Medieval and Monastic

Up to the 6th century: Transforming the landscape

Small woodland clearances made way for farmland, and by the end of the 6th century, an area around Pateley Bridge had been cleared – the ley being derived from leah, meaning a woodland glade or clearing. Although we do not know when large-scale woodland clearance began, it seems likely that outside these small farmed zones, the dale sides and bottom would still have been home to oak with alder and willow thickets.

9th–11th century: Foreign influence

The 9th and 10th centuries saw the arrival of first Danish and then Norse settlers. By the mid-11th century, much of the north was laid waste by William the Conqueror to subdue a Northumbrian rebellion. Although difficult to imagine now, it appears that – either by the sword or through the famine that followed – the population of a huge area north of York, including Nidderdale, was all but wiped out. Upper Nidderdale, all but empty of people, became a royal hunting forest, Nidderdale Chase.

12th–16th century: Expansion of the monastries

Fountains and Byland monasteries gradually acquired Nidderdale Chase from its noble owner, Roger de Mowbray, and began to create medieval monastic agricultural estates that flourished for over 300 years. The dale was repopulated as land was cleared and enclosed around monastic grange farms. Alongside farming, lead and iron mining was expanding, both in terms of level of extraction and areas exploited, with important sites in the Greenhow area and at Blayshaw Gill.

Mid-16th century: Dissolution of the monasteries

Following the dissolution of the monasteries, ownership of the two large monastic estates in Upper Nidderdale fragmented, although farming, lead mining and small-scale quarrying continued. The land associated with Bewerley Grange, for example, passed through a series of owners before being acquired by the Yorke family who then held it into the 20th century.

Survival of the Evidence

Today, place names provide strong connections with the past. Names with Scandinavian roots, such as Bouthwaite and Ramsgill, point to the presence of Norse settlers in Upper Nidderdale. Similarly, the parish name of Fountains Earth whose boundary with the parish of Stonebeck Up marks the boundary between lands controlled by Fountains Abbey and Byland Abbey.

Remains of settlements and buildings also link us to the past. The remains of the village of Lodge, above Scar House Reservoir, is first mentioned as a grange of Byland Abbey. Bewerley Grange Chapel (Grade II* listed building and scheduled monument), was built during the abbotship of Marmaduke Huby, the last abbot of Fountains Abbey, as part of the grange established at Bewerley.

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