A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1914.
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The 'beauties of Teesdale,' wrote Whitaker, 'with the exception of one magnificent feature, are nearly concentrated in the three diminutive and contiguous parishes of Brignall, Rokeby and Wycliffe.' (fn. 1) Wycliffe is of the same pastoral type of river scenery that has made Brignall and Rokeby so admired. The parish is composed of the village of Wycliffe and the small hamlets of Ovington and Thorpe. Ovington was formerly in the parish of Forcett (q.v.), but by an Order in Council of 1899 was constituted a member of this parish. The original area was 2,491 acres of land with 32 acres covered by water. In Wycliffe and Thorpe there are 740 acres arable land, 1,184 acres permanent grass, and 48 acres woods and plantations. (fn. 2) The average elevation is from 400 ft. to 460 ft. The subsoil is Yoredale Rocks with recent alluvium in the valley of the Tees; the soil is loam, the chief crops raised being barley, wheat, oats and roots. Watling Street cuts through the south-west corner of the parish, touching Thorpe Grange. An earthwork called Cockshot Camp at Ovington covers 4 acres of ground. (fn. 3) The water-mill of Wycliffe is mentioned in 1348 (fn. 4) and 1578 (fn. 5); it was doubtless on the site of what is now a saw-mill.
The village of Wycliffe is composed of the church, the rectory, which contains a portrait of John Wycliffe by Antonio Mor, and a few red-tiled cottages picturesquely grouped among trees at the edge of the River Tees. Wycliffe Hall, the residence of Major Gerald M. Harding, and its park adjoin the church on the east. The hall is a plain classical building of the 18th century. Three-quarters of a mile west of the village the river is crossed by a suspension bridge.
This peaceful parish was in the 15th century the scene of a double murder. Early in 1482 Roland Mewburne, parson of the church of Wycliffe, 'waylaid Robert Manfield with a knife and pierced his heart so that he died.' (fn. 6) The parson was for some reason pardoned by the king, (fn. 7) but the kinsman of the murdered man took his own vengeance, thus described in the Sanctuary Records at Durham (fn. 8) :—
On the 25th day of February a.d. 1485, James Manfield, late of Wycliffe, gentleman, came in person to the church of St. Cuthbert in Durham, and striking on the bell of the same, prayed for the sanctuary of the said church, and the liberty of St. Cuthbert, for that he, together with others, had near the village of Ovington in the county of York, about the 26th of January as he thinks, of the aforesaid year, insulted a certain Sir Roland Mebburne, chaplain, rector of Wycliffe, and had struck the same feloniously in the body with a wallych bill, and given him a mortal hurt of which he incontinently died. (fn. 9)
A more serious interest attaches to Wycliffe as being possibly the birthplace of the great reformer, or at least the seat of the family to which he belonged (fn. 10); but, although it claims this connexion with 'the morning star of the Reformation,' its lords have remained Roman Catholics until the present time. During the time the Penal Laws were in force mass, it is said, was celebrated in secrecy at Girlington Hall, an Elizabethan house to the east of Wycliffe, now a farm-house. They had later a chapel attached to Wycliffe Hall. There is now a Roman Catholic church of St. Mary at Wycliffe, erected in 1848–9, (fn. 11) and connected with it is a day school for boys and girls.
Bishop Ecgred of Lindisfarne (consecrated 830), according to the Chronicles built the vills of Cliff and Wycliffe beyond Tees and gave them to St. Cuthbert for the support of those serving him. Afterwards King Ella of Northumbria (d. 867) took these vills and others from him, and as a punishment, the chronicler adds, the Danes were sent against the king and he was slain 'similarly to King Saul the son of Kish.' (fn. 12)
In 1086 WYCLIFFE, comprising 12 carucates, all waste, was part of the soke of the manor of Gilling (q.v.), which had passed from Earl Edwin to Count Alan. Girlington and Thorpe in Wycliffe parish were also at this time soke of Gilling, and all three places afterwards continued to be members of the honour of Richmond. (fn. 13) The mesne lord of Wycliffe, Girlington and half the vill of Thorpe was in 1286–7 William de Kirkton. (fn. 14) In 1300 Roger de Edenham and Joan his wife and her heirs granted the service of this fee to Harsculph de Cleasby, (fn. 15) who held it in 1302–3. (fn. 16) With one exception (fn. 17) the manor is after this time always said to be held directly of the castle of Richmond.
The under-tenants, the family of Wycliffe, obtained the advowson of the church in 1263, (fn. 18) but the date of their enfeoffment of the manor is not recorded. In 1252–3 Beatrice de Maunby granted a messuage and rent in Wycliffe to Robert de Wycliffe, (fn. 19) presumably the same Robert who held Wycliffe in demesne in 1286–7 and was also lord of Girlington and Thorpe. (fn. 20) Robert was alive in 1300 (fn. 21) and dead in 1302–3, when Robert his son paid the subsidy. (fn. 22) Robert was lord in 1316, (fn. 23) Roger paid the subsidy in 1332–3 (fn. 24) and was lord in 1347–9. (fn. 25) The latter was exempted by the king from being on any assize, jury or recognition and from being made a mayor, sheriff, coroner, escheator or other bailiff or minister against his will. (fn. 26) There is an inscription to him in Wycliffe Church. John de Wycliffe his successor evidently attained his majority in 1363, for whereas Katharine widow of Roger presented to the church in 1362, he presented in 1363 and again in 1369. (fn. 27) He was still returned as lord in 1375, (fn. 28) but by 1389 a clerk, Robert de Wycliffe, had become head of this family. Although a prominent man, the position of Robert, like that of his famous contemporary John, is quite unknown in this obscure pedigree. (fn. 29) Perhaps the Black Death, which made fearful ravages in these parts, may have been the means of conveying the family estates to an unexpectant younger son. Robert had been rector of Wycliffe in 1362 and resigned in 1363, and from 1377 until his death he was rector of Hutton Rudby in Cleveland. Among his other preferments were the rectories of Kirkby Ravensworth, St. Cross in York and Romaldkirk. He was Master of Kepier Hospital before 1405, Temporal Chancellor and Receiver General of the bishopric, and constable of Durham Castle from 1390 to 1405. He died at Kepier in 1423. (fn. 30) In 1412 he settled the manor and advowson of Wycliffe on himself with remainders to (1) Sir Thomas Pykworth, kt., and the children of Ellen his late wife, (2) John son of John de Ellerton and his heirs male, who were to assume the cognomen of Wycliffe and bear the ancient arms, (3) Robert son of John de Langton (fn. 31) and Thomas son of John de la Mare. (fn. 32) Thus John de Wycliffe, who was lord in 1428, (fn. 33) may have been John son of John de Ellerton (fn. 34) and represent a new dynasty of Wycliffes. He married Agnes daughter of Sir Thomas Rokeby and left a son and heir Robert, (fn. 35) who died seised in 1494, leaving a son and heir Ralph. (fn. 36) Robert settled the manor on Ralph and his heirs male on condition that he should not sell any part of it. Ralph, however, sold part of it, and thereupon the property descended to one William Wycliffe, (fn. 37) son of his brother John, (fn. 38) who paid the subsidy in 1545–6 (fn. 39) and died in 1584, leaving a son and heir Francis. (fn. 40) Francis died seised of the manor and advowson in 1593, leaving a son and heir William, (fn. 41) who died seised in 1611, leaving daughters and heirs Dorothy wife of John Wytham and Katharine wife of Marmaduke Tunstall. (fn. 42) The entail had been removed by a deed of 1607, (fn. 43) and there are various documents to which John Wytham and Dorothy were parties, settling the manor and advowson, (fn. 44) which ultimately came to Marmaduke and Katharine. Marmaduke Tunstall fought on the Royalists' side in the Civil War, and, being taken prisoner by the Parliamentary forces on his return from Newark in 1645, was kept captive until 1647. He then obtained leave to compound for his estate and to produce writings showing that he had only a life interest in it. (fn. 45) His grandson Marmaduke Tunstall in 1728 conveyed his manors of Scargill, Hutton Magna and Wycliffe and the advowson of the church of Wycliffe to a trustee for barring all estates tail, remainders and reversions. (fn. 46) He lived at Wycliffe, (fn. 47) where he was succeeded in 1760 by his nephew Marmaduke (second son of Cuthbert Constable, who had changed his name from Tunstall on succeeding to the Burton Constable estates as heir of Viscount Dunbar), who resumed the family name and in 1776 came to live at Wycliffe and transferred his natural history museum there. This Tunstall was a noted naturalist; his collection of birds alone cost £5,000. The museum was afterwards purchased by the celebrated antiquary George Allan of Grange, with whose collections it passed in 1822 to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle-onTyne. (fn. 48) On Marmaduke's death without issue the manors of Wycliffe, Hutton Magna and Scargill reverted to William elder son of Cuthbert, who entailed all his estates on his nephew Edward Sheldon. Edward Sheldon took the surname of Constable, left no children and was succeeded by his brother Francis, who also took this surname and died in 1821. Francis was succeeded by his maternal kinsman Sir Thomas Hugh Clifford, (fn. 49) whose descendant Major Walter George Raleigh Chichester-Constable is now owner.
The last of the Wycliffes is said to have been Mrs. Catharine Wade, née Wycliffe, buried at Whitkirk, Yorks., in 1838. (fn. 50)
GIRLINGTON (Gerlinton, xi cent.) is not called a manor until the 17th century. It always followed the descent of Wycliffe, though, like Thorpe, it was not held in demesne by the Wycliffes. From the 13th to the 17th century the lands of Girlington were held by the family of Girlington. Lawrence de Girlington is mentioned in 1250–2. (fn. 51) In 1286–7 his son Thomas (fn. 52) held the 3 carucates of Girlington (fn. 53); in 1301–2 Stephen and Walter de Girlington paid the subsidy in Wycliffe. (fn. 54) In 1486–7 Richard Girlington died seised of these lands, leaving a son and heir Henry, (fn. 55) whose son Randall paid the subsidy in 1545–6. (fn. 56) Randall had sons Anthony and Ralph, the latter of whom was living in 1575. Anthony died in 1558, leaving a son and heir Ninian, (fn. 57) who was living in 1575, when his son Nicholas was aged ten. (fn. 58) In 1652 Nicholas begged the Committee for Compounding to examine his title to a house and lands in Wycliffe, as they were withheld from him by Christopher Girlington and had been sequestered on account of Christopher's royalist sympathies; by 1654 the title of Nicholas was allowed. (fn. 59) The Girlingtons, says Whitaker, (fn. 60) 'by intermarriage with a daughter of Francis Tunstall, became seised of their ancient estate of Thurland Castle in Lancashire, and in the course of two generations, partly by the penalties of loyalty in the civil war of the king and Parliament, and partly by improvidence, sunk to poverty and soon after became extinct in the beginning of the last [the 18th] century.' In 1717 the manor of Girlington was returned as part of the estate of Cuthbert Tunstall, (fn. 61) and it has since followed the descent of the manor of Wycliffe (q.v.).
Half of the vill was held from at least 1270 (fn. 62) until the 16th century (fn. 63) of the lords of Middleham under the lords of Richmond. The overlordship and mesne lordship of the other half followed the same descent as those of the manor of Wycliffe.
From the 13th until the 16th century various persons, of whom the most important were the lords of Halnaby and the Siggiswick family, evidently heir of the Thorpes, were tenants of the Wycliffes in Thorpe. (fn. 64) The manorial rights, however, were not alienated, and Thorpe, which was not itself called a manor, was probably a member of the manor of Wycliffe until the 16th century. In February 1531–2 Ralph Wycliffe was engaged in a suit against Margaret widow of George Carr as to the marriage settlement on George Carr's son George and Elizabeth daughter and one of the heirs-apparent of Ralph Wycliffe. (fn. 65) In 1541 Isabel wife of John Hilton and widow of Ralph Carr of Newcastle, from whose grant she held it, conveyed the manor of Thorpe, now first beginning to be called a manor, to William Wycliffe, (fn. 66) lord of Wycliffe, who settled it in 1581 on his younger son John and his heirs. (fn. 67) John died seised in 1631–2, leaving an heir John, son of his son John. (fn. 68) This John in 1647–8 sold the manor to trustees for Mary wife of John Ingleby of Lawkland and Arthur Ingleby their son and heir. (fn. 69) In 1743 John Ingleby of Lawkland and his son John Stephen sold the manor to Christopher Wilkinson, (fn. 70) whose family had earlier had a lease of the capital messuage and land here. (fn. 71) Elizabeth, daughter and heir of Christopher, (fn. 72) married Sheldon Cradock of Hartforth, from whom the manor descended to Mr. Cradock ; he sold it to Mr. H. E. Morritt, the present owner.
The church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN consists of a chancel 45 ft. by 16 ft. 6 in., with a small vestry to the north, and a nave 55 ft. by 18 ft., with a south porch. The chancel is deflected as much as 3 ft. in its length from the axial line of the nave.
The oldest part of the present building dates from about 1240. At that time it appears to have been a simple and small structure, with a nave probably only about 30 ft. long and a small chancel, but between 1340 and 1350 there appears to have been a general rebuilding and enlargement. Both the nave and the chancel were lengthened, the south and end walls were entirely rebuilt with a much greater amount of fenestration, and the south porch was added. The west window appears to be of 13th-century date but reset. The south-west window is also of the 13th century. The twocentred east window with label is modern, of five lights, with tracery of 14th-century style. The label stops are old and are human heads crowned. In the south wall is a small piscina with broken basin; it has a two-centred drop arch and is evidently of 14th-century date. The three 14th-century windows in this wall are all alike in design and have each three cinquefoiled lights with cusped flowing tracery over in a two-centred arch. The recess of the easternmost window has been carried down to form a sedile and is fitted with a modern wood seat and back. The south priest's doorway, between the second and third windows, has a two-centred head of a single chamfered order ; it, with the wall, is apparently original.
The north side of the chancel contains only one small window and that at the west end of the wall. It is obviously of 13th-century date and has two lights with plain lancet heads and a vesica piercing over, all inclosed by a two-centred arched label; the section of the last is of the usual chamfer above and below. The doorway into the vestry has a shouldered head. It is old re-used work. The vestry is lighted by a square-headed two-light window with old mullions in its west wall.
The chancel arch has jambs of two chamfered orders, the inner one with bases of two round members and capitals, with plain abaci filleted round at the head of the bell and a round neck mould. The outer chamfers are stopped off below the abaci with peculiar spiral or leaf carvings, all the four varying in design. The arch is two-centred, of two chamfered orders, with a plain label on the west side, square above and chamfered below. The arch has been somewhat mutilated and the label cut away, evidently for the rood screen.
The two south windows of the nave east of the doorway are similar to those of the chancel; some of their stones in the mullions and tracery have been renewed. The doorway has a two-centred head and two continuous chamfered orders without a label; it is of 14th-century date. The outer orders have broach stops; the inner ones stop with a kind of skew splay.
The westernmost window in the south wall has rebates for wood frames. It is of three lights with two-centred plain heads, the middle light of greater width than the other two. The jambs are of two chamfered orders; the outer one forms a two-centred drop arch inclosing the lights outside, it has no label; some of the stones are modern. Below the first window of the nave is another ancient piscina with a mutilated basin in a two-centred arched recess. It is doubtless of 14th-century date. In this angle is a large flat stone corbel, apparently too low for the rood beam; it is perhaps a bracket for an image. The only window in the north wall of the nave is the modern one near the chancel arch. The north door has old jambs of a single chamfer with 'shoulder' corbels supporting a lintel with a chamfer of the width of the door opening extending beyond the 'shoulders.' The west window is of three lights with plain pointed heads, the middle one being larger than the others. It has two chamfered orders, the outer one forming an inclosing arch with a low four-centred head and a plain label with both edges chamfered; it stops on both sides on masks. The whole window is evidently 13th-century work reset. The walls inside are unplastered. The south porch is of the same date as the south wall; it has an outer doorway of two chamfered orders, with moulded but perished capitals, and a two-centred drop arch also of two chamfers. The label is rounded above and chamfered below. The porch has a small rectangular light in its west wall. The labels outside the 14th-century south windows all appear to be modern.
The walling of the outside of the church generally is of rubble. To the east of the vestry in the north wall a blocked doorway of uncertain age, with a square head, can be seen. Over the east buttress of this wall and about 2 ft. above it is a short length of projecting string-course; this is doubtless a piece of the early (13th-century) string-course; the wall is now carried up above it some feet, setting back slightly. The four east end ashlar-built buttresses are all old and of little height; they are of two stages, the lower one setting back laterally as well as in depth. The other buttresses appear to be old also. The gable at the west end has been truncated and the bell-turret of two arched openings appears to be older than the wall upon which it stands.
Although the roof of the porch is gabled the front wall is carried up square to about half its height, the upper part being inclosed with wood. The roofs of both the chancel and nave are almost flat, apparently modern. The principals of the chancel roof rest upon stone corbels.
In the chancel floor is a large slab with inscription 'hic jacet dns johannes forster quondam rector huius ecclesie de wyclyf cujus anime propicietur deus amen'; his figure, vested for mass, is engraved upon it beneath a cinquefoiled and crocketed canopy with pinnacles; above the canopy are a chalice and book, and round the head of the figure 'Ihu fili dei miserere mei amen.' Within the altar-rails is a stone with a small square brass plate with the kneeling figure of a man, and on a shield the arms: Quarterly 1 and 4, a cheveron between three crosslets; 2, on a cheveron three harts' heads; 3, ermine, a canton; in the inscription the name and date given are Ralph Wycliffe 1606, aet. 14. To the north of this brass is another with a black letter inscription 'hic jacet rogerus de wyclif quondam dominus istius ville et katerina uxor eius quorum animabus propicietur dominus amen,' with the arms below. Another brass is to William Wycliffe, 1584, and his wife Meriel, 1557, the stone being placed there by John Wycliffe in 1611. In the nave are three slabs; two of them are despoiled of their brasses, the third is plain.
In the south wall outside is set a stone with two shields in square panels, with a crocketed pinnacle between them, evidently a part of a 16thcentury tomb; the arms on the shields are almost illegible, but those on the first appear to be Wycliffe quartering Ellerton; the second shield bears the same arms impaling Rokeby. Below this stone is an old gravestone or coffin-lid said to have been found in the churchyard in 1801. On it is carved a beautiful cross with a long stem and head of eight interlacing trefoiled rays in a circle, with a pair of shears below, whilst above are the remains of an inscription in lead letters as follows:—
The church is rich in the remains of early stained glass. In the north chancel window are two shields, one Or three cheverons gules (Clare), and the other Checky azure and or a canton ermine. These are set in original grisaille glass, all within a border gules (De Dreux). In the first south window of the chancel at the head is a representation of the Trinity, the Father with the Dove on His shoulder holding the Son on a cross.
In the lower parts of the tracery are two angels playing bagpipe and shawm; on the left is a lion's head, and on the right two flame circles. The heads of the lights below are filled with castellated architecture, which was the canopy of the lost figures below.
Below, in the eastern light, is the only complete figure remaining; it represents St. James, with his pilgrim's staff, wallet and scallop, carrying a book. In another light is half the figure of St. Bartholomew with his knife.
The second nave window has our Lady with the Child in the upper and angels with triangle and double pipes in the lower part of the tracery. In the first light below is a half-figure of a man made up of fragments. In the second is a half-figure of a king. In the third is a half-figure of St. John Baptist with haloed head. The first and third figures have canopied niches behind and above them, and the middle one a background more like the castellated designs of the other windows.
The plate consists of a wineglass-shaped cup with a band of pricked marks close under the rim; the hall and date marks, if any, have been obliterated, but the cup appears to date from Elizabethan times; a plain dish paten presented 1781 with the three castles hall-mark and the date letter O.
In 1263 the advowson was granted by Roger, Prior of the cell of Austin canons of Markby in Lincolnshire, to Robert de Wycliffe, (fn. 73) and continued to belong to the lords of Wycliffe (fn. 74) until 1878, when the Constables, who, being Roman Catholics very rarely presented, disposed of it to the trustees of Mrs. Erskine, wife of the late rector. In 1897 it came into the possession of the late George Armstrong of Gerforth, Newcastle-on-Tyne; the widow of his son the Rev. R. W. Armstrong (fn. 75) is the present patroness of the rectory of Wycliffe.
In 1572 the free chapel called St. Tildes at Thorpe, formerly in the tenure of Bartholomew Carus, clerk, or his assigns, was granted by the queen to Percival Gunston, his heirs and assigns for ever. (fn. 76)