Taken from

The King’s England: A New Doomsday Book of 10,000 Towns and Villages

Yorkshire West Riding

Editted by Arthur Mee, first printed 1941.

Arthur Mee (21 July 1875 – 27 May 1943) was an English Writer, journalist and educator.

This extract is the villages down Wharfedale from Grassington. The book contains all the villages in the former West Riding and a separate book is available for the North Riding. If anyone would like these books then please let me know: Keith P.

Arthur Mee’s note: The visitation of Yorkshire for the King’s England series was completed in the early months of the Hitler War and is a picture of the county before the aerial bombardment of the Island. It is not possible here to take note of changes the war has brought about in some churches and buildings.

2003 note: The images presented are from the book and therefore provide a snapshot of our villages towards the end of the 1930’s.

Threshfield: Turner’s first picture

Its pretty cluster of grey stone houses are round a tree-shaded green 600 feet above the sea. And from the hills above is a magnificent view of Wharfedale between Rylstone Fell and Grassington Moor. The stocks are on the green, and by it is the old hall, now an Inn. An old stone bridge crosses a stream going to the Wharfe, and over a mile away is Netherside Hall in a lovely setting by the river.

It is believer that the famous topographer Thomas Whitaker went to school here, though he was born in Norfolk. One of his local histories contain 32 plates of Yorkshire scenes by Turner and some of Turner’s earliest drawings were in Walker’s first book.

Linton: Maypole on the Green

It was the home of a Yorkshireman who has given us charming tales of the moors. He was Halliwell Sutcliffe who wrote stories in his beautiful garden at White Abbey House, where he took his last walk in 1932. Many of his thrilling books of love and adventure in the old days will be read for years to come. We do not wonder that he loved this old village, where a mountain stream flowing by the green is crossed by an old footway, a modern bridge carrying the road and a delightful old narrow bridge. There is a maypole on the green and at one end are the imposing almshouses founded in the 18th century and enlarged in the 19th, looking like a little town hall with their domed tower. Framed in the trees near the other end of the green is the charming Linton House. Right away from the village the church stands in a lovely spot by the River Wharfe, near the cataract known as Linton Falls. A quaint low building with a curious overhanging bell turret, its old work is chiefly 14th century (when the Norman Church was made new). The font and two round headed bays of the north arcade are Norman, and the pointed chancel arch is only a little later. There is part of a Saxon cross, and on one of the pillars hangs a small brass crucifix found in the garden and centuries old.

Thorpe: Sitting in a Ring

Backed by grassy moors which rise to 1661 feet at Thorpe Fell Top, it hides from the world on a little stream flowing to the Wharfe. It has Burnsall for a neighbour, and is reached by narrow high-walled lanes which drop down to the sudden sight of roofs and chimneys in a deep green hollow. Above the village is Elbolton Hill 1100 feet high, with a cave where extinct animals once sheltered, and elsewhere the bones of 12 men sitting in a ring 20 centuries after they had died.

A Moorland Hamlet
A Moorland Hamlet


Its glory is in its setting by a deep wooded glen, where the Hebden Beck comes from a pretty waterfall on its way to the Wharfe. There are two bridges side by side, the big one carrying the moorland road. The old houses and the century old church look up to the enfolding hills, and from the rocky crags across the stream is a wonderful panorama of mountain scenery.


A lovely bit of England, Burnsall lies in a richly wooded stretch of Wharfedale, with the fells and grassy moors rising on each side. Thorpe Fell Top not far away is 1150 feet above the Wharfe and 1661 above sea level.

Over the river is a fine 19th century stone bridge of five arches with cut-water piers. There are houses in gardens ablaze with colour in summer, a green with a maypole among old elms, Thor’s Well said to be a thousand years old, a church with a fine tower (set on a bank above the stream flowing swiftly over its stony bed). And a charming Grammar School of 1602, founded by Sir William Craven who was born at Appletreewick near by, went off to London with hardly a penny, and became Lord Mayor. Sir William restored Burnsall’s church, which had been rebuilt around 1520.

From Scuff Road
From Scuff Road

The nave, high and narrow, has leaning arcades continuing from the western tower and resting on massive arches. There are still a few fragments of an older building, including 14th century windows in the south chapel, and a Norman capital in the north arcade; and a rare collection of ancient stones telling of the days before the Conquest. A fine fragment of a Saxon cross, covered with interlacing, is about five feet high. There are parts of other Saxon crosses and a wheel head with a cross carved in the middle. Two hogbacks and part of a third (found in the churchyard) are very narrow, with crude carving of animal heads at the end; the finest of them (in two parts) has scalework on its sides.

Extraordinarily crude is the font, coming from the second half of the 11th century. Shaped like a tub, with an old cover like the lid of a copper, it has rough carving of birds and beasts and cable pattern on the rim. In striking contrast is the exquisite sculpture of an alabaster panel of about 1350, still with traces of colour, and showing the Wise Men, one holding his crown as he offer his gift to the Child on the Madonna’s knee, while Joseph tends the ox and the ass. There are old screen, an old chest, old panelling in bench ends, and a Jacobean pulpit from which two John Alcocks preached from 1773 to 1810, one for nearly 60 years.

We come to the church through a curious lychgate turning on a centre pivot and closed automatically be a heavy stone weight.

Appletreewick: The boy who became Mayor

Looking up to the fells and down to the Wharfe, this quaint little place, a mile or two from Barden Tower, where lived Wordsworth’s Shepherd Lord, has gay garden borders, an old barn, and low stone houses by the steep road. Monks Hall has a projecting wing and carvings on its walls. Low Hall, the last house in the village, restored in the 17th Century, has a huge stone trough beside it. High Hall has stables, a heavily studded door, an old oak screen, and a dining hall with a minstrel gallery. At Skyreholme hamlet is the beautiful Percival Hall in lovely gardens, a surprising house to find in its lonely moorland setting, and half a mile beyond is Trollers Gill, a dark glen with crags 60 ft high.

Facing High Hall is the simple church with small windows, and 1635 over the doorway. Looking much like the houses about it, it is said to have been converted from the cottage in which Yorkshire’s Dick Whittington was born. He was Sir William Craven.

It is four centuries since a carrier’s cart carried a boy of 13 away from Appletreewick and packed him off to London to earn his fortune. The parish had taken pity on him and given him a chance. He heard no Bow bells ringing as he entered the great city, but for 200 miles he seemed to hear the Wharfe rippling over the stones as it came down from Burnsall bridge. He became a tailor’s boy, and his master Robert Hulson, liked him and trusted him so that he prospered exceedingly and by the time the Armada had been and gone he had brought a fine house, and become Warden of the Mercers Company and an Alderman of the City. He was one of the last Sheriffs under Queen Elizabeth. King James made him a knight, and in 1611 he was Lord Mayor of London, He never forgot the Yorkshire dales, and it was said that he could always hear the ripple of the Wharfe. He never forgot that he had been poor. His fine carriage would come dashing along the road the old carrier’s cart had taken half a century before, and he was wonderfully generous to the poor and gave thousands of pounds to hospital and schools. He founded a grammar school at Burnsall, a mile or so from Appletreewick, and helped to build a college at Ripon. They laid him to rest in St Andrew’s Undershaft, London, but it was here in the dales that he was long remembered after London had forgotten him.

Barden: The Shepherd Lord

Amid some of the most enchanting scenery in Wharfedale, it looks up to the heights, with Simon’s seat less than three miles away. On the hills are found the flowers of the cloudberry, and forests of beech and oak where the wild boar, polecat and badger were hunted till a century ago. Across the purple moors came Emily Norton, of whom we read in Wordsworth (The White Doe of Rylstone), her white doe trotting by her as she went down to Bolton Priory, standing at the end of a romantic stretch of river scenery. Over Barden’s fine old stone bridge, with three arches, scheduled to be preserved for all time, rode the Appletreewick boy who became Lord Mayor of London.

The road from the bridge winds steeply up to the ruined Barden Tower, with doorways and windows in the roofless walls. Said to have been a hunting lodge of the Cliffords of Skipton, it was rebuilt about 1485 by the Shepherd Lord, and after falling into decay was restored by the famous Lady Anne Clifford. Attached to the little house at its side is the tiny old chapel, with an outside stairway on the wall of the sturdy low tower. It was this place which the Shepherd Lord loved most of all. From the windows he watched the stars, and here, with crucibles and retorts, he searched for the Philosopher’s Stone. Wordsworth pictures him “standing on this old church tower in many calm propitious hour” and the White Doe of Rylstone says of him that

…Not in wars did he delight
(This Clifford wished for worthier might)
Nor in broad pomp, or courtly state,
Him his own thoughts did elevate,
Most happy in the shy recess
Of Barden’s lowly quietness;
And choice of studious friends had he
Of Bolton’s dear fraternity

Bolton Abbey: The Shepherd Lord Sleeps by the Ancient Walls

We may think Yorkshire has little to show more fair. In a superb setting of woods and meadows by the River Wharfe, the grassy moors and fells rising majestically above, are the ruins of a famous priory painted by Turner and immortalised in Wordsworth. The gentlest ruin in Yorkshire, it has long been linked with the tradition of the Boy of Egremond, whose mother is said to have founded the priory on the spot near where her son was drowned. Wordsworth tells us that,

Wharfe, as he moved along
To matins joined a mournful voice,
Nor failed at evensong.

The village has its own charm. A hole in a wall—one of the most romantic peepholes imaginable—frames a delightful view of the ruins, and the wall itself has grown lovelier with the years, its crannies half-hidden by creeper. The road here is shaded by trees, and round a green is a lovely group of creepered cottages with stone roofs, set in gay gardens. One of the cottages has a carved beam with an inscription asking us to say an Ave Maria as we pass by, and there is a barn with a roof resting on grand old timbers. Rising like a castle by the wayside are the embattled walls of Bolton Hall, home of the Duke of Devonshire, a striking modern house built on two sides of the old priory gatehouse. A quaint sight here is the rugged stone aqueduct with three arches across the road, once used for carrying water to the flour mill of the monks.

Cavendish Memorial Bolton Abbey
Cavendish Memorial Bolton Abbey

There are two fine memorials to Lord Frederick Cavendish who was assassinated in Phoenix Park, Dublin, in 1882; murdered by those, as Mr Gladstone said, “to whom he had gone full of love to their country, full of hope for the future, full of capacity to do her service.” One memorial is a fountain, an ornate stone structure of six sides, with elegant buttresses, shields, and a lantern with a 40 feet above the ground; the other is a cross 17 feet high spire in the churchyard. In this churchyard is the gravestone of William Carr, who was rector 54 years and died in 1843 after making nearly fifty miles of paths in the beautiful valley. Who could not spend days following in his steps ? One path from the churchyard goes down to a bridge, where 57 stepping stones cross the river. A lovely sight it is when the banks are glorious with bluebells and wild campion in spring and summer, and in autumn glow with crimson and gold.

Coming to the ruins we pass the rectory, a house with a fine porch on the south side of the site of the cloister, and low shattered walls reach up to it. From it we have a view of the great house, with the delicate foliage of two trees hugging its walls and reaching the battlements.

Little is left of the ancient priory except the church, itself a ruin except for the nave, which has continued to be the parish church. Of the domestic buildings on its south side there are only a few fragments of walls and foundations, but these are enough to help us to see their plan. The plan is in the shape of a cross, with an aisleless choir, transepts with eastern aisles, a nave with a north aisle only, and a west tower which was never completed. Most of the walling of the three eastern arms is still upstanding and it is in the ruined eastern portion of the church that the loveliest work is to be found.

The Priory in its superb setting in Wharfedale
The Priory in its superb setting in Wharfedale

Of the 12th century church, begun after the establishment of the priory on this site, are left the lower parts of the walls of the choir and nave, and the piers of a central crossing. In the 13th century the nave was given the fine line of tracery windows in its south wall, and the lovely west front—charming with its central doorway, its ornamental arcading, and fine windows enriched with moulding. The pity is that this front is hidden by the tower which Richard Moone, the last prior, began to build, little dreaming that before he could complete it the King of England would sweep away every monastery in the land. Had the prior finished his work he would have taken down the west wall of the nave to reveal his soaring tower arch, which serves now as a frame for the earlier front. The prior’s tower is only as high as the tip of its fine west window, which has below it a handsome doorway under canopied niches and a display of shields. Two bands of beautiful tracery run round the base of the tower. Three of the buttresses have dogs sitting on pedestals, and another has a statue of a pilgrim with a shield and a staff, a 17th century sundial above him. Richard wrote his name on his tower with the letter R and a crescent moon.

The north aisle was added in the 13th century (though its windows are from the beginning of the 15th), and the sturdy arcade is impressive. Above it is a clerestory. The roof was restored last century, but some of its timbers are medieval and some of the bosses have queer carvings, one showing a man’s head with a snake creeping through his ear and coming out of his mouth. There are a few old glass fragments, an altar stone with five crosses and a hollow where relics were kept, and a fragment of a gravestone thought to have been in memory of John Clifford, a Knight of the Garter buried here 500 years ago.

Priory from North West
Priory from North West
Priory West Front
Priory West Front

In the 14th century the transepts and parts of the choir were rebuilt, the choir being lengthened. The single wall of the south transept is pierced by two windows, and has a pinnacle standing like a sentinel. The north transept has lofty walls, and through the two bays of its aisle arcade we see the river. The 12th century walling of the choir at each side is enriched with lovely arcading, and one of the 14th century windows above has its tracery still perfect. Beautiful indeed must have been the great east window, now only a stone frame for the woods and waterfall beyond. Here are the steps of the sanctuary, traces of seats for the priests, and a recess thought to have been the resting-place of Lady Margaret Neville. In the south wall is part of a lovely doorway which led to a chapel, perhaps the spot where tradition says the coffins stand upright :

Face to face, and hand to hand,
The Claphams and Mauleverers stand.

The home of old romance is the choir of Bolton Abbey, where legend says Alice Romilly came to pray for the soul of Egremond, and where the Shepherd Lord loved to come from Barden Tower five miles away. It is said that he studied alchemy here, and that when his strange life ran out he was buried within the shadow of these walls.

Priory Transcept Arches
Priory Transcept Arches

The Shepherd Lord was Henry Clifford, whose father, called Butcher Clifford because he was a brute, died in battle fighting for the Red Rose, and left two sons alive when Edward the Fourth came to the crown. They were hidden, and nothing was heard of them until after eight years, when the rumour was spread that Lord Clifford’s heir was alive, hiding in Yorkshire. As he was dangerous to the plotters for the crown spies searched the moors and dales, but no trace of a Clifford was found. Fifteen years later came the Battle of Bosworth Field, and Henry of the Red Rose became Henry the Seventh of England. Exiles came home. Banished men threw off their disguises. Lady Clifford announced that her eldest son lived, and one day there walked up the floor of the House of Lords a man looking like a ploughman, his great hands horny with toil. He was the Good Lord Clifford, come to claim the barony of Westmorland and the castle of Skipton. He was a man of only simple learning. He had been brought up in a cottage, and had been used to wearing rags, walking barefoot, and sleeping on straw. He had lived a shepherd’s life.

Now he was one of the lords of England, standing among his peers, and he came to live near Bolton Abbey, studying the stars. The boy condemned to die at seven lived to be seventy ; he who had obeyed a shepherd now commanded knights and yeomen.

Love had he found in huts where poor men lie;
His daily teachers had been woods and rills,
The silence that is in the starry sky,
The sleep that is among the lonely hills.

In him the savage virtue of the Race,
Revenge, and all ferocious thoughts were dead:
Nor did he change; but kept in lofty place
The wisdom which adversity had bred.

Glad were the vales, and every cottage hearth;
The Shepherd Lord was honoured more and more;
And, ages after he was laid in earth,
The Good Lord Clifford was the name he bore.

Somewhere here also sleeps Francis Norton, whose story we read in Wordsworth’s White Doe of Rylstone. We are told that his sister came to weep over his grave and that when her spirit fled the Doe which had long been her companion came along by night. The story greatly impressed the poet.

From the park, extending over 700 acres, we may climb to Standard Hill, where Francis Norton is said to have met his end, or we may follow the river u the valley where hills come nearer and the trees crowd to the riverside, the bank closing in till the water roars along a channel only a few feet wide but 30 feet deep, the thunder heard far off.