Aysgarth and District Parish Council

  • Lamb

A short history of Thornton Rust

by Pip Pointon 

In 1086 Thornton Rust was mentioned in the Domesday Book as 'Toreton'. Pat Kent In her book A Walk Round Thornton Rust (published in 1987) wondered if the humps and bumps at the east end of Thornton Rust were the remnants of the original village as one of the fields just east of Manor Farm was called Townends.

There are differing views on where the 'Rust' came from. In their book Wensleydale Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley stated that before the Norman invasion the village was probably owned by a man called Roschil from which 'Rust' was derived.

The most popular view, however, is that it came from St Restitutus to whom the medieval chapel in the village was dedicated. The site of that might be in two fields behind Thornton Hall which are called Low Chapel Garth and High Chapel Garth.

The old name for part of Thornton Moor was 'Brindley' - 'a clearing in the wood caused by fire' and is a reminder that this was once surrounded by the ancient Forest of Wensleydale where kings and knights came hunting.

Thornton Rust developed as a linear village clinging to the south side of a scar - a cliff-like edge of a limestone terrace. Many of the houses were built using stone from the quarry which is near the lime kiln along the green lane from the Outgang on the north side of the vilage. The flags and roofing slates, however, came from the quarries at Burtersett and Stag's Fell.

By 1301 the village of 'Thorneton' had 17 residents listed as paying the lay subsidy (a tax on their goods) to King Edward I. The taxpayers included Johanne Molendinario (a miller) and Henrio Fuller (a fuller) as well as Roberto de Gill and Willemo de Gill. Maybe the de Gills lived at Low Gill which is at the eastern boundary of the village. There is evidence of strip-farming both there and at several other places around the village. By 1673 46 households were listed for the Hearth Tax .

Up until the mid 20th century Thornton Rust was predominantly a farming community. In 1891 23 of the 44 households were involved with farming and 40 men listed that as their main occupation. Six of those were farm servants, one was a farm manager and another was a pig butcher while the others were members of farming families.

The head of one farming family, John Cockburn, stated that he was also a boot maker. There was a mole catcher, a retired gamekeeper, a mason, a carpenter, two stone masons, a dressmaker, two Christian ministers, and 11 domestic servants - plus 47 children under 16-years although a few were already in employment.

In 2011 according to the census there were 100 residents in 63 dwellings in the village. The current ownership is one third each of resident, farming/ex-farming and holiday homes. Holiday home ownership is growing rapidly while the number of children and farm holdings have decreased.

Built heritage:

It is thought that East End House is one of the oldest buildings in the village. Until the 1840s this was the Manor Inn which had a brew house behind it. There was also a large bread oven.

Part of Thornton Hall, which is in the centre of the village, dates back to the 17th century and it is thought a medieval manor house once stood there. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was the home of the Chapman family who were the principal landowners in the area. The date inscribed over the elaborate doorway is 1672.

It is likely that at least two of the houses in the centre of the village began life as thatched cottages - Manor House on the east side of the institute, and Plane Tree House opposite it.

The outlines of the heads of tall windows on the upper level of Havenhurst at the east end of the village recall its earlier life as a Calvinistic Chapel. This was established in 1827 by John Tomlinson, a gentleman of Thornton Rust, with a school room on the ground floor.

The school closed in 1948 but not before Pontefract and Hartley had visited it. Only children up to 10-years-old were admitted and the two ladies commented: "Entering it you feel to have stepped back several generations. Maps line the walls, and when we saw it there were open copy-books on the desks. Only simple subjects are taken, but the children learn them well."

Past the green at the east end there is a large house set back on the north side called Parson Hill. This was once a dissenting chapel and a Sunday School. It later became the hub of village life where village events were held. It is now a private house.

In front of it is The Bield which, in the 19th century, was the home of a wheelwright. Next door is 'The Post Office'. This was once a flourishing shop and post office but became a private house in the late 20th century.

Outside West View Farm at the west end of the village there is a stone tablet inscribed with two Hebrew words and then: 'Jehovah my Banner, Particular Baptist Chapel 1836'. By 1840, however, the chapel was sold. Pat Kent states that the building at the back which was used for worship and as a Sunday School became (like Parson Hill) a place where meetings and dances were held.

The village institute, which was built in 1924, provides a welcoming venue for meetings and events thanks to the efforts of the volunteer committee.

Many villagers have also worked hard to maintain The Mission Room which, since the late 19th century, has been in the upper floor of a traditional barn.

At the east end of the village there is Thornton Lodge - a five-star country house in what was originally built in 1909 as the summer retreat of a cotton baron.


History of the Sheepfold 

by Mark Sheard

The sheep dip is believed to have been originally set up after the Enclosure Act 1873 for the tenant farmers of Thornton Rust Hall, the Lords of the Manor.

The fold had two functions

  1. The sheep dip

The dip is made up of three parts. The first is the water boiling pots, the second the dip bath and the third the draining area and drip collection tank.

The process was as follows: The two large cast iron pots located over two small fire grates were filled with clear water the night before dipping. The fires were lit and lef to heat the water overnight. Originally the pots had a tin roof and chimney over them but they are now lost.

The following day a mixture of proprietary chemicals was cut from a large block, placed in a bucket and hot water was added. The mixture was stirred and then poured into the sheep dip bath which had been partly filled with stream water from the adjacent beck. The stream was blocked with turf to fill a small trough which remains in situ today. From the trough an underground pipe led to the dip bath.

Sheep were led into the enclosure adjacent to the dip and then led singly into the dip bath. A man stood in a manhole recess to the side of the bath to push the sheep under the surface. The sheep then left the bath to a third enclosure where they dripped surplus water back into a shallow collection tank which fed back to the main dip bath. After dripping the sheep were released out into what is now the car park area and led away.

A small fee was paid per head of sheep dipped and administered by the secretary of the dipping fund. Monies raised were used to maintain the structure and pay for consumables.

Around 15 farmers used the facility in its heyday.

  1. The sheep wash and clipping area.

This was a separate exercise and was undertaken to wash out lanolin and ticks (and salve) from the fleeces before clipping. The stream was blocked at the lower end of the sheep dip site by insserting a wooden slab between the two large stone slabs set in the stream and still in situ today. This created a large pool into which the sheep were driven and individually washed.

This practice stopped in the early 1900s. One reason was that the wool processors realised that lanolin was a valuable product which they preferred to be left in the fleeces to process themselves.

The sheepfold remained in use until the 1970s when it was largely abandoned. It is still used occasionally as a clipping and dosing area.

On the left-hand side near the entrance to the car park a small stone building provided storage for peats collected from the moors by villagers. The building has long been demolished and nothing remains.