History of The Dunsforths

The following excerpts are taken from a booklet on the history of the Dunsforths which was published for the millennium. A special thanks to Ken Holmes of Lower Dunsforth who was responsible for the publication.

Dunsforth 2000

A Millenium Commemoration of a small Yorkshire Community

By Ken Holmes



So where do we start? Let's consider the geography. The landscape, as we know it, was formed at the end of the last ice-age, about 10,000 BC. This was when the dales had been shaped by the glaciers and the river valleys formed. The lowland became extensively forested and locations, such as ours, would have been marshy and ill-drained but, potentially, very fertile. Indeed, a traveller in the 19th century likened the situation in Lower Dunsforth to that of Egypt, where the Nile floods enriched the land. However, in the period after the end of the last ice-age, it is unlikely that there would been, to any considerable extent, any human population at this time since the relatively few people who inhabited this land at that time tended to occupy the higher ground.


We only come to recorded history when the Romans invaded Britain in AD 43. Britain , at that time, consisted of a number of well-organised Celtic tribes, who were capable of skillful warfare and were considerable traders. The northern part of Britain was inhabited by the Brigantes, the largest of the British tribes. They were a rather fragmented people, whose leaders engaged in diplomacy with the Romans, sometimes involving treachery. The Brigantian Queen, Cartimandua, for example, handed over the fugitive Caratacus. Cartimandua subsequently had a dispute with her husband, Venutius, and took up with his armour bearer. Eventually Venutius was defeated in AD71 and Roman authority was later established, though there were Brigantian rebellions in the second century. Our part of the world was, thus, somewhat troubled until the Romans , as was their practice, built fortresses, such as York and good roads for the easy movement of troops and messages.

At this time the important Roman town of Isurium (Aldborough) was established, developing progressively through to the fourth century. Isurium was clearly a prosperous and comfortable town, served by a good road, Dere Street (now the B6265) and having important proximity to the river. The Romans were particularly interested in supplies of cereals, animal products and minerals (lead etc.) These were best transported by water, hence the importance of a navigable river. Isurium had both road and river, and therefore prospered. Roman towns , for security reasons, were protected by walls but tended to promote other activities such as trading and agriculture outside the fortified limits. In the fields outside Aldborough, on the Dunsforth road, there are undulations along the line of the Roman road which suggest that there might be the remains of buildings, though this is not certain. There is written evidence that good land outside Roman towns was well cultivated. How far this might have extended towards Dunsforth is, of course, not known. There are no recorded finds of Roman items in Dunsforth, other than, perhaps, some coins at Upper Dunsforth. However, the proximity of Dere Street and the river, passing through Dunsforth, means that the Romans were active in our area for a long time, from the first century AD to the middle of the fifth century, some 400 years, that is a period which is as long as that from our own time back to the days of Shakespeare.

The Romans established prosperous towns, like Isurium, with good communications, and introduced Christianity, though this had to be re-introduced later. Eventually Roman rule was challenged by Saxons, Picts, Scots and others, and gradually disintegrated and with it a well developed social and economic system.


We can infer very little of life here for the next few centuries. Roman civilisation disappeared and invasions of Angles, Saxons and later Vikings took place and as we know from York (]orvik), the river was of great importance. Two items of evidence demonstrate that there was some habitation here in this period. The first is the very name ”DUNSFORTH’, or, as it appears in some later references, ”DUNSFORDE’. ”Ford” clearly refers to a river crossing, which could have been important. The Romans had bridged the river at York and north of Isurium (Aldborough) but it is thought that this location, which later became Boroughbridge, had fallen into disuse. It appears that there was also a ford crossing at Aldwark. ”DUNSFORTH” is a Saxon name. Forth or ford” refers to the river crossing. ”DUN”, in old English has several meanings, one of which is ”hill” or ”high ground”. This is the word which later became ”down” or ”dune”. This suggests that Dunsforth is the ford by the hill, the hill being the high ground where Marton-cum-Grafton now sits. The second item of evidence which suggests that there was human activity hereabouts is the recovery, in 1861, from the land between the church and school, of 30 pennies from the reign of King Alfred. This suggests, but does not prove, that this location accommodated some presence of a community, however small.

The first piece of really firm evidence comes, as so often, in the Doomsday Book of 1087, after the Norman Conquest, where it says ”In Dunsforth there are three caracates of land. Land for two ploaghs, and six acres of meadow, the rest is waste. Gamiel held it of the king". A carucate was, notionally, 120 acres, thus a total of 360 acres; not an enormous area, but significant, given the technology of the time, ”two ploughs”. These figures have to be taken with some care and reservation since they were primarily a basis for taxation, rather than an accurate description of the land under cultivation at the time. It must also be remembered that William I laid waste most of the north of England after the Norman Conquest. So far, then, we have the evidence of the name of the village, the finding of some 9th century coins and, possibly, some Roman coins near Upper Dunsforth, on an uncertain site. Is it possible that, given the relationship with the unbanked river, that Upper Dunsforth afforded sites for habitation, away from the flood plain, whilst the more fertile farmland was at Lower Dunsforth? No buildings survive from medieval times, except the chapel-of-ease at Lower Dunsforth, until 1860. One wonders whether the chapel was established to serve the needs of pilgrims who were using the river crossing.


Chapels-of-ease, in medieval times, authorised by the Pope in 1233, via the Archbishop of York, were intended to provide access to religious functions for people who lived in scattered communities, where access to the main centres of religious activity was made difficult by poor communications, bad weather, floods and so on. It is recorded that, in 1352, William de Dunsford was chaplain of this chapel of-ease. This arrangement seems to have continued through the late middle ages. There is a report, dated 1548, which is after the break with the Roman church, recommending that the chapels of Boroughbridge, Rawcliffe and Dunsforth, in the parish of Aldborough, wherein were founded several charities, being chapels-of-ease far distant from the parish church, should be continued.

There is evidence that this pattern continued through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Various references in these centuries indicate that Dunsforth, was served, much as now, as with other satellite” communities, from Aldborough. In 1629 there was a move to establish a degree of independence for Dunsforth in the person of a curate called Richard Wright, but it seems that these aspirations were unfulfilled until the 19th century, though in 1751 there was another attempt to make some particular provision for Dunsforth , by offering special payments, tithes etc. Various gifts from Queen Anne's Bounty were secured at this time. Queen Anne's Bounty was a device, established in 1704 to assist poor parishes. Its origins were before the Reformation when a newly appointed priest gave 10% of his first year's income to the Pope. After the Reformation, this money went to the crown.

The churchwarden records from 1716 to 1861 are in existence. They record in some detail the activities within the church community throughout that period. Most of the entries are to do with the day to day management and upkeep of the church, such as the purchase of bread and wine, books for services, journeys on church business to Ripon, York, Aldborough etc. On one occasion in 1725 six pence was paid for ”shifting fowls out of the Chapell!”

The bell and tower seem to have been a constant source of trouble. In 1833 a stove was installed, which caused many problems, necessitating much in the way of repairs and cleaning of the chapel. In 1857 they cut their losses and bought a new stove for eighteen shillings. From 1716 through to 1844 there is a regular entry recording the recognition of_Guy Fawkes’ Day, with bell ringing, ale, cake and bread (parkin?). The fear of the Stuarts and Catholicism was no doubt powerful throughout the 18th century. The churchwardens also had secular duties as constables, particularly in relation to vagrants, referred to as ”passengers”, and soldiers passing through. Is this further evidence of the significance of a river crossing?

The old church (chapel-of-ease) was replaced in 1861 by the present church, which initiated a new phase in the history of the church in Dunsforth, in a number of ways, but, first, a digression to another place of worship.


On 3rd November 1848, a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was opened in Lower Dunsforth. This was located on the site of what is now Manor Farm Cottage, opposite the telephone box. It is not known when this chapel ceased to be used as a place for worship. It had been registered with the Bishop of Ripon as a place of Religious Worship by an Assembly or Congregation of Protestants by John Bacon, a grocer of Boroughbridge, as was required by a law of 1812. It seems that this chapel had gone into disuse by the early twentieth century, possibly earlier. It is within living memory that this building had become a place of recreation, known as the Victoria Club Room. It is recalled that, in the nineteen twenties it had, within it, a billiard table and a piano, though its use was apparently for men only! The Village war memorial, currently under restoration, was originally located on this site. By 1977, when the present house on this site was being planned, the walls of the former chapel were down to a very low level and the ownership of the site was unclear. The builder of the present house advertised, by public notice, for the owners to come forward, to no avail, and was, thus, legally entitled to take occupation of the site.


The Methodist Chapel and the original Manor Farm Cottage

 The Methodist Chapel and the original Manor Farm Cottage


Architectural evidence, from a report made in 1859, suggests that the chapel-of-ease was built in a style that ’’prevailed from nearly 800 years previously”, which takes us back to Norman times. The old font, which is still in the present church, is believed to be dated to the 12th or 13th century. Furthermore, there is incorporated into the present Vestry, an arch and corbel which it is believed confirms the antiquity of the old chapel. There were various modifications to the chapel over the centuries - a wall re-built, the nave enlarged, some windows installed, re-roofing undertaken and a porch and belfry added. Unfortunately, the floor, brick paved, was lower than the churchyard making the building ”cold, damp and unwho1esome”, the walls were ”much dilapidated”. In addition to the architect's report in 1859, which‘ recommended the demolition and replacement of the old chapel, another report, made in 1853, describes it as a ”small brick built chapel of the most simple and primitive form, consisting merely of a nave and chancel, with a brick bell turret about two yards square, perched like a pigeon house upon the west end; it is a wretched building in the old barn style of architecture”. Such was the basis of the demolition of the old chapel and its replacement by the present church.


In 1865 the parish had a population of 302, probably about 100 more than at the end of the twentieth century. It was in this period of the mid nineteenth century that various ambitious projects were undertaken. It has already been noted that a Methodist Chapel had been built in 1848. How many active Methodists were present in the community is unknown but it must be pointed out that unlike modern ecumenical times, animosities amongst different Christian sects were strong in the early/ mid nineteenth century Catholicism was barely tolerated being associated with migrant Irish and a very few old aristocratic families, such as the Howards (Dukes of Norfolk). Methodism thrived amongst the disadvantaged classes, often the poorer tenant farmers and labourers, whilst the established church was strong amongst the larger landowners, aristocracy and middle classes, though it did retain the right to oversee other sects, as evidenced by the requirement that the Dunsforth Methodist Chapel had to be registered with the Bishop of Ripon. The conduct of baptisms marriages and deaths similarly rested with the established church. Clearly, there were enough Methodists in the Dunsforth community to raise the money to build a small chapel in 1848.

In addition to this and most impressively, the community, in the 1860's, was capable of building a new church, a school and a Vicarage. Two of these projects proved to be unduly ambitious but they were fulfilled, albeit temporarily.

The dire condition of the old chapel-of-ease has already been recognised and the need for its replacement was established, although there were some who expressed regret that attempts were not made to restore a building of great antiquity, reaching back, probably, to Norman times. Authorisation, from the Bishop of Ripon, was granted on 31st May 1860 for the demolition and re-building of the chapel / church. The project was led by the Rev. C. R. Scholfield, Vicar of Aldborough. The plan consisted of a new church, a burial ground, which had not previously existed at Dunsforth, a Vicarage, a school and a school house. Mr. Scholfield worked hard on this project. Local fund raising was energetic. Further afield, money was raised from other, wider, sources including the USA.

The balance sheet for this, apart from the Vicarage, came to £2267-12s-1od, of which £1334-0s-3d was from public subscription, including £75 from Queen Victoria, £50 from the Bishop of Ripon, but, especially, £300 from the father of the Vicar of Aldborough, W. F. Scholfield Esq. of Fairlawn, Ripon. The rest came from a wide geographical and social range, including sums from, typically, £50 down to 2 /6d (twelve and a half pence in present money. Then there was the contribution from the USA, mainly New York, organised by Henry A. Smythe Esq, which, when converted into sterling, came to £140, £40 of which was from one family called Talbot. These sums seem small to us but the value of money was very different in 1860.

The Church

The foundation stone of the church was laid on 14th June 1860. The inscription reads:


At this time the whole project was well progressed. The school and school house were complete and the church was well advanced. There is a press report of a village celebration and public holiday. It reports that ”At 1 pm about 100 children met for cake and wine(?) at the house of the churchwarden. There followed a procession, with flags and banners, then prayers and speeches and an account of the ceremony; some coins and a newspaper were placed in the foundation stone. The day ended with games etc. at 9 pm".

The church was consecrated on 24th Sept. 1861, with a service by the Bishop of Ripon. Later there was a public dinner in the school room.

The estimated cost of the church had been £1100, but like so often, the contract ran over budget at £1972. Furthermore, problems soon arose. In 1868 the north wall had begun to give way. £50 was raised to rectify this. Over the next 25 years various modifications were made, including a new floor, changes to the location of the font, the height of the pulpit lowered and a lectern brought from Boroughbridge. By about 1890, stability was realised and a lively church community was established, although the population of the village had declined to 136, reflecting the difficulties experienced in the agricultural community in the late 19th century, and the general drift to the towns.


The Vicarage was completed in 1866, and, like the church, there were problems with the building. The total cost was £1813-5s-3d, a considerable sum for a house in 1866. Most of the money came from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, though the Vicar was left with responsibility for making up payments for some of the outbuildings.

The Vicarage

Rev. F. G. Sykes had become perpetual curate in 1865 and, in 1867, became vicar, when Dunsforth became a separate parish for the first time. He remained until 1911 when he was succeeded by Rev. F.T Kruckenberg. In 1929 Dunsforth was again merged with Aldborough and ceased to be an independent parish again. Apart from this period from 1865 to 1929, it seems that Dunsforth was served by neighbouring parishes and their clergy, as curates, and there seems to have been no living accommodation for a curate in the village.


Dunsforth’s association with Aldborough has been fairly consistent over the centuries. The only period when the parish had its own resident vicar appear to have been from 1865 to 1923, covering the incumbencies of Mr. Sykes and Mr. Kruckenberg.

John Hartley
Henry Harrison (officiating)
Wm Henry Thompson
R.D. Owen
Charles Richard Scholfield
Various officiating until
1865 Frederick Galland Sykes
ET. Kruckenberg
1924 Various
C.M. Barker
W.C. Luxmore (to 1938)
Robert Kettlewell
Cyril Jackson
W. Griffith
C.G. Atherley
R. Noyes
Richard Cooper
Philip Smith


The two bells are of some antiquity. The tenor bell is believed to date to about 1550 and, when inspected by an expert in 1987, was found to be in poor condition. The tone was poor and it was thought that it was cracked. The founder was unknown. The inscription presented a puzzle; ANELEH ATCNAS, which is SANCTA HELENA, written backwards. The explanation offered is that the workman who used the letter stamps to mark the bell was illiterate and knew no better than to use them in reverse. The treble bell, dated 1671, was in much better condition and was identified as being made by Samuel Smith of York. It is inscribed GLORlA IN ALTISSIMUS DEO".

The clock is believed to have been made by Indley of York in 1784 and was originally in the stables of the Red House at Moor Monckton. Apparently, lightning struck the clock tower at Red House and the clock found its way to a clock-maker called Walshaw in Knaresborough. It was restored and sold to Dunsforth for £16. Money has recently been secured for further restoration.


With a new church and a full time vicar, Dunsforth had to adapt to the full range of functions, services etc., which had, hitherto, been delivered from a distance. Previous to that time, burials were at Aldborough; a number of Dunsforth graves can be found at the east end of Aldborough church yard. Given the character of the roads and paths at that time, it was necessary to carry coffins along the ’whins’ (paths) at least as far as Low House, after which it might have been possible to use a wheeled vehicle. The first burial in Dunsforth was of Thomas Woodward of Higher Dunsforth on 6th December 1861.

It was the then practice to use the newer bell at funerals to receive the procession and then to mark the age of the deceased. It was, apparently, an old custom for men to wear their hats during a funeral service.

Baptisms, eventually, and after some resistance, came to be conducted during the ordinary services, though it had previously been preferred that this should have been carried out either in the home or in a separate ceremony in church. Other rituals, such as confirmation and churching were found a regular place, the former in collaboration with neighbouring parishes, the latter at a particular time, just before the main afternoon service, in view of objections to this ritual being accommodated within a public service.


An important project in the mid 19th century was the establishment of the school. Like the Wesleyan Chapel, this proved to be a somewhat ambitious venture. Before 1870, most school provision was undertaken by religious groups. There were two main societies active in this field; the National Society, which promoted Anglican schools, and the British Society, which represented the non-conformist interest. There were also a few charity schools, and the so-called ‘dame’ schools, which at worst were little more than child-minding units, a few schools set up by enlightened employers and some Catholic schools. Some public money was granted in support of elementary schools, £20,000 in 1833. This system stumbled on through the middle years of the 19th century, with some slight progress in moves to train teachers and to inspect schools, but the period was characterised by religious animosities and suspicions. The relatively strong position of the National Society (Anglican) meant that it received 80% of the government grants.

Many village communities, led by the parson, churchwardens and the squire, where one existed, moved to establish schools in these circumstances to promote basic literacy and to teach Church doctrines. Dunsforth came to this later than many villages in 1861, taking advantage of the arrangement whereby the National Society matched the money raised locally for the establishment of a school. Dunsforth was always at a disadvantage as a consequence of other schools already established in neighbouring villages, particularly Ouseburn.

On 7th December 1861 a committee consisting of Messrs. Leatham, Woodward, Abbay and Inchbold (all established Dunsforth names) appointed as headmaster Mr. C. H. White of Liverpool. Schooling, at this time was neither free nor compulsory. The terms for admission were set out:

Boys and girls of 4 years of age and upwards to be admitted through the clergyman of the parish (which presumably meant on the authority of the vicar), or through a subscriber of 10 shillings (50 pence) or upwards (presumably this refers to people who had contributed to the building of the school).

4d per week to be paid by every child whose parent farms 40 acres, until 10 years of age, then 6d per week.

Payment for children of labourers as follows: 3d per week for 1 child, 5d for 2 children, 6d for 3 children, 6d and a halfiaenny for 4 children. Payments to be made every Monday, in advance.

That children come to school clean 8 neat, and their hair combed; otherwise, that they be sent home.

To put these charges into context, it should noted that, on the evidence which came to light at the establishment of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union in 1872. Typically, a carter, 12 shillings per week for a 14 hour day, six and a half days; a shepherd, 10 shillings for a 7 day week, with lost time in bad weather, 1s6d for rent; a labourer received 7 shillings, with money lost on bad days, and 1s3d for rent. Given the size of Victorian families, it was a significant decision to commit one’s children to school. Schooling became, effectively compulsory, though patchily, by 1880 and by the 1890's most schooling was free.

Dunsforth school had a difficult history. Numbers were never high and rarely viable. The school records show numbers varied from about 20 in 1869 to about 12 in 1889, improving to around 42 in 1903. With these numbers it was usually in the charge of one teacher covering all ’Standards’. This was the name for the levels of attainment through which pupils were expected to progress at the rate of one per year, there being seven standards in all, though by no means all children achieved the whole programme. These were mainly to do with basic literacy and numeracy, though other activities were included. There was difficulty in securing and retaining teachers. Mr. White and, his successor, a Mr. Maggee, had both gone by 1865. In 1868 the headmaster left in suspicious circumstances, the goods in the school house having to be checked carefully against the inventory! From January 1869 to May 1879 there were seven headmistresses, several only lasting months. Later there was greater stability. It is difficult to know for certain why there was such a rapid movement of teachers. One possibility is that Dunsforth was a poor, small and remote community, with bad communications, and, therefore, unappealing. Another may be that it would have been very important for the teacher to have a very close rapport with the vicar and his wife. The school record books show that both the vicar and his wife were in the school almost daily, to inspect the girls’ needlework, for example, and to check on other activities. We can know little or nothing of the personalities of Mr. and Mrs. Sykes. but they obviously took their responsibilities seriously, perhaps a little too seriously for some of the teachers! In addition to which, the salary was never large, initially £40 per year.

Furthermore the teaching cannot have been easy. The school log books record very erratic standards of attainment and equally erratic attendance. The establishment of an effective school system in the 19th century was especially difficult in rural areas. The skills for living in the countryside were not generally acquired in the schoolroom, moreover child labour was much needed around the farms. There are ample notes in the log books of absence for farming tasks; planting, hay making, harvesting, potato picking, gleaning, cattle tending etc. the holidays had to be geared, flexibly, to harvest requirements. Another hazard to consistent attendance was the incidence of infectious disease, which was often reported, interrupting regular attendance. With poor housing, water supplies and drainage, the countryside was not a healthy environment in the 19th century. The school closed in the 1946 and the remaining children, and their teacher, Mrs. Turner, now Mrs. Preston , were transferred to Boroughbridge.


The proximity of the river is clearly of importance to Dunsforth in various ways. On the positive side, the river has much to do with the fertility of the land and has, in the past, been a valuable channel of communication. There is also some evidence that a mill existed opposite to Dunsforth Lodge. Within living memory, the river was used for the conveyance of heavy goods. The riverside villages had an access road to the river for this purpose; Gale Garth in Upper Dunsforth and the track, in Lower Dunsforth, which is still shown on OS maps as a minor county road called River Road, Boat Lane or River Ure Lane Obviously better roads and the growth in motor transport have made this facility redundant. There was also a ferry at Lower Dunsforth, which was operated by the landlord of the Anchor Inn (now The Dunsforth and previously the Boat Inn & Angler Inn). The ferry was recorded as being in use as late as 1891.

The Anchor Inn


At some stages in the past it is presumed that the river was fordable, hence the name Dunsforth(ford). There is a record in the Church accounts of soldiers passing through and requiring transport across the river. It is thought that these could have been soldiers heading north to confront the Jacobite insurrection (Bonnie Prince Charlie) in 1745.

The Dunsforth Ferry

The negative side of the proximity to the river is, of course, flooding; a problem which exercises us to this day. Various actions, over the years, have contained the problem to a great degree. Recent work on a further flood defence system has still to be tested. There have only been two occasions within the last 60 years when water has actually entered the village and threatened, even flooded, some properties. These were in 1947 and 1982, when, in both cases, there was a considerable quantity of melting snow in the dales. More regularly, there are occasions when Lower Dunsforth is briefly isolated by flood waters encroaching on the three access roads; a problem which could be dealt with by raising the road level on at least one of the roads at either Bog Bridge or Howe Bridge.

In previous centuries, periodic flooding must have been a regular hazard, making life very uncomfortable in the simple dwellings in which many people lived. The problem was recognised at the time of the Lower Dunsforth enclosure in 1808, when the land was fenced and enclosed. At this time there was a systematic attempt to manage drains and water courses. Provision was made for the appointment of five ’Dyke Reeves’, who had the responsibility and authority to maintain the drainage and to levy a rate from the population for this purpose. One particular feature of this arrangement was the management of the Town Street sewer. This was an open drain down the south side of the main street. This remained open until 1975, having been kept as such deliberately in order to clear flood waters. Indeed, in 1891 it was it was determined that it should never be covered. By 1975, however, it was agreed it was such a foul and unpleasant feature, that it was decided that it should be enclosed , which was done, after some difficulty in establishing responsibility for the work. The drain is now culverted from just beyond Bramley Cottage to a point in Ings Lane.

Throughout the 19th century, there were a number of occasions when serious floods were recorded, in 1820, 1822 and 1831(very severe). At this stage action was taken by local farmers to erect flood banks, no doubt the first level which we now see. Nevertheless, there was further flooding in 1833, 1855, 1861, 1863, 1868, 1883, 1892, which were years in which floods were recorded as encroaching into some houses. The situation in the 20th century seems to have been much better, no doubt with more substantial and better maintained flood defences. Another Variable, compared with 19th century, and earlier, is that whereas in past times the river was left to its own devices, it is now much more actively managed both for water extraction and control of the tidal reaches of the Ouse.


The Roman Dere Street ran along the line of the present B6265, past Dunsforth. Old maps show that the lanes, as we now know them, were more or less in place. Mary Lane was variously described as Knaresborough Road or Mary Gate, no doubt in recognition of the dedication of the church. The road to Aldborough is named Holbecks lane or Boroughbridge Road, the access to Lower Dunsforth was gated; two pieces of evidence confirm this. One was that Mr Inchbold, who was murdered in 1844, was found, injured, by the ”Dunsforth Gate”, and, secondly, it is recorded that there was , at the top of Mary Lane, the Mary Gate, which an old woman used as a location for begging. Additionally, there were the footpaths, much as they now remain. The roads were little more than tracks and the verges were used for grazing cattle, known as ’tenting.

The condition of the roads and paths was such that coffins, being taken for burial at Aldborough, had to be carried on the shoulder at least as far as Low Farm, when it became possible to use a wheeled vehicle. At some stage between the two world wars the roads were surfaced but not sufficiently widened for modern traffic and farm machinery.

The telephone came in the period between the wars, but, after the second world war, there were only two or three phones. Electricity came in 1948; and main drainage somewhat later. Piped water arrived in the 1930”s, replacing the pumps and wells. Some properties had the benefit of their own supply, others had to use the communal supplies, one of which was located on the triangle, where there was also a bungalow, now the site of the pumping station.


Until the mid to late 2oth century the activity was almost exclusively agriculture, with associated support trades. The baptismal records from 1841 to 1996 support this, showing that the population consisted, overwhelmingly, of farmers, and farm labourers, who became ”agricultural workers” in the 1940's. Other categories recorded were ’yeoman’ and ’hind’, although one suspects that the use of these terms was the choice of the particular clergyman who conducted the baptism. Other recorded occupations, only in single figures, included butcher, shoemaker, sawyer, joiner, servant, musician, tanner, pig dealer, tailor, teasle grower, merchant, groom/ gardener, iron moulder, draper, publican, builder, blacksmith, carter, farrier, bricklayer,and shepherd. There are references to the first resident Vicar, Mr. Sykes, who had several children and grandchildren baptised here, also to a schoolmaster and to a gentleman. In the later years of the 19th century there is mention of an engine driver, a railway shunter, railway guard, train driver and railway labourer. There is a record of a baptism of a child born on a barge which was moored at Lower Dunsforth; the father being described as ‘captain of a barge’. In the 2oth century we get occupations which reflect the times; ex-soldier, private soldier, corporal RAF, sailor in wartime and threshing machine proprietor. From 1971 the records show the changing character of the community; painter and decorator,
dental practitioner, managing director, company director, Computer programmer, marketing manager and student.

In the 155 years to 1996, there were 408 baptisms, 17 of which were illegitimate children. In only one year, 1845, were there double figures,10. There were many years when no baptisms were recorded and there was a total absence of baptisms from 1971 to 1984. For the most part the namings were fairly conventional but on 16th December 1900, there was a baptism in the Fenwick family, the child in question being called ’Cecil Rhodes’ Fenwick. The addresses of the parents were not always in Dunsforth. In some cases people came from places such as Leeds, or Manchester, and, in one case, a member of the Sykes family came from Canada. Clearly, people had the inclination to return to their origins for this purpose and, indeed, in Very recent times such a journey was made from Fiji.

A further snapshot of the structure of the population was made in 1924 by Mrs. Burniston (nee Crosby). The population of Lower Dunsforth was stated as 87. Most were associated with farming or were small-holders. Other occupations present at that time were, three road sweepers, a school caretaker, teacher, publican, blacksmith, shoe repairer and, sign of future times, a Leeds business man, who had one of only two cars in the Village. One of the farmers had a char-a-banc which took people to Boroughbridge and Knaresborough for markets, and, in summer, sea-side trips. Mrs. Burniston mentions that there were some 8 to 12 pupils in the school. She also mentions that the Vicar ran a boy's school at the Vicarage, known as ’Dunsforth College’; the Vicar at this time would be Mr. Kruckenberg. She also refers to the use of the old chapel as a ’club room’ it was known as the Victoria Club Room, and was for ‘men only’, with a billiard table. She also mentions the continued practice of ’tenting’ (tending?), which was the right to graze cattle on the roadside verges.

Agriculture changed, technologically, from the mid 2oth century onwards. There has been much less dependence on labour and much more on machinery. The number of farms and holdings declined and became concentrated into fewer and larger units, with larger fields and the removal of hedgerows and so on, all of which has affected the social and natural life in the locality. In the area, generally, there were the county council farms, or smallholdings, which were intended to assist people to start up in farming. These are identifiable by the one-off design, examples of which, locally, are Mount Pleasant, Oakroyd Farm and Howe Hill. Many of these farms have been sold off and, indeed, the North Yorkshire County Council is seeking to sell the remainder as and when the tenancy conditions permit, though there is some resistance to this policy.

Other developments have affected the character of the Dunsforth community in recent times. One has been the development of the caravan site in Lower Dunsforth. This was originally conceived as a facility for the river fishermen who used to make Lower Dunsforth a major base for their activities. Over time. However, it has become a largely residential site and now, according to the electoral register, accommodates about one third of the population of the parish of Dunsforths. With the changes in farming practices, as well as the decisions of the planning authorities to permit significant new residential development, the communities of both Upper and Lower Dunsforth have been regenerated by the influx of new population; the commuters and the retired. Indeed, without this development, the villages would have been very depleted socially and economically. One feature of this process has been the growth of a secondary industry equestrianism, which employs pieces of land separated from the older agricultural holdings but is an activity which is socially and economically significant in the late 2oth century.


Enclosure of the land occurred at Upper Dunsforth in 1776 and in Lower Dunsforth on 1807/ 8. The effect of this process was two- fold. Holdings were allocated to .individuals, with attendant responsibilities for fencing (hedging) and draining. Secondly, there was the extinguishing of tithes which‘, traditionally, had been paid to the church in kind - crops, stock, wool etc. A map of the Lower Dunsforth enclosure shows that the land was very fragmented into small fields, with much allocated to the church in respect of the commutation of tithes. The roads run much where we still know them and it appears that most of the houses in Lower Dunsforth were on the north side of the village. Exceptions to this were two properties which are likely to be the oldest Manor House (formerly Manor Farm) and Greenfield Farm, both of which
probably have their origins in the 18th century. Manor Farm is particularly interesting in that it stands well back from the present road and was probably originally approached from Tom Lane. There are traces of a moat and of older buildings. Whether there was a previous manor is uncertain, but there is a tradition that a house was on this site from the 16th century. Rev. Sykes believed that there was a manor in the middle ages, referring to a certain William de Dunsford(e), who is mentioned in 1352 as the chaplain of the chapel-of-ease. It appears that Dunsforth had tenuous links with the lord of the manor of Aldborough. When Mr. Andrew Lawson bought the manor of Aldborough in 1850, there seems to have a greater interest in the well-being of Dunsforth and its chapel.


The evidence, afforded by the churchwarden documents of the 18th and 19th centuries, and other church records, suggests that, for a very long time there was a core of established families who gave leadership to the Dunsforths community. Mention has already been made of the Dunsford(e) family in the middle ages. There is reference to the Abbay family in 1616, whose name is perpetuated in Abbayville in Upper Dunsforth, there is also a record of the Abbays at Hundayfield and Low House in the mid 19th century. Then there is Matteson (Matterson), whose name still identifies a property in Lower Dunsforth. Other names were Casse, Heslake, Kettlewell, Woodward and Inchbold (lnchbald); more on these two later. There were the two resident vicars who had charge of the Anglican Church in Dunsforth; Rev. F.G Sykes, whose grave is in the present churchyard, and who wrote up much of the history of Dunsforth. Then Rev. F.T. Kruckenberg to 1929, whose daughter encapsulated early 2oth century Dunsforth life in many of the photographs here reproduced. Later there was Vice-Admiral Sykes who lived at the old Vicarage, then know as ‘Nether Garth’; a sale of both the property and its contents taking place on 18th May 1933.


Despite being a small community, the Dunsforths have had moments of human interest. The 19th century diaries of George Whitehead of Little Ouseburn record many incidents relating to the Dunsforths. The repeated floods have already been mentioned. Farm sales and departures were common-place; agriculture was not a particularly secure activity in the later years of the 19th century.

The new church, having been consecrated on 26th September 1861, recorded its first burial on 6th December 1861, that of Thomas Woodward of Higher Dunsforth. The Rev. Sykes was married on 31st July 1866 to Alice Mary Atkinson, daughter of the vicar of Great Ouseburn (a case of ’love thy neighbour’?). Still with the Sykes family, there were some five baptisms and then, in 1899, the marriage of a Sykes daughter, Mary, to barrister, Alfred Bonnin of Adelaide, South Australia, and another, Henrietta Maude, in 1905 to Henry Kay of Fulford Hall. There was also the baptism of a grandchild, whose father was a rancher in Canada.

The Matteson family had its problems in the mid 19th century. ‘Old’ Peter Matteson died, aged 80, on 28th May 1855; his son, also Peter Matteson, died on 26th June 1859, -’killed himself with drinking’. Mrs. Matteson gave up in 1859 with a sale on 20th September 1859.

Then there were a couple of interesting marriages. On 16th April 1857 George Dawson of Lower Dunsforth wed Anne Buck of Green Hammerton with ’a runaway touch’. Even more ambitious on 21st ]une 1862, William Latham of Lower Dunsforth married a Miss Leckonby with ‘him about 70, her about 20 years old’ I There were sales at the Anchor Inn in Lower Dunsforth on 4th April 1899 and at the Plough Inn in Upper Dunsforth on 1st April 1878, when William Kettlewell replaced a landlord called Burnell; Kettlewell left on 25th March 1893.

Less cheerful occasions were on 6th February 1872 when William Atkinson, aged 28, of Lower Dunsforth, cut his throat, and, on 16th October 1899, when Edward Atkinson, aged 14, was accidentally shot. But, perhaps, the incident which put Dunsforth ’on the map’ was the murder in 1844 of William Inchbold of Westfield Farm, Lower Dunsforth, by William Kendrew of Aldborough. The subsequent trial at York Assizes and conviction of the murderer is recorded, verbatim, in the Yorkshire Courant in December 1844. A fuller record of this trial has been transcribed and is available in a separate document. Essentially, what happened was that Kendrew, a labourer, known poacher etc., stalked and shot Mr. Inchbold on Saturday 28th September 1844. Mr. Inchbold was a retired merchant’, aged 55, was known as eccentric and displayed his money ostentatiously in public places. On the day in question, he had been to Boroughbridge market and had been drinking in the Malt Shovel Inn. He set off to walk home in the early evening and was later found injured by the ‘Dunsforth gate’ by a butcher from Boroughbridge, called John Topham. Mr. Inchbold’s wife was brought, surgeons were called but Mr. lnchbold died on the following Monday evening. Kendrew and his brother fled and were eventually arrested in Newcastle in October 1844 and brought to trial in December 1844. After a one day trial lasting eleven and a half hours, Kendrew was .convicted of the murder and executed, publicly, at York, on 28th December 1844.

After that sombre story, let us conclude by quoting from two descriptions of our community, written by two visiting historians, in 1853 and 1906, which convey an almost idyllic quality.

T.S. Turner ; History of Aldborough and Boroughbridge: 1853

Upper Dunsforth with Branton Green. East of Aldborough are these two places; united they contain 900 acres of land and a stationary population of 163. The tumulus of Devil Cross was in this township; it was broken into many years ago for materials for the repair of the turnpike road, in it were found human bones entire and urns of various sizes, containing burnt bones and ashes. The urns were composed of blue clay and sand, generally very coarse, some ornamented and others quite plain. Many coins of Various emperors were found in it, particularly of Vespasian, Domitian and Trajan. It is probable that this was a public cemetery and used for a long time for that purpose, as the number of urns on the one side and bones on the other indicate that it had been used both before the custom of burning the dead went out of use. Before being broken into it was 18 feet high and 370 feet in circumference. The site is now lower than the surrounding surface and converted into gardens.

Low Dunsforth. This village is three miles east of Boroughbridge, being close to the River Ouse; a part of it is in the parish of Myton. Here is a small episcopal chapel of the most simple and primitive form, consisting merely of a nave, and a chancel ,with a brick bell turret about two yards square, perched like a pigeon house at the west end; it is a wretched building in the old barn style of architecture. The vicar of the parish is patron of the curacy. The Wesleyan Methodists have a small chapel here. The township contains 960 acres of land and about 116 inhabitants.

Edmund Bogg: Vale of Mowbmy : Vale of Yore(Ure) - 1906

But we must hasten on to the meeting place of the two rivers, the Yore and the Swale. We pass on our way High Dunsforth, like the last two villages, purely agricultural and rural, situated far from the busy haunts of men. How pleasant it is to remember the little cottages, the gardens and orchards abundantly laden with fine fruit, filling the air with faint balsamic perfume on our visit. It was at this place that a worthy couple lived, man and wife, for 76 years, they were married at 19 and both died at the age of 95 within a few weeks of each other.

Yonder over the river is the ancient village of Aldwark, which had an existence in Roman days, as forging forward, we soon reach Low Dunsforth, a quaint lowland village; on our last visit, there were still some thickly thatched roofs, and other primitive relics of bygone generations. The old church, of Saxon origin, was pulled down in 1860, and the present structure built; portions of the early Norman work are preserved in the Vestry and an ancient font in the graveyard. In 1860 the old Saxon church was pulled down and about 30 Saxon coins, mostly silver pennies, were discovered among the debris, as well as a clay ring, probably used as a weight for a fishing net. They are still in existence and, as they give approximately the date of the old church, it is to be hoped that, at some time, they may find a final resting place in some permanent museum.

The road leading from Lower Dunsforth southwards is called Old Marygate, perhaps from a gate which barred the way where it joined the York road near Grafton. The natives say there was something uncanny about this gate, as, always after dusk, it would open and shut mysteriously to travellers, without any apparent cause. Crossing over the Ouse by the ferryboat (there was one when the writer was last this way), we soon reach Myton - the White Battle ; 12th October 1319 (Bruce & Edward II)

It is interesting to read these observations of life in our community written 100 and 150 years ago. Clearly the life was simple and devoted to limited activities. Evidence from the school and other records suggests that life was not without its problems , of health and poverty ‘and so on. The social and economic structure of Dunsforth at the end of the 2oth century is Very different. Agriculture, albeit on a large, industrial scale is important, but employs comparatively few people. The greater part of the present population, whether occupying modern properties or modernised properties are commuters, earning their living away from the village or are retired. These are changes which are characteristic of most contemporary rural communities, whether welcome or otherwise, but there can little doubt that villages would have declined socially and economically without such changes. Activities associated with the commemoration of the millennium have been devoted to the enhancement of the environment, which one hopes that future generations may view with a degree of appreciation.


This document has been compiled with reference to a wide range of sources, and with assistance from many people. There is much more detail in existence than is recorded here, but selective treatment has been necessary. I have endeavoured to list the main sources and acknowledgements but, if there are any omissions or errors, these are entirely mine and I apologise for them. Documentary sources include:-

The Story of Dunsforth by Miss K.M. Reynolds in 1975.

The work of Rev F.G Sykes which he called his ’Doomsday Book’, relating much detail on the history of Dunsforth.

Church records, including the church warden, baptismal and burial records.

The school record books.

The Yorkshire Courant

Victorian Ouseburn (George Whitehead's Iournal) edited by Helier Hibbs in 1990.

North Yorkshire Record Office.

Information, and items, supplied by Rosalene Kemp, Mrs. W. Burniston, Mrs. T. Preston, Peter and Valerie Thompson, Robin Denny, Gertrude Sykes, Richard and Dorothy Turner and Richard Cooper and George Calvin. Other photographs by Joan Holmes, Ken Holmes;

Ken Holmes Dec. 1999

Edith Kruckenberg (Self portrait Circa 1910)