Staveleys of Wensley,Yorkshire

In a span of approximately 30 years, two devastating events occurred during Wensleydale's early sixteenth century history that permanently changed the social and economic direction of the Dale.  

A Time of Religious Change and Social Uprising...

The first significant event was the dissolution of the monasteries perpetuated by Henry VIII in the 1530's.  The Staveleys were known to be corn millers at East Witton Mill around this time.  For some 400 years, Jervaulx Abbey was the cultural and economic center of Wensleydale, and the Staveleys were no doubt affected significantly by the dissolution of the Abbey which is situated less than a mile to the east of the mill within the parish of East Witton.  Not only would the dissolution of abbeys such as Jervaulx and Coverham disrupt religious practice in the area, but the regional economy would be severely affected by the abbey's closures.  Ninian Staveley (see Stainley Line) played his one part in an attempt as restoring both abbeys during the Pilgrimage of Grace, but this attempt ultimately failed.  Jervaulx's last abbot Adam de Sedbergh was executed at Tyburn for his part in the 1536 Catholic rebellion against the King, and as an early leader of the rebellion, Ninian was fortunate not to meet the same fate. The dissolution of the monasteries took place two years later and Jervaulx's final fate was sealed.

God's Punishment, a Sentence of Pestilence and Plague...

The second major event occurred during an outbreak of plague in East Witton and Wensley in 1563.  Both East Witton and Wensley were permanently changed as a result of the epidemic.  The former having once been a market town, since the charter issued by Edward I., in 1306, but the charter was lost as "the country people, being afraid to approach the town, the market was removed temporarily to Ulshaw, and, after the disappearance of the pestilence, the inhabitants of (East) Witton were never able to re-establish it."  Wensley suffered similarly, losing its status as the center of the dale prior to the outbreak, ultimately being reduced to a relatively insignificant village.  As the Wensleydale Staveley families inhabited both East Witton and Wensley during the 16th century, these two events no doubt account for some of the difficulty in establishing clear lineages for this family during those times.

Over the years members of this Staveley line inhabited many of the neighboring parishes including West Witton, East Witton, Spennithorne, Thoralby, and Aysgarth.  The movements of this family line may well be explained, at least in part, by this turbulent period in the Dales history.

An early record regarding a Staveley from this region is regarding an Agnes Staveley (b. circa 1210?) in Redmire, contained within the parish of Wensley:

3 Feb, 1261-2. Agnes, daughter of Alan of Staveley - was tenant of demesne
land in Rydemere. The right of Agnes; Agnes grants whole to the tenant
(Alan) rendering yearly a pound of cumin or 3 halfpence at Christmas, and
doing on their behalf to the chief lords of that fee all other services due.
Warranty. Alan, the tenant, gives 100s. sterling


As with many of the early Staveley records, it is not possible to make a clear connection between Agnes and the later Staveley occupation in Wensley.  More recently records show Staveleys occupying the Parish of Wensley and it's adjacent parishes at least from the early 1500's.  There are two additional key Staveley family groups that intersect this region, a Sedbergh/Dentdale group and the Staveley family of Ripon.  Direct connections between either of these lineages has not yet been established.  The exact origins of the Wensley line of Staveleys are unclear, but this group occupied the core of the Dale for at least 250 years.  However, the line appears to have left the Dale entirely by the mid 1800's, relocating to the Greater Manchester area of Lancashire.

There is a significant paucity of records pertaining to the early origins of this line, likely a result of a combination of episodes of plague, civil war and unrest, religious persecution, and floods that punctuated this period of English history.  Occasional court documents, and Bolton Hall land tenancy records in conjunction with the sparsely available parish records and Hearth Tax returns all help to complete a picture of the Wensley line of Staveleys, but unfortunately many voids remain in this family's history.

Currently the head of the Wensleydale tree is believed to be a 'Francis Staveley, of Capplebank West Witton' from the early 1600's and it is with his family that we'll begin this story in the village of Wensley.

Author: Clare M. Staveley


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