East Witton history

East Witton history


East Witton

The village of East Witton was part of the Jervaulx Estate. This is part of a very early map made for the estate owners.

The 1857 Post Office Directory describes East Witton  as lying near the confluence of the rivers Cover and Ure, two miles south east of Middleham, in the wapentake of Hang West. The village was self sufficient with two inns, The Fox and Hounds and The Blue Lion, a village school and several small shopkeepers, tailors, shoemakers and butchers. The majority of the population were engaged in farming.
But even in the most ordinary of rural villages there are tales to be told, and interesting characters to discover.

The Newcastle Courant of 29th April 1797 recorded that there had been a marriage a few days previously at East Witton between a Mr Handley who was 50 years old and a Mrs Harrison aged 82 years old. Could this be true ? The parish registers confirm that on the 19th April 1797 there was a marriage between a John Handley, widower, who was 50, and an Alice Harrison, spinster, both of East Witton. As the Parish Registers do record a baptism of an Alice Harrison daughter of Peter Harrison on the 12th February 1716, it just could possibly be true .

East Witton is an attractive collection of stone built cottages surrounding a village green. At the eastern end is the Blue Lion and the Parish Church. But this was not always so. Newspapers of 1796 reported a dreadful fire which almost destroyed the village. Most of the buildings were covered in thatch and a strong south westerly wind fanned the flames with such fury that many houses were completely burned down.

East Witton  is not far from Middleham, the town famous for training race horses. But East Witton also had its own race track. A Coroner's Inquest on 24th November 1866 viewed the body of Thomas Chisholm of East Witton aged 17 years. He was a jockey, and was killed when he fell off his horse and hit a tree whilst riding in a race at East Witton. Taking a very sharp corner he became unseated, and sustaining a head injury died on the spot. The race was somewhere near Fleets Farm, probably the only level ground suitable, and Thomas Mitchell Fryer, of Fleets Farm, saw the heats of the race from his adjoining field.The horse was called Carnizette.

The Fryer family of Fleets Farm may have looked liked every day country folk, but they made a huge amount of money being Sugar Refiners in London. When William Fryer of Fleets Farm made a will in 1832 he named his grandsons as William and Christopher Fryer of Duncan Street, Whitechapel, Sugar Bakers. They were the sons of William Fryer, Sugar Baker of Duncan Street who had died in 1809 a very, very rich man. A whole collection of wills bequeathed money back and forth between relations in Yorkshire and London, a fascinating web to untangle.

In the 1830s a young man called Joseph Curry opened a Boarding School in East Witton. He was originally from Knaresborough, and was hoping to take advantage of the rising middle classes who wished to have their sons educated in wholesome Yorkshire air. He offered a broad curriculum and advertised that East Witton was very salubrious, no place of danger was near, and a coach ran through to Ripon three times a week. His fees were on a sliding scale according to the age of the pupil from 12 guineas for a twelve year old to 14 guineas for a fourteen year old. He married a local girl, Ann Raper, but when she died he removed his school first to Middleham in 1838 and then to Otley.

There were coal mines in East Witton above Braithwaite Hall.
This is part of a map which belonged to John Smallpage who had been an Overseer at the mines, he was buried at East Witton in 1838.
There were also mines in Colsterdale which were on the Swinton estate. As the mines were worked out, the miners had to subsist by farming smallholdings, or they moved away. This memorial in East Witton churchyard records the sad story of the Bowes family.
In Memory of James Bowes who died 23 April 1871 aged 70 years. Also of Alice his wife who died 21 July 1877 aged 77 years. Also George Bowes their son who lost his life at Tudhoe Colliery explosion on 18th April 1882 age 46 years. Interred at Mount Pleasant, Durham. Also Robinson their son who died 7 March 1883 age 51 years , interred at York Cemetery. Also of James their youngest son who died 2 August 1917 age 76 years. Also of Alice their second daughter who died 8 September 1917 aged 90 years.

Braithwaite Hall is an interesting  house to the west of East Witton. It is on the site of a monastic Grange, with the possibility of a lost village  hidden beneath the adjoining fields as well. From the 17th century it was the home of the Purchas family, who acted as stewards or bailiffs for the owners of the Middleham estate. It is now in the care of the National Trust and can be visited by arrangement with the farmer who is the current occupant, or stay as a Bed and Breakfast guest .
Benjamin Purchas was appointed as steward to Thomas Wood circa 1675. Previously he had been steward of the mines in Arkengarthdale. It is probable that Wood engaged him because of his knowledge of the lead mining industry. He persuaded Thomas Wood to purchase Braithwaite Hall and estate for £2,500 in 1682.  Benjamin Purchase left a will in 1718 in which he requested to be buried in the quire of East Witton Church  . From the many beneficiaries an extensive family tree can be drawn just from his will. He was a rich man but remembered the Poor of West Witton, East Witton, Middleham, West Burton, Thoralby, Aysgarth, Wensley, Spennithorne and Leyburn , as well as his servants, in his will

The Cover Bridge Inn is right on the edge of East Witton parish, and is a lovely traditional pub serving good food and hand pulled beer. There is a delightful garden which goes down to the River Cover, and a pleasant walk along the river banks to Jervaulx Abbey.
Christopher Dixon of Cover Bridge End , and his wife Mary and others from East Witton, were brought before the Court for Riotous Assembly at East Witton and an affray upon Henry Aiscough in 1719. What now seems a tranquil, rural backwater has a hidden history ......