Ouse and Derwent Wapentake

A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 3, Ouse and Derwent Wapentake, and Part of Harthill Wapentake. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.

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'Ouse and Derwent Wapentake', in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 3, Ouse and Derwent Wapentake, and Part of Harthill Wapentake, (London, 1976) pp. 1-4. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/east/vol3/pp1-4 [accessed 20 April 2024]


The Wapentake lies in the heart of the Vale of York, at the western extremity of the East Riding; it adjoins both of the other ridings, and the city of York stands at its northern edge. The rivers Ouse and Derwent form the greater part of the boundaries of the wapentake, enclosing a gently undulating countryside relieved by few marked natural features. The area is still largely rural with a mainly agricultural economy.

Much of the land lies at about 25 ft. above sea-level and large tracts are lower still. It consists mostly of drifts of clay, sand, and silt, deposited in the shallow water that occupied the vale during the final stage of glaciation in northern England. Successive limits of the Vale of York glacier during that period are marked by two pronounced terminal moraines of boulder clay and gravel: the Escrick moraine crosses the centre of the wapentake and the York moraine forms its northern boundary. These ridges are the most prominent features of the Ouse and Derwent landscape, the first in places exceeding 50 ft. above sea-level, the second even passing 100 ft. More recent deposits include extensive areas of alluvium occupying the flood plains of the rivers, more especially in the south of the wapentake. (fn. 1)

In prehistoric and Roman times the moraines served as routeways across the marshy vale, and Anglian and Scandinavian settlers established several villages upon them, like Escrick, Wheldrake, and Dunnington. Elsewhere subtle variations in relief and drainage determined the settlement pattern, and riverside villages like Naburn and Elvington were planted at points where the meandering Ouse and Derwent swing close to the firm valley sides. The Ouse has in places changed its course in historic times and several small areas thus became detached from their ancient parishes. These anomalies were tidied up by late-19th-century boundary changes, like that which brought Newhay (now in Hemingbrough), a former monastic grange, into the East Riding.

In the early Middle Ages much of the wapentake lay within the royal forest of Ouse and Derwent, disafforested in 1234. (fn. 2) Widespread woodland and common wastes long characterized the area, however, and the methods by which they were assarted helped to produce a distinctive agricultural landscape. The small open fields, large commons, and extensive early inclosures contrast strongly with the predominantly open-field economy of the wolds in, for example, Dickering wapentake. (fn. 3) Much common land remained in Ouse and Derwent until well into the 19th century, and one waste, the 600acre Skip with common, survived in 1973 as a nature reserve.

A few timber-framed buildings still survive in the area, but the villages now consist largely of brick houses of the 17th century and later. Several outstanding mansions in the more northerly parishes reflect the proximity of York and the interest of its citizens in country property. Much of Gate Fulford has become part of the built-up area of the city since the 19th century, and recently several villages have been developed as York dormitories. In addition, the University of York was established at Heslington in 1960. Industrial development has largely been confined to Barlby, where riverside mills and housing estates form a suburb of Selby, across the Ouse in the West Riding.

WAPENTAKE OF OUSE AND DERWENT: the parish boundaries are those of c. 1850.

1 The Nesses (later W.R.), 2 The Holmes (later W.R.), 3 Newhay (later in Hemingbrough), 4 part of Barmby on the Marsh (later in Hemingbrough), 5 Menthorpe, 6 Bowthorpe, 7 Brackenholme with Woodhall.

As has been explained elsewhere (fn. 4) the Domesday hundreds in the East Riding were during the 12th century transformed into wapentakes. Ouse and Derwent wapentake, first mentioned in 1200, (fn. 5) was made up of parts of Cave, Howden, Pocklington, Sneculfcros, and Warter hundreds, though the Howden townships may not have been included until the 14th century.

From Cave hundred the wapentake drew part of the township of West Cottingwith. From Howden it took Babthorpe, Barlby, Bowthorpe, Brackenholme, Cliffe, the rest of West Cottingwith, North Duffield, South Duffield, Hagthorpe, Hemingbrough, Osgodby, Riccall, Skipwith, and Thorganby. Menthorpe and Woodhall, not mentioned in Domesday, were also included in the wapentake. From Pocklington hundred the wapentake drew the townships of 'Chetelstorp' (in Escrick), Elvington, Escrick, Deighton, Kelfield, Moreby, Stillingfleet, and Wheldrake. Kexby, not mentioned separately in 1086, was also included. Sneculfcros hundred contributed the townships of Dunnington, Grimston, 'Janulfestorp', and Scoreby, and Warter hundred those of Water Fulford, Heslington, Langwith, and Naburn. (fn. 6) Also included in Ouse and Derwent wapentake was Gate Fulford, which in the Survey had been described, along with other places, 'in the geld of the city' of York. (fn. 7)

The early relationship between Howden hundred and the new wapentake is not entirely clear. The hundred comprised the liberty of the bishop of Durham's manor of Howden, and by the later 12th century the liberty was known as Howdenshire. Not until the mid 14th century was Howdenshire regarded as a wapentake, when those townships which became part of Ouse and Derwent wapentake were finally excluded. In the mean time Howdenshire was for certain purposes apparently regarded as lying partly in Harthill and partly in Ouse and Derwent wapentakes. Thus 'the wapentake of Harthill with part of Howdenshire' was mentioned in 1230. (fn. 8) The whole of the later Ouse and Derwent wapentake was curiously described in 1284-5 as 'the wapentake in Howdenshire between Ouse and Derwent'. (fn. 9) In 1316 only the northern townships were listed under Ouse and Derwent, the rest being included with the liberty of Howden. (fn. 10) In 1354, for taxation purposes, the southern parishes were still separated under the liberty of Howden, but by 1446 the distinction was no longer made. (fn. 11) The wapentake of Howdenshire had itself been mentioned in 1354 (fn. 12) and perhaps emerged as a distinct unit in the later 14th century, just as Ouse and Derwent then assumed its modern identity. Various townships and parts of townships in Ouse and Derwent were also taxed separately in 1354 as belonging to the liberties of St. Leonard's hospital and St. Mary's abbey in York and to York minster. (fn. 13)

The township of Gate Helmsley was included in Ouse and Derwent wapentake in 1284-5 and still in 1446, (fn. 14) but it was subsequently reckoned part of Bulmer wapentake in the North Riding. (fn. 15)

The area dealt with here under Ouse and Derwent includes Newhay, gained from the West Riding in 1883, as well as the Nesses and the Holmes, transferred to the West Riding that year. Kexby and Scoreby, which were parts of Catton parish, itself mainly in the Wilton Beacon division of Harthill wapentake, are reserved for treatment later in this volume.

The wapentake remained with the Crown until at least the 16th century. The office of wapentake bailiff was granted for life to successive holders in 1542, 1552, and 1567. (fn. 16)

It is not certainly known where the wapentake met. In 1280, however, it was recorded that the king claimed suit from the prioress of Thicket at the county and wapentake courts at York once a year. (fn. 17) They may both have been held at the castle. (fn. 18) Many of the townships paid a share of the wapentake fine and owed suit at the court. (fn. 19)

The sheriff accounted for 6 marks from the wapentake in 1236-7 and 5 marks in 1399-1400. (fn. 20) In the 16th and 17th centuries he received less than £1 in blanch farm from Ouse and Derwent. The bishop of Durham was said in 1542-3 to be quit of suit at the wapentake courts. (fn. 21)


  • 1. The Pennines and Adjacent Areas (Brit. Regional Geol.) (H.M.S.O.), 72-4; Geol. Surv. Map 1", solid and drift, sheets 63 (1967 edn.), 71 (1973 edn.); drift, sheet 79 (1973 edn.).
  • 2. V.C.H. Yorks. i. 501.
  • 3. See especially pp. 123-5; cf. V.C.H. Yorks. E.R. ii, passim.
  • 4. V.C.H. Yorks. E.R. ii. 2.
  • 5. O. S. Anderson, English Hundred-Names, 19.
  • 6. V.C.H. Yorks. ii. 318-22.
  • 7. Ibid. 193; V.C.H. City of York, 19.
  • 8. Anderson, op. cit. 18-19.
  • 9. Feud. Aids, vi. 32.
  • 10. Ibid. 172-3.
  • 11. E 179/202/53, 120.
  • 12. Anderson, op. cit. 18.
  • 13. E 179/202/53.
  • 14. E 179/202/120; Feud. Aids, vi. 32.
  • 15. See V.C.H. Yorks. N.R. ii. 139.
  • 16. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xvii, p. 33; Cal. Pat. 1550-3, 295; 1566-9, p. 82.
  • 17. Yorks. Fines, 1272-1300, pp. 45-6.
  • 18. See V.C.H. City of York, 522-3.
  • 19. Feud. Aids, vi. 32-7; Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 191, 201.
  • 20. E 370/6/18, 27.
  • 21. E 370/6/28; /13/217; /15/28, 43, 57, 60.