East Witton history

East Witton history



The foundation of Jervaulx Abbey was around the year 1145, and was not at East Witton but higher up Wensleydale near Askrigg at a place called Fors. The situation was so bleak, and on such poor land, that the poor monks were soon starving, and in 1156 the monastery was moved to the present site just to the east of East Witton. It is in a delightful situation, and a haven of peace and calm where you can contemplate amidst the ruins and an abundance of wildlife.  The Abbey site is privately owned but visitors are welcome, there is an honesty box as you enter, and you will also find lovely tea rooms. Do go and visit Jervaulx Abbey

From 1156 onwards Jervaulx Abbey increased in prosperity, acquired vast amounts of land from lay patrons, and became successful in farming and mining. They owned many Granges, nearby at Kilgram, Newstead, Braithwaite, Akebar, and further away at Dale Grange near Askrigg, their original site, and at Melsonby.

The Abbot of Jervaulx was involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and along with the Abbots of Bridlington, Sawley and Fountains, was executed at Tyburn in 1537. All the vast estates of Jervaulx Abbey then went to the Crown as Attainted lands.

Once the site of Jervaulx Abbey and all their estates was in the hands of the Crown the lead was taken off the roof of the Abbey and taken away . It was melted into half fothers, a fother being just less than a ton, and 399 half fothers were removed. A descendant of the original founder , Sir William Parr, then asked King Henry VIII if he could have the site of Jervaulx Abbey, but he was refused, and after being held by the Crown it was then granted to the Earl and Countess of Lennox, the Countess, Margaret, being a neice of King Henry VIII.  After their deaths Jervaulx once again was held as Crown land until the death of Queen Elizabeth I and the accession of King James VI of Scotland as King James I of England.

King James made many grants of land to his Scottish nobles as he travelled south to take his new throne. He granted the estates of Jervaulx to Edward Bruce of Kinloss. The Bruce family remained for many generations, adding to the estates by good marriages, until the Jervaulx estate extended from East Witton  down the River Ure to Tanfield. Because the Bruce family also had estates in Wiltshire and Bedfordshire, they were absent more than present in Yorkshire, but employed estate agents or bailiffs to administer their estates in the north. A marvellous collection of documents pertaining to the administration of the estate survives and is at the North Yorkshire County Record Office in Northallerton.

The Bruce family were given the title Earls of Ailesbury and Earls of Elgin and owned land in many parts of the country. The Jervaulx estate included the manors of East Witton, Finghall, Newton le Willows, East and West Tanfield, Carthorpe, Wath, Thornborough, so if you had ancestors from these places then there is a good chance that you will find them mentioned in either the Manor Court documents or the rent rolls for the estate. Here is an extract which gives the names of tenants James Loftus and George Rider who had a lease from 1657 to 1678.

The estate was managed very well, and in addition to agricultural rents, there was income from mines and by the 19th century the estate was a well run shooting estate. They improved the land by enclosing it, draining it, and in 1775 commissioned a survey to straighten out the River Ure. This was a large undertaking to prevent the meandering of the river undercutting the banks on the Jervaulx side. However, the work was not begun until 1806.
In 1808 work was begun to clear the site of the ruined Abbey of trees, and over the next few years , as Jervaulx Abbey was made into a picturesque ruin, it was added to the tourist trail for those looking for the romantic experience. Earlier, in 1805, Charles Fothergill had visited the ruins and noted "they are now scarcely worth visiting; for melancholy to relate nearly the whole has been destroyed for the materials to mend the roads with. What will the lovers of antiquity and all wise and good men say when they are told ...."

The fortunes of the Jervaulx estate began to wane by the middle of the 19th century and in 1882 the Brudenell -  Bruce family decided to sell the estate to pay off debts. Already some outlying properties were being sold and expenditure was cut down. In 1886 the estate was purchased by Samuel Cunliffe Lister, a West Riding industrialist who had just bought the Swinton estate at Masham, and was shortly also to buy the Middleham estate, making him one of the largest landowners in the north. The Cunliffe Listers did not live at Jervaulx, but another family, also industrialists, became their tenants, called Christie. The 1901 census shows that Hector Christie was the head of a very large household of fourteen servants looking after only himself and his daughter. The Christie family then came into ownership of Jervaulx, finally selling it in 1963.