The liberty of Whitby Strand

Pages 502-505

A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1923.

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containing the parishes of Whitby; Hackness; Sneaton; The Chapelry Of Fylingdales. (fn. 1)

Index Map to the Liberty of Whitby Strand

All the places in the liberty of Whitby Strand, (fn. 2) which was called a wapentake in 1316, (fn. 3) were members of Langbaurgh Wapentake in 1086 (fn. 4) with the exception of Hackness parish, which was in the wapentake of Pickering Lythe (fn. 5) (q.v.); but they were soon separated from those wapentakes. The lord of Aislaby Manor in Whitby parish, however, did suit at the wapentake of Langbaurgh and 'trithing of the North-trithing' in the latter part of the 13th century (fn. 6); although Aislaby was rated with the division of Whitby in 1635, the place of rating was disputed, (fn. 7) and it was again in Langbaurgh Wapentake in 1831 (fn. 8); the coroner for Whitby Strand now holds courts there.

Inhabitants in the 13th century wrongly stated that the boundaries of Whitby Strand were set out by the Abbess Hilda about 660 (fn. 9); the foundation grant made to Hilda by King Oswy included only ten familiae at Whitby, (fn. 10) and there is nothing to show that any other land except Hackness, or part of Hackness, was acquired before the destruction of her house. During the Danish period all seems to have been lost but Hackness. (fn. 11) Shortly after the Norman Conquest the new lord of Whitby, William de Percy, granted to the second monastery, founded here before 1078 by Reinfrid of Jarrow, the ancient monastery of St. Peter with 2 carucates of land in 'Prestebi.' (fn. 12) This with 4 carucates in 'Sourebi' and part of Hackness (q.v.) represented in 1086 the extent of its property, the only land in the district not laid waste by the Conqueror. (fn. 13)

Alan de Percy before 1135 (fn. 14) confirmed to the abbey land within boundaries which have remained those of the liberty. The following places are mentioned as boundaries: 'Blawych,' 'Grenedic,' 'Swinestischage,' (fn. 15) 'Thornelaye,' 'Coppekeldbroc,' 'Staincrossegate,' 'Gretaheved,' 'Lilla Cross,' 'Scograineshoues,' 'Sylehou,' 'Lithebech,' 'St. Hilda's Spring,' 'Horsecroft' and 'Thordeisa.' (fn. 16) These boundaries were confirmed by Henry I and succeeding kings. (fn. 17)

This territory was separated from the wapentake in which it lay by the privileges granted in 1086–7 to the abbot with the church and lands in Hackness. (fn. 18) They included all laws and customs enjoyed by the churches of Ripon, Beverley and York. (fn. 19) This grant and others were confirmed by later kings. (fn. 20)

Whitby Abbey surrendered in December 1539. (fn. 21) In 1550 the whole of the liberty except Hackness was granted to the Earl of Warwick. (fn. 22) In the following year Warwick conveyed it to his supporter, Sir John York, kt., and Anne his wife, (fn. 23) who shortly afterwards sold it to Sir Richard Cholmley, (fn. 24) the lessee of the site. Cholmley received in 1569 a charter confirming to him all previous charters to the abbey except that of Henry VI. (fn. 25) He was succeeded in 1583 by his son Francis, under whose half-brother Sir Henry (1593–1616), (fn. 26) knighted in 1603, (fn. 27) law-suits began as to whether the courts of the liberty were included in the granted to the Earl of Warwick. These courts appear to have been held by the Cholmleys throughout the 16th century, but were apparently even then claimed by the Crown. The bailiwick was granted at an unknown date to William Fisher, afterwards, in 1605, to Henry Stanley, and finally, at his own solicitation, in 1609, for life to Sir Thomas Posthumus Hoby, (fn. 28) owner of Hackness, which had been excepted from the grant to Warwick. Sir Henry Cholmley of Roxby, and Sir Richard his son of Whitby, also knighted in 1603, (fn. 29) then put in their claim, stating that the liberty was appurtenant to the manor of Whitby granted to Warwick, and that they had held courts leet and tourn at Whitby. The defendants denied the dependence of the liberty on the manor, and stated that the only title of the Cholmleys was their purchase of the stewardship from the grantee of the last abbot. (fn. 30) Sir Thomas Posthumus Hoby was ordered to abstain from prosecuting his claim, and the reversion of the lease was granted to Sir Richard Cholmley, (fn. 31) but Hoby was not satisfied and the case proceeded. (fn. 32) One of the witnesses for the Cholmleys (previously their bailiff and steward of the liberty) stated that they had held, ever since they possessed the manor, courts leet, tourns, and three weeks courts for the manor of Whitby and the liberty of Whitby Strand; to these courts came the inhabitants of Whitby, Newholm, Dunsley, East Rowe, Ruswarp, Stakesby, Ewe Cote, Eskdaleside, Sleights, Ugglebarnby, Sneaton, Sneaton Thorpe, Hawsker, Stainsacre, Larpool, Whitby Lathes, Robin Hood's Bay, Fylingdales, Hackness, Suffield, Everley, Harwood Dale, Silpho and Broxa, when summoned, while four men and the constables of those places appeared twice a year at the leet and tourn courts. Hoby, it appears, had lately held the court of the liberty at Hackness. (fn. 33) The Cholmleys doubtless wished to quash the now independent manor of Hackness, but the award of arbitrators appointed by order of the Court, though in their favour as to the liberty, allowed the owner of Hackness to hold his own courts leet and baron. (fn. 34)

The liberty has followed the descent of the manor of Whitby in the Cholmley and Strickland families.

William II confirmed to the abbey the harbour and seaweed throughout their land, (fn. 35) a grant apparently made by William de Percy before 1096. (fn. 36) The abbot proffered the charter of Henry I granting him the port and seaweed to prove his right to wreck in 1278–81. (fn. 37) The abbey made a charge called 'spredyls or spredeles of nets,' (fn. 38) for the spreading of nets on the shore to dry, and took plankage. (fn. 39) In the 18th century the owner of the liberty charged for the groundage of boats. (fn. 40) The water bailiwick as held by Robert Bell (fn. 41) and 'the dry towyll adjacent called the land towyll' were leased in 1531. (fn. 42) Toll, tallage and groundage belonged to this bailiwick. (fn. 43) Sir Hugh Cholmley obtained permission to make a new port in 1673. (fn. 44) The port (then a mem- ber of the port of Newcastle-on-Tyne) was stated in 1729 to extend from the promontory of Huntcliff Foot, 11 miles from Whitby Bar, north-west and west into the sea to 14 fathoms at low water, thence in a supposed line to a point opposite Pease Holm Beck, adjoining the port of Scarborough, and 11½ miles south-south-east of Whitby Bar, and from the bar up the Esk as far as Ruswarp Mill. (fn. 45)

The abbot's court of admiralty is mentioned in the 16th century. (fn. 46) In January 1538–9 the abbot leased the fishing of the Esk from 'the crosses' to Ruswarp Mill. (fn. 47)


  • 1. This was the state of the liberty in 1831 (Pop. Ret. ii, 786), but since that date three new parishes have been formed—namely, Aislaby in 1865 (ibid. 1901, p. 10), Ruswarp in 1870 (Lond. Gaz. 19 Aug. 1870, p. 3876), and Hawsker in 1878 (ibid. 2 Apr. 1878, p. 2308). Grosmont parish, formed out of Lythe in 1852, also includes part of Whitby Strand.
  • 2. So called in the 13th century (Whitby Chartul. [Surt. Soc.], 587–9).
  • 3. Cal. Pat. 1313–17, p. 544.
  • 4. V.C.H. Yorks. ii, 307–8.
  • 5. Ibid. 310.
  • 6. Whitby Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), 718; Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 188–9.
  • 7. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1635, p. 507.
  • 8. Pop. Ret. (1831), ii, 778, where the foot-note confuses it with Aislaby in the parish of Middleton in Pickering Lythe.
  • 9. Charlton, Whitby, 227 (Charlton had access to documents not now forthcoming). The inhabitants also stated that dykes on the eastern boundary were called St. Hilda's Dykes (ibid.). Charlton (writing in 1779) said that all had lost that name, and all were decayed except Greendyke (ibid.). This dyke, and probably the others, are, however, 'much older than Hilda's time' (Whitby Chartul. [Surt. Soc.], 425 n.).
  • 10. Whitby Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), 675.
  • 11. See below, p. 506 n.
  • 12. Whitby Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), 2.
  • 13. V.C.H. Yorks. ii, 218. These lands were then held by the Abbot of York—i.e., Stephen of Whitby, who soon after 1078 had fled with his monks to York (see below).
  • 14. Whitby Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), 683 n.
  • 15. 'The druidical circle' (ibid. 35 n.).
  • 16. Whitby Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), 33–5.
  • 17. Ibid. 149, 152, 155, 157; cf. Cal. Chart. R. 1300–26, p. 188. The lord of the neighbouring barony of Mulgrave (see Lythe parish) laid claim to the north-western portion of the liberty, as part of his barony, in the latter part of the 13th century, and the ownership of the district was for long a matter of dispute. (Baildon, Notes on the Relig. and Secular Houses of Yorks. [Yorks. Arch. Soc.], 223; Abbrev. Plac. [Rec. Com.], 201; Cal. Close, 1279–88, pp. 153–4; Feet of F. Yorks. 11 Edw. I, no. 29; Whitby Chartul. [Surt. Soc.], 393–9, 585–600; Charlton, op. cit. 225–7; Inq. Non. [Rec. Com.], 231.)
  • 18. Whitby Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), 495–6; cf. Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 194, 195, 203, 269; Chart. R. 21–4 Hen. VI, no. 18.
  • 19. cf. Dugdale, Mon. ii, 127, 131; viii, 1172 et seq.
  • 20. Whitby Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), passim; Cart. Antiq. CC. no. 7.
  • 21. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (2), 683.
  • 22. Pat. 4 Edw. VI, pt. vii, m. 30; Acts of P.C. 1550–2, p. 11.
  • 23. Yorks. Fines, Tudors (Yorks. Arch. Soc.), i, 160.
  • 24. Ibid. 205; Com. Pleas D. Enr. Trin. 1 & 2 Phil. and Mary, m. 10.
  • 25. Pat. 26 Chas. II, pt. viii, no. 14.
  • 26. Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), ccxiv, 157; Foster, Visit. of Yorks. 220.
  • 27. Shaw, Knights of Engl. ii, 101.
  • 28. Cal. S P. Dom. 1603–10, pp. 502, 516; Pat. 7 Jas. I, pt. xi, m. 1.
  • 29. Shaw, op. cit. ii, 113.
  • 30. Exch. K.R. Bills and Answers (Yorks.), Jas. I, no. 1118, 1420.
  • 31. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1611–18, p. 126.
  • 32. Cholmley, Memoirs, 20. Besides this suit, Hoby exhibited four bills in the Star Chamber against Sir Richard Cholmley (ibid.), and involved his successor in much litigation.
  • 33. Exch. Dep. East. 11 Jas. I, no. 13; Trin. 11 Jas. I, no. 13.
  • 34. Inform. kindly given by Mr. George Buchannan.
  • 35. Whitby Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), 527.
  • 36. Ibid. 29.
  • 37. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 188. The last abbot petitioned after the Dissolution concerning a suit brought against him in the Admiralty Court for taking wreck (Augm. Off. Proc. bdle. 4, no. 46).
  • 38. 'Pro expancione retheum super predictam terram, anglice spredyls' (Conventual Leases, Yorks. no. 960).
  • 39. Whitby Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), 501–2.
  • 40. Exch. Dep. Mich. 31 Geo. II, no. 1. It was then stated to be a new claim.
  • 41. He perhaps gave his name to Bell Island, dry at low water, above the bridge.
  • 42. Conventual Leases, Yorks. no. 1028.
  • 43. Whitby Chartul. (Surt. Soc.), 724.
  • 44. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1673, pp. 274, 327.
  • 45. Exch. Spec. Com. no. 6930.
  • 46. Land Rev. Enr. clxix, fol. 207.
  • 47. Ibid. fol. 235.