The Manorial Boundaries of Kirkby Stephen

“Beating the bounds” was once a regular or periodic event all over Britain: the great and the good with their bailiffs, agents and local village leaders used to walk or ride around the boundaries of their lands to check there had been no encroachments. The bounds were defined by prominent and semi-permanent landmarks, often rivers or becks, ridges, hilltops or passes, but also large boulders, crosses or cairns, ditches or dikes.
Before the age of maps, this was a practical way to ensure that every generation knew the limits of their territory, and neighbouring settlements checked them together in an attempt – not always successful – to avoid conflict. At first the list of agreed landmarks was simply remembered by tribal or clan elders, and handed on to the younger generation by oral tradition. Later, with the spread of literacy, the landmarks were recorded by clerks, and checking the waypoints around a boundary became known as a perambulation, from a Latin word meaning a walk around. The word for a baby’s pram (short for ‘perambulator’) has the same origin.

The date of the first perambulations in the Upper Eden Valley is not known. No Celtic or Anglo-Scandinavian charters survive here, though there has been a long history of land use by small tribal groups, and successive bands of incoming warriors and settlers. Early boundaries were mostly defined by rivers and the ridges or watersheds between them, and the villages were few and far between, but a strict system of recorded ownership began shortly after the Norman Conquest in 1066. At that time, most of England was confiscated from existing owners and redistributed by the king among his supporters in the victorious invasion force; and a complex and efficient system of administration was then imposed to raise money.

The new land owners defined the boundaries of their lands, with the livestock, people and produce within them, to create manors – the smallest civil unit – from which to extract revenue, through taxes, tolls, tithes or other devices.  The Normans also gave some of their lands to found and support a wide range of ecclesiastical institutions, adding an overlay of  religious boundaries to the civil administrative divisions of the country. As the feudal manors competed with parishes and religious foundations for their income, boundaries became crucial. Ownership of income from the land was hotly contested, and the people were now taxed by both manor and church, but the parish and manorial boundaries were not always identical.

At that time in the Upper Eden valley, Kirkby Stephen and Brough were the two main settlements, though each of a different character. The Roman and post-Roman strategic military dominance of Brough persisted so that Kirkby Stephen was a manor under Brough. Kirkby Stephen, on the other hand, seems to have been the more important ecclesiastical foundation, with its 8th century preaching crosses and a place name that suggests a pre-Scandinavian church; it was created a parish in 1088, and this included the chapelry of  Brough: the rectory and advowson were given by Ivo de Taillebois between 1090 and 1097 to Stephen de Whitby, head of the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary at York. Over the next few centuries, they became separate units.

The early 14th century was turbulent for the Cliffords, feudal lords of the area with major castles at Brougham, Appleby and Brough. Hartley Castle, in the gift of the Clifford family, was held on their behalf by Sir Andrew de Harcla. After the death of Robert de Clifford at Bannockburn in 1314, the execution of Sir Andrew de Harcla in 1323, and the death of Robert, the third Lord Clifford of Westmorland in 1344, the extensive Clifford estates had various claimants.

The second marriage of Robert’s mother Isabel to Sir Thomas Musgrave of Musgrave, and his designs on Clifford lands, may have led to a split between the manors around 1344 when the advowson of Brough was given to Queen’s Hall, Oxford, as it had a separate tithe assessment at that date. The detailed boundary between Brough and Kirkby Stephen was probably defined before the devastating effects of the Black Death  in the years after 1348 with the nationwide loss of a quarter of  the landowners and 40% of the people.  Population pressure on resources at that time may have been weak, but as the basis for taxation and tithing, boundaries were agreed, though we do not know exactly when.

The Parish Boundary
The earliest complete perambulation so far found for the parish of Kirkby Stephen comes from the six volume manuscript on the history and antiquities of Westmorland by the Rev. Thomas Machell (1647-1698), held in the archive of the Dean and Chapter of Carlisle Cathedral. The perambulation is undated, but Machell transcribed it some time between 1664 and his death in 1698. His source may have been Roger Dodsworth’s compilation for Lady Anne Clifford of charters and evidences for all the Clifford properties she fought to reclaim when finally granted the right of succession: the surviving items date from 1199 to 1377, and they include several fragments of perambulations. The parish boundary Machell gives us is a continuous descriptive narrative, not simply a list of waypoints; it can be traced easily on present-day maps, though some names have been lost and others have changed.  The original text follows: I  have divided it into short sections for easier reading; some modern place names are given in square brackets.

“KS Parish – The perambulation of which goeth thus:
Begin at the foot of the River Below [=Belah] where it enters Eden thence to Blands house which is in Little Musgrave and a quarter of a mile above ye Church. Thence East up the river till you come at the Head of Henning Wood where Brough parish comes in. Thence up hill you come at the foote of ye water which runs under Buckle Bridge [= Oxenthwaite now]; thence south up the said water till you come at Woofagill-head where Potter beck comes into it. Thence East up Potter beck till you come at the foote of the hill called Moulds by the said water. Thence southeast to the top of the said hill, and so on by the Coale-way to Westland Pit house commonly called Hither Pit house where Brough and Bowes and Grinton parish meet (all this while dividing it from Brough). [Near present day Tan Hill]

Thence upward in a direct line to Brownber Edge (Here Swadal claims to Browenber Edge’s head and Grinton clames to Wettsundale head which is a half mile one into anothers) and so lineally to the Nine Standers on Caudber Edge. Thence south on Caudber Edge till you come at an hurrock voc. [vocatur = called] Caudber Standerd. Thence and W down Lady dike till you come at Lady Bog and so on in a straight line to an Hurrock [= cairn] of stones called Hollow-mill cross. [On Tailbrigg pass]

Thence again W to a Gray Stone at a place called Fells End. Thence S to Uldale gill head. Thence again W to an Hurrock of Stones on top of Fells End. Thence S on Mallerstang Edge as heavens water divide to the top of High Seat. This Swalidale claime. Then S lineally from Uldale Gill Bar to High Seat Top. Thence as Heaven Water divides To Hugh Morvil’s Seat. Thence S to a standard half a mile off; where Grinton, Aiskar and Kirkby parish meet, all this while dividing it from the Grinton in the Co. of Yorkshire. Thence from the said Standard linell descending near to Lile Helgill Head (where Eden springs).

Thence W in a straight line to a Stander of Stones at the south end of Swarth Fell (Little Baugh) where Aisker and Gaphill meet Russendale (on Swarth Fell edge) to a place called Galloway Gate where Gaphill Russendale meet. Thence NW (by a straight line) to ye S end of Wilbright Fell: thence (by the NW edge of the said fell) to an upright stone called the Countess Mount on the Nab at the E end of Wilbert Fell. Thence N (down the edge of the said fell) to Whitewalls. Thence again N (by a straight line) to Dowfin Stye. Thence again N (lineally descending) to Cowgill head. Thence N down the old cartway till you come at Tarnmire hole near Tarn House.

Thence W (down the Tarnmire sike) to the till [?] runs. Thence NW (in a direct line) to Scandal Beck head; thence again NW down Scandal Beck, and from Sth Run Keld N in a right line to the Build (shield for sheep) on Askfell Edge. Thence NW as heaven water divides to a Little Hillock or hurrock of stones called Hound Tuft; thence NW (on the edge of Ash fell) to Russendale High park gate; Thence W to Gerrards Cross [= Jervis now] in the park wall. Thence W (by the parke wall) to Smardale bridge where Ravenstonedale parish and Crossby Gerrard meet. Thence down the river to Crosby miln: thence NE to Soulby mill by the way down the said river and Thence W to Waterhouses by the Outring of Soulby low pasture til you come at Gallansy Yeat [= gate] – and so up the lonen [= lane] still Westwards till you come at Waterhouses where Asbby parish comes in; thence NW to Oglebrow all along down Waterhouse beck till you come at Uglybrow. Where Musgrave P[arish] comes in.

Thence N to High Hobkins house by Graskil house (belonging to Will Robinson) Then N. by a straight line to Great How Sike at the place where Appleby way crosses. Thence N. down the said sike to Low Hobkins house. Thence N. by the outside Ring of Low hobkins grounds to a place called Dubber Dike where a sike runneth out of this parish. Thence N to the W. corner of Musgrave Intack. Then by the brig dike of Musgrave Intack till you come at Sandrig sike. Then NE by the same dike till you come at the Low end of Long Selme [?] where that dike ends: thence by an Hedge to the N. corner of Hard dales dike. Thence NE by another dike to a mossy pasture called Ladds; thence E. by Nobledale Hedge to Blanes Yate. Thence E. by the out Hedge of Blands pasture to Eden. Thence N. down Eden to the foot of Below where wee began.”

The original manuscript has several deletions, but the places deleted are on the correct line of the boundary, so they have been retained. One or two marginal notes have also been deleted. The spelling and round brackets are as in the original; the square brackets indicate my queries or explanations. Various dialect words will be familiar to locals but have been modernised in brackets; the initials N, S, E and W etc are short for the main compass points, but some are not correct.

It is fascinating to read the perambulation from today’s perspective. For example, even in 1651 the mysterious Hollow Mill Cross beside the Tailbrigg road was already just “an Hurrock of stones”, as it is now. Pontefract and Hartley (1944) say of it: “An old inscribed stone known as Hollow Mill Cross which once stood at the border is marked as a cross in maps as early as the 16th century”. This reference is to Christopher Saxton’s map of Westmorland dated 1576, which has a cross symbol at the location of  “Holomill Crosse” on the Westmorland/Yorkshire border.

So was there a cross, or was it just a cairn? Hartley and Ingleby (1956) record that “there is no sign of Hollow Mill Cross that even a hundred and fifty years ago [= in 1800] was openly marked by a rough pile of stones on the right hand [= north] side of the road at the summit”. Any cross evidently vanished much earlier than 1800; the pile of stones they mention is still there today, and maybe just marked the summit of the pass, but if there was a cross it marked an ecclesiastical border of long standing, along with the Rey Cross on Stainmore and the Brandreth Stone at Tebay. It may have separated the Dioceses of York and Glasgow in the 12th century, and divided the upland pastures of the Cistercian Abbey of Rievaulx centred on Muker in Swaledale (dissolved at the 1538 Dissolution) from the Parish of Kirkby Stephen, given to St Mary’s Abbey, York, in the 11th century; or it may have been an even earlier boundary between the Celtic west and the Roman east, the great provinces of Whithorn, Lindisfarne and York.

What is now known as Wild Boar Fell is here called Wilbright Fell and then Wilbert Fell two lines below, suggesting that the name “Wild Boar” may be a corruption of the original, and coined recently. On some perambulations, it is simply called “Baugh Fell” like its close neighbour. And where now is the “upright stone called the Countess Mount on the Nab at the east end of  Wilbert Fell” – is it that huge rectangular black slab that now lies near the summit? In the lowlands, one wonders if the various sikes, dikes, outrings and other ancient boundary markers are still identifiable in the field. The Lady Dike on Tailbrigg has been compared to the Bronze Age field boundaries on Dartmoor by one local archaeologist. What is “Gerrards Cross” (Jervis Cross on OS maps) in the park wall at Ravenstonedale? And how – if at all – does it relate to Crossby Gerrard (now Garrett)? Has “Crosby miln” become Smardale mill?

The compilation of definitive large scale maps by the Ordnance Survey in 1862 at 25 inches and six inches to the mile made ‘beating the bounds’ an unnecessary periodic ritual except in those few cases where the boundary remained in dispute. On Stainmore the boundary between Brough and Bowes was disputed on the north side of what is now the A66 road, but this argument has been going on since the 14th century. Around Nine Standards, on the Eden/Belah watershed, the dispute arose because the cairns had for long been taken as the traditional boundary landmark between the counties of Westmorland and Yorkshire North Riding as if they were on the main Eden/Swale watershed, which in fact runs a few hundred metres to the south. This was easily resolved by accurate maps with topographic contours.

The total length of the parish boundary is roughly 59 km or some 37 miles. This is probably too much for most people to walk in a single day, and also there may be no legal access across the lowland stretches through fenced farmland (unless you fancy wading up the river bed). But the fellside reaches offer wonderful views, and the parish boundary can be divided into short and manageable stretches between access roads for the hardy and adventurous.  Beating the bounds, even in small sections, may make an interesting alternative to the more well trodden and familiar routes around local beauty spots. Quite a few mysteries to solve as well.

Hartley, Marie and Ingilby, Joan. 1956. The Yorkshire Dales. JM Dent, London. Machell, Thomas. 1695? ‘History of Westmorland’.  This is in six undated manuscript volumes in the archive of the Dean and Chapter of Carlisle Cathedral, accessed via County Record Office, Carlisle. Machell lived 1647 – 1698. Phythian-Adams, Charles. 1996. ‘The Land of the Cambrians; a study in British provincial origins, AD 400-1120.’ Scolar Press, Aldershot.
Pontefract, Ella with Hartley, Marie. 1944 (5th Edition). ‘Swaledale’. JM Dent and Sons, London. Walker, Stephen. 2008. ‘Nine Standards: Ancient Cairns or Modern Folly?’ Hayloft Publishing Ltd., Stainmore.

© Dr Stephen H Walker 06/01/10