The Vale of Mowbray By Edmund Bogg - 1906

A small settlement, but of no striking significance, existed here in Celtic times. A few lowly wattle and clay huts dotted here and there amongst the willows and brushwood along the east hank of the Codbeck-the Coed, ancient British for a wood, which the little river in that bygone period hereabouts wandered through. Thirsk, as the chief place in the fawinating vale of Mow bray, remains comparatively new ground both to the antiquary and tourist. Of Celtic founding as its name, Tre-ussig-the settlement by the water, plainly indicates. The name of the stream (The Coed) is also another survival of old British nomenclature; and a hundred other evidences of its antiquity, reaching back to British times, can be found within a short radius of the famous old town.
The Domesday form of the name is "Tresche," the vulgar pronunciation Thrusk, both conclusive evidence of its ancient etymology. Domesday account tells that in Tresche, Orm held eight Carucates to be taxed, land to four ploughs taxable value 20 shillings. A second manor was held by Tor, who bad twelve Carueates of land to be taxed; and one Hugh had here ten villanes, having two ploughs and eight acres of meadow. Value in the Confessor's reign, four pounds, now at the Domesday survey, ten shillings. So we find that after the fierce vengeance of the Conqueror had swept over the town, its taxable value had been reduced to an eighth of its pre-Norman prosperity. The name Thirsk, written variously Tresche, Tresch, Thrysk, Tresussig, or Uisge, its terminal one with Usk, Esk, Wisk, meaning the spot by the water, is unique, for no other place in England hears it, and few places have such a history The town is divided into two parts, designated Old and New Thirsk. The Old Town stands along the east bank of the Codbeck. Adjoining the west bank is a (fortified site known as the Moat, of pre-Norman construction, in which we find further proof of its great antiquity and also conclusive evidence of the position the town occupied from the British to the Norman period. The condition of the town began to change when the Mowbrays appeared upon the scene towards the close of the XLth century, and their great stronghold of timber, typical of feudalism, arose to the south west of the river, and some three hundred paces from the older settlement.

Artificially, it was rendered as impregnable as its low situation would permit, this being strikingly evident from the depth of the most and height of the banks, New Thirsk owes its existence to the Norman Castle. During its erection a throng of craftsmen would congregate, merchants naturally anxious to create a trade were attracted hither, a population of serfs and retainers of the potent Mowbray settled within or near the castle, a market became a necessity: this came about early in the twelfth century. and during the following two or three centuries the Square and the Streets leading to it gradually developed.

Thirsk was summoned to send Burgesses to Parliament in the reign of Edward the First. But from the above period and until 1553, there appears to have been no representatives sent, After that year, and until 1832, Thirsk was represented at Westminster by two members. And so strong were the Franklands of Thirkleby centred in Thirsk, that the return of members was practically in their hands.

At the Redistribution Bill of 1885, the town was erased from the list of Parliamentary boroughs. The following are the main arteries of the town :-The Market Place, a fine spacious square broken by two intrusive blocks of property; the most ancient way on the north side is known as the middle' (where the Penningtons have dwelt, father and sons, for generations), and lends to the square the picturesque charm of antiquity. Hutton, who visited the town in 1808 thinks differently about the middle row-lie says, "It is a handsome town eleven miles from the 'Tontine, but is disgraced by a shabby range of buildings in the centre of the Market Place-rubbish surrounded by beauty." lie further adds, "It is situated on the Great Road from London to the North, yet it contains but one Inn for the reception of travellers; but it is an excellent one, though kept by a woman, Mrs. Cass."

We beg to differ with Hutton on this picturesque corner of Thirsk. Unsightly, indeed! and spoiling the symmetry of the Square. Exactly opposite is the effect it has to the eye of an artist and to all who find pleasure in the antiquated features of our ancient burghs. The Old Shambles, which stood nearly in the centre of the area, were demolished in 1857. The ancient Market Cross, with broken shaft (a venerable relic of antiquity) has given place to a new Clock Tower. The Tolbooth, an antique feature in the Square, past which the coaches rattled in pre-railway days, was accidentally burnt down in 1834. The circle which was formerly allotted to bull-baitings is still pointed out The ring to which the beast was fastened was taken up about 50 years ago, previous to which Grainge says a custom prevailed among the young men of Thirsk on the completion of their apprenticeship to meet together in a carouse at midnight at the Bull ring, and drink to each other with the arm holding the glass passed through the ring. Not long ago the writer (a guest of the Penningtons), whose house was in the centre of the ancient middle, was aroused from slumber by a roystering crew of revellers which kept on into the small hours of the morning. "Surely," thought he, ''tis the 'prentices keeping up at the Bull ring the old-time custom of our forefathers." No butcher was allowed to kill a bull and expose its flesh for sale in the market without having first baited him. Many people were heavily fined for not adhering to this now obselete practice. In this instance happily, the time-honoured custom has passed, let us hope, for ever.

There are a goodly array of shops on the south of the Market Square. On this side are also the two principal inns, "The Three Tuns" and "The Golden Fleece"; now-a-days quite enough, only being aroused from slumber when the bustle and activity of country-side life is centred on Monday's Market in the large square. AL these times and also on Fair days and at the Race Meetings, the old inns seem to come to life again and partake of the palmy days of the past. What a din, medley, and confused mixture of humanity the square holds on these days, presenting curious phases and startling characteristics of human life. George Blythe and John and William Hall, the latter two father and son, built up the reputation of the "Fleece" until it became the most notable coaching house between York and Darlington. Mr. William Hall, born in 1818, passed his youth and early manhood when the good old coaching was in the height of its glory. In his middle life be saw the coaches gradually withdrawn into vistas of the bygones. Living to a good old age, he became a well known local figure, a link, as it were, connecting the gay stirring scenes of travelling by coach to the prosaic days of railway travel. Mr. Hall generally kept upwards of fifty horses in his possession for coaching purposes. How silent is this old inn yard to-day compared with the activity displayed in the past; the hurry and scurry and running hither and thither of groom and stable-man; the rattling of wheels and clattering of hoofs and fiery sparks flying from the cobbled pavement; hark to the sounding horn and crack of the coachman's whip; how merrily the coach rolls onward, the dogs bark and chase the flying wheel, and the children scamper as the gaily coloured vehicle swings round the corner of the market and speeds along the highway north.

Another thirsk character, also connected with coaching was old Bill Baines, postboy in the town for upwards of 50 years. He was the father of Billy Baines junior, equally well-known and the most diminutive figure on the north road as "Wee Bainie", and long employed as postboy at the New Inn, Easingwold.

The Three Tuns Inn, a commodious hostel with fine entrance hall, was originally built as a "Dowager House" for the family of Bell, And a substantial one too, with its range of antique out-buildings, columbary and large gardens, typical of the Stuart and early Jacobean period. Some of the rooms still contain the oak panneling, and on the wall of an upstair apartment is a coat of arms, probably of the Bell Family.

Fincle Street leads east from the Market Place to the bridge spanning the Codbeck. It is supposed to receive its name from Vincle. Danish for a corner. According to the Rev. Addison the name Finkle or Fincle, found in many of our old towns, is supposed to have been given by the Flemings who settled during the mediaeval period in England in great numbers, Vincle in their language signifies a booth or waggon containing merchandise And today in South Africa, booths outside the towns are called winkles. Seen from the bridge the street, with its cluster of old roofs, is very picturesque. In it is situated an ancient hostelry (The Old Three Tuns). Ingramgate runs east from the bridge to the junction of four roads. The one leading fort!], from its great length, is named Long Street; on the east of it is the Poor Man's Corn-mill. The street leading south is named Barbeck, not, as some people suppose, from Barbican, a fortified entrance, for apart from the castle the town had no fortifications. At this entrance there was probably a Bar House, and near by is a beck, dividing Thirsk from the parish of Bagby, hence Barbeek. This street contains two or three ancient timber framed and thatched roofed cottages. In pre-Reformation times at the end of this street there stood a small chapel dedicated to St. Giles. The first mention of this chapel is in 1845, and is named " The Chapel of St. Giles, in Brynkellhow Gate, in the town of Thirsk." Not a stone or mound remains to mark its site, yet in the name of the Croft, Chapel Close Hill is the sure indication of its former site.

The Inn here at the Cross Roads bears for its sign a White Mare depicted in the act of leaping with its affrighted rider over the cliff into the waters of Gormire.

From the north-east turner of the Market, runs Millgate (here the large corn mills are situated), and joining on to Bridge Street which runs north to St. James' Green, and into Old Thirsk. Here are some very ancient houses. The name St. James, given to the Green, is from a chapel which once stood here dedicated to the above Saint. It was evidently demolished centuries ago, for not a stone or even a mark to denote its site remains. It is several times mentioned in early records, and human bones have been found when digging, doubtless pointing to the site of a graveyard, and two paved causeways, broken up many years ago, led from opposite angles to the supposed site of the chapel. Piper Lane and Stammergate extends from the Green east to the Long Street. The field adjoining the latter is called - Stoneybrough, from the great number of stones formerly found on the surface. Stane is the local pronunciation of stone, hence Stammergate may derive from, Stane-moor-gate.

From this street we cross the Codbeck and past the old moated site of Pre-Norman in the date, and by the Lady's Well (a favourite shrine in the old days for the sweethearting folk), This picturesque willow grove extends from Norby, a small outlying settlement of Thirsk (and as its name tells us, of Danish naming), to the Mills. This grove, with the walk along the banks of the mill stream, is perhaps the most charming part of Thirsk. Quaint bits of old treed roofs and antique gables show forth from the intervening willowy foreground. Above us are overhanging branches, and below they are reflected in the water mirror. The web-footed fowls disport in the water, and the birds carol delightsome melody. Seen through the trees of the ' Marage' forming the rook colony, is the ivy-covered front of the Hall and. the Church-the Cathedral of the Yale, its stately tower looming majestically forth beautiful in its proportions and ecclesiastical symbolism. Turn to the grove and the wooing and union of streams, where old railings twist and curve by hank and stream in this old-world antique garden corner, all suggesting to the mind harmony of form and colour. Across the Marage, where the rooks are clamouring during nesting operations, we obtain a glimpse of another interesting feature, the stately tower of the Parish Church rising so solidly into space, with its finials and its artistically pierced battlements which give dignity and further charm to this old corner of Thirsk.

The Parish Church alone, the chief architectural feature in the town, contains sufficient interest for a journey hither. The edifice in dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. At the suppression of Monasteries it passed to the Archbishop of York, and is now the central church in his archdeaconry. Few churches can equal it in size, stateliness, and correctness of architectural detail and finish. Style perpendicular or florid, the tower is 80 feet high finished with an embrasured. battlement, and pierced. The Parvise over the south porch was formerly inhabited by a Priest or Anchorite. Old John Leland speaking of a Parvise, says they were Studying Chambers and in his time were called "Paradise." Another says that the word Parvise is simply a corruption of paradise. The Parvise at Thirsk still contains some of its original features. John Foxe, in his "Acts and Monuments," gives a long and curious account of a recluse named Thomas Parkinson, who at about that period inhabited this chamber. The story is too long for insertion. The interior of the church is strikingly impressive, with nothing unsightly to mar the fine effect, the nave being separated from the aisles by lofty piers; the moulding of piers and arches are of exceed-fine character and finish1 At the east end of both aisles there were formerly two chantry chapels. The one in the south aisle, dedicated to St. Ann, still remains. The roof of the nave of open woodwork is strikingly bold1 the effect of the whole cannot be better described than in the following:- "Surely some part of the effect of a Gothic Cathedral resides in that excess of length over breadth, affording a long perspective, directing the eye towards the altar through an avenue of oft repeated parts, and creating, as it were, an artificial infinite. The roof as well as the walls and arches being so composed as to enhance this effect. Groin beyond groin, boss beyond boss is seen, first of all distinct and clear, then by degrees approaching and touching each other on the perspective, and at last, lost in the complexity of the whole." The chancel contains piscnae and three fedilia. Those seats were formerly used by the officiating priests, the deacon and the sub deacon, who retired there during the chanting of the hymn, "Gloria in Excelsis." On the North side of the chancel a door gives entrance to a staircase leading down to the crypt The Communion table is a supposed relic from Byland Abbey. There is a North or "Devil's ' door still in use. Of old, through this door the fiends were wont to fly with dismal howl on the baptism and admittance of a child into the church. In these days of high culture the devil seems to have changed his tactics. The door, however, for his exit in to the sunless regions of the north, still remains. How suggestive of the ancient superstitions and beliefs are the situations of these north doorways. The one on the south, the proper entrance, illumined with the sun's rays penetrating the interior and gilding the waIls with a subdued halo, whilst the doorway to the north is the exit to the cold cheerless sunless region of darkness and night.

Many striking pictures of the church bower can be obtained, perhaps the most commanding is the one seen from the Park, near the front of the Hall.

Kirkgate, as its name denotes, the street between the church and Market Place, contains interesting bibs of architecture, and the curve of the street with the church makes a charming picture. The King's Head at the south end of the street is an ancient hostelry where old-world things fashioned in the days of our grandmothers are cherished with due reverence, rare prints after Moreland and Reynolds, and antique curios. In a way the interior is a small museum, jealously guarded by Mrs. Wain, the primly kind landlady, who exhibits all the quaint charm of manner and person peculiar to the Fifties of the last century, which Charles Dickens was so apt a master at portraying. The late Mr. B. Smith, a clever local artist, has left behind in his pictures a few glimpses of the old life and notable characters residing in Thirsk during the forties and fifties of the last century. Doubtless manners and customs have vastly changed since then, yet here are still residing several notable men of marked characteristics and superior intelligence, who will leave their mark on the footprints of time, and the old town will be none the poorer for their strenuous lives. For example, there is the Rev. F. Addison, a man of deep knowledge, who, after assiduously labouring in varied fields of thought and research, still adds to the scholarly literature of the district at the age of four score and four, and is as interesting and youth-like in his illuminative conversation as a man just on the threshold of fame with alt the glamour and romance of the world still glittering before him.

John Gilbert Baker, the doyen of British field-botanists: and a Fellow of the Royal Society, is a Native of the Vale, he was born at Osmotherley. It was from Thirsk, however, that in 1863 he issued that scarce book (many copies having been destroyed by fire), entitled "North Yorkshire: Studies of its Geology, Botany, Climate and Physical Geography," a classic companion to Professor Phillips' "Rivers and Mountains of Yorkshire," of eight years previously. In 1859, Mr. Baker had worthily won his spurs in the literary lists by contributing a masterly summary of the Physical Geology and Botany of Thirsk and its environs, to Grainge's "Vale of Mowbray." This condensed account of the eternal rocks and the mutable forms which grow upon them, and change and pass like men and manners will the years, will not easily be superseded, and as time goes become more arid more valuable as a local picture of the past.

Thirsk now suffers commercially for having kept the railway away from its streets-over a mile, butt formerly a very pleasant summer walk, through fields and by the site of Thirsk's ancient castle of which neither stick nor stone remains, though no dispute can arise on the point of its existence. Latterly the old footpath through the fields to the station has been tampered with; the hedgerow and trees have been stubbed up; and instead of hedgerow, trees, and flowers, a long row of dark monotonous railings has been substituted, marring the rural beauty of this approach.