Eleanor Yorke, Audio Clip

Eleanor Yorke
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W.R. Mitchell (WRM) and Eleanor Yorke (EY) discuss the history of the Yorke family, from Sir Richard Yorke who was a wealthy York Merchant and Lord Mayor of the city of York in the late 1400s. Eleanor Yorke discusses the properties that the family held in Nidderdale from the sixteenth century and the story of Sir John Yorke of Gowthwaite, a catholic, who was fined by the Star Chamber in 1611 for allowing a pro-Catholic play to be performed in his home in 1609 over the Christmas period. Sir John Yorke was also retrospectively accused of involvement in the Gunpowder Plot—at the same time—but his name was quickly cleared.


WRM: [How long has the Yorke family been] associated with the Dales?

EY: About 400 years.

WRM: And how did it come into the Dales actually? What were the circumstances?

EY: The property was bought by Sir John Yorke at that date from Sir Christopher Hales, and we have the deed which shows our ownership.

WRM: What was the extent of the property and where was it to be found?

EY: In Nidderdale.

WRM: Ah, yes.

EY: It was a very big property. We have all the books about it; but I think it was eight or ten thousand acres.

WRM: Where was it generally to be found, at the dale head?

EY: What is called Stonebeck Up and Stonebeck Down...

WRM: Oh, yes.

EY: And the Manor of Ramsgill and the Manor of Beaulieu, and finally the Manor of Appletreewick.

WRM: Oh, I see; yes. Who had previously owned that property?

EY: It had been Abbey property: the monks of Byland, the monks of Fountain’s, and the monks of Bolton Abbey.

WRM: Where did Sir John Yorke come from?

EY: The first Sir Richard Yorke who we can authenticate died in 1498 and he was Lord Mayor of York, a member of Parliament for York in three Parliaments, the Mayor of the Staple of Calais (which was the head of the wool trade), and he was knighted at Neville’s feast, which date I can’t remember but I can give it you. And he married twice and had a large family, of whom we have records, and it was one of his descendants who bought the property after it had been given by Henry VIII to first of all Sir Christopher Hales and then Sir Richard Darcy.

WRM: I see. Did the member of the Yorke family who bought that property, did he build a house within the estate?

EY: Yes, first of all they lived up at Middlesmoor, of which house we have no trace. Afterwards they lived at Gouthwaite Hall, which is in the middle of the Gouththwaite reservoir now, and that property was requisitioned by the Bradford Corporation from my husband’s grandfather in 1883 and the house was pulled down and a house on the shore of the lake was built with some of the stones; and we have all the plans and pictures of it, but that was the end. And after that they migrated down to Bewerley where there was a very nice, old Elizabethan house which I have a picture of in about 1815. Then of course they turned it into a castellated mansion, like all the Scottish ones, [and] in about 1918-1921 it had turrets and towers and that great grandmother was the first person who altered it.

WRM: What is known about that early period when they first bought the estate and lived at the head of the dale? Is very much known about their way of life?

EY: Yes, the Yorkes of course were Catholics and recusants, and there is a well-known story that although they lived in a very remote part of the country they acted a play at Gouthwaite Hall and during the play the Protestants chased the Catholics off the stage, and for this reason when the news got to London that Sir John was fined very heavily by the Star Chamber. And I had an American professor to see me once and he was beginning to write the story, and he said that he was fined more heavily than anybody else and that he was fined £8,000 which of course in those days was almost... but I haven’t any proof of that.

WRM: No, no.

EY: He said he had. And after that of course they had to conform, and eventually of course gave up being Catholics. But the Ingilbys and the Yorkes were related also by marriage. It was a very strong recusant faith; they did say there was a priest’s hole at Gouthwaite but I [of course] never saw it.

WRM: The wealth would be represented by land and the use of the land wouldn’t it in Upper Nidderdale, so it presumably was a farming estate was it largely?

EY: A what?

WRM: A farming estate, agriculture.

EY: Oh, yes. Of course, originally...I mean, we have the documents when the Forest of Nidderdale was given to Roger de Mowbray, and I have had students who were writing theses coming to ask me about Roger de Mowbray and we’ve got quite a lot about him. But that was way back, and he gave the land to the monks. So that’s of course going back to 1100.

WRM: How did the Yorkes develop their estate? What use did they put it to?

EY: It was agricultural entirely.