiling is comparable with that at Howroyde, Barkisland; the stepped windows in the gables have local parallels; and the prolectmg porch is balanced by the projecting parlour wing, as at Barkisland Hall and some other outstanding local houses. Nevertheless, Wood Lane Hall is triumphantly individual and decidedly Gothic in flavour. Despite their similarities no two 'Halifax houses' are alike and some seem to go out of their way to be different. The demolished Horton Hall at Bradford was a marvellously eccentric structure whose porch was extended above the rose-window into a tower or observatory, where the owner, Abraham Sharpe, indulged his passion for astronomy.

The continuity of building tradition between the closing years of the reign of Elizabeth and the second half of the seventeenth century makes it difficult to date houses for which there is no firm evidence. Datestones have to be depended upon to a large degree, yet often they tell only part of the story and sometimes they are untrustworthy. A few, like the 1596 datestone on Gawthorpe Hall at Bingley, are quite early and show that many characteristic features of the style had been introduced by late-Elizabethan times. others, such as the 1655 inscriptions on Thomas Netherwood's Giles House at Lightcliffe and Sylvanus Rich's Bullhouse Hall near Penistone demonstrate that even at the same social level owners could choose to build in a similar manner two generations later. Gabled halls cannot be dated by a progression from the simplest to the most complicated structures. Whereas the cloth trade was obviously a principal source of wealth for many owners, others profited from the exploitation of mineral resources. East Riddlesden Hall, one of the most striking houses in the West Riding, was largely the responsibility of James Murgatroyd of Warley, a wealthy clothier who acquired the property in 1638 and who also built two smaller houses nearby at Long Can and Oats Royd. Many owners aspired to the status of minor gentry, but most were content to inscribe their lintels merely with datestones and initials. John Gledhill placed his coat of arms and the date 1638 over his porch at Barkisland Hall, but the owners of Hawksworth Hall, Elland Hall, and Lower Hall at Norland adorned their rooms with the royal arms in the absence of suitable heraldry of their own.

Windows and drip-moulds were the most distinctive features of the old halls and manor houses of Yorkshire. Halls, kitchens and parlours, and sometimes chambers as well were illuminated by large windows divided into numerous lights by mullions and transoms. Though other parts of England shared the fashion for carrying up the centre lights of gable windows, the West Riding was alone in its enthusiasm for the idea, even adopting the stepped arrangement for other windows in the top storey. Friars Head at Winterburn is a perfect example, with four small gables surmounted by finials. A common variation in Craven united the heads of triple lights into one ogee-shaped arch. Perhaps only a few masons were at work in that district, using traditional ground plans and elevations but allowing full reign to the imagination when applying fanciful details. Door heads in and around Settle were shaped in a variety of crazy curves, but even the locals thought Thomas Preston's 1679 house had gone too far, for they gave it the nickname of The Folly.

By the middle years of the seventeenth century only the humblest structures were still being built with wood. Over a century earlier John Leland had noted that in towns such as Beverley, Doncaster and Wakefield the majority of houses had timber frames and in 1577 William Harrison observed that throughout England 'the greatest part of our building in the cities and good towns . . . consisteth of timber'. Town houses were often given a coat of plaster and a colour wash. Thus, when James I stopped at York on his way down from Scotland in 1603, the inhabitants were ordered by the corporation to 'painte the owteside of ther howses with some collors to the strete forwardes'. York's first completely brick house was not erected until 1610, but even in the mid-sixteenth century Yorkers were protesting against 'the great destruction of wood' within sixteen miles of the city; Thorganby, eight miles away, had insufficient wood to repair its own buildings by 1542. The owners of West Riding woods may have found it more profitable to concentrate on coppiced underwood rather than on standards grown for timber, but it is also likely that changing fashion was as important as shortage of timber in the general conversion to stone or brick, and that fear of fire hastened the change in towns. The old tradition survived longer in the countryside. When Edward Tailor added a new wing to his home in Oulton in 1611 he designed it with king-posts, struts, braces and finials to match the older parts of the building.

Timber was still valued for its decorative effect, even where lower walls were built of stone. Godfrey Bosville's mid-sixteenth century Gunthwaite barn and his (demolished) lodge at Oxspring displayed their timbers only at upper level. Other houses achieved this effect when their lower walls were rebuilt in stone; for example, the upper storey of Wormald's Hall at Almondbury appears to date from the sixteenth century, but in 1631 the ground floor was rebuilt with stone walls. At Hound Hill, the Elmhirst family's ancestral home in the parish of Worsbrough, a new stone wing in similar proportions to the earlier timber-framed building doubled the size of the house. Many other old buildings were completely encased in stone during the course of the seventeenth century and many a thatched house or cottage was given a new roof of stone slates. Leland had found Richmond and Grinton houses 'partly slatid, partly thackid', and a 1616 survey of property belonging to the Sheffield capital burgesses records a similar mixture of roofing materials; Edward Hawke, for instance, had 'a dwelling house and Barne of 5 baies whereof 4 bayes slated a workehouse 1 Bay and an old house 1 bay a hovell thatcht' and Philip Ashburrie of Owlerton had ' 1 dwelling house and kitchin 3 baies and an outshutt thatcht saveing the kitchin which is nue and slated an old barn of 3 baies thatcht'; marginal notes show that later in the century stone slates had commonly replaced thatch. A 1637 survey of the manor of Sheffield manor noted plenty of 'good stones for building, and slate stones for tyling or slateing of houses'. In York thatch had long been banned because of the risk of fire, and the city's timber-framed houses were roofed with tiles.

In Yorkshire the Great Rebuilding began later than in parts of southern England. Nevertheless, improved standards of comfort and construction and a remarkable increase in the quantity and quality of furniture and household equipment was evident by Elizabeth's reign. Much of this was achieved by minor structural alterations; ceilings were inserted in open-halls, parlours, chambers and service rooms were added, rooms were provided with wainscotting and boarded floors and fitted with fireplaces and glass windows. The 'iron chimneys' that superseded the old open hearths are referred to in the wills of Thomas Hinchcliffe of Carlton, near Royston (1558), of John Smythe of Worsbrough (1561) and many of their contemporaries; in 1584 Robert Howle bequeathed 'all the glass in the windows in all places in and about my new dwelling house at Attercliffe', and in 1595 William Micklethwaite of Swaithe Hall near Barnsley left 'all the slate stone which is provided towards my new kitchen . . . all my timber which is felled towards building . . . [and] all the glass standing in the windows about the house'. Throughout the land, Elizabethan and Stuart farmhouses were larger, warmer, and lighter. Such improvement was often achieved without the complete rebuilding of a house. The new crucked-framed buildings of the late-sixteenth or early-seventeenth century were probably not very different in construction from their medieval predecessors. In most parts of Yorkshire the seventeenth century was well advanced before yeomen, husbandmen and craftsmen began to rebuild their homes in stone or brick. Apart from manor houses and gentry halls few Yorkshire houses were constructed of these materials before the Civil War. The period of the Great Rebuilding of ordinary Yorkshire farmhouses was from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries.

The surviving timber-framed houses in the Vale of York that were erected during the reigns of Elizabeth or the early-Stuarts are nearly all well-built, two-storeyed houses which compare favourably with timber-framed houses of a similar size and date in the East Midlands and southeast England. Most are now encased with brick or stone and are hard to recognize, but documentary evidence suggests that they were spread fairly widely across the social scale. A detailed survey of the Ingilby estates in Ripley and its associated hamlets in 1635 described the houses of 40 of the 43 tenants; five of these (and many of the farm buildings) were cruck-framed, and the rest were timber constructions using principal posts. Six of the 35 'post' houses were of four to seven bays, 20 of three, and only nine had one or two bays; 29 houses had a chamber, and 21 of these had more than one, so they must have been substantially built. Yet all these tenants were smallholders; 31 had less than 10 acres, and only four of them had more than 20 acres; Ripley was a poorer village than most (Harrison and Hutton 1984: 8-9). In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Yorkshire's timber-framed farmhouses were probably more substantial than was once believed.

Harrison and Hutton's survey of over seven hundred north Yorkshire and Cleveland buildings and related documentary evidence leads them to the conclusion that a degree of continuity can be established between Tudor and Stuart farmhouses and their predecessors; in north-east Yorkshire that continuity is very clear. The traditions of plan were well-established during the late Middle Ages and were not lightly abandoned during the Great Rebuilding. The medieval longhouse, where humans and their livestock lived under the same roof but were separated by a through-passage remained popular in Yorkshire until the later seventeenth century. Twenty-seven of 100 probate inventories taken at Stillington (a large, arable township with extensive open-fields) between 15S0 and 1699 had a 'low end' for cattle, crops and agricultural implements. Longhouses were not as common further west, and no example has been found in the Dales, but the farmhouse tenanted by Nicholas Sampson near Sheffield in 1611 sounds like a longhouse that had been extended, for it was described as 'One house one bay, one parler above the house, 2 baies beneath the house for beast houses, 2 parlers newly builded 2 Chambers over the parler', with various outbuildings. The common type of seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century farmhouse, which was entered via a through-passage with kitchen and service rooms on one side and a hearth and the main living room on the other side, seems to have descended from the longhouse plan.

End of the section on houses and end of this excerpt. Next: "The Poor." Or return to the first Yorkshire selection, "Farming and Industry."

The Yorkshire Archæological Society Record Series and other society publications as well as Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society are excellent sources for this period. In the early 1900s, a number of articles on the important manor houses of Yorkshire were published. In covering the houses, they traced the families who built them and lived in them, so you will find a lot of information on the families mentioned in these excerpts: Savile, Fairfax, Wentworth; and the Waterhouses, not mentioned here, but traced for Skibden Hall.

See Two Old Sowerby Bridge Houses: Broadgates, Alias Underbank on this site, which tells of a Waterhouse property.

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

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