Parish of Wensley, Yorkshire

The parish of Wensley is centered in the heart of Wensleydale, North Yorkshire.  "The little place which gives its name to Wensleydale, as an emerald or a ruby does to a ring, has been the theme of laudation for many who have written about it.  Although Wensleydale, may contain more picturesque villages, there is a distinctive charm and character about Wensley which none of the other villages possess...'Tis sheltered in woodland and bright and beautiful with flowers... --Edmund Bogg(1).

The earliest Staveley entry in the Wensley Parish registers is for the baptism of a Henricus Stavley in 1545. Henry's parents however are not listed in the entry.  No other Staveleys appear in the register for almost 40 years, and then in 1583 two Stavelay burial entries appear in the register less than one week apart.  June 2, 1583 shows the burial of a Thomas Stavelay, and June 7 that same year there is an entry of burial for Anna Stavelay.  No ages or familial affiliations are given in the registers and it is unclear if Anna and Thomas were adults or children, spouses or siblings.

Part of the reason for the gap between the entries of Henry and Thomas is explained by the following entry from the Wensley parish register:

1563. Hic equidem video quod nil hoc scribitur anno

Forsooth I see that here theire is nothinge written this yeare.  The Reason as some Thinke that Nothing is found written in This Register in the Year of our lord God 1563 Because that in that Yeare the Visitation or Plague was Most Hote and fearull So yt Many fled and ye Towne of Wensley by Reason of the sickness, was vnfrequented for a long season As I find By one old Writeing dated 1569. p mee Jo: Nayler

What is known is that in 1611 court records show Staveleys also residing in the neighboring parish of East Witton.  A William Staveley, Miller of East Witton aged 45 was tried for recusancy along with his wife Mary, twice during that year.  This places the birth of William at 1566.  An entry of birth has not been located in either the Wensley, East Witton or neighboring parish registers.  William's year of birth would be approximately 18 years after the birth of Henry above. Although there is a possibility that William and Henry are somehow connected (possibly father and son, or perhaps brothers), any such connection has yet to be established.  If such a connection could be demonstrated it would help to create a more complete picture of the Staveleys living in this part of the Dale at that time.

We can conclude from these recusant records that the episode of plague in the Dale during 1563 was a mere 3 years prior to William's birth, and a number of accounts in local registers, and in the North Yorkshire County Record Office both suggest that Wensley and East Witton were tremendously affected by this sickness.  So much so that Wensley, once the economic center of the Dale named after it, would lose that status as a result of the outbreak and be reduced to a mere village, no more or less important than it's neighbors.  Any Staveleys that may have been afflicted and died may never be accounted for, those that weren't infected would have been forced to move from their home parishes at least until the sickness passed.

So if no firm associations have been made to Henricus Stavley, why does discussion of this line begin in the parish of Wensley? During this period of scant historical documentation, records pertaining to a 'Francis Staveley of Wensley' begin to appear.  For now he holds the position of 'head' of this line as any firm connections further back in time have yet to be established.  Documents pertaining to Francis Staveley suggest he was born abt. 1625.  It is unknown where Francis was born or baptized however, so for now it is unknown whether he may connect to the earlier entry for Henricus Stavley in the Wensley Parish, or if Francis himself was transplanted into the Dale from elsewhere.

There is enough documentary evidence however, that Francis indeed was a resident of Wensley, for quite some time.  The Wensley and West Witton registers suggest that Francis was married at least twice while a resident in the parish.  Francis and his first wife, Elizabeth, resided in Wensley and had at least 2 children, Roger and William, christened at Holy Trinity:

Children of Francis and Elizabeth Staveley








However, no entry of marriage for Francis and Elizabeth has ever been found.  This union is inferred based upon the baptism entries for the children above.  It is unknown if Francis and Elizabeth had other children prior to inhabiting Wensley. Francis' first wife Elizabeth was buried at Holy Trinity, Wensley, on October 11, 1658.  It is expected that Elizabeth died during, or shortly after the birth of her second son William as she was buried within a week of William's christening.  After the death of Elizabeth, it is presumed that Francis then moved to West Witton where he and his second wife, Jane, settled at Capple Bank.

Author: Clare M. Staveley


Of note: In The Field Book of Tenants of Lord Bolton in 1723 there is a reference to a Henry Humphrey living at Staveley House in Wensley.  Whether this house was owned or leased by Francis, or his children at this point is unknown, but hopefully additional records at the NYCRO can help shed more light on this mystery soon...


(1) Bogg, Edmund.  1925.  Beautiful Wensleydale and by the Banks of the Yore, from Shunner Fell to Myton Meadows.


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