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Tracing the Major Landowners in Rylstone

Rylstone Township is almost the shape of a number 8 - wider at the north and south ends with a narrower stretch of land in the middle.





                               Map1 from Old Yorkshire Dales by A. Raistrick.

Raistrick, in his book, Old Yorkshire Dales(1), has a chapter on Rylstone in which he discusses the likely development of the township which has boundaries with 13 other townships, as follows:


'When the first wave of Anglian settlers came into this part of West Yorkshire, probably after the fall of the Celtic kingdom of Elmet in the early years of the seventh century, they settled in the long river valleys, often in the woodlands in which they made clearings, giving settlement names ending in ley. Other and slightly later settlers moved beyond the densely wooded gritstone country into the limestone country with its thinner cover of scrub and more pasture, settling in small family farm groups with the suffix ton. These early villages were almost all along the riverbanks which became the townships stretching up from the riversides towards the watershed, making  a long roughly parallel sided township. So there were areas of no-mans- land left here and there. In such an unclaimed area an individual or maybe an overspill generation from a crowded neighbouring village might seek to start a new settlement. This overspill was helped by the custom of dividing the inheritance among all the sons of a family, so that in a few generations the land would be too small to support everybody. This is the most probable explanation for the founding of the township of Rylstone which straddles along the watershed and neighbours thirteen townships.

First after the Angles came the Danes, who having made peace with the Angles entered the district in small numbers as peaceful settlers from about AD876 to 900. They set up single farms and small hamlets with name endings in by and Thorpe respectively in outlying parts of townships on land given to them by some Anglian villages. Often they started single farm settlements with names such as Scale and Bucross. Probably Scale House takes its name from such a settlement, and its position on a shelf of the hillside is very characteristic of many other scales the shielings of cattle herders.


Around Bucross at the northern extremity of the township there is a scatter of small farms within a few fields recovered from rough moorland and two miles from the Rylstone houses. The old name is remembered and contracted to Bucker House often pronounced 'Buckrus'.


Around Scale house there are again several fields separated from the town fields by a wide belt of rougher pasture, and forming a little self contained settlement which may have been separate through much of the mediaeval time'.

At the time of the Norman Conquest, Rylstone was a township with two manors. In the Domesday Book (2), 1086, it is shown in Craven. In the Domesday Book records for Craven, it shows Rylstone paying 5.5 geld units in tax. The 'geld unit' was an Anglo-Saxon land tax based on hides which were areas of land, but had come to be a tax assessment unit. It was first raised for the Danish wars, at so many pence per hide. The tax was carried on by the Normans. However in the north and east of England, a more common tax was based on the carucate a measure of land, as much land as one team can plough in a year and a day, and it is roughly equivalent to a hide. There were two separate entries for Rylstone in the Domesday Book representing the two separate manors.

The first entry shows that the Lord in 1066 was Almund, father of Alward an Anglo-Saxon. But in 1086, the land had been given to Dolgfinn who was the Lord and the Tenant-in-Chief (Lord is one holding land directly from the King called landholder) with a taxable value of four geld units. This land eventually passed to the Honour of Skipton.


The second entry was for 1.5 geld units taxable value, the Lord in both 1066 and 1086 was Ravenkel who was also Tenant-in-chief in 1086. He was a Norseman who had kept his possession.


It may be that this second entry was the area around the present day Scale House which was said to be a Norse settlement just beyond the confines of the Anglian settlement and at the southern end of Rylstone Township. The occupants of Scale House and Bucross (Bucker House) presently remained independent freeholders as late as the end of the 18th century.


The great majority of Domesday landholders came from northern France, but there were still a few Anglo-Saxons and Danes, many formerly independent Anglo-Saxon and Danish thanes and their descendants. They often appear in Domesday as the under-tenants of Norman Lords but not in the case of Ravenkel.


How the land passed to William de Rilston the ancestor of the de Rilston family is not entirely clear (3). However, there was a Roger de Favinton in 1166 who held 41/2 carucates of land in the Honour of Skipton. He can be identified as the Roger Fafiton who witnessed a charter of William Sal of Duncan in 1135–54 and he also witnessed a charter of Alice de Rumilly 1166–1175 and several other charters during these years (4).


There is no reference as to where Roger’s holding of 41/2 carucates was in the Honour of Skipton, it was the only one of that amount in the Carta of 1166, and in 1287 the only holding of that amount in the Skipton fees was the one held by the de Rilston family. It would seem that the de Rilston family had succeeded to the fee of Roger de Favington but the process of the succession is not clear.


Roger de Favington and William de Rilston, the ancestor of the de Rilston family, were contemporaries as can be seen in the Early Yorkshire Charters (3). William was witnessing charters from 1135-1153. William does not appear in the Carta of 1166, but may have been an under tenant of Roger de Favington. This would make the acquisition of the fee by grant of the Lord of the Honour to him or his heir following an escheat (a failure of heirs) a possibility, but equally it could have been through a marriage between the two families.


In 1316, the two Lords of Rilston were Henry de Harlington, with one carucate in the Tempest fee, and Richard Fauvel husband of Emma, the heiress of Elias de Rilston lV, with 41/2 carucates in the Skipton Fee.


Certainly, it is clear that the de Rilston family were the tenants of the land from 1287 until the death of John de Rilleston in 1434. His estates then reverted to his daughter and heiress, Isabel, who about this year married Miles Radcliffe of Threshfield. Their eldest son and heir, William Radcliffe, inherited their estates and he, in turn, bequeathed them to his daughter and sole heiress, Ann Radcliffe, who married John Norton of Norton Conyers, a member of a very prominent Yorkshire family. Rylstone then became part of the estates of the Norton family.(5) Thus John Norton, through his marriage, became Lord of the 'Manor of Rillestone' and began the administration of the estate of something more than 400 acres. The rest was divided in 43 tenements.


It was in his lifetime that the dispute over the hunting of deer in Rylstone lands began with the Cliffords of Skipton Castle. This dispute became long and bitter, for the Cliffords envied the Nortons their land and hunting rights at Rylstone, and would have liked to add the manor to their Skipton fee. In due course, Richard Norton, the eldest son and heir of John and Ann Norton inherited the estate, and obtained the Lordship of the Manor of Rylstone. He married, his first wife, Susan Neville, the fifth daughter of Lord Latimer, and had 11 sons and 7 daughters. His second wife was Phillippa, daughter of Robert Trapps of London. The family used to spend only the summers at Rylstone, so there is no doubt that, when in residence, the village became a very busy place.

Richard Norton was a man of great importance in the North of England. He was a member of the Council of the North, and from 1567/8 was a High Sheriff of Yorkshire. He was very proud and stubborn, and an ardent member of the Catholic religion.

There was trouble between the Nortons and the Cliffords of Skipton, who hunted in the adjoining Crookrise woods, and accused the Nortons of tempting their deer into the small deer park at Rylstone. The Cliffords claimed the right to hunt deer out of Rylstone. In 1258, the then Lord of the Manor of Rylstone was granted a free warren to hunt deer within the Manor. Richard Norton maintained his right to do this, and treat the Cliffords as trespassers. At a meeting held in York, his claim was upheld.

In 1569, Richard Norton joined the 'Rising of the North' to restore the Catholic faith and to assist Mary, Queen of Scots, together with the Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, and others. The rising was a failure. Several Nortons were executed or imprisoned, and some fled abroad. Richard died in Spanish Flanders in 1585/8.


For taking part in the 'Rising', four of Richard Norton's ordinary servants from Rylstone were hanged near the village. His butler, Richard Kitchen, who rose in the rebellion with his master, was hanged in Ripon. Norton was attaindered and his lands became forfeit to the Crown (6). In English criminal law, attainder or attinctura was the metaphorical 'stain' or 'corruption of blood', which arose from being condemned for a serious capital crime (felony or treason). It entailed losing not only one's property and hereditary titles, but typically also the right to pass them on to one's heirs. 


The estates were confiscated to the Crown and committed to Sir Stephen Tempest of Broughton. For some years the estates lay desolate.

The story of the Nortons is told in the poem, 'The White Doe of Rylstone or The Fate of the Nortons' by William Wordsworth.(7)

In 1603, a survey was made of Rylstone Manor before being granted, in the 2nd or 3rd year of James I reign, (1604 or 1605) to Francis Clifford, Fourth Earl of Cumberland. (The Cliffords had been created Earls of Cumberland by Henry VIII in 1522). Thus eventually the lands that they had long desired in the centre of their barony came into the fee of the Cliffords. This manor then contained 1,010 acres 10 poles, it received 'old rents' to the value of £68.14.2 and had a clear yearly value of £139.17.8. At fifteen years’ purchase is fee simple was £3,128.17.6.


The township and manor were practically co-extensive. The demesne was about 400 acres, and the remaining 610 acres were divided into 43 tenements, some of two oxgangs, others of less. An oxgang averaged from 12 to 13 acres. The greater part of the land was unenclosed except for some meadow around the cottages. One of the fields called 'Town Field', and lying in the valley bottom, contained all the arable land of the township. The rest of the land was pasture land of varying quality on the hill side. Above these pastures which the villagers held in common, lay the moors upon which they had unstinted rights.


The villagers were all tenants at will. (This was a tenancy agreement where a tenant occupies property with the consent of the owner, but without an agreement which specifies a definite rental period or the regular payment of rent.) They had verbal leases for life. The tenement was usually granted to the eldest son or daughter of a deceased tenant (8).


William Cavendish was created Earl of Devonshire in 1618 while with the court of James 1, who was staying at the Bishop of Salisbury's palace; he was reported to have paid £10,000 for the title. The Fourth Earl of Devonshire became the First Duke of Devonshire in 1694.


The Cliffords sold the tenements of Rylstone and reserved only the manorial dues. Since then, there has never been a resident Lord of the Manor of Rylstone.


There was one private enclosure award for Rylstone of four stinted pastures in January 1772. Further enclosure would have taken place under the 1845 act of parliament which allowed for enclosure commissioners to enclose land without submitting a request to parliament.


The land tax returns of 1782 for 'Rilston' showed that the Duke of Devonshire was still a significant land owner with three farms, but there were 35 other farmers with holdings within 'Rilston'.


In 1839, at the time of the Tithe Award, there were 12 land owners recorded.


Some of the farm land in Rylstone still belongs to the Devonshire family today.



1. Raistrick, A. (1967). 'Discovering a Village'. Chp. 2 in Old Yorkshire Dales. Newton Abbott: David and Charles.


2. The Domesday Book On-line.


3. Farrer, W. and Travis Clay, C. (1947). (paperback, 2013). 'The Honour of Skipton. The Favington or Rilston Fee' in The Early Yorkshire Charters. Vol. 7. pp. 263-272. Cabridge: Cambridge University Press.  


4. Legg, K. J. (Ed.) (2009). The Lost Cartulary of Bolton Priory. Vol.2. Yorkshire Archaeological Society. Record Series CLX.


5. Stoney, M. (1979). 'The Nortons of Rillestone'. in The Rylstone Parish Magazine. Part 1, Feb. and Part 2, April.


6. Whitaker, T. D. (1878; 3rd edition, republished 1973). 'The Norton Lands' in The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven. Vol.2. pp. 520-528. Menston, Yorkshire: The Scolar Press Ltd.

7. Wordsworth, W. (1815). The White Doe of Rylstone or The Fate of the Nortons. A Poem. London: Longman et al. Also various on-line sources. e.g.

8. Dawe, C. V. (1927). A Yorkshire Township. Private communication by Mrs Cynthia Rymer. Inscribed 'RG Procter Cracoe Nov. 1927'.

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