East Witton, Yorkshire

The East Witton Staveleys lived through some of Wensleydale's most turbulent periods of history.  As more Staveley records are excavated from deep within parish registers and county archives, a more complex picture of the East Witton group begins to form.  Initially, a simple search of the East Witton parish registers revealed an extensive, albeit somewhat brief Staveley occupation of this village.

During a cursory search of the East Witton parish registers, it became apparent that many more Staveleys were buried in this parish, than born here.  Initially it was presumed that the family may have recently moved into the parish from elsewhere, however, available court records help to explain the lack of christening records in this parish.

When Henry VIII dissolved the Catholic church in England, and formed his own Church with himself at the helm, it was expected that all those loyal to the King would renounce their Catholic faith, and attend to Henry's new Church.  Many families however refused to abandon their Catholic faith, and the East Witton Staveleys were no exception, some of whom were repeatedly tried, and punished for refusing to attend Henry's new Church.  As Papists, Catholics were not free to practice their faith, and as a result many Catholic families are omitted from the new church registers.  The result is that some families seem to completely disappear from a parish, or only rarely are relevant entries found, and then most often only burial entries and court records are available.

However, these court records themselves help to shed perhaps a more colorful light on the Staveleys of East Witton. These records also suggest these Staveleys were the progenitors of the Aysgarth family, and likely descendants of the Wensley and West Witton Staveleys, and inhabited the region at least as early as the mid-1500's.  The earliest indication thus far of a Staveley inhabiting East Witton is evidenced by a Quarter Sessions entry regarding William Staveley, Miller of East Witton, b. 1566 charged with recusancy.  William was apparently born in East Witton, but because the East Witton parish registers don't begin until 1663, and because of the apparent staunch adherence of the Staveleys to their Catholic faith, a record of birth for William Staveley (1566) has not been found.  His age is known only from the Quarter Sessions record entries.  We do know that he lived and worked in East Witton as an adult.  It is significantly important to recognize that William Staveley was born a mere three years after the devastating outbreak of plague in this part of the Dales, so if these Staveleys were originally of East Witton or Wensley prior to the outbreak, we can be fairly well assured they did not remain in those parishes during the epidemic.  These Staveleys would likely have scattered throughout other regions in the Dales to avoid the sickness, but then at least some returned home once the risk of sickness had passed.

Although some of the associations of these early East Witton Staveleys to the Wensley line are not yet clear, there is evidence to suggest at least a return of a branch of the Wensley line to this parish by the early 1700's.  An interesting record from 1766 regarding a boundary dispute was located in the North Yorkshire County Record Office archives regarding a William Staveley b. 1714 (believed to be the son of  William Staveley of Wensley) who is giving evidence in the case.  The transcript reads as follows:

William Staveley is 52 years old and was born in East Witton and has lived there most his life, when he was 13 yrs old he went to live with Mr Thomas Purchas at Braithwaite and lived with him 2 years, during the summers of which he was employed by Mr Purchas to herd Braithwaite Moor and Mr Purchas directed him not to let any sheep ....?.....  [probably stray]  which extends eastwards to Round Hill south towards the Ridge of the Hill and westwards to the Wall and that further two summers he did not suffer any sheep ...?....  The Braithwaite people come within these bounds. He often saw East Witton people during the time in the adjoining Moor about their sheep and never was molested or interrupted in any manner by any of them, and he saw the Braithwaite people constantly get turves and ling upon this moor but never saw the East Witton people get any there ... he has heard of Lord Bruce holding it yet it was always reputed in East Witton to belong to Thomas Wood and he has heard Thomas Rombald of East Witton say that since this action [court case] he durst not get turves on Braithwaite Moor to use at East Witton unless he do it secretly ...

Two years later the following acknowledgement was recorded:

Braithwaite ACKNOWLEDGEMENT William Stavely of East Witton, Carpenter, acknowledges he had leave from the Agent of Thomas Wood to cut 2000 turves upon Braithwaite Moor in the Manor of Braithwaite, on the part south of the Coalpitts, and that he paid 6d to the Agent, etc. 1p, 4to. signed and witnessed. 1768.


This is William Staveley who married Margaret WINNE (son of William of Wensley as mentioned above).  William and Margaret were married in Margaret's home parish of Thornton Steward on June 7, 1742,  and it appears they had at least 10 children during the course of their marriage.  Shortly after their marriage they became residents of Spennithorne for a time.  At first this did not appear to agree with the statement above where William is pronounced a resident of East Witton 'most his life'.

However, in 1732 when William was just nineteen years old, there was a tremendous flood along the river Ure (Yore), and East Witton is situated at the confluence of two significant Dales rivers, the Cover and the Ure, and was likely inundated as a result.  It is reported that tremendous damage was done to both the mills and the bridges throughout a vast region of the Dale, especially at Masham, and entire herds and flocks were destroyed.  A number of families, especially those with employment depending upon the river such as Millers and Millwrights (the primary trades given for these Staveleys of East Witton in the numerous recusant record entries), were left destitute as a result.  This no doubt may have resulted in the removal of some families from the area, including this Staveley family, at least for a time.

Records suggest that William and Margaret did return to East Witton for a time, but eventually retired to the nearby parish of Hauxwell in their latter years, where they are buried at St. Oswald's churchyard.  Hauxwell is located just a few miles from Patrick Brompton, where William and Margaret's son William Staveley (b. 1748) married Mary FIRBY on May 4, 1772

William Staveley and Mary FIRBY had the following children in East Witton:

Elizabeth Staveley b. December 21, 1772 d. December 21, 1773 East Witton, Yorkshire
George Staveley b. May 12, 1774   East Witton, Yorkshire
Jane Staveley b. March 23, 1776   East Witton, Yorkshire
John Staveley b. June 29, 1777   East Witton, Yorkshire
Ann Staveley b. December 27, 1779   East Witton, Yorkshire
Eneas Staveley b. February 12, 1782   East Witton, Yorkshire
Christopher Staveley b. April 26, 1784 d. 1786 East Witton, Yorkshire
Mary Staveley b. April 4, 1786   East Witton, Yorkshire


William and Mary raised their family in East Witton and remained there at least until the late 1770's.  When son George was only twelve years old, Mary died, leaving four young children under the age of six in the household, the youngest of whom was George's sister Mary b. 1786, who was a mere five months old.  George's mother Mary was buried at East Witton on September 1, 1786.  As George was the eldest male child when his mother died, this likely imposed tremendous responsibility on George to help his father raise the remaining children in the household.

George's youngest brother Eneas married Elizabeth PEACOCK in Hipswell in February 1806, and their family relocated to Richmond, Yorkshire. 

George's younger brother John married Margaret FRYER in Richmond, Yorkshire in 1807.  Margaret died in 1884.  John died in and was buried at Richmond St. Mary on April 22, 1849 at the age of 72 years.

His sister Ann married Thomas PEACOCK in Northallerton in 1810.

George Staveley (b. 1774) was married in Aysgarth to Dorothy WRAY in 1806, and employed as the Millwright at the Yore Mill in Aysgarth, and it is there we will continue their story.

Author: Clare M. Staveley


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