The Isle of Axholme Drainage

Bryan Wainwright

Natural England


Version 25 (unfinished)

Note: this is a work in progress, updated versions will overwrite and greatly expand it.

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Prologue 3

Preface 3

Introduction 4

Prehistoric Geology & Peoples & The End of The Ice Age 18,000 BP 6

Once Upon an Interglacial in Doggerland 7

The Holocene Begins 11,650 BP 9

Historic Time Periods and Characters 10

Bronze Age 2100 to 750 BC 10

Iron Age 500 BC to 800 AD 10

Roman 43 to 410 AD 10

Anglo-Saxon 500 to 1066 AD 15

Norse Rise & Saxon Fall 793 to 1150 22

Norman 1066 to 1154, to Drainage 1626 27

Extracts From Domesday Book 34

Place Names Past and Present and Meanings 35

Pre-Drainage Landscape Features & Vegetation 37

Chronology of the Lord of the Manor of Hatfield & Other Major Influences 45

Early Mentions of Wildlife 58

The Drainage 1626 59

Vermuyden’s Plan 62

The Immigrant Dutch and French Huguenots 64

Post Drainage, Enclosure & The Emerging Peat Industry 64

The New Landscape 65

The Continuing Unpredictable Floods 79

Post Drainage Crops 82

The Victorian Era, Warping & Enclosure 82

The Modern Day Landscape & Archaeology 89

Human Remains 89

Human Artifacts 90

Historic Buildings & other Artificial Structures 90

Water Management Structures 92

Railways 96

Woodland 96

Present Woodland at Thorne 96

Present Woodland at Hatfield 100

Summary of the Effects of Vermuyden’s Drainage 102

References 107


  1. Norse Magic & Beliefs Channel (2022) Differences between Norwegian, Swedish and Danish Vikings Map 1. P.17

  2. Norse Magic & Beliefs Channel (2022) Differences between Norwegian, Swedish and Danish Vikings Map 2. P.18

  3. Norse Magic & Beliefs Channel (2022) Differences between Norwegian, Swedish and Danish Vikings Map 3. P.24

  4. Pre-drainage map by Vermuyden c.1626. Stonehouse, W.B. (1839) The History 5. Topography of the Isle of Axholme. Image from British Library (online source) public domain. P.36

  5. Pre-drainage map by Vermuyden c.1626. Stonehouse, W.B. (1839) The History 5. Topography of the Isle of Axholme. Image from British Library (online source) public domain. Annotated P.37

  6. The Bounders of Hatfield Chase, Perambulation of the Chase Boundaries of P.38

  7. Map of Isle of Axholme 1596. Special Commission of Elizabeth I P.45

  8. The Drainage of Vermuyden 1626-1629 Axholme & Hatfield P.52

  9. The Participants Allocation, Vermuyden P.59


The Humberhead Peatlands (Thorne & Hatfield Moors) is a place made special to me as any local patch is to anybody by personal acquaintance more than any other factor. Whatever other factors determine the ‘worth’ of a place by any measure (including purely scientific) the one that stands out head and shoulders above any other is that of personal acquaintance. Not just your personal acquaintance, but that of those who have gone before; the history of the place. A naturalist’s/historian’s local patch is made more special to them only by increased familiarity; it is a totally subjective and personal perspective which can only be known by like-minded people. Knowing a local patch as intimately as I do is all about a sense of time and place, of the changing seasons and the knowledge of the ebb and flow of nature in that place. Knowing its history strengthens this acquaintance and the fascination tends to grow the more I delve.

I the author have been personally associated with the area once known as Hatfield Chase all my life and have amassed vast personal experience and library of published material on the subject, covering not only its natural history, but also its geology and history. This accumulated information however is scattered in many diverse and not always easily accessible forms from old, rare, out of print, obscure or locally published material and varies widely as to subject, relevance and accuracy and is not in any chronological order. In these many disparate forms then it is not easy for the layman to get a good overview of the subject area as a whole. Much of what is learnt is often recounted as hearsay and conjecture. Therefore, it is better to pin down these stories with actual references, if they can be found and to get the facts straight. It is then my aim to be able in this present work to present a fuller and truer overall picture of the local history of the place.


The purpose of this summary is to give an accurate and clear understanding of the aspects of the past in this area of Hatfield Chase. This will cover not only the physical and human contingents but also the natural history. It may seem like there is already a lot of information out there; and there is, scattered in books and manuscripts, online and in limited edition reprints of rare books. Even if like me you have obtained all you have come across, yet still the information seems uncannily difficult to bring together in the mind to form an overall picture of typical scenes from long ago. Surely many written pieces cover only one aspect and that can be exceedingly narrow in scope. Yet others which range more generally are written in old foreign language or style and to anyone unfamiliar with it, it can be very difficult to follow. This is very much the case with the main reference work referred to throughout here, namely the book The Level of Hatfield Chace and Parts Adjacent, by local historian John Tomlinson 1882. Though there is a great wealth of material of all kinds in this valuable book, nevertheless it is difficult to read for the several reasons mentioned, but mainly due to the very old sources used. Even at the time it was published reviewers lamented the chaotic layout (it is not very chronologically ordered) and the unconventionality of the book for a local history. John was an antiquarian from Epworth and only responded that he was pressed for time. In defence, it was much more difficult before digital writing for a writer and indeed the typesetter to re-order things, which often led to an extensive footnotes and appendices, as with this book. I hope to put these old quotes in better chronological order and context and supplement and expand the evidence with more information from other sources.

Even given some ability to read sometimes dense or old texts well the problem remains not only of scarcity of said works but also the seemingly polar-opposites views of many pieces. What are we to make for instance of descriptions of native Britons in Roman times? On the one hand they are described as living in woodland without permanent dwelling, having only temporary winter villages with a branch hedge and ditch corral around. They go naked in summer to better show their tattoos off and paint their entire bodies with blue woad dye to go into battle. Then other Roman accounts say they are sophisticated and refined and live in nice wood-framed, wattle and daub filled walled houses. They wear long fine tunics and are experts in metals. So, is one or the other or both inaccurate? Or could they both be right? Other issues are that after the Norman Conquest, French became the pre-eminent language, yet much writing from that time does not bear this out, so what exactly was the situation? Can we trust old sources equally, or should we rely on just one trusted one? And what of boundaries on maps and sizes given for Hatfield Chase and the accuracies or not of them? How can you make sense of the lie of the land from these many and varied maps where all the woodland is nearly gone and river courses have been drastically altered and the many meres of the area are now farmland fields? Places and names have changed, and names are not always readily identified, yet others perhaps mentioned in perambulations of boundaries are indecipherable or simply gone sometimes it says hill and there is now no hill. Hedgerows have disappeared and ditches and canals have been dug and other natural watercourses altered. Tracing people can be equally confusing with gentry, nobility and aristocrats often naming their sons with the exact same name, so that without a full title or dates it is difficult to know whom a text refers to.

Maybe you are experienced and have the time to go through everything yourself. If not, then hopefully a summary such as this can prove useful. I, however, do not claim to be an expert in anything except natural history. My lifelong fascination with the wildlife of the area led into looking at the drainage history and then its history in more detail and this includes geography as well as human events. I have nonetheless been fortunate enough to have had a great amount of time to study them in both my personal and professional work, therefore, I have managed to come to a discerning understanding of past times from many sources and hope here to try to present a clearer overall picture of times gone by in this area for all. It is however, inevitable I will make errors and wrong assumptions for which I can only apologise.


The Humberhead Levels were formed from the bed of post-glacial Lake Humber and lie mostly in the county of Yorkshire (South and East Yorkshire) England but with smaller parts in adjoining (North) Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. Hatfield Chase was located in the southern half of these Levels, south of the rivers Ouse and Humber, the sized varied over time but at its greatest extent it encompassed an area as far north as Selby and north-west as Askern and as far south-east as Bawtry and east to the Isle of Axholme. It should be noted that in some iterations though even the Isle of Axholme was included in the chase and therefore the eastern boundary was then the River Trent. The principal towns of the chase, excluding the Isle of Axholme were Hatfield, Thorne, Fishlake and Sykehouse, which over most of time were separate manors. A chase was a designated royal hunting ground governed by forest law, and a forest was a place of deer not trees! It was set aside for Red Deer Cervus elaphus specifically, though Fallow Deer Dama dama were also introduced (mainly by the Normans) and these two species were the principal quarry of the chase. Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus would also have been present but being much smaller and more agile and not in large groups were probably only taken opportunistically. But of course, the king could hunt anything he wanted, be it deer, fish or fowl. The keepers of the chase would prevent anyone taking any game fish or fowl or even materials such as peat turves without permission. Though these laws were often laxly enforced and officials were often open to corruption. Various ‘crackdowns’ would be urged and some unfortunates from time to time over-harshly punished as an example.

The major river of the chase is the River Don, which historically had its three arms, which split with one going north before joining the River Aire just before it entered the River Ouse and the other two meandering east between the bogs of Thorne Moors and Hatfield Moors before heading northeast to their outfall on the River Trent just before its confluence with the Ouse/Humber. The one remaining northern arm now is the only channel for all the waters. This river rises in the Pennine hills of Great Grains Moss at an altitude of 450 to 480 m in the parish of Pennystone, west of Dunford Bridge. It is 69 miles (111 km) long and has a good number of tributaries and reservoirs along its length. It flows past Rotherham, Sheffield and Mexborough, Conisbrough, Sprotbrough, Newton, Doncaster, Wheatley, Kirk Sandall, Barnby Dun, Stainforth, Fishlake, Thorne, joining with the River Aire and Dutch River past Rawcliffe Bridge and to Goole and finally into the River Ouse. Hatfield Chase is in its lower reaches.

The River Idle, from the south ran north which was joined by the River Torne coming from the west but south of Hatfield Moor, it continued and joined the Don between the moors on the east before all flowed as one to the two River Trent outfalls near Adlingfleet just before the Trent joined the Humber. All these river courses have been vastly altered since as will be described further on. The whole area is a vast flat floodplain barely above sea level (typically 2 to 10 metres) with barely any hills, the Isle of Axholme being the grand exception having the lofty height at Epworth of 37.5 meters (123 feet). Any other hills are barely discernible rises in the ground sometimes with ambitious names, such as Mount Pleasant, a 3 m rise in the ground!

We are fortunate to have a great wealth of recorded history here and records go back to the earliest times. The history of a royal hunting ground here can probably be set as early as 1000 A.D. in the Saxon period, though it wasn’t then known as a ‘chase’ or chace. It was certainly well more defined and controlled from the Norman period, when it was first called Hatfield Chase and was a private chase of the de Warrens. It deferred several times to the crown later either from lack of a lord or removal of him as punishment, but only for short periods since favourites were soon found and given the manor. From about the fourteenth century (Edward II) it reverted to the crown several times until Henry VI, who in 1460 made the private chase his Royal Forest and it remained a royal chase until the 1626 drainage. During this time lords of the manor or masters of the game were still in place but they were not the owners. It remained as the largest Royal Forest till Charles I gave Vermuyden the drainage contract in 1626. So, for over c.600 years it maintained its very wild and little altered state, with a very small, isolated and independent human population.

The wild nature of the area has always been a factor due to the bogs, flooded lands and forests. That this was a wildness for so long has benefitted the natural history of Hatfield Chase into modern times, with 6300+ species already logged while new species are still being added every year. This puts it in the top five for biodiversity sites in Britain. As for history, there is also a great plenty of this, which however is scattered in many unwieldly sources. Even the various attempts at collating the information in the past have been incomplete or somewhat disjointed as already mentioned above. This is regrettable as the events which have taken place relevant to the chase have often been of regional and even national importance with a great deal of turbulent times and notable events, involving persons of the highest royals to the lowest and meanest villani.

The inhabitants of these regions were as wild as the land, waters and forests and had a long history of revolt against, what they thought of as unjust or tyrannical rule. They have always been independent and hated the rule of institutionalism. This attitude dates to before Roman times and has continued throughout all times in history. From Romans battling Cimbri to the two kings of proto-England that had their seat at Hatfield Chase and both of whom were killed in separate battles here. Even a prince was born at Hatfield too, though died shortly after. William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey 1160-70?-1240 (Lord of the Manor of Hatfield Chase) was a leader in the first Barons War and one of those barons who advised King John to accede to Magna Carta (1215). Sir John (I) de Mowbray 2nd Baron 1286-1322 Lord of Isle of Axholme and Hatfield, fought the king’s army at the Battle of Boroughbridge (1322) Yorkshire for Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, for which act he was captured, tried and hanged at York. Sir John (II) de Mowbray 3rd Baron 1310-1361 Lord of Isle of Axholme and Hatfield, who gave the Deed of Commoners Rights to the commoners forever. He was often a rebel who was twice imprisoned in the Tower of London and sided with Richard, Duke of York, and also had an influence in the War of the Roses (1455-1487). Henry VIII in his Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541) made enemies of the people here and he exacted his revenge against protesters, principally supporters of the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536-1537) with one of the most murderously bloody campaigns in this area. Henry VIII wisely avoided this area later while passing through on his way to York, even though he was desirous of hunting on his royal chase here. The people then, were not about to give up their lands and rights and become total farmers so their wealth could be measured and then be taxed accordingly. On into the Vermuyden drainage period and the huge riots resulting from that which lasted for over a century. During these rebellious objections to the unfair drainage, the people again naturally became opposed to the unyielding king and this became probably the main factor in the lords here taking the side of the Parliamentarian Roundheads during the Civil War (1642-1651).

On top of these many national events, there were seemingly often personal feuds of one sort or another between royalty, gentry, ecclesiastical bodies and commoners, usually over land rights, succession, religion, rules of law or ladies. Conflicts continued from enclosure acts and loss of commons and the shared open field system, right up to the claiming of the peat moors by private interests for exploitation (Hatfield Chase Peat Moss Litter Company and four others formed the British Moss Litter Company founded 1896, were the first, extracting for horse bedding) and the miners’ strike of 1984. There was then massive exploitation of the peat moors for commercial peat for the horticultural trade and as this industry became ever more ravenous and threatened to obliterate the peat moors altogether, protests to protect what was left began and dragged on, until the turn of the millennium. The central two peat moors are now National Nature Reserves but the battle to maintain them and their biodiversity is an ongoing battle that is made more uncertain with modern farming practices, building and development and climate change.

PREHISTORIC GEOLOGY & PEOPLES & THE END OF THE ICE AGE 18,000 BP (Northern European time periods)

We require a start time to work from but how far back shall we go? The formation of the earth, the start of life, from prehistoric times and the first human presence, or first civilisations? Fortunately, in these northern latitudes we have a very handy and relevant cut-off date we can use for such an investigation; the ending of the last Ice Age. Knowing this we can see in prehistoric terms the Quaternary Era was from 2 million years ago to now and divided into the earlier ‘most recent’ Pleistocene and the current ‘modern’ Holocene. The Holocene then will be our focus and is determined by humanity changing from entirely hunter-gathers to settled civilised people which in Europe was from 11,650 years BP. At that time Britain was still connected to mainland Europe and was only finally cut off at around 8,200 years ago from the rising sea levels. For context some events from the Pleistocene leading up to the Holocene will now be briefly mentioned.

For most of the Quaternary Era the people present were Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age (1 million years ago to 9000 BC) however it should be noted there was overlap in these periods with some tribes advancing faster than others, with Neanderthal Man Homo sapiens neanderthalensis who followed the game on the edge of the receding ice. On the east-south-east coast of England, the earliest evidence of humans in Northern Europe are of footprints and stone flint tools from 900,000 years ago at Happisburgh, Norfolk. This area would be adjacent to the area of Doggerland to the east, where the southern part of the North Sea now is. Later in this period (around 40,000 years ago in this region) Neanderthals became extinct but not before breeding with their successors Modern Man Homo sapiens that recently then appeared in this region. Most people today have four percent or less Neanderthal genes. The ending of the last Ice Age began around 18,000 years ago, ending with the thawing of the most recent, of six or more ice covering events, the Younger Dryas about 12,900 to 11,700 years before present (BP) (Wikipedia, Doggerland).

Once Upon an Interglacial in Doggerland

Geologically speaking, the present Holocene landscape of the Humberhead Levels that the icesheets left after their scouring and deposition, sit on top of Triassic formations beds of New Red Sandstone (Keuper Marls) and limestone (200-250 million years ago) (Jones 1988). The melt waters from the icesheets were still initially blocked to the sea by a wall of ice and moraine thus forming the massive Lake Humber at the western headwaters of the River Humber. This lake was at above 30m O.D. so over 100m above the then sea level, which meant that the rivers at times gouged deep gorges towards sea level. Eventually this lake breached and left evidence of its southern extent in the layers of lacustrine drift deposits, including Hemingborough Formation clays (Bateman et. al. 2001) and which around the southern edge of Hatfield Chase left considerable depths lacustrine deposits and of blown sand and gravel which are still worked to this present day. The draining of Lake Humber formed the vast flat Humberhead Levels which in this drier period became forested, but with the continued sea level rise from the melted ice around 5000 years BP river channels silted up and rose and the wetlands expanded across the floodplain. This paludification led to large wetlands with meres, fens and carrs to raised mires. Only areas of blown sand such as Sandtoft stayed high and dry (Van de Noort). By Roman times at least was already half cleared of its trees by man and rising water levels curtailed regrowth, so in the lowest lying swampy areas largely isolated from the flow of the various rivers’ channels it became permanently waterlogged and began to lay deep deposits of peat and so develop into a true bog by the sustained growth of Sphagnum Sphagnum spp. mosses. So, the Humberhead Peatlands formed and expanded from its initial hollows.

Britain was separated from mainland Europe as the melting ice caused sea levels to rise with higher ground such as Dogger Bank perhaps remaining much longer as islands. So much water was locked up in the icesheets that the seas were considerably lower than today, in fact over 120 m lower. It should be remembered that people in these remote times were hunter gatherers and warriors; following game and conflict meant no fixed ‘home’ initially in the sense of housing and civilisation. The receding melting ice sheets were raising sea levels at a visible rate and diminishing then finally breaking the land bridge between Britain and the continent. The area between the east coast of Britain below the Humber mouth and the Germanic realm, from the Humber to Denmark, was known as Doggerland (as in the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea). It was as large as the UK and away from the Humber stretched north as far as Scotland. The River Thames flowed east then south and then joined the River Rhine which then went west, scouring out what was to become the English Channel. The inundation and final submerging of this area, to islands and then the near present sea level was completed by three giant Norwegian landslips each taking only a matter of days, known as the Storrega Slides (6225–6170 BC) which caused giant tsunamis. These tsunami were up to 4m or possibly higher than current high tide levels (so perhaps 125m+ surges above the sea level of the time) and washed up to 80km inland in parts of Scotland. This must have killed and displaced thousands of people, and this is borne out by what remains. It is likely therefore that the first inhabitants of the newly exposed land from icesheets of Britain were displaced from Doggerland by those that survived this by heading north-west. Perhaps they would follow herds of large prehistoric game as they sought refuge from the waters on the newfound pastures that were now established following the receding ice sheets. Just about all trace of any previous life, landform or human endeavour had been scoured clean from the land and the pioneer colonists eagerly sought to populate this area as temperatures rose and plants and animals returned.

We know Doggerland and the adjoining areas was quite well populated, from knapped flint remains and other remnants. But what was the place like then, what people and creatures roamed over this land? We can see evidence of vegetation from tideline tree stumps, and from fossil animals. Many mammal species, particularly the megafauna had become extinct with the Neanderthals, possibly due to their hunting them, and more went extinct or would become so during this period with the changing climate and increased human pressures. Vanished species (from the study area if not in some few cases globally) included such large herbivorous as Woolly Rhinoceros Coelodonta antiquitatis, Woolly Mammoth Mammuthus primigenius, Dwarf Elephants Palaeoloxodon and Mammuthus sp. European Ass Equus hemionus hydruntinus. Native horses which included several species: Tarpan Equus ferns ferns and Przewalskii Horse Equus ferns przewalskii and Equus hydruntinus (Kaagan). The Giant Deer Megaloceros giganteus and various Bison Bison sub/species. Preying on these would have been huge predators such as Cave Hyena Crocuta crocuta spelaea, European Ice Age Leopard Panthera pardus spelaea, European Scimitar Cat Homotherium latidens Eurasian Cave Lion Panthera Spelaea, European Dhole Cuon alpinus europaeus and huge Cave Bear Ursus splelaeus.

With the retreating of the ice came pioneer plants of grasses and hardy trees such as Arctic Willow Salix arctica and birch Betula, these were steadily overgrown by Ash Fraxinus excelsior, English Oak Quercus rober and Sessile Oak Quercus pretraea and Beech Fagus sylvatica forest. Along with the plants came the species that depended on them. Many would be familiar today, even if some no longer inhabit Britain. Also dredged skull fragments from Neanderthals have been found along with their tools such as pieces of worked antler harpoons, flint tools and land works which may be burial mounds.

The recent land link with the continent is noticeable at the Humberhead Levels, of which the Humberhead Peatlands was a small part, by biotic affinities still evident in some cases today (Eversham, Skidmore 1995) particularly those of Poland and the Baltic states. They are Western outliers of their type, and so being are dissimilar to all other bogs in Britain and Ireland. The connection of land across this latitude in post-glacial days for several thousand years explains how this came to be. This then makes the Humberhead Peatlands uniquely special in the British Isles habitats and we will look at this more closely in later chapters.

Once Britain was again truly an island immigration of biota ceased, except for of course migrant species and a few late strong colonisers. The period was now around 8,200 years ago.


The Quaternary Era Pleistocene with its Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) people had ended and the Holocene had begun and is this present inter-glaciation period. The Holocene includes the Middle or Mesolithic Stone Age (9000 to 4300 BC) and was followed by the New or Neolithic Stone Age (4300 to 2000 BC). Modern Man appeared in this region and began the foundation of some farming which allowed civilization to develop along with writing and in Europe coincided with sea level rise that led to island Britain.

During these periods there were great waves of new immigrants, the first peoples known as Cimbri were a race of proto-Celts who originally came out of Armenia and were based in Doggerland and Jutland, Germany; they were apparently driven here by rising sea levels causing over-population, and likely ever present conflict. Then others principally escaping invaders; the Galatians came from Anatolia (now Turkey) led by Brutus after the Trojan Wars through France and the later Phoenicians from Colosyria (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine = Canaan) were an Aryan race that colonised SW England and parts of Germany from 2000 BC and are the ancestors of Anglo-Saxon Brits and Scots (Wikipedia, Doggerland). The Cymru was a separate race of Cimbri in Wales. With advancements these new people brought the first civilisations and writings appeared which marked the beginnings of historic times. The incumbent Celtic Cimbri people fought successive waves of different invaders but ultimately retreated to remoter and or higher grounds north and west as the new people swept in and claimed the south-west and much of the south. But the Cimbri did not die away but instead increased in numbers and became more advanced and stronger in battle.

The Saxon or Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells it thus:

The island Britain is 800 miles long, and 200 miles broad. And there are in the island five nations; English, Welsh (or British), Scottish, Pictish and Latin. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells it thus.

The first inhabitants were the Britons, who came from Armenia, and first peopled Britain southward. Then happened it, that the Picts came south from Scythia [steppes of southern Asia], with long ships, not many; and, landing first in the northern part of Ireland, they told the Scots that they must dwell there. But they would not give them leave; for the Scots told them that they could not all dwell there together; “But,” said the Scots, “we can nevertheless give you advice. We know another island here to the east. There you may dwell, if you will; and whosoever withstandeth you, we will assist you, that you may gain it.” Then went the Picts and entered this land northward. Southward the Britons possessed it, as we before said. And the Picts obtained wives of the Scots, on condition that they chose their kings always on the female side; which they have continued to do, so long since. And it happened, in the run of years, that some party of Scots went from Ireland into Britain, and acquired some portion of this land. Their leader was called Reoda, from whom they are named Dalreodi (or Dalreathians).” (Carruthers, 2013)

More species became extinct during this period with one of the more recent megafauna species being the ancestor of modern-day cattle, the Aurochs Bos primigenius about 500 years ago and extinctions continue in modern times with double figure numbers of other European mammals that have gone globally extinct since then including Tarpan Equus ferus ferus and most recently Portuguese Ibex Capra pyrenaica lusitanica and Pyrenean Ibex Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica. European Lynx Lynx lynx was lost to England with the last dying in the Lake District in the fifth or sixth century AD but they held on in Scotland until about 500 years ago.

Birds being more mobile and adaptable could generally hold out longer than arctic megafauna or other large mammals, but several now went extinct. In Europe, extinctions include the following with some in much more recent times due to other factors. Great Auk could be considered a relic from the ice-ages which survived the thaw but unfortunately was wiped out in Victorian times due to collecting. Giant Swan Cygnus falconeri, Great Auk Pinguinus impennis, Ibizan Rail Rallus eivissensis, Canary Islands Oystercatcher Haematopus meadewaldoi, Cretan Owl Athene cretensis and Pied Raven Corvus corax varius leucophaeus. Other vertebrates such as some fish species retracted range or also went extinct.


BRONZE AGE 2100 to 750 BC

The Bronze Age began with the influx of new peoples with new technology from the Asian Steppes and Indian sub-continent and lasted until 800 BC when the Iron Age began. The history of the vegetation of our area is fairly well known in broad terms due to pollen samples from the peat. This takes us back to 13,000 B.C. From this evidence we can see there were major clearances at Thorne in the following periods 1740 to 1130 B.C. and 1440-840 B.C. for agriculture (Turner 1962). Human artifacts from this time period have been found in this area, see further on.

IRON AGE 500 BC to 800 AD

This period began with the new technology that came from southern Europe and continued in parts contemporary with the Roman period. For Hatfield main clearances for agriculture were from 790 to 390 B.C. and 370 to 70 B.C. (Smith). The areas cleared were very extensive and most primary forest and in fact most of England’s wildwood had been cleared to near its present extent from long before Roman times (Rackham 1986) and this applies in the immediate area (Buckland).

The Britons knew Doncaster as Caer-Daun, City of the Don.

ROMAN 43 to 410 AD

Tacitus (reign AD 42-54) Roman ruler and writer.

Caractacus and his brother Togodomus leaders of Catuvellauni native tribes in London and home counties area who were present in our region or their armies were at some later date.

Boudica female Cimbri leader, daughter of a king slain by the Romans.

Gogmagog Cymru giant warrior, the last of the giants.

Aulus Plautius was the Roman General before Publius.

Publius Ostorius Scapula the Roman General active in these parts against native tribes.

Cartimandua Queen of the Brigantes.

Emperor Claudius Roman Emperor.

Contemporary Glossary

Brigantes tribe of Britons in this area.

Burgh or ‘brough or ‘borough means a fortified lookout post, which the Romans had many about Doncaster as this was a frontier land. The many names ending in this testify to that.

Cimbri collective name for the Britons.

Cymru Welsh tribe of Cimbri.

Garrison a fortified permanent camp, these could be any size.

The Roman Empire is of Mediterranean origin, from the area now known as Italy and formed one of the greatest empires ever, invading Britain in 43 A.D. and eventually ruling to around 200 AD. In Britain this was progressive and was never total. There were 40 kingdoms in the British Isles at this time. In the SW and S where new immigrants, often Phoenicians or more likely traders with them since the sea farer Phoenicians colonised Britain very little, had forced the Cimbri away, were a people much more open to trade with Rome and they were soon quite ready to adopt their ways. The Romans described these people saying they wore long white tunics girt at the waist and that they were master metal smiths exporting for instance Cornish tin and Welsh copper as well as gold and silver. This explains the different descriptions of the ‘Britain’s’ from before Roman times and after Roman occupation. But as mentioned, much of the wilder and higher northern Britain remained under Cimbri rule and these areas were very much as they were in the Iron Age for much longer.

The Romans knew the untamed Celtic tribes by the derogatory term Brigantes and particularly meant those unruly tribes around and north of the River Humber who resisted Rome and who habitually were at war with each other and stole and plundered. These Brigantes were the most numerous and powerful pre-Roman tribe of Britain. They occupied all of what is now Yorkshire, except East Yorkshire and north to southern Northumberland and across to the west coast, except Cumbria, including Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and parts of Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. They were a very fierce people and resisted Roman occupation greatly, very often beating the Romans here and in Gaul (France) and not finally submitting until in this area A.D. 70, some 115 years from the Romans first landing. In the north of England their main stronghold was Aldburgh (Aldborough) near Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire and here in the Humberhead Levels.

Some Cimbri were rumoured to be giants (as some say Gogmagog and Boudica were) and it is said that the dead of giants were sometimes to be found interred in huge hollow trunks of the largest ancient trees of the land. The Cimbri commonly went naked and without shoes particularly in summer, some wore crude skins in winter. Their bodies had crude tattoos of animals from an early age, done by scoring the flesh and rubbing in dye, these marks lasting all their life. For battle they would paint themselves entirely blue with woad from that plant. They had no abode, their towns being the forest and groves of sacred trees. In winter they may make rude huts, of poles and thatch, some having wattle and daub walls, and a surrounding corral of thorn branches and ditch, but none constructed to last. This was for protection of themselves and their cattle. They grew no crops and supplement their hunter-gatherer diet, often with milk with blood let from their cattle. They were superstitious pagans and practiced human sacrifice and often cannibalism, of enemies or criminals with their priestesses cutting their throats over large cauldrons and soothsaying over entrails. They held certain plants sacred, such as Scots Pine which they often planted and chiefly worshipped Mistletoe Viscum album especially where it grew on oak (Leland, Itinerary viii), and would not eat certain meats such as Hare Lepus, ewe, goose and some fish. They had druids who were their philosophers who looked to the sun and moon and the gods Mercury, Apollo, Mars, Jupiter and Minerva. Since they did not work metals they only got metal artifacts through trade with the Phoenicians on the coast. Their weapons at this time included: Shields and short spears, daggers, clubs, stone slings and large bow and arrow. Their main pastime was war and stealing from other Cimbri, and they would do so even when they had no need, just for fun. They were polygamous and raised all the children together. They always kept one fire burning all the time to light others. Interestingly, many Brigantes shaved their beards leaving just a moustache (Tomlinson) though the manner in which they achieved this and with what the blade was made is not known.

Tomlinson, speaking as a narrator tells us.

Brigantia is active enough now. Scouts have gone throughout our district, sounding the horn and striking their shields. The scattered families know what that means ; so all the men, and not a few of the women , seize their arms, which are the most valued treasure of every adult Briton. The British sword is of great length, and broad in proportion ; but it is pointless, being chiefly used like a club for striking. The British spear has a head of iron, when such can be procured, but it is oftener tipped with a sharpened flint. The war-chariot (a low two wheeled car, girt with formidable hooks and scythes) is brought forth, and the fleetest high-mettled chargers are harnessed for the fray. The Druid priests, who are rarely seen except on great emergencies, now come to the front ; human sacrifices are offered to propitiate the gods, and a sympathetic phrensy diffuses itself among the warriors. The British warriors throw off their skin coverings, which encumber the arms, and stand naked for action, using only their shields for protection : they are very agile in attack , and swift in retreat ; while the Roman invaders are encumbered with heavy armour. The King of the Brigantes has headed his bests, proclaiming that they must either conquer or become slaves. Battles are fought but soon ended, through superior military tactics of the Romans. Soon ended in the open field, but tedious and very protracted around Doncercen (Doncaster). The country for miles eastward is partly bog, and partly forest : these form a safe retreat for the natives, from whence they can sally to cut off any small detachments of the enemy. Such skirmishes so exasperates the Roman General, that he commands these forests to be cut and burnt down ; thus accomplishing a double purpose - first to dislodge the natives from their lairs ; secondly, to fill up and make a passage over the wide morass. It seems as if nothing can damp the courage of that Roman legion ; the Britons are driven further and further into dense jungles, where their war chariots are of no avail, and where only the Imperial infantry dare follow them. The boggy nature of the district is particularly ill adapted to the Roman Cavalry, which become cautious, after some experience, in pursuing the Britons. At length the natives are obliged to come forth unto the higher ground, and sue for peace; “Deliver arms:" this was the first demand, and proves to the natives that their condition from henceforth will be one of servitude. The Roman eye soon perceives that Don-cercen [Doncaster] is geographically well situated for a stand-point, being bordered by a confluence of rivers which are constantly over flowing, rendering the whole country eastward to the German Ocean, a succession of marshes, pools, and little islands. So these grand old civil engineers resolve to make a Castrum or Castella here, which shall keep the savage northern tribes from advancing south or west. The situation is admirable, since the Don river forms a natural protection from the east and north ; so that nothing is required but a circum vallion and moat sufficiently deep to obtain water at the river level. Building materials are plentiful and convenient ; the disarmed Britons must work ; digging, delving, carrying : but the Romans are skilled workmen. As clearly as our mental camera can take in an impression at this distance of time the Castrum is of rectangular form, surrounded by a wall, in which are gates, the main entrance, or Porta Principalis.

This mode of warfare proved to the Romans the most trying and hazardous part of their campaigns ; for it is computed by one of their own historians that the invaders lost more than 30,000 men in these skirmishes alone. The Britons used to transport a few sheep and oxen to some open spot on the line of pursuit ; so that when a small detachment of the Romans went to secure them, the soldiers were struck down by a number of the Britons who had lain in ambush. No quarter was given ; and so the invaders, who suffered much from want and exposure, put to death all their sick or disabled comrades, who could not keep up with the rest. We have read of Spartan rigour at an earlier date ; and here, in the primeval forests of the Brigantes, the Roman courage was signally manifested . To the Brigantes of this period arms would be valuable . As there was little native manufacture these arms were obtained at uncertain intervals and great cost, by traffic with foreigners at the sea coast. Centuries before the Roman invasion the Phoenicians traded here for tin , lead, and other products, giving various manufactured articles, particularly arms in exchange. They called the island Barat-anas, or " land of tin," which was afterwards corrupted into Bratanac ; the Romans subsequently altering the name into Britannicoe, or Britannia. Camden says the term is derived from the indigenous word Brith, or painted, and the Greek tania, or country ; signifying that the countrymen painted themselves. The old native name however, appears to have been Cumbri ; hence the designation Cambria, appropriated by the Welsh who, if any can may, claim to be descended from the Ancient Britons. An insular tribe like the Brigantes could only obtain their arms by barter with those British Kingdoms on the coasts, since the Phænician traders touched only on the coast. (Tomlinson, 1875).

In Roman times the area around Doncaster was described (not always accurately) as a forest of mainly ‘fir and pitch trees’ (fir was a general name for any evergreen conifer tree, pitch means Scots Pine). Pitch was used for caulking boats to stop them leaking. Caesar was specific when he said that no fir-trees in his time grew in Britain. Around Doncaster, the Cimbri had chosen this area of refuge because of its protective great bogs, marsh and forest with the Isle of Axholme acting like a natural fortress with the barrier of the River Trent on its east side and floodplain all about the rest. The indigenous Brigantes (Cimbri) tribes used native woodlands as a refuge to launch their attacks on the Romans, having no fixed dwellings, killing in total 50,000 Romans or allies in this area alone (De la Pryme) (from Severus, Roman Emperor from 193, who visited Britain in 208 where he died in 211). So it was that the forays of these Roman garrisons were so enraged by the constant attacks by these Brigantes that they resolved to destroy their wild strongholds. To subdue them and prevent their expansion Roman garrisons with burghs were established at York (Eboracum) and also Doncaster (Danum) as frontiers to their enemies’ south-eastern edge. At Danum the garrison hosted Mounted Crispin Horse.

What follows here is an account of an important battle by the Roman writer, Tacitus (reign AD 42-54) between the Briton leaders Caractacus and his brother Togodomus against the Romans which has been translated and the language has been simplified by Cross. The evidence that this battle or another involving the same characters took place at Hatfield is based on the Roman General Publius Ostorius Scapula being active in our parts in these years and leaving his name in the town of Austerfield. Accounts of Roman times are often confused about various battles and their exact date and location, but we know in this area Aulus Plautius was the Roman General and he was succeeded by Publius Ostorius Scapula. There is conflicting evidence for where this battle took place and whether it was Caractacus at Hatfield, and if he was whether this was the scene of his last battle as described? Other historians contend his last battle was in Wales, as in this account. It should be noted though that tribes from Wales did join those of the north in fighting the Romans. Perhaps Caractacus was not present then at Hatfield but some cohorts of the army he once led were? Several other historians note or confuse this or other battles and virtually continuous skirmishes here between Britons and Romans, but details are frequently murky as can be seen.

The other sources for this battle or at least other related conflict in our area are Stonehouse (1839) who notes this battle in our area mentioning Caractacus. De la Pryme tells us that here a great battle took place in 44 AD after which the Romans under leader Publius Ostorius Scapula burnt Hatfield to the ground. Furthermore, Roman battle sites were always named with the name of the general who fought it as the former part of the site name, hence Ostorius, who was definitely a general in the Roman army at that time and in this area. The latter part of the named battle site was usually affixed with the word ‘field’ giving Austerfield (Tomlinson). Further evidence of the conflicts of the time is given by Casson (1829) who says a great army was raised and encamped between Finningley and Austerfield (Osterfield). Even though Miller (1804) says there is little supporting evidence for a large battle. Actually, ‘all kinds of excavated weapons, shields, and coins, witness this (Korthals-Altes 1925). It may also be noted that in this area the Romans were the first people to make earth banks and sluices to control waters and to make hard standing areas and tracks in boggy areas, some of which are still present today and will be given in more detail later.

Caractacus and his brother Togodomus led the initial British resistance against the Roman invasion, commanded by Aulus Plautius. Caractacus and Togodomus fought together in the opening battles at Medway and Thames. Togodomus was killed in the battle of the Thames and Caractacus fled with his warriors to continue the war in the land of the Silures (South Wales). There he led a successful guerrilla war against the Romans. When the Romans moved considerable forces into Silurian lands he took his warriors north into the land of the Ordivician tribes (North Wales). There, after fighting against the Romans for nine years Caractacus faced the Romans, in his last battle.

Caractacus selected a hill fort, to fight a decisive battle with the Romans, where it was both easy for the Britons to move forward to attack the Romans but also to retreat if things did not go well in the battle. At the same time, it would be hard for the Romans to attack or retreat. On the more gentle slopes the Britons piled up stones to make a rampart. The British warriors positioned themselves in front of these defences, but they were still protected by a river which was in front of them.

The chieftains of the various tribes moved amongst their men encouraging them. Caractacus, darted everywhere, telling his men that this battle would be the beginning of the recovery of their freedom or else of everlasting slavery. He recalled how their ancestors had driven back Julius Caesar, and through their bravery the British were freed from the threat of being ruled by the Roman military and government. While he was speaking, the warriors shouted applause; every warrior swore not to flee from weapons or wounds.

The Roman leader, Ostorius faced a daunting sight: the river and the rampart the British tribesmen had added to it, the hill fort and masses of fighting men everywhere. But his soldiers insisted they had the courage for battle and the prefects and tribunes encouraged this idea. The Romans surveyed the area and worked out the easiest way to attack. Ostorius, led his furious men, and crossed the river without difficulty. When they reached the defences, the British threw their missiles and the Romans suffered the worst casualties. But when the Romans formed the testudo and tore down the stone rampart, it became an equal hand-to-hand fight and the barbarians retreated to higher ground. But the higher ground was not enough to protect the Britons from the soldiers who rushed into attack. The lightly armed Roman soldiers harassed the enemy with missiles, while the heavily-armed soldiers closed in on them, and the Britons were broken, as they had no breast-plates or helmets to protect them. They were killed by the swords and javelins of our legionaries; if they turned around, they faced the sabres and spears of the auxiliaries. It was a glorious victory; the wife and daughter of Caratacus were captured, and his brothers also surrendered. Caractacus, sought the protection of Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes. However, she put him in chains and surrendered him to the Romans. (Cross. Resources for history.com).

Following his capture Caractacus was taken prisoner to Rome where he met Emperor Claudius and was allowed to make a speech. In his speech Caractacus spoke of how neither of them would be so famous if not for the battles they had fought. This persuaded the emperor not to execute him but spare him.

Is the ‘hill fort’ mentioned on the Isle of Axholme, perhaps some wooden fortifications? The vanquished Brigantes all retreated to the great forest of fir and pitch trees (infers fir trees (non-present) but maybe meant furze (Gorse) and Scots Pine) but also of Alder Alnus glutinosa, willow Salix, English Oak Quercus rober and Hazel Corylus avellana (Jones) that covered the area at that time but the Romans taking advantage of the dry season and a strong SW set the whole alight and with all the forces they could muster from the area plus their allies they burnt, slayed or captured the remaining Brigantes (Casson). Burning and chopping down conifer forests and flooding to deprive their enemies of hiding places was very common practice of the Romans all over their empire. This reference to burning is further evidence that it was mainly a forest of Scots Pine as this is the only type of native British forest that will burn standing (Rackham 1986, 2006). However, there was far more dead brush wood generally in forests then and this would undoubtedly have helped the fire, also where the forest stood on peat, frequently with bracken growth it would obviously burn stronger. Around half the forest was left standing so they set their allies and slaves to work to chop down with axes most of the remaining, leaving only the biggest trees and small woods for their timber. In a few weeks the work was done and half the Brigantes had fled. However, they did return to harass the Romans more. The Romans therefore turned to another strategy, breaching the banks of the Trent at Alkburrow, Lincolnshire (Alkborough) which lay on the north of River Trent. They set slaves to work and soon breached an area half a mile long, which greatly flooded the whole area for many miles leaving only the Isle of Axholme and other isles above the waters. It was so extensive it covered all the Chase and land to the Trent, forever altering the courses of the rivers that ran through the Chase and also the course of the Trent. Stonehouse tells us that evidence of the River Trent course change can be seen from the roots of trees found at low water at Butterwick and when Drain Head at Ferry was cleaned out, when fir tree roots were pulled out from two feet below high water mark. Evidence of the previous channel, he suggests is to be found at Ferry Flash, two miles east of the present river and at Duke’s Farm, Laughton and at East Ferry. The river today does not divide parts of the parishes of Owston and Scotton as it used to. Stonehouse gives more details. A much wetter climate succeeded this period too and it seems the forest that did regrow only recolonised the areas of slightly elevated ground and the fen and mires increased to take over the rest.

Speaking about these killed ancient trees Pryme (who was Thorne’s Reverend) cites a forest of pitch (Scots Pine) but also of “oaks, birch, beech, yew, thorn, willows, ash, &c.” (De la Pryme 1701). Pryme went on that the trees lay by their roots and “the tops were commonly in north-east”, and a “3d part of all being pitch trees.” Another interesting observation by Pryme “It was lately observed in digging the pit of a great decoy in these levels, that the roots of the firs always stood in the sand, and the oaks in the clay.”

From this period on the people were by degrees turned to Roman ways and customs, building their houses and dressing after their fashion. By 330 A.D. Hatfield was a prosperous town with much increased area of cropland and grazing animals. It was also safe being surrounded on three sides by water and only open to the west (De la Pryme).

ANGLO-SAXON 400 to 1066 AD

Note on references: Roman rulers were frequent and accurate writers, and much is known from them, however on their withdrawal writing became scarce, mainly restricted to religious orders, and the passing on of histories in the oral tradition of sagas was the mainstay. Most sagas were never written down until hundreds of years later. Whilst many sagas are undoubtably based on truth, it was not beyond the teller to get confused about events and people and to fill in and augment stories where parts were missing or forgotten. This has led often to several versions of the few written references, that obviously vary in actual accuracy, and unless supported by other evidence must be taken as not totally factual. For instance, many dates are conflicting for this early period and can often only be taken as approximate. De la Pryme, the main English language source here sometimes confused similar named people, as Tomlinson noted!


King Vortigern (most powerful between 425-450) was King of the Britons.

Gildas (c.450/500-c.570) a cleric.

Hengist and Horsa were Saxon brothers and leaders who were the first to come in force to these shores.

King Edelfrid or Edelferd son of King Æthelric, slain at the Battle of Austerfield 542 (obviously Saxon not the Roman one) whilst battling King Redwald, whose son Remerius was killed.

King Ælla is the first known king of Deira, ruling from c.560 until his death in 588. Father of Edwin.

King Æthelric of Northumbria (and claimed Deira) succeeded Ælla ruling from 588 to about 604.

King Æthelfrith (or Ethelfrid of Bernicia from 593) -616 battled King Rædwald at the River Idle in 616, and Æthelfrith was defeated and killed; Rædwald installed Edwin as king of Northumbria. Rædwald's son Rægenhere may have been killed at this battle, but the exact date or manner of Rædwald's death are not known. 

King Rædwald of East Angles reign 599-624

King Cearl King of Mercia 606-626 (Midlands) ally of King Edwin and King Rædwald.

King Edwin (585-633) (of Deira and Bernicia viz Yorkshire and central north England later united as Northumbria from 616) the most powerful king in Britain at the time, married the Christian King Cearl’s daughter Ethelberga. Edwin who had his royal seat at Hatfield converted to Christianity. He was baptised in York on 12th April 627 (Charles Cawley). Eventually he was killed in battle, along with his son Osfrid, by the alliance forces of Penda and Cadwolleder. Eadfrith (or Eudfrid) Edwin’s other son was captured and soon put to death.

Nigel Fossard Earl Tosti was the Saxon owner of the Soke of Hexthorpe, which at that time included all of Doncaster too. He owned all the land from here to Northumberland. Later Doncaster became the larger and more important town.

Queen Ethelberga (Cwenburh or Quenberga) wife of King Edwin, daughter of King Cearl of Mercia.

Princess and Queen Eanfleda (Eanflaed) (19th April 626-after 685) Edwin’s daughter.

The Venerable Bede (672/3-26th May 735) an Angle monk of Northumbria who often used Gildas as a source.

Prince Osfrid one of Edwin’s sons.

Prince Eadfrith one of Edwin’s sons.

Princess Wurfrean Edwin’s daughter.

King Penda King of Mercia 626-655 (Midlands) contemporary of Edwin who he fought and killed aided by Cadwalloder.

King Cadwolleder King of the ‘Britains’ (Wales) contemporary of Edwin whom he fought and killed aided by Penda.

Contemporary Glossary

Alderman chief of tithing.

Angles a Germanic tribe who came to rule this area. Gave rise to the name Angleland and England

Baron a lesser ruler than a king.

Borderer or Borholder a person who lived on the edge of a manor or common or land and often widely thought to choose to live there for poaching or to be beyond the law in neighbouring manors or on the common. Probably best known as referring to borderers on the English Scottish border, who were constantly at war in skirmishes and cattle rustling. Used as a reference here as one historian in this area used it.

Burgenses or Burghers these were the inhabitants of towns rather than a countryside villa.

Chiefpledge or Tythingman man in charge of running Frankpledge for his group or community. He maintained the law.

Carracute an area of land that was as much as a plough could turn in 12 months (about 150 acres). As with other old measures of land this area varied whether the soil was heavy clay or light sandy soil.

Ceorles a Saxon soldier who fought for his Thane and was paid in the spoils with land or money. They became in later times Yeomen or Freemen.

Churl a middle-class person, generally a tradesman but owning less than five hides of land (600 acres).

Clan a tribe.

Colliberti were a middle sort of tenants between servile and free, or such as held their freedom of tenure under condition of such works and services. The same class of land-owners as were afterwards called Conditionales. (Stonehouse, 1839)

Copyhold land of the manor held under all same rights as Freehold, except the deeds were only given as a copy. They did not actually own the land and could not therefore sell it. People with copyhold agreements could not increase payments rents, so they often tried to get rid of this type of agreement.

Cottarii or Cottagers who paid a certain rent for very small parcels of land. They were divided into two classes, Cottarius and Cotterellus. Cottarius had a free socage tenure, and paid a rent, in provision or money, with some customary service. Cotterellus held an absolute villainage, and his person and goods were liable to be disposed of at the will of the lord. (Stonehouse, 1839)

Earlderman a precursor to Earls who were the chief officer of a shire. They were large landowners and were entitled to a third of the money from any fines.

Frankpledge a system whereby law was maintained by the whole community revealing any criminal. If the community did not reveal criminals, then they would all suffer a share of a fine.

Folk Land was allotted on recognised tenures or leases to freemen of towns or hundreds or tythings.

Freehold the holding of land not in common (the holder was known as a Privileged Villani at least or higher status such as Freeman) granted by a higher power than a lord. The thane of the manor had no powers over the ownership of this land. It was land permanently held in reward for service to the king or local constitutional ruler (an earl maybe). This may be for service of the community, such as building a church or for going into battle.

Freeman were not vassals of a thane (they did not have to answer to or serve a thane) freemen were often important people such as high ranked officials or outstanding warriors; they may be mercenaries.

Gavelkind an inheritance system where all offspring derived an equal share, Celtic in origin.

Guilds were originally formed now as groups of men above 14 years old who paid a surety to the elders, in case of future fines they may incur. All crimes, even murder could be paid for, but if the fine was not paid the person could end up a slave. These became mutually dependent people, most groups of which were in the same trade and these became guilds.

Hundred-gemot local court held every month when all members came and brought their weapons too. This gave rise to the name Weapontake or Wapentac or Wapentake.

Hundredary or Hundreder head officer of the hundreds.

Hundreds Consisted of ten tythings/tithings. Under the Saxon government every vill, containing ten families, had a peace officer, called a Head-borough; and it may be presumed that such ancient vills as never had this officer were too small, and on that account were reckoned in connection with another vill in the vicinity. Ten of these townships, large enough to have a Head-borough, comprised a Hundred, over which presided a superior officer, called an Hundreder. Crowle, Belton, Epworth, Haxey, and Owston, would each be under the superintendence of a Head-borough; but these places not being sufficient by themselves to constitute a Hundred, were joined to several vills on the east side of the Trent, which, together, constitute the Hundred of Manlake or Manley. (Stonehouse, 1839).

Jutes a Germanic tribe

King or Queen or major Chief an elected leader or one who had shown great leadership in battle, of an area but not of all England. There were a great many of them sometimes only ruling small districts or several towns. They were maintained by voluntary donations from their subjects and if they fell out of favour could be deposed by a strong claimant without bloodshed.

Knights Templar (or Knights of St. John of Jerusalem) some of whom settled here for instance at Belwood (between Belton and Beltoft, Isle of Axholme) where they built Belwood House, built 1327 (Axholme Info). It was destroyed for the building of the M180 motorway (1977-79). Only the obelisk survives (Isle of Axholme & Hatfield Chase Landscape Partnership).

Neatherd removed illegally grazed cows from commons and returned them to their owners.

Oxgang as much land as a pair of Ox could plough in a day (see Carracute above).

Outlaw a man not serving any liege.

Parishes a community with a church.

Parochial a community granted its own church by the Parish.

Porcarii were free occupiers, who rented the privilege of feeding pigs in the woods, some for money, some for payments in kind. (Stonehouse, 1839).

Privileged Villani had Copyhold but it was equal in all respects to Freehold.

Reeve a local official who received fines on behalf of the king.

Saga a medieval, often Viking, prose narrative of history

Saxons a Germanic tribe.

Serf a basic (agricultural) labourer, bound to the manor.

Servi and Ancillae were distinguished from absolute slaves, inasmuch as their lives and limbs were under the protection of the laws. (Stonehouse, 1839)

Sheriff the highest ranked Reeve the chief administrator of a shire.

Shire the area of land overseen by an Earl.

Slaves persons who lost their freedom due to crimes, who could not pay the fine. Their life and limbs were unprotected, and as with livestock injury or killing of a slave entailed no crime from his master but if killed by someone else then a payment must be made by them to the master.

Socage in soc (franchised) to a Baron or other larger land owner.

Sochmanni or Socmans inferior land-owners who had lands in soc or franchise of a Baron.

Swineherd removed illegally browsing pigs from commons and returned them to their owners.

Thane a chief/king/nobleman/ruler, possessing five hides or 600 acres at least. A Superior Thane held more.

The Saxon Chronicle (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) this was actually written later when Saxons were under pressure from the Danes. It was a written chronicle of the Anglo-Saxons, in Old English, probably secular in origin from the 9th century. The original does not survive but there are nine copies which all vary somewhat.

Tything or Tithing were the sub-divisions of Hundreds; ten households owned by Freemen.

Vassal a subordinate person subject to another, such as a lord.

Villani only held their land on unbending service to the lord or king and this privilege could be withdrawn as punishment at any time. Villani did not have rights to sell or rent out land.

Wapentac like a borough or district.

Were a schedule list of fines payable for crimes, including murder.

Wite or fine paid for many and numerous fines which went to the King’s Reeve or Sheriff

Witen-gemot national court.

P.1 Norse Magic & Beliefs Channel (2022) Differences between Norwegian, Swedish and Danish Vikings. Map 1. YouTube.

As the Roman Empire shrank back to the Mediterranean, leaving British shores about 390, it took with it all conscripted young men to fight in its army. Many died and most of the rest did not choose to return (De la Pryme largely quoting The Venerable Bede (672/3-26th May 735) an Angle monk of Northumbria; he in turn was quoting a cleric, Gildas much of the time and a lot of the following about this early period is the same source/s). This depopulation led to a settled period of long influence during which the Germanic Angles greatly expanded along the coast and rivers, which led to increased settlements and farming and the reduction of much remaining mainly regrowth woodland by about 50% to near present. Due to the nature of the very wet land around the peat moors, old woodland was scarce around here at least since drier pre-Roman times and probably long before (Rackham 1986). The British Isles were now divided into several kingdoms and the establishment of the first counties and parishes began.

During the 5th Century the Angle King Vortigern (most powerful between 425-450) was King of the Britons (Encyclopedia Britannica. Wikipedia) and was constantly troubled by the emboldened raiding, pillaging Picts from the north and to a much lesser degree the Scots of the north-east, who took advantage of the now lax rule by the Romans, who couldn’t spare warriors but were still trying to leverage taxes through a now cruel and contemptuous rule. Vortigern was too drowned in luxury, ease and vice to finish the Picts, when he became aware of Germanic Saxons landing on the east coast. Having established that they came in peace he made a pact with them so they could stay if they rid him of his enemies. The renowned Saxon leaders, brothers Hengist and Horsa came first with 300 picked warriors and later 10,000 and fought the Picts and Scots around here on the banks of the Don, Aire and Ouse and eventually drove them away north. Vortigern became increasingly greedy and foolishly wanted more geld; payment, from the Saxon settlers, which led to war and almost inevitable defeat of the Angles and Vortigern retreated to North Wales.

The Saxons but also fewer Angles and Jutes now held much of the land and great numbers of them left their over-populated homeland for these new shores. In the Doncaster area it was predominately Angles in charge. The land was divided into kingdoms as follows:

Hengist, a Saxon, set up for himself a Kingdom in Kent, Cedric made himself King over Cornwall, Devonshire, Somersetshire, Dorsetshire, Wiltshire, Hantshire, and Barkshire; Uffa made himself King of Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, and ye Isle of Ely; Sledda made himself King over Essex, Middlesex, and Hartfordshire; Crida made himself King over Bedfordshire, Buck[inghamshire], Glocest[ershire], Oxfordsh[ire], Worster[shire], Warwick[shire],Rutland, Hant[shire], Leicest[ershire], Northampt[onshire], Shrops[shire], Stafford[shire], Lincolnsh[ire], Noting[hamshire], Darbys[hire], and Cheshire, which was called ye Kingdom of Mercia. [illegible] made himself King Surrey, Sussex, called ye South Saxons. Ida made himself K[ing] of part of Scotland, all Northumberland, Cumberl[and], Westmorel[and], Lancash[ire], Durham, and ye West part of Yorkshire, and Ælla, another Saxon prince, made himself King over Deira, which is all ye East part of ye Country, from ye River Tyne to ye borders of Derbishire {sic}, and Nottinghamshire, &c. : thus these Saxons divided ye Kingdom amongst them.”

P.2 Norse Magic & Beliefs Channel (2022) Differences between Norwegian, Swedish and Danish Vikings. Map 2. YouTube.

This handful of Saxon chiefs or kings or gentry ruled quite fairly and democratically. They had dependants who received land in return for services. These services were set at different bands or levels with corresponding type names. Many of these orders were adopted and adapted in later times particularly in Norman rule. The Norman feudal rule however was much more rigid and defined and so the meanings of the names evolved or changed. These meanings therefore, can seem at first perusal confusing and many need to be understood with regards to the time periods referred to. Lords and manors were earlier less defined concepts, with Saxon leaders of various power generally known as Thanes. See the contemporary glossary above for meanings. People who were vassals of the lord were in order: Sochmanni or Socmans, then Privileged Villani, then Villani and Colliberti then slaves.

It should be noted that kings often claimed areas they were not de facto ruling and maybe in dispute with other kings for, so at some times two kings may claim the same area.

In our area, there have been several important Saxon battles some with far more information than others, below the three main ones in this period are given. They are the Battle of The River Idle (Austerfield) 542, the Battle of the River Idle 616 (Retford) and the Battle of Hatfield Chase 633.

The first Saxon battle to note was recorded in ‘Henry of Huntingdon’ and refers to a battle near the River Idle (also called the Battle of Austerfield) between Bawtry and Everton at Scaftworth (today a small hamlet) in 542. Here King Edelferd of the Northumbers battled Redwald and slew Redwald’s son Remerius, but he was also slain. These are the few details of this battle. When the Austerfield Enclosures took place in Victorian times some artifacts were found.

As stated, the victorious Saxon Ælla lay claim as the first king of Deira. King Æthelric of Bernicia succeeded Ælla ruling to about 604 then King Æthelfrith (of Bernicia from 593). Æthelfrith fought many battles in England and Wales and caused many upheavals and was jealous of other kings. In our area he first fought a battle on the River Derwent, East Yorkshire (the upper parts of the river are in the Humberhead Levels but a few miles north of Hatfield Chase) and later was defeated and killed at the decisive Battle of the River Idle 616 at Red-ford (Retford, Nottinghamshire on the southern edge of Hatfield Chase) on the east side of that river.

The Battle of the River Idle 616 came about as Æthelfrith was desirous to claim King Edwin’s Deira and join it with his Bernicia to form the kingdom of Northumbria, and so making him the most powerful king in the land. Edwin was considered at this time the most powerful king but due to constant claims by Æthelfrith and threats to his life had gone into exile eventually ending up with his ally King Rædwald, in East Anglia. Here, Æthelfrith tried to bribe the King Rædwald to either kill Edwin or capture him, and if he refused then they would be at war. For whatever reason Rædwald eventually consented to the removal of Edwin. De la Pryme goes on to give a colourful account of the events, wherein;

Night came on and Edwin went to bed, but was awoken some time later by a well-known and trusted friend, who told him of the plot against his life. Edwin, though troubled would not sneak away with his friend out of the kingdom. Instead, Edwin put faith in his friend Rædwald not to do such a thing. His friend left Edwin then in the dark street alone, and Edwin had a vision, of a figure which asked why he sat out alone on a cold stone at night? Edwin replied about his troubles and swore to the visitor that he would be faithful to any person who could deliver him of so many and so great troubles and give him a kingdom again. At this the vision disappeared and his trusted friend reappeared saying ‘Rise O King, come, cheer up.’ He explained that upon Rædwald’s queen hearing of the terrible plot to betray his friend, she had ‘scorned him to be either so base or so perfidious as to do as they desired.’ As soon as Æthelfrith heard his plot had failed he declared war upon Rædwald.

Rædwald and Edwin knew what was coming and prepared a marching army with all haste and headed for Deira, where Edwin could gather his forces. Æthelfrith keen to prevent them reaching Deira and increasing their army set off with all speed to intercept them, not even waiting for other parts of his own army to catch up. So, at Retford Æthelfrith battled Rædwald and Æthelfrith was defeated and killed. Then Rædwald installed Edwin as first King of Northumbria (Bernicia and Deira) this may have been because his own son Rægenhere was (may have been?) killed at this battle. Edwin also ruled Eastern Mercia, the Isle of Man (Irish Sea) and Anglesey (a large island off north Wales).

Edwin at age 20 (age not certain) became King of Northumbria (Deira) in 616 (age and date not certain). He made his royal seat at Hatfield, his palace was called Cambodunum, and Doncaster was called Don-Cercen and he had the church built as he took to Christianity in order to wed the King of Kent’s daughter Ethelberga. Edwin The Great, was the greatest ruler in Britain and was a kind and just Christian king who saw 17 years peaceful reign and who ensured even a woman with child could wander his lands unattended without being molested and that suitable safe rest and drinking springs were provisioned along all highway routes. However, he faced increasing threats from King Penda of Mercia (Midlands) as he had been much at war to expand his kingdom. Penda had also made an alliance with King Cadwallon (of North Wales). Therefore, Edwin with his son Osfrith (or Osfrid) and with Eadfrith (a Catholic saint) faced the pagan Gwynedd-Mercian alliance at the Battle of Hatfield (Haytefield) Chase on 12th October 633 (other sources say 632) and was defeated and killed along with his son and 10,000 others.

Pryme tells us:

After King Edwin had reign’d gloriously, happily and honourably 17 years, Penda, King of ye Mercians being puffed up with some victories that he got against ye West Saxons, and also envying King Edwin’s greatness, rebells against him, and brings in Ceoadwalla, King of ye Welsh, to his assistance, who drawing all their forces together privately fell furiously into King Edwin’s dominion’s, burning, killing and destroying all before them.

‘King Edwin being then at his royal seat at this town of Hatfield, where he had lately caused a noble magnificent chirch to be builded, as soon as he heard of their approach he caused all his forces (that upon such a sudden he could) to be gather’d together from all ye country round about ; and all the country being in arms, they flock’d under the standard of so great and good a king in great numbers, and pitchd their camp upon ye great heath on ye west side of ye town, that then spread it self as farr as ye River Don, which heath is since call’d ye Linggs, by this town of Hatfield. King Edwin took all ye care he could to line ye woods which were standing with his archers, from ye camp almost to Doncaster, with an intent to hedge ye enemy in, if it were possible, and got everything in the greatest order that could be. On the 3rd of ye Ides of October, ye spies brought word that ye enemy were advanced as farr as Doncaster, and that most of ye inhabitants being fled to ye king’s camp they had put all to ye sword, old and young, man, woman and child, that they fond therein. Upon this King Edwin encourag’d his soldiers all he could, tould them that it was probable that ye heat of ye enemy was over, and that they were somewhat satiate with ye spoil that they had gotten in ye towns they had sack’d ; yet nevertheless they were necessitated to fight to ye last man, because there was no hope of escape, ye waters keeping them in on ye north-east and south, and ye enemy on ye west ; and that therefore this was ye time in which they were to shew their manhood and valour. Yet, as no man ought to trust in his own prowess, therefore he intreated them to put their trust in ye onely true great and mighty god, whose religion they had so lately espoused, for it was unto him that they owed all their victories, glory and honour.

‘No sooner were these words out of ye pious and good King Edwin’s mouth, but a spy comes with ye newse that ye enemy were advanced of this side of Doncaster with their vanguard, but that ye rest lodged there all night ; this gave ye king certain information that they resolved to attack him. Order was therefore sent away over ye River Dun to ye north, for some partys that were approaching to hasten all they could, to strengthen ye king ; these marched most part of the night, and joined him next morning.

‘On ye morrow, which was ye 4th of ye Ides of October, ye enemy advanced with the whole body of their army, which was exceedingly strong, extending its wings from one side of ye heath to ye other, driving before them archers of King Edwin’s army, that set not only to hem them in, but also to gall them in ye flank, if it were possible.

About noon ye two armys were in sight of one another on ye Linggs. Edwin’s was commanded by himself and his son Osfrid, a valiant and courageous young man : and ye rest by several great lords and nobles expert in warr. The enemy’s army was commanded by ye two kings, Penda and Ceadwalla, and by their great captains.

As soon as all had drawn their forces up, ye trumpets gave ye charg, and together they went with the greatest of fury imaginable ; after that ye archers had spent their fury on both sides, they came to a close fight with their axes and seaxes, so thick that there was nothing but confusion and hurry from this world to the next

‘In ye midst of this heat ye noble and valiant Prince Osfrid, son of King Edwin, received his death wound ; and there fell also with him several noble lords and courtiers. Yet for all that ye battail remayn’d in its full force (neither side being use to anything but victory) until almost sun set ; about which time poor King Edwin’s army was overpowered, and he himself being hedged in, was after a most bloody fight (in which he lay about him like a rageing lion) slayn upon the spot.

‘The enemy no sooner saw themselves conquerors, but they set upon the town of Hatfield, murdered every man woman and child that they found therein, rifled ye church, ye king’s palace, and every house in ye town, then burnt it all down to ye bare ground, so that nothing escaped but ye altar of ye church, which being made of stone curiously wrought, preserved itself from ye flames ; which altar is still preserved in ye monastery of Thrywulf, in ye wood of Elmete.

‘The next day, when that the army was march’d away, several of ye country round about that had fled to save themselves from ye heat and fury of ye enemy, came to view the slain, and they found them to amount to above 10,000 ; amongst ye rest they found the body of poor King Edwin, all plaster’d over with drt, blood and gore ; whose head they cut of, and sent it to York to some of his nobles there, that buryd it with great sorrow in St. Peter’s Church (York Minster), which he was then building. As for his body, and that of his son Osfrid, and the rest of his nobles, they were cast in a great hole all together, and a huge hill of earth thrown over them, which hill remains to this day in Hadham field, near ye lings-called now Sley-burr-hill, that is ye hill where the slayn were bury’d. The field having now been plow’d for many hundreds of years, has caused that the aforesaid hill is not now so conspicuous as it has been ; yet it is higher now than any other part of ye field, and every one knows it.

‘Paulinus, ye good archbishop, with ye Queen Eanfleda and Wurfrean, King Edwin’s daughter and son, with Bassa, a noble and great commander of y deceased king, considering that their only safety being in flight, took shipping together and sailed for Kent, from where ye queen came, who were honourably and freely entertained there. They carry’d withthem most of the King Edwin’s plate, and pretious things, and amongst ye rest a golden chalice, consecrated to ye Ministry of ye Altar, which is yet, says Bede, preserved in ye church of Cantebury (Canterbury Cathedral).

‘This town was so ruined and destroyed by this cruel battal, that it did not recover itself of a long while after, that which was a great loss to it being, that it ceased to then (for hundreds of years together) to be one of ye King’s Courts, where they usually resided ; for ye Royal Court was then translated to Leeds, at which place ye after kings caused a splendid palace to be built.’

Edwin’s other son Eadfrith was taken prisoner and soon killed. Following this utter defeat and destruction of the royal town and the burning of the church, the rest of his family; his wife and daughter Princess Wurfrean and her son, fled by boat along with Bassa (a commander) and Paulius the Archbishop and much of Edwin’s plate (treasure) to Ethelberga’s home county of Kent, there welcomed by her father the king.

The eventual battle site was mainly at the western most point of these defences and is located in fields between the present day A18 High Levels Bank and M180 motorway, immediately W of Crow Tree Bank. The dead were buried in a great pit nearby, the area alluded to being the area around the present Sley Burr Hill (Hadham Field)? and Slay Pits Lane, Hatfield? People and groups (including the Battle of Hatfield Investigation Society) question the exact location of the battle, as they claim Hatfield referred to an area the size of a county as well as the town; as with York and Yorkshire today. However, in the account from Pryme it is clear. It states after victory, ‘the victors then set to destroy Hatfield and murder everyone, man, woman and child. Both Hatfield royal palace and the church were raided then burnt to the ground.’ Hatfield was so destroyed that it did not hold a royal court again for many hundreds of years, until it became a Royal Chase. There was no other royal palace around here and no other church for miles. This evidence does though depend on how accurate Pryme transcribed it from the records. The account of such an important battle, not just locally but nationally deserves these further investigation. Captain John Hatfield (Parliamentarian Army mid-17th Century) on a visit to the area (c.1660) could still see the remnants of the earthworks made for this battle. He saw historic remains of the battle including trenches from Hatfield Woodhouse to Wroot fortified with trees dug from the peat and stuck upright as palisades. He later lived here working as a Commissioner gathering scotts (drainage rates) for Lord Bradbourne. He was paid four times the usual rate to disrupt the levels and so hopefully force people to abandon their ruined farms for little or no cost to them.



King Alfred (848/849-899) Alfred the Great was King of West Saxons (871-886) and King of the Saxons (886-899)

King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark (963-1014) was king from 986 and from 1013 was also King of English. Son of King Harald Bluetooth.

King Æthelred English king forced to flee due to Viking invasions.

Edmund Ironside son of King Æthelred.

King Cnut (c.995-1035) was king of England from 1016, King of Denmark from 1018, and King of Norway from 1028. Together this kingdom was known as the North Sea Empire.

Harold Harefoot ( -1040) King of England son of Cnut.

Harthacnut half-brother of Harold Harefoot and took the throne on his death.

King Edward the Confessor (1003-1066) ruled from 1042 to 1066.

King Harold II (Harold Godwinson) (1022-1066) ruled 1066. When the Anglo-Saxon rule was taken over by the Norman rule.

Harald Hardrada (Harald Sigurdsson) King of Norway (Harold III) 1046-1066 and also the Danish king (from 1064) and the English king (from 1066). Defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge 1066.

William Duke of Normandy (c.1028-1087) also known as William the Bastard to become King William the Conqueror of England from 1066 after his success at the Battle of Hastings against King Harold II.

King Stephen I (1092 or 1096-25 October 1154) reign 1135 to 1154.

King Henry II (1133-1189) reign 1154 to 1189.

King David of Scotland (1324-1371) reign 1329 to 1371.

Contemporary Glossary

Asgard, Jötunheim, Niflheim the three worlds at the base of Yggdrasil.

Balder mythical innocent, who would host the rebirth of the new world after Ragnarök.

Danes people from Denmark.

Danegeld a tax exacted by the Danes.

Danelaw the law of the Danes which in Britain covered their division of the land.

Goths one of the most powerful of the numerous Germanic tribes.

Hide about 600 acres.

Huns nomads from Eastern Europe and Central Asia who by 430 had established a large European empire driving many tribes away, such as the Goths. They were archers mounted on small swift horses.

Hvergelmir where lived a monster Nidhogg that attacks the roots of Yggdrasil.

Middle Ages Begin (c.500 to 1500) with the Dark Ages being the first half after the final collapse of the Roman Empire. It was so called because with the retreat of Rome, writing became scarce and science stalled, consequently little is known from this period.

Mímisbrunnr a well under Yggdrasil which is the source of wisdom.

Niflheim the afterlife hell-like world the dead who were not slain in battle went to.

Norns deities that spin the webs of fate at base of Yggdrasil.

Norse of Scandinavian origin.

Pagan a religion based on nature and spirits, and many gods and trolls of nature rather than one god.

Ragnarök the end of the world.

Saga stories concerning Norse history, heroes, or fantasy tales.

The Saxon Chronicle (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) a written chronicle of the Anglo-Saxons, in Old English, probably secular in origin from the 9th century. The original does not survive but there are nine copies which all vary somewhat.

Urdarbrunnr the Well of Fate at the base of Yggdrasil.

Valhalla the paradise hall in the afterlife that slain warriors went to.

Viking often piratical raiders of Scandinavian origin.

Wite a fine.

Yggdrasil or Mimameidr in Norse mythology a giant Ash Tree supporting the world.

The Scandinavian people were collectively known as the Norse people, and when engaged on their travelling, raiding sprees they were known as Vikings, though this term has been generalised. They were pagans; Pagan is a religion based on nature and spirits, and many gods and trolls of nature rather than one god. these included but were not limited to Thor, Odin, Freyja, Frigg, Freyr, Tyr, Loki and Heimdall. This could take many forms and included druids (sort of religious advisors) and soothsayers (prophecy makers and story tellers) and in its worst instances included despicable act such as sacrifices of animals and humans and ‘reading’ of their entrails. Stone circles were built as calendars and as religious sites and rune stones with symbols or writing erected. The original religious meeting places were in groves of old trees, giving rise to imitation in church columns. They had many symbols such as Celtic knot and the never-ending loop, which symbolised the interconnectedness of all things in nature. Animal carvings were often done where they were intertwined with trailing, climbing plants also symbolising interconnectedness. They represented the world as the great Ash tree Yggdrasil or Mimameidr, which supported the world and its roots extended down into Asgard, Jötunheim and Niflheim. Asgard was home of the gods, Jötunheim was the land of the giants and Niflheim the dread underworld. There were also three wells present: Urdarbrunnr (Well of Fate) from which the tree was watered by the Norns, who are the deities who spin the Fates from threads at the base of the tree; Hvergelmir (Roaring Kettle) where lived a monster Nidhogg, that attacked the tree’s roots; and Mímisbrunnr (Mimir’s Well) the source of wisdom, for the waters of which Odin sacrificed an eye. They believed the end of the world would come for mortals and gods and called this time Ragnarök (Old Norse: ‘Doom of the Gods’). This prophecy would be foretold by moral chaos and cruel winters. The earth and gods will be attacked by monsters of giants and demons which will destroy all and men and gods will die like heroes, the skies will become dark and the earth sink into the sea and the stars will disappear. After Ragnarök (Doomsday), the world tree, though badly shaken, was to be the source of new life. The earth will be reborn anew and rise from the waters, the innocent Balder shall return from the dead and the hosts of the just will live in a hall roofed with gold (Encyclopaedia Britannica). They believed in good and evil spirits, and of creatures from beyond this world and so were extremely superstitious and made sacrifices to appease them and offerings to the gods. They believed in afterlife, for those men killed in battle this meant dwelling for eternity in Valhalla, with its great hall and endless feasts and fun. Men who did not die in battle sank to the underworld, Niflheim which is similar to Christian hell. Christians rid pagans of sacrifices and other barbarous practices and tried to suppress pagan beliefs, often not totally successfully, with much being eventually amalgamated into Christianity. Pagans celebrated the start of winter on the Winter Solstice on 21st or 22nd December, by a feast. This feast however got shifted to the 25th December with the adoption of the Roman calendar in 1752 (UK).

The Norse held their belief systems together with stories or sagas, which could be about their gods, history, or about battles or heroes, and often just poems, a famous example being The Saga of the Volsungs. There are at least a hundred sagas.

A quirk of Doncaster is that in this period 900 years ago, the town was given to Scotland. In 1136 King Stephen of England, when the town was ceded to King David I of Scotland in the first Treaty of Durham, to stop him invading and claiming more land. The town was forcibly taken back when King Stephen started raiding and claiming more land again in 1138 by Henry II in 1157. However, the town has never officially been given back. But the idea that Doncaster was ever part of Scotland is not actually true, as it was only given as a fief, not in perpetuality, and since King David broke the terms of the fief, it was automatically forfeited back to the crown (BBC Hidden Britain).

The Norse were from Norway and Sweden (and later Iceland) and the Danish Norse or Danes were from the area now known as Denmark. These three Viking groups were very different, the Danes were the most numerous and best organised, they were generally a settled people and when they migrated to other lands they went in peace and tried to remain so. They moved in large groups with many ships and were the principal Vikings in our area. They migrated really, out of a need for more land for their growing population, with conquest coming later in the Viking alliance, in which a full invasion from 865 began. The Norwegians were totally different and were less numerous and organised and much more violent and readily plundered, murdered and raped. They were seen as uncontrollable and without a single overall leader or king and in consequence had many battles even amongst themselves. Because they were in smaller groups, they targeted less populous areas such as islands and remote coasts and places where they could easily flee. This meant they attacked the Scottish Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands and Scottish west coast and islands (and onto Faroes Islands and Iceland). They raided for spoils rather than land. The Swedes were the richest and most cultured and the longest and most devoted Pagans. They took Pagan spiritualism to its highest form. They also were less into raiding and conquest. Many of them left their homeland due to the threat of the all-powerful advancing, from the east, Hun army, which was devasting much of Europe. They travelled south and were the founders of the Goths and all their variants which continued west through the Mediterranean to Spain across the Straights of Gibraltar island hoping back to Italy where many settled (Lombardy).

P.3 Norse Magic & Beliefs Channel (2022) Differences between Norwegian, Swedish and Danish Vikings. Map 3. YouTube.

As stated, these peoples did not all come at once, there were different waves from different sources, some more violent and some trying to be peaceful and they came to our area up the Humber in these years: 797, 838, 839, 870, 993 (Stonehouse). Just before the first of these raids, dire warnings had been predicted from recent events.

there were terrible signs in the heavens, with famine and pestilence on the earth.’ The Saxon Chronicle, under date 793 records and De la Pryme recounts:

“This year dire forewarning came over the land of the North-humbrians, and miserably terrified the people ; there were excessive whirlwinds and lightenings, and fiery dragons [Or Comets ?] were seen flying in the air. A great famine soon followed these tokens.”

In the first year mentioned a fleet came up the Humber and plundered all the country around, taking a very large booty home. The same followed in 838, when Lindsey (in the present area of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire just east of the Trent, from the Isle of Axholme) in particular suffered and many were wantonly murdered. This happened most at all parts accessible by boat.

In our area at this time, it was mostly the Danes, in total over 35,000 of them. The influxes did not all fall neatly in the time periods given, as will be seen later. The main invasion and latter collusion with the Anglo-Saxons against the Normans (at least in Northern areas) came following Roman withdrawal, many leaving the continent as Rome retreated. Though largely driven out by the Normans as they advanced North, their influence was great in some areas, such as York which they sacked in 867 killing two Saxon kings in the process and called it Jorvik. This town was their capital. De la Pryme tells us:

In 867 a Great Fleet of them landed in ye Humber, which put this town and all ye Country in great Fear ; they ruined and Destroy’d all before them, marching to ye City of York they took ye same, Routed a huge army of Northumbers, and slew two Kings upon the place, that pretended to Kingdom.

The next year ye same army of ye Heathens marched Southward through ye Heart of ye Island, Burning, Destroying and Murdering all before them ; at which time the Inhabitants of this Town fled into ye Moors and fastnesses about ye Town, to save themselves, Where they carry’d ye Best of their Goods, and hid the Rest ; which when ye Enemy perceived they took what was Left, Ransac’d the Church, and Layd ye whole town in Ashes.”

The Vikings however were not finished with their conquest, and more battles continued for more than another hundred years’ and they sacked the people of Hatfield Chase in 868. In 870, they left York and passed through the Isle of Axholme, laying waste to Lindsey and everywhere else. In 886, King Alfred reached a deal with the Vikings and split Britain with the North-East, our region, falling into Danelaw and later Danegeld had to be paid as a tax. Battles continued however.

Again, De la Pryme recounts.

“In 910 Edward King of England, hearing that ye Pagans had seized upon all ye Kingdom of Deira and Bernicia, and that they often made Incursions into Mercia, he Raised a Huge Army, set upon them, overthrew them, kil’d many thousands of them, and brought them to subjection. This Town of Hatfield, standing between ye two nations, cannot but have been concerned in this Warr, and to have suffer’d therein ; and in 928, 942, and 944, ye Dains were much in these parts, to ye no small Damage of ye Country, who Burnt, kill’d, murdered, Ransack’d all, destroyed all before them.”

Again in 993, a party of Danes sailed from Bebbanburgh, Durham and into the Humber, once again laying waste to all along the shores. The heavens portended doom as De la Pryme says:

“In 987, or thereabouts, was seen at this Town, and all over England, a most dreadful comet, resembling half blood and half fire, a sad presage of ye approaching Evils, for in ye year 993 there came such vast numbers of ye Dains into Humber, and upon all Coasts of England, that there was no resisting of them ; they were so numerous that they Rob’d, Ruin’d, Burnt and Destroyed all before them. Upon this Ethelred, ye King of England, was forced to send Ambassadors to ye Danish Capting with great Presents, to desire and beseech them to cease their Barbaritys and they would give them Lieve to Inhabit ye Land, and would pay them 20,000 pounds a year. The enemy agreed to this, and was well pleased and content, and ye whole Country also, to be freed from ye Daily Ravages made upon them.”

This marked the start of Danegelt payments as the Saxon Chronicles under date 991 says:

“In that year it was decreed that tribute, for the first time, should be given to the Danish-men, on account of the great terror which they caused by sea-coast ; that was at first ten thousand pounds : this counsel was first given by Archbishop Sirac.”

Three years afterwards the amount increased to £16,000 ; eight years succeeding the sum demanded was £24,000 ; in 1007 £36,000 was paid ; while in 1012 the impost had increased to £48,000.

In 1013, Sweyn, King of Denmark came himself to England and laid waste to the East Angles from Sandwich. He then moved on and did similar along the Humber. He came then to the Trent and sailing up there landed at Gainsborough, which was just growing from the ruins of Torksey. Here he assumed himself king, however in the following year he died there and was succeeded by his son Cnut. Cnut tried to establish better trust from the people and gained the trust as their leader. King Æthelred who had fled to France under the protection of Richard Duke of Normandy, hearing Sweyn was dead, sent his son Edward to make reconciliation. This went well and Æthelred returned as king, but then amassing his army sought revenge on the collusion of the people of the district and attacked Lindsey severely reeking revenge by burning the country and putting all to death. The Danes in the meantime had retreated to their ships with all the plunder they could carry and headed to Sandwich and then home to Denmark. Æthelred died in April 1016, succeeded by his third son Edmund.

King Edmund made a pact with Cnut that divided the kingdom with north of the Thames being for the Danes, and south of the Thames and London retained. However, Edmund died in November 1016 leaving Cnut as king of all England from 1016 to 1035. Cnut was a fair and progressive king. The tale of him sat on his thrown ordering the tide back, was not to show his strength and arrogance, but to show he was just a man and was ruled by the lord just like the ocean. The king cried, “Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless, and there is no king worthy of the name save Him by whose will heaven, earth and the sea obey eternal laws.”

Cnut made all men equal in law, and ordained local councils meet at least twice a year and county councils thrice. He also made donations of money to the crown voluntary by all men, commanding his reeves (fine collectors) would supply enough income to maintain him. One further law he made is especially relevant to laws of the chase and is the basis even today of the law of game in England. “I will that every man be entitled to his hunting, in woods and field, on his own possession. And let every man forego my hunting ; take notice where I will have it untrespassed on, under penalty of the full wite.” (Tomlinson). This established that game was yours if it was on your land, however, where the king decreed a royal hunting ground, then no-one except the king (or his assigns) could hunt there. Any trespass on the kings hunting ground would result in a fine. These royal hunting grounds became known later as Royal Chases.

Cnut was succeeded by his son Harold Harefoot until his death in 1040. Harthacnut, already Danish king, continued the rule here but died only two years later in 1042 and in 1043 the monarch was again of the English line when Edward the Confessor took control and was appalled by Danegeld payment and stopped it, but died in 1066 leaving no heir. An English nobleman, Harold Godwinson, was chosen for the throne. However, there were other claimants that soon invaded with the first being led by Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, North Yorkshire, the latter being defeated. Only three weeks later, the Battle of Hastings took place and Harold was defeated by William of Normandy and his 50,000 strong army ushering in the Norman rule (Wikipedia). Interestingly, both King Harold and King William had Norse lineage.

NORMAN 1066 to 1154, to DRAINAGE 1626

Chronological List of People and Major Events that Affected the Area of Hatfield Chase

Line of succession of Lord of the Manor of Hatfield is given, and bullet points are other people or events. More detailed accounts are given further on, but this list gives the relevant names and dates, without brackets is time they lived (if known) and in brackets reign or relevant event dates.

King William I (William the Conqueror) c.1028-1087 (1066 to 1087).

William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey -1088 married William the Conqueror’s daughter Gundred.

  • Geoffrey de (Guerche) Wirce 1040-1100 lord of Isle of Axholme

William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey -1138

William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Surrey 1119-1148

Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey -1203

William de Warenne, I Count of Boulogne, Earl of Surrey c. 1137-1159

Hamelin de Warenne, 4th Earl of Surrey -1202

William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey 1160-70?-1240

  • Magna Carta (1215)

  • First Barons' War (1215–1217)

  • Simon de Montfort 1208-1265

John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey 1231–1304

John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, earl of Strathearn 1286-1347

  • Second Barons’ War (1264-1267)

Roger de Mowbray, 1st Baron Mowbray 1254-1297

Thomas 2nd Earl of Lancaster, Leister, Derby, Lincolnshire, Salisbury c.1278-1322

  • Alice de Lacy 1281-1348

Sir John (I) de Mowbray 2nd Baron 1286-1322

Sir John (II) de Mowbray 3rd Baron 1310-1361

Reverted to the Crown Edward II between 1322 to 1327. Remained in crown ownership basically until the drainage, with appointed people in charge.

  • Queen Philippa of Hainault 1310-1369

King Edward III 1312-1377

  • Great Famine 1315-17

  • Prince William of Hatfield 1336 son of King Edward III and Queen Philippa.

  • The Plague (1349, 1389)

Reverted to the Crown Henry VI 1421-1471.

Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham, 6th Earl of Stafford, 7th Baron Stafford 1402-1460

  • War of the Roses (1455-1487)

Edward IV, Edward V.

King Henry VII 1457-1509 (1461 to 1509)

Henry VIII 1491-1547 (1509 to 1547).

Sir Gervase Clifton 1516-1588 Master of Game

  • Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541)

  • Pilgrimage of Grace (1536-1537)

Thomas Lord Darcy c.1467-1537

Francis 5th Earl of Shrewsbury (1500-1560)

George 6th Earl of Shrewsbury (1528-1590)

Robert Cecil 1st Earl of Salisbury 1563-1612 as Lord Treasurer conducted the royal survey 1607

Queen Elizabeth I 1533-1603

Sir Henry Lee 1533-1611 Head Keeper

Edmund Lord Sheffield 1564-1646

King James I 1566-1625

  • William Swift 1502-1582 Royal Bowbearer

  • Sir Robert Swift 1568-1625 Royal Bowbearer

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales 1594-1612

King Charles I 1600-1649

Johannes Liens The principal engineer for the 1626 drainage

Cornelius Vermuyden 1595-1677 Dutch drainage engineer and accountant for the 1626 drainage.

Contemporary Glossary

Agisting pasturing animals at a cost on the commons. These may even be animals from another manor.

Assarting the act of clearing wooded lands for use in agriculture or other purposes, which may be an offence.

Banksman the man in charge of maintaining river banks in good order.

Baron a lesser earl, usually not holding a full county in area.

Bordarii tenants of bordars smallholdings.

Bordars tenant holdings with a house and land of his lord’s demesne and bound to provision of victuals. This included dairy products produced on a smallholding type way. The land was often not in one parcel but scattered around the manor.

Carucate a measurement of land which could a plough team with eight oxen could plough in a season. This could vary between 60 and 160 acres depending on type of soil.

Chase a royal hunting ground, unenclosed for hunting Red Deer (or introduced Fallow Deer) by the King or nobility and subject to Forest Law. Other activities in the chase may be restricted too such as taking other game, fish or fowl, or materials, unless with permission, but other things carried on as normal.

Chase and Forest Law in the chase there were employed by the king in descending rank a single Surveyor General, most of whom are unknown until Henry VIII and then were Thomas Lord Darcy, then Frances Earl of Shrewsbury, then for King James I and King Charles I, was George Earl of Shrewsbury, following which the manors were sold to the Dutch. Below them were the Royal Bowbearer who was a single person, based at Streetthorpe (Edenthorpe). For example William Swift was followed by his son Robert Swift who was the last. Then under him was the Head Keeper which for example Henry Lee was for Henry VIII. Below him were Masters of the Game this included at least 19 people at 19 stations, see further down.

Comes or Comitatus a Norman Earl who was in charge of at least one Viscount and so two or more Sheriffs. If due to war the Earl had to go and fight for the king, he would leave this Vice-earl or Viscount in charge.

Common land was owned by the Lord of the Manor/s, with commoners’ rights enshrined in law. Commons were generally the areas of ground within the manor which were the worst for cultivation, or anything else, and so often termed ‘wastes’. Due to not being cultivated, they were often wooded, or on chalk were grassland and this provided limited shared resources. Large commons were often divided between manors, so as no one manor had an unfair amount of bad ground. This is the case with Thorne Moors and its contingents. Commons were used generally for grazing and browsing with cattle, foraging ducks or chickens and pannage (of acorns) for pigs. Additionally, woodland provided dead wood for fires and construction for a pen say (estovers) but large timber could only be taken with specific permission from the lord. The right of turbary was also given on peat ground, and this was the cutting of peat blocks for fuel, each household was given a specified width to cut back into the common for their own use and not to sell. Other mineral rights were covered by the term ‘Common in soil’. There may be rights to fish called piscary and rights to certain wild game (ducks or rabbits maybe) known as ferae naturae. Bye laws sometimes allowed for a payment to build a house on the common.

Commoners subjects of the lord who had legal rights to his common. Not all subjects had common rights and these rights may not be equal. Commoners often had to pay for these rights but this was done usually by some service to the lord not by money.

Copyholder held land in same way as a freehold person but did not actually own the property. If they rented it out they could not increase rents or sell it.

Cottager a rural labourer, who lived in a cottage type house.

Demesne land of the manor retained and maintained by the lord of the manor for his victuals. It may be rented out to bordars, for the same. The land was often not in one parcel but scattered around the manor.

Dissolution of the Monasteries 1536-1541 removal of Catholic church, buildings and lands from England by Henry VIII and replaced by the new Anglican Church or Church of England. The Catholic church was considered too powerful and rich and a challenge to the king’s rule, also he wanted a divorce. All the wealth was seized by the king, as were monastic lands and all large buildings such as monasteries destroyed. Churches were also destroyed but mostly were just defaced, as the people still needed places of worship for the new church. The Pilgrimage of Grace 1536-1537 was the movement of protest against the monasteries being dissolved.

Domesday Book; Day of Judgement written 1080-1086 commissioned by above conqueror to assess what spoils he had won.

Duke the highest nobility not of immediate royal line, a liege, ruled a county or several counties on behalf of the crown. The lands they held were known as fiefs in that they were held in accordance with feudal law.

Earl or Comes below a Duke became the comitatus of at least one county or several counties and over-ruled barons. The lands they held were known as fiefs in that they were held in accordance with feudal law.

Enclosure or Inclosure was the removal of common rights from commons and shared rights from the open field system, making these lands private or enclosed, started in 1600s but really took off in 1800s and made easier by various Acts of Parliament. Because subjects had legal rights, permission from parliament had to be sought (Act of Parliament) and all but the lowliest subjects compensated with land or money. The lowest subjects, usually 50% or more, became farm labourers, who received payment in kind (dwelling and food) or were brought in as paid labourers as needed. However, much later, as husbandry and machinery became more efficient many migrated to the towns to become workers in the industrial revolution. Following enclosure, land boundaries were often demarcated by the planting of Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna (quickthorn) hedges. This was also because the land would now be used for more profitable livestock. The landscape of Britain was forever altered from the large (each often over 100 acres) open fields to irregular shaped smaller and different sized hedged fields. This is evident as the oldest hedgerows date back to the earliest enclosures of 1600.

Esquire not nobility, originally the Knights shield bearer, perhaps being granted the right to train to become a Knight.

Estate in this context, land belonging to the lord of the manor.

Feudal System a system of land allocation based on servitude, in peace and war. The king was the ultimate landlord and everyone else was a tenant.

Fief an estate or estates of land held under feudal law, in which services were render in return for holding thereof. These estates would comprise of several manors each with a lord and have an Earl or Duke over-all.

Forest a place of Red Deer, which may or may not have Forest Law applied.

Forest Law rules applied where Red Deer or introduced Fallow Deer occurred.

Freeman held a house and/or land permanently that was not subject to control by the lord of the manor, nor were they vassals (they did not have to answer to or serve the local lord, though often did, instead they could serve a higher power, say an earl or the king). Often given for valiant endeavours freemen were often important people such as knights or high ranked officials.

Geld Tax periodic tax, first raised for the Danish wars, at a number of pence per hide or carucate.

Glebe the land held by a clergyman, from which income may be derived.

Grassmen oversaw grazing of the commons.

King or Queen absolute monarchs whose word was law and who ruled parliament, until of course Magna Carta which began to change things.

Knight could be a lord of a manor, but not always; a mounted warrior and feudal vassal to the Earl, Duke and King. An officer in an army. Knights who were not lords were freemen.

Lord a lord held a manor and was generally a knight, one lord to each manor. It was typically based on the Anglo-Saxon version above of a village of hundreds or tythings. The lord provided for all people in his manor and they worked for him. From them he was obliged to train younger men in warfare and when called on by the king would bring them to the king’s aid, the lord assuming the position of officer of his men.

Liege a person of higher status for example, one owning a fief. It was a general term for the higher feudal person in an exchange. For example: the king was a liege to everyone and an earl was a liege to a lord. The lower status here is known as a vassal.

Magna Carta 1215 brought about by a baron’s and knight’s revolt to protect themselves against unjust actions against them by the king (unfair taxes, unjust imprisonment, arbitrary confiscation of privileges and lands) and tried ending the rein of absolute monarchs by making them adhere to parliament and requiring that the king is not above the law, amongst other things. This charter was broken later by King Charles I and led to the Civil Wars. It was later used as a basis for the writing of other countries’ constitutions.

Manor a tract of land and with a house of the lord (manor house) of an estate between 700 and 1,500 acres depending on time period and area and ruled over by the Lord of the Manor. This was the lords personal land for his provision or demesne, not the full extent of the township he ruled, which would also include other lands of commons and church land and the open fields as well as various ings, marshes and woodland. Tomlinson states when referring to the amount of common land Vermuyden seized from the commoners (2868 after all) of the Isle of Axholme (13,400 acres of which the commoners eventually got returned 9868 acres in a decree of 1692, and the participants eventually settled on 2868 acres) that this was four times the size of any manor in the land allowed by the Court of Exchequer at that time; in 17th century, so manors about 700 to 750 acres. This size allowance for a manor was not always the same size, in times past manors were often larger between 1,200 to 1,800 acres, and may also be larger in low population upland areas. The manor may include one, possibly two villages and maybe other outlier residencies, farmland of three open fields system and commons, with woodland. Other lands would be closes and hay fields. It would also have a church and glebe and some water bodies.

Manor House the residence of the lord of the manor.

Manse a house provided for a minister.

Messuage the dwelling house of.

Nowter herdsman or neatherd protected animals grazing on the commons.

Open Field System land that belonged to the lord of the manor but over which his subjects had rights, some may be given to the church as a tythe. It was a land share system where generally two or three fields of 100+ acres were divided up into strips called furlongs (220 yards) and these were further divided into selions, and each subject had several of these scattered around the fields. They were scattered so everyone got a fair share of good and bad soil. The open field was divided into two or generally three large units or fields for the rotation of three main crop types. One part would be fallow, another would have root crops and corns and the third would be legumes (plants that fix nitrogen in the soil including peas, beans and clovers) which would enrich the soil for future crops. Fallow fields could be grazed later and were sometimes planted with non-fussy crops such as turnips. Turnips were the usual first crop on any just drained land. Cropping was often more complicated, though with several crops often intermixed, because of ridge and furrow or other factors.

Oxgang gang for ploughing.

Page a youth of nobility who may train to become a knight.

Park an enclosure for generally non-native Fallow Deer.

Patron lord of the manor.

Peculiar the property of, as in ecclesiastical.

Pynder checked animals were legally grazed on commons and removed illegal ones back to their owners.

Ridge and furrow Ploughing was done by ox-gangs and not by large horses (Shire-horses) until much later. The primitive non-reversable ploughs produced these deep ridges and furrows. Different crops were sown on the ridges (corns) and in the furrows (often pulses).

Royal Bailiff or Reeve collected all monies due the king such as free farm rents, leases and fines.

Scotts drainage rates.

Sheriff the chief or head Reeve who had power over at most one county, above them was a Viscount or Earl who held power over two or more counties.

Slave a criminal who had lost their freedom, killing of a slave was a small crime.

Small Beer a barley-based drink fermented by yeast. In olden times when much water was unsafe to drink, it was safer to drink fermented drinks as the alcohol killed pathogens. This, however, was not conducive for work, and would be fairly expensive. Small beer was provided instead which had a very low alcohol content (<1%) and was made by a second brewing of the ordinary beer batch ingredients by simply adding a little sugar to restart fermentation. The drink was given to labourers as part of their allowance in stoppered earthenware jars.

Socmen held land called soke, in the form of a franchise from the Baron or Earl, enjoying all the same rights to it as a Freeman except it was not theirs to sell. There may be several lords under one Socmen.

Soke land held by Socmen.

Squire as Esquire.

Tack incremental increase in land held, often illegally by moving a fence or ditch a bit further out or clearing further into common land.

The Eyre was an inspection of local officials’ efficiencies ordered by Thomas Cromwell in 1538 and included Hatfield Chase.

Turbary the right of, was given on peat ground, and this was the cutting of peat blocks for fuel, each household was given a specified width to cut back into the common for their own use and not to sell.

Tyth was an endowment nearly always from the lord of the manor to the church originally of four parts but later reduced to three in King Alfred’s reign (886-899) to a first part for the church, a second for relief of the poor and a third for maintenance of the parish priest. The latter two were often given to another religious house, who often failed in their duty to distribute as intended instead appropriating all to themselves, but they did invariable use the proceeds to maintain said churches. Though illegal, nothing could be done.

Vassal or lower ranking or status, with liege being the higher. For example: everyone was a vassal of the king and a lord was vassal of an Earl.

Vicar held churches who’s tythe had been passed on to another religious house.

Vice-earl or Viscount was above the Sheriffs of several counties and stood in for the Earl when needed.

Villeins (or villani or villanes) a class of people just above slavery, basic unpaid labourers that worked the lords land, they were bound to pay the lord a percentage of their yields.

Viscount ‘Vice comes’ or Viscount stood in for earls when they were away, say in battle and as such were over several Sheriffs.

Wapentake equivalent to Anglo-Saxon Hundreds.

War of the Roses 1455-1487 a feudal war between the houses of Lancaster and York, in which the former was victorious and led to the age of the Tudors.

Yeoman an important person such as a landowner or a middle-ranked servant of a lord.

Following this Norman Conquest William the Bastard of Normandy became King William I (William the Conqueror) bribed the Danes to leave this country which they did, but in 1068 Cnut and his uncle Osbeorn and five other Danish chiefs returned. This time they came as allies of the Saxons and to drive off the Normans north of the Humber. They moored at Trent Ness, the confluence of the Trent with the Humber and the Don not far away, and this place took the name of Æthelingsfleet (Adlingfleet). The name comes from Edgar Ætheling, King Harold’s heir to the English Crown, who having fled to Denmark now came back with them on this expedition. The Danes having established their camp, put the locals in great fear yet left them unmolested, however this did not apply to other areas beyond their Saxon allies and this camp and they still continued their rape and pillage of everywhere beyond.

De la Pryme, again getting his facts muddled tells us “But ye next year Swain himself, King of Denmark [Pryme meaning 1070 but probably was 1068, and not Swain but Cnut] gathering a huge navy and army together came in person into Humber, destroy’d ye county on both sides that great estuary, put all the people in great fear for many miles round about, and made them swear allegiance to be true to him or else he would destroy them, which they accordingly did : then sending part of his fleet up ye Trent, ye Ouse, and ye Dun, and other rivers, they detroy’d ye whole country where ever they came, carrying everything to their ships that was of any worth. This town was in great alarm at this, and was allways in arms ; but ye enemy made no attack upon them, but haveing ravaged and pillag’d as much as they well could, they returned with great booty into their own country ; and praised be God! never infested England after unto this day.’

They went as far as York, plundering, destroying and murdering and especially any Normans they could, killing around 3000 at the castle there. Their position at the river confluences was a strong one but the Saxons hadn’t reckoned, but really should have, on the mercenary nature of the Danes, who took the offer of a huge bribe from William the Conqueror to abandon them and go home. Following this in 1069 the Saxons of Northern Britain were severely punished for their collusion with the Danes in trying to stop the advancing Normans and vast areas were laid waste by destroying houses and crops and massacring every living person, including women and children, so that even hundreds of years later the area remained wild and depopulated (Stonehouse). York was especially singled out for punishment (Tomlinson). This and all the previous ravages of the last 200 or so years literally left the whole country a depopulated desert for a hundred and more years (Tomlinson).

King William introduced a strict feudal system, with many tiers and everyone having their fixed allotted place. No one moved up the hierarchy without service to their liege; lands were awarded to knights, aristocrats and gentry for services to the crown. They all pledged allegiance to the king in battle and if they failed in their servitude they could forfeit all lands, rights and titles and be fined, jailed or hanged. The royal family and dukes (dukes were not of direct royal line) ruled huge areas of land often several counties whole or in parts. They appointed Earls, generally one for each county or several blocks of land. The earls in turn had lords for each town and its contiguous lands. Lords were generally knights (though this may not be the case for several reasons such as lack of training, health, skill or age) but they also had other knights in their lordship, who were generally freemen, and so not vassals to the lord. They would invariably serve the lord in their area though, unless they fell out. The king determined how many knights should be provided by each area by dividing the kingdom into about 60,000 feudal units called Knights’ Fees, these lands had to furnish in allegiance to him one mounted knight for 40 days of use by the king a year.

King William ordered an assessment of his gains by commissioning the Domesday books. He did not trust his defeated subjects so appointed Justiciaries who collected information on oath from nobles and clergy and the councils. Information was collected on value of homes, land and businesses, particularly how much was used for what purpose such as under plough, meadow, pasture, woodland, mills and fisheries. But he also collected the same information for the times of Edward the Confessor. Much of England was not covered though for various reasons. In the far north the Scots held much ground and raided even more, they knew Doncaster as Doncastle. In much of Yorkshire, it was yet still a lightly inhabited waste after King William destroyed the whole, including York because the Anglo-Saxons had invited the Danes there to stop him taking control of the area. King William however had beforehand bribed the Danes to leave before seeking revenge. Because of the wasting of Yorkshire with so few left alive, the survey was done later here and was often not as complete or thorough. Hatfield was one of the last places and some manors in our area were missed altogether. During the enquiries the officials of each area were asked if there was scope for increased production, and therefore more taxes. They were also to assess how many men at arms could be provided by each area.

King William saw from Domesday Book how powerful the church had become. To keep them on his side he made them exempt from taxes and generally treated them very well. Barons were encouraged to build churches and the barons liked this as this atoned for any of their possible sins. Also, the congregation would pray for their lords, barons and their families.

Dukes and earls had many manors throughout the country and would appoint a baron or lord at any they did not reside at. So, while all were lords, they were not always the de facto owners. And in fact, all belonged to the king, but this would change.


The Soke of Conisbrough that included Hatfield Chase

William de Warren was the Earl of Surrey, and owned Conisborough as well which consisted of 20 manors and he had a soke there: The following lists the manors belonging to the Soke of Conisbrough:

Coningesburg. To the soke belong these manors – Rauensfeld (Ravenfield) one carucate and a half ; Cliftone (Clifton) three carucates ; Bradeuulle (Braithwell) eleven carucates ; Barneburg (Barnborough) six carucates ; Holand (Hoyland) one carucate ; Bilam (Bilham) one carucate ; Daltone (Dalton) three carucates ; Wilseuuice (Wilsic) fifteen carucates ; Herthil (Harthill) and Cuietone (Kiveton) thirteen carucates and a half ; Estone (Aston) six oxgangs ; Sandale (Sandall) two carucates ; Greseburg (Greasborough) three carucates ; Cuzeuuorde (Cusworth) three carucates Bramelie (Bramley) three carucates ; Weinesforde (Warmsworth) one carucate and six oxgangs ; Domnitone (Dinnington) two carucates ; Aneston two carucates ; Stenforde (Stainforth) three carucates ; Branuuite (Bramwith) six oxgangs ; Fiscale (Fishlake) five carucates ; Torne (Thorne) four carucates ; Todeuuorde (Tudworth) one carucate ; Hedfeld (Hatfield) eight carucates ; Stirestop (Streetthorpe/Edenthorpe) two carucates ; Sandela (Sandall) one carucate and three oxgangs. To be taxed together fourscore and six and fifteen acres (54 carucates and six acres). Land to fifty-four ploughs. Bawdwen’s translation of Domesday Book.

More detail on the principal towns given here in modern English. In the Wapentake of Strafforth (Stainforth) at this period were 124 places and this included both Thorne and Hatfield (and indeed Doncaster) (Open Domesday). Thorne was then almost an island covered with thorns and surrounded by marshy ground. In Domesday Book the area was one of the last to be surveyed after being laid waste and it should be noted that the population estimates were not very accurate with most of the poorest not counted as they were unimportant, generally only landowners and tenants were counted as they could be taxed, landless peasants couldn’t pay anything and so weren’t worth bothering with. The accounts are:

Hatfield Located in the lower division of the wapentake of Strafforth [Stainforth] and Tickhill in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The town was in the heath and woodland area of Doncaster and stood on slightly higher ground.

Hatfield: Hundred: Strafforth, Area: West Riding, County: Yorkshire, Total population: 13 households (medium). Total tax assessed: 8 geld units (very large). Head of manor: Conisbrough. Taxable units: Taxable value 8 geld units. Value: Households: 12 freemen. 1 priest. Ploughland: 6 men's plough teams. Other resources: Woodland 6 x 6 furlongs. 1 church. Lord in 1066: Earl Harold.

Lord in 1086: William of Warenne. Tenant-in-chief in 1086: William of Warenne. Phillimore reference: 12W267.

Amount of woodland in Hatfield Manor 6x6 furlongs (a furlong is 660 feet, or 220 yards, or 201 metres) so about 144 hectares.

Thorne Located in the lower division of the wapentake of Strafforth [Stainforth] and Tickhill in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Thorne: Hundred: Strafforth, Area: West Riding, County: Yorkshire, Total population: 16 households (medium). Total tax assessed: 4 geld units (medium). Head of manor: Conisbrough. Taxable units: Taxable value 4 geld units. Value: Households: 11 villagers. 5 freemen. Ploughland: 4 men's plough teams. Lord in 1066: Earl Harold. Lord in 1086: William of Warenne. Tenant-in-chief in 1086: William of Warenne. Phillimore reference: 12W247.

Note the manor house was not the present manor house.

Other Areas in the Chase Mentioned

Tudworth: Hundred: Strafforth Area: West Riding, County: Yorkshire, Total population: 14 households (medium). Total tax assessed: 1 geld units (very small). Head of manor: Conisbrough. Taxable units: Taxable value 1 geld units. Value: Households: 7 villagers. 7 freemen. Ploughland: 3 men's plough teams. Other resources: 20 fisheries. Lord in 1066: Earl Harold. Lord in 1086: William of Warenne. Tenant-in-chief in 1086: William of Warenne. Phillimore reference: 12W257.

The 20 fisheries of Tudworth Ings produced 20,000 Eels Anguilla anguilla a year.

Fishlake: 5 carucates, 4 ploughs, 11 sokemen, 6 villeins and 7 villeins with ploughs. Woodland 5x5 furlongs. [So about 100 hectares.]

Stainforth: 3 carucates, 4 ploughs, 7 sokemen. Woodland 1x1 furlongs. So about 4 hectares.

Austerfield: Gilbert Tison held the manor of Finiglei [Finningley] after the Conquest; half a plough, 15 villanes [villeins], 4 bordars, 5 ploughs and a half, wood pasture 2 miles long and 2 broad, [which is 1036 hectares]. Value in King Edwards time forty shillings, now five shillings. Before the Conquest the manor was owned by Suain, who now has 6 oxgangs of land to be taxed, land to 3 ploughs. (Peck)

De la Pryme translated parts from the Domesday Book thus.

"In ye Conqueror's survey, the town's name is writ Stanford [Stainforth], and it is said to be within ye stoke of Conisburrow [Conisbrough]. In the time of King Edward The Confessor, it was part of ye estate of Earl Harold, and was given by ye Conqueror to his son in-law, William Earl of Warren. In it was seven sokemen with four carucates and it had wood hard by it which was pannage for hoggs and feeding ye tennents cattle one quarentine long and as much broad."

"So that it appears to have been a fine large town, bigger than Thorne was, which had it five sokemen, and undoubtedly it continued a large place for many ages later".

Place Names Present and Past and Meanings (if known)

Place name spellings were not as fixed in the past when few people could even read or write and there was no quick and easy way to get the correct spelling such as the internet. Names thus appeared in documents and maps which were different to how educated locals would have spelt them. Many were altered according to the authors spoken accent or guesswork. Modern name is first in bold.

Adlingfleet Æthelingsfleet.

Alkborough Alkburrow.

Aston Estone.

Aukley Alkeleye, Awkeley.

Austerfield the first part refers to the Roman commander and the second; field, is attached as a site at which a battle had taken place. The Roman camp was located between Partridge Hill and Finningley as many remains found in the former Deer Park attest.

Barnborough Barneburg.

Battle of Austerfield 542 besides the Roman battle here there was another later one ‘by the side of road to Finningley, near the waters of the Idle’. Another above, defines its places as at Scaftworth near Bawtry. This is when Edelferd King of Northumbers slew Remerius son of Redwald. Edelferd was also killed.

Bilham Bilam.

Braithwell Bradeuulle.

Bramley Bramelie.

Bramwith Branuuite.

Carrs these areas of wet woodlands gave names to places such as Uggin Carr, Potteric Carr, Bessacarr, Remple Carr.

Clifton Cliftone.

Conisbrough formerly Conisbrough was known by the Britons as Caer-coan.

Crowle Crvle a crook or bend, as in the River Don there.

Cusworth Cuzeuuorde.

Dalton Daltone.

Dike or Dyke areas being drained by ditches gave rise to names such as Dykesmarsh, Turnbridge Dyke.

Dinnington Domnitone.

Doncaster The early Britons called it Caer-Daun (City on the Don) and Campodonum and by the Romans Danum. The Saxons called it Don-cercen, the Picts and Scots Doncastle.

Edenthorpe Streetthorpe, Striterop, Sristerop, Tristropp.

Finningley Fynnyngley, Finiglei.

Fishlake Fiscale.

Goole means mouth, as in river.

Gainsborough Torksey.

Greasborough Greseburg.

Harthill Herthil

Hatfield Hedfeld, Heathfield, Hayterfield.

Haxey Ax or Axel.

Hoyland Holand.

Johnny-Moor-Long John-a-More-Long.

Kiveton Cuietone.

Lindholme Ling Holme or Ling Island.

Marsh gave rise to names such as Marshland, Thorpe Marsh.

Marshland Merskland, Mersland was the area west of the north arm of the River Don: of Snaith, Sykehouse and Fishlake etc.

Monastery of Henes in Sandtoft in the Isle of Axholme granted by Roger de Mowbray between 1147 and 1186.

Ravenfield Rauensfeld.

Rawcliffe Roe-cliffe.

River Cheswold a tributary of the Don and was known as Cheorlwald by the Saxons.

River Don or Dun, Dunn, Dune.

Rufford Rughford.

Sandall Sandale.

Stainforth Strafforth (in Domesday book) Staynford, Steynford, Stenforde, Stanford.

Sykehouse Dowsthorpe.

Thorne Thorn, Thurn, Thurne a hill covered with thorns.

Tudworth Tudeuuorde, Tridsworth.l.

Warmsworth Weinesforde.

Wilsic Wilseuuice.

York Jorvik.

Town Population in 1369 (Tomlinson, 1882)

Hatfield had a population of 123 in 1369 and in 1379 this had risen to 285, excluding criminals, and all were lowly husbandmen or labourers. Hatfield arable land amounted to 2,400 acres in at least two open fields (Byford).

Stainforth (Staynford) 67 (aged 16 or over).

Fishlake in 1379 had 375 inhabitants.

Campsall 352.

Doncaster 760 adults and was a larger and more important town than Sheffield and Rotherham. Doncaster and Tickhill were the only trading towns in this Wapentake with 8 merchants in the former and 7 in other guilds.

Some other useful meanings in names are Closes meaning enclosed or private, perhaps next to the house. Kirk meant church. Thorpe meant a hamlet or village.

Doncastle was in the Thirteenth century owned by the De Mauleys who acted as if they were kings, and their stone castle was where the St. George’s Church is now. Stone from Doncaster was now used to start the building of York Minster. Around the late 14th century, the kingdom was divided into 37 shires and also the Bishopric of Durham and the City of London. In these shires there were in total 8,600 parishes (so with churches). The open field system was still in use, with Thorne having likely only two fields, since it had less arable land than other parishes.



Blackwater is a name used on Thorne and in this instance refers to the county boundary ditch, Blackwater Dike. The name blackwater could refer to any peat water and here was originally used as a name for some natural peat water pools which were ‘100 yards about and for the most part 14 yards deep always full to the top, in dry or wet season, and never overflow: the water is black.’ (Tomlinson 1882). The super-absorbency of sphagnum moss is responsible for this extra-ordinary regulation and retention of the water. Other such pools on the early maps were Wild Pitts. These pools were fairly numerous and many smaller ones were unnamed but they were gradually destroyed over time as peat exploitation by extraction continued and increased.

Bog an area of permanently flooded ground on generally nutrient poor soil where sphagnum moss grows and upon dying and being submerged by continuous growth does not rot in the acidic water but instead compacts down into peat. This self-generated high acidity prevents most all other plants growth and the matt of nutrient-poor moss stops young roots reaching the underlying nutrients in the basal soil. Over thousands of years this accumulation forms a dome of moss, which lifts the water level often several meters.

Carr woodland on seasonally inundated land. Typical species are Alder, Birch and willows.

Fen permanently inundated land on nutrient rich ground, so not allowing sphagnum to grow and form peat. A much coarser peat of sedge and rush may form though.

Heath habitat on free-draining sandy or dry peat soil which would include species such as birch, willows, Scots Pine, gorses and heathers.

Ings seasonally flooded land, often meadows on the edge of rivers and other water bodies.

Lagg the peripheral margin of a bog, where nearly permanently wet, trees such as alder, birch and willows may get established by their roots reaching the basal soil below and so form light scrub or thickets. This would be carr woodland.

Mire a bog.

Ombrotrophic rain fed, as in type of bog. Other bogs may be fed by overflow from lakes or by rivers.

Moraine mineral deposits left by glaciers which have been dragged along and been broken down under their ice.

Park an enclosed area to retain deer.

Peat a compacted fibrous residue of plant matter formed by preserved Sphagnum moss; which is preserved by the acidic water the moss creates to prevent other plants growing.

Preamble in terms of the chase, an annual walk of the boundaries, to re-affirm them. This was done by land features and buildings, or by stone or wooden marker crosses, and written down in a legal document.

Raised Mire the dome of a bog formed by sphagnum moss.

Swamp forest on permanently inundated land, not really applicable in UK, except for a standing forest inundated permanently and dying. Real living swamps comprise of Swamp Cypress trees and the like.

Turbary a right to dig peat for fuel for personal use from a common, but not to sell.

The Humberhead Levels, encompass an area as far north as Selby and west as Askern and as far south as Bawtry and east to the River Trent. The Levels as we have already seen were formed by the draining of Lake Humber as the icesheets of the last ice-age thawed. Hatfield Chase was located in the southern half of the Levels, south of the rivers Ouse and Humber, with Askern being the north-west extreme, Bawtry south-west extreme and River Trent the east boundary. The rivers across the flat chase area by volume: River Ouse as it flows east becomes the River Humber and this water way is the northern limit of the chase and not considered as in it. Similarly, the major River Trent forms the eastern limit and is not considered as part of the chase. Next is the River Don with its three arms, two going west to east across the chase and the third going north on the west side. The Don is by far the most voluminous river actually of the chase. Then the River Idle, which was joined by the River Torne coming from the west but south of Hatfield Moor, continued from the south and joined the Don between the moors and to the east before all flowed as one to the River Trent outfalls (2) near Adlingfleet just before the Trent joined the Humber. After man’s alterations however these natural courses have been much diverted. Along many of these rivers it was stated by Stonehouse were lined by many ancient willow trees.

P.4 P.5 Pre-drainage map by Vermuyden c.1626. Stonehouse, W.B. (1839) The History & Topography of the Isle of Axholme. Image from British Library (online source) public domain

The main rivers shaped the landscape and were principally the Don which was a large powerful muddy, turbid river from the Derbyshire hills which split into three arms at Stainforth. The main north bound arm carried by far the most water to the Aire and Ouse collecting the River Went on the way. The other two arms split south of Thorne and made their leisurely way across the flat lands between the two moors before heading north past Crowle before joining the River Trent just before its confluence with the River Humber. After splitting from the northern arm the southern arm entered Thurmere (Thorne Mere, which was the Great Mere but see further on) just south of that town and divided into two exiting it. The north arm, sometimes referred to as River Dun, of these two formed another mere called Newflete just north of the present A18 and west of Black Bull pub. The south arm of these two sometimes referred to as The Bryer (or Brier) formed another mere called Bradmere or Bradam near Tudworth. At the east side of the peat moors the Don is joined by the combined waters of the Torne and Idle, and just before this junction was another large mere called Messic Mere. The combined waters then headed north to Crowle and just after bent south again and divided into two arms again for a short stretch before re-joining then going north-east to Eastoft after which it divided again into two arms which entered the Trent at the outfalls of Stathe (south outfall) and Adlingsflete (Adlingfleet north). See map.

Sir William Dugdale, in his book History of Imbanking and Drainage, and who was a contemporary and supporter of Vermuyden notes some early drainage works from Edward II (1284-1327) and Edward III (1327-1377) reigns, so from around 300 to 350 years before his time. In 1292 (the 8th year of Edward II reign) he notes that the River Don at its northern end around Wormley Hill had been straightened, but this had caused problems of flooding at the Marshland villages of Sykehouse and Snaith area.

In 8 Edward II. Upon complaint made by men of Merskland [Marshland], inhabiting upon the River of Done, that the said river, whereunto the sewer of the neighbouring parts did use to run, was partly by reason of the sea tides, and partly by undue straightening, so obstructed and stopped, that most part of the lands thereabouts were overflowed ; which complaint being exhibited to the King in Parliament, then sitting at Westminster, he constituted John de Doncastre, Roger de Cloherne, and Robert de Amecotes his commissioners to enquire thereof, and proceed to redress the same.”

The next part may relate to the above or not, Tomlinson doesn’t clarify.

In the same year, upon a petition to the King in parliament by the inhabitants of Merskland in this county, and they of Axholme in Lincolnshire, shewing that whereas King Edward the Second, at suit of them the said inhabitants, suggesting that the river of Done, which is the division betwixt the said counties, where the course of the water had wont to be, as well as for the passage of ships from the town of Doncaster unto the river of Trent, as for the draining of adjacent lands, was obstructed by sea tides ; and thereupon gave commission John de Doncastre, and others, to clear the same, and reduce its ancient course. Which commissioners did accordingly cause a trench of xvi [16] feet and one grain of barley in breadth to be thereupon digged at the charge of the men of those parts, from a certain place called Crulleflet hill unto Denmyn ; and did thereby reduce that stream to its ancient course. And that since the said trench so digged there were bridges, flood-gates, and divers other obstructions, made anew in the said stream, so that it had not sufficient breadth, but that the passage of ships was hindered, and the adjacent grounds overflowed : he therefore constituted Roger de Newmarsh, Thomas de Levelannor, John de Ludington, and John de Rednesse his commissioners to remove those obstructions.”

These problems of water flow to stop flooding and removing obstructions for shipping against the needs of the local people for bridges, fords and fish garths continued into the reigns of Richard II (1377-1399) and Henry V (1413-1422). It became a problem also of the religious houses with land, in manors, and fishing interests here, namely the Abbeys of Selby and of Roche. Tomlinson gives more details on the same.

The name Great Mere refers seemingly to the mere closest by Thorne or may simply be a reference to times of great flooding when the waters merged, but an argument can be made for either. Martin Taylor (1987) in his excellent book Thorne Mere & The Old River Don tries to resolve the confusion of earlier map inaccuracies and the variable nature of place names, particularly the position of the Great Mere. He acknowledges there were at least three or more large meres in the area, all of which varied greatly in size depending on the amount of incoming water from rivers, rain or tides. He also notes that arms of the rivers could overflow and flood ground making temporary meres without changing the river course, which he cited to explain references, though unclear, to another mere at Tudworth. Specifically, Taylor tries to pin down which mere Leland was referring to on his journey from Thorne to Sandtoft at the Isle of Axholme. Leland who travelled the land collecting information for Henry VIII and passed through our area in 1538, did not collect as much information on our area as he might have, following Henry VIII Dissolution of the Monasteries which was particularly brutal in Doncaster. It can be seen from references further on, that Henry VIII was not given to mercy and forgiveness, executions were likely for anyone be they lords or earls if they opposed him. Prior Cooke was hanged for not accepting the King’s supremacy (in religion) and both the orders of the White Friars and the Grey Friars (both located in town) and Roche Abbey and the house of The Austin Friars, Tickhill were dissolved and their land and possessions seized. Depending on which commissioners were tasked with the dissolution order, it could lead to great variance in the manner and amount of destruction. Sometimes it was orderly and certain items the friars could keep, perhaps to give to a new Church of England church, in others there was pillaging and brutality.

Of Roche Abbey there exists an account of its destruction, on 23rd June 1538, by an eye-witness, Michael Sherbrook, a priest and rector from nearby Wickersley.

  “For the church was the first thing that was spoiled; then the abbot's lodging, the dormitory and refectory, with the cloister and all the buildings around, within the abbey walls,”

For nothing was spared except the ox-houses and swinecoates and other such houses or offices that stood outside the walls – these had greater favour shown to them than the church itself.”

This was done on the instruction of [Thomas] Cromwell, as Fox reports in his Book of Acts and Monuments”, “It would have pitied any heart to see the tearing up of the lead, the plucking up of boards and throwing down of the rafters. And when the lead was torn off and cast down into the church and the tombs in the church were all broken (for in most abbeys various noblemen and women were buried, and in some kings, but their tombs were no more regarded than those of lesser persons, for to what end should they stand when the church over them was not spared for their cause) and all things of value were spoiled, plucked away or utterly defaced, those who cast the lead into fodders plucked up all the seats in the choir where the monks sat when they said service.”

Sherbrook continued “These seats were like the seats in minsters; they were burned and the lead melted, although there was plenty of wood nearby, for the abbey stood among the woods and the rocks of stone,” “Pewter vessels were stolen away and hidden in the rocks, and it seemed that every person was intent upon filching and spoiling what he could. Even those who had been content to permit the monks' worship and do great reverence at their matins, masses and services two days previously were no less happy to pilfer, which is strange, that they could one day think it to be the house of God and the next the house of the Devil - or else they would not have been so ready to have spoiled it.” (Wikipedia)

The Austin Friars account is thus:

Richard Robinson, the prior, gave evidence respecting the relations of the prior of the Austin Friars of Grimsby with the rebels in 1536. He and seven brethren gave up the house to Sir George Lawson and his fellow commissioners, 19th November 1538. The goods, including a clock and a pair of old organs, were sold for £5 1s. 8d. Of this sum £2 10s. was distributed to the friars. The lead (80 or 90 fother on the roofs of the various buildings), two bells in the bell tower, and two chalices weighing 16 oz. were reserved. The demesne lands consisted of 9 or 10 acres of orchard, meadow and pasture, and about 46 acres of arable land: all these lands, the collector of rents noted in 1539, are let to John Robinson by indenture under the common seal of the late priory for sixty years at a rent of 53s. 4d. Further, the friars owned in the town of Tickhill an acre of arable land at the lime kiln in the South Field, given by Christopher Norris about 1528, and a cottage in Westgate as well as a very considerable property in Newton on Derwent, which was let to tenants of the priory for 108s. a year. The total annual rent amounted to £8 6s. 2d. (Wikipedia). A fother of lead was a long ton of 2240 lbs or 1016 kg, though this could vary.

Therefore, Leland did not pursue his ecclesiastical interests as fully here as usual. I have included the bit just before also, about Hatfield.

From Cunisborow a to Dancaster a 3. miles by fruteful ground. From Dancaster to Heathfeld b by champayn sandy ground a 5. miles. There is a faire paroch chirch in the village ; and a parke therby. The logge or manor place is but meanely buildid of tymber. The quarters about Heatfeld be forest ground, and though wood be scars there yet there is great plentie of red deere, that haunt the fennes and the great mores thereabout, as to Axholm warde and Thurne village. The lordship of Heatfeld sumtyme longgid to the Lord Mowbray. From Heatfeld to Thurne village c 2. miles passing over an arme of Dune. By the chyrch garth of Thurne is a praty pile or castelet wel dikid, now usid for a prison for offenders in the forestes, but sumtyme longging to the Mulbrays as Thurne did. The ground al about Thurne is other playn, more or fenne.”

[* So Ckarfoy added in Leland's MS. since Stow copied it. He has not these words.]

Key: a Conisbrough. b Hatfield, Yorks. Thorne. (Archive Stream.org)

From Conisbrough to Doncaster 3 miles by fruitful ground [good farmland]. From Doncaster to Hatfield by champayn? [stony] sandy ground 5 miles. There is a fair parish church ; and a park thereby. The lodge or manor is but meanly built of timber. The quarters about Hatfield are forest ground, and though wood is scarce there yet there is a great plenty of Red Deer, that haunt the fens and great moors thereabouts, as to Axholme ward and Thorne village. The lordship of Hatfield at one time belonging to the Lord Mowbray. From Hatfield to Thorne village about 2 miles passing over an arm of the Dun. By the church garth of Thorne is a pretty pile or small castle [Peel Hill] well diked [with moat], now used for a prison for offenders in the forest, but sometime ago belonged to the Mulbrays as Thorne did. The ground all about Thorne is other plain [flat], moor or fen.”

Leland then wrote “From Thurne, by water, to a great lake caulled the Mere, almost a mile over, a mile or more. This mere is full of good fische and fowle. From the Mere by water to Wrangton Cote a 3 miles in a small gut or lode. All this way from the Mere to Wrangton the water berith the name of the Brier. The ground there is very fenni on both sides. From Wrangton to…….? where I came on land in the Isle of Axholme about a mile: so that from Wrangton thither the water is called the Idille; yet it is the very same water that the Bryer ys and of certente Idille is the ancient name.” Note: the miles used by Leland were 6600 feet (10 furlongs) not the later fixed length of 8 furlongs.”

From Thorne, by water, to a great lake called the [Great] Mere [or Newflete], almost a mile, a mile or more. This mere is full of good fish and fowl. From the mere by water to Wrangton Cote is 3 miles in a small gut or lode [a creek or channel, probably tidal]. All this way from the mere to Wrangton the water bears the name of the Brier. The ground there is very much fen on both sides. From Wrangton to [Sandtoft] where I came on land about a mile into the Isle of Axholme: so that from Wrangton where the water is called the Idle; yet it is the very same water that the Brier is and its certain that Ile is the ancient name.”

Taylor concludes convincingly that Leland was talking of the mere known as Newflete and that the first part of Leland’s journey from Thorne must have been on the north arm of the eastern River Don arms, contrary to Vermuyden’s notes on his map below showing southern arm from Thurmere. The fact that Leland did not say the name of the mere he crossed, perhaps because he was not sure which he was on, is telling, Vermuyden, reasonably assuming he set out by boat from Thurmere rather than Newflete. It is quite possible therefore that he had not seen the still larger mere hard against Thorne (Thurmere or Thorne Mere or Great Mere) as shown on Vermuyden’s map.

That this area was subject to tidal inundation there can be no doubt, and all the area around here was later warped using the tides, that is, covered by human intervention by a thick layer of tidal silts, to over 1 m. The rivers of the area were known to be tidal even as far as Bawtry, which once boasted a port.

That great floods happened is stated by De la Pryme; From Haxey (Isle of Axholme) to Bearswood Green, Hatfield (still on today’s maps) was of a continuous lake, communication from one distant patch of dry land to another having to be undertaken by boat. The type of boats were 40 tonne keels with a single mast, very similar to Viking and Anglo-Saxon boats (Byford). And “Large boats laden with xx [20] quarters of corn usually passed over from the river Idle to Trent bank ; men also rowing with lesser boats to look swans over all parts of it ; and in like sort over Star Carr and Axholme Carr ; insomuch that there was no less than sixty thousand acres thus overflowed by the same great waters.” “The surface of this entire district was broken and irregular peat moors alternating with sandy knolls, pools and lakes.” Pryme states “There were in King Charles ye 1st days, and long before, 15 Manours bordering upon ye Levels of Hatfield Chaise, all in ye King’s own hands, which Escheated unto him upon ye acts of forfeiture and rebellion by those that formerly owned them. In ye midst of all which was a great leavel of 90,000 acres of land, or thereabouts, a continual lake and rendezvous of ye waters of all ye country round, because that ye Idle, ye Torn, ye Dun, ye Went, ye Air, and ye Trent did flow therein-ye 1st by Luddington, ye last [last but one, namely the River Aire] by Turnbridge, to ye great distruction, impoverishment and ruin of ye neighbouring country, and ye keeping of it perpetually poor, so that neither Epworth, nor Croul nor Thorn, were market towns. Yet in ye sayd Levels were several hills, called Lindholm, Bradholm, Tudworth, Hains, Middlings and others, which with ye neighbourghing highlands had a great chase of Red Deer upon them, which did a prodigious deal of mischief to ye country. And then furder, ye forrest laws were so strict that ye people were almost in a state of absolute slavery ; [although] his majesty permitted ye inhabitants for certain fees and upon certain conditions to have common.”

The waters could be up to 6 meters deep with only isolated patches of slightly higher ground. The size of the area quoted is roughly the entire size of the chase, of which we know the boundaries. In drier times when it was not one continuous lake the area was said to be scattered with islands of dry ground, these were nearly all sand and gravel moraine left by the icesheets, but much of it blown into mounds forming higher ground. The main bogs of the area were in descending size Thorne Moors, Hatfield Moors and many smaller outliers, most of which did not survive, though parts of Epworth and Haxey Turbary do remain. The depth of peat on the bogs was up to 20 feet (6 metres) deep but in other areas very shallow. Around the blackwater peat pools there may be “small clumps of stunted birch trees, which draw scanty nourishment from the peat, whilst here and ther a single tree, shews by a more luxuriant foliage, that its roots have reached the soil below”. (Casson)

There was also at least one natural spring in the area, located between the moors that was made into a public baths, the area still has the same name today but there is no longer a spring. Casson says.

The Wike Well, Is a public bath belonging to the town ; it was encircled with a high wall about the year 1763. The spring inside is walled round and flagged, there is a descent of stone steps to it, and it has the accommodation of a dressing room, with a fire place in it ; but from intense coldness of the water, this bath is seldom used, and is now very much dilapidated and out of repair. The spring affords a plentiful supply of water, which is used by the people living in its neighbourhood for domestic purposes. It does not possess any medicinal properties ; The water is, however, so much impregnated with mineral substances, as to be rendered very hard. (1829.)

The Wike Well was suffered to be filled up many years ago.”

The only other spring is on the very edge of our area at Askern. The place is Askern Lake Park.

The origin of the Chase is probably Saxon in date, as noted earlier, King Cnut stated what his royal chase meant sometime in his rule between 1016-1035 and the area of Hatfield Chase was in his possession and always known for its great numbers of Red Deer, may have been one such designated area. Of course, areas exclusively for the king’s game then were not yet known as chases, so while it can be inferred that it was in all but name, we do not know with all certainty. Later when it was defined the Saxon ‘chase’ was supposed to be 160,000 acres or more (180,000 acres Pryme in Tomlinson) which it appeared to be following the Norman Conquest, it was a huge area of land, that included the whole of the Isle of Axholme as well, stretching from Selby in the NW, Askern in the W and to Sandall across E to Gainsborough with the remaining sides made up of the rivers Ouse~Humber in N and Trent in E. There were in latter times links with Selby Abbey. So, it can be seen, the area of chase land varied over the centuries but included that that was always inundated which was an area of not less than 60,000 acres (27,270 ha) and the waters were commonly of up to 1m in depth even in summer (Casson). There were 68 forests (places of Red or introduced Fallow Deer) in Norman times and ours was the largest of the 13 Royal Chases or forests in the land then. The chase was increased again later by Henry VIII in 1539 following his dissolution of the monasteries, when he added the confiscated monastic lands of Armthorpe and Crowle. In its last iteration it was about 70,000ha.

P.6 The Bounders of Hatfield Chase, with Henry VIII additions of Armthorpe and Crowle confiscated lands (Byford, but digitally redone)

This area was prone to inundation to varying depths with fresh water and on high tides salt water could enter most of the area but would be diluting as it spread. At its centre lay the Humberhead Peatlands two huge peatlands of Thorne and Hatfield Moors, which seem always to have been separate. A chase was an unfenced royal hunting ground (as opposed to a fenced deer park) over which forest law dictated which game belonged to the king (generally Red Deer) and which game the public were allowed to hunt, which was often only ducks and rabbits, but restrictions varied and sometimes the public could not take any game, fowl or fish. A chase did not mean that royalty necessarily owned the land (though they might) the land was held in the same way as the rest of the country, either by the king, privately and let to tenants or as common land. Most often it was in the hands of usually one lord of the manor. Being designated a royal chase merely gave the king the exclusive rights to specified game in that area. Hatfield Chase also included much common land, church land, and waters with fishing rights. The chase boundaries were defined and marked by recognisable natural features or marked stones, perhaps with a heraldic cross. This was reasserted every year by a walking of the boundaries by the sheriffs of the forest in what was called a preamble.

At times, as in the 14th century, there was also Hatfield Great Park, a park being an enclosure for non-native Fallow Deer (also let loose on the chase) brought over by the Normans or maybe Roe Deer. Hatfield Park enclosed an area of 500 acres located near Edenthorpe (Casson) between Edenthorpe and Hatfield. The Lings was one part of it. Of the two native deer Roe Deer could not easily be enclosed as they can easily jump 10 feet, and Red Deer were for the chase. In 1670 we know the tenant of the park was Francis Simpson. There were two smaller parks present up to the fourteenth century, Ashfield Park and Haye Park. Haye denoted a small park (Byford).

Deer numbers for the chase are known for the year 1615-1616 with Red Deer being 677 alive and 534 dead. Fallow Deer were 1755 alive and 1365 dead. The dead must refer to the numbers legally taken in the year (Byford). So, it is clear that from the Norman introduction times Fallow Deer had become probably the most important deer here.

Other royal game included Mute Swan Cygnus olor in particular amongst birds; any bird without a mark of an owner (notches scratched on its bill) was by default property of the king, however this applied throughout the land and not just in areas designated as chases. The king would employ swanniers through the lords to look after his swans and take any unmarked ones. In 1607 anyone who brought an unmarked swan to the manor’s swannier could receive payment of 12p from the Steward of the Manor Court. In Hatfield manor the king’s swans were marked with three notches across the bill and two longways. For comparison, The Vintner’s Company (a wine trader still going today) in this area used two diagonal nicks.

Looking at other landscape features the larger areas of high ground had names. Principal of these of course were the towns whose names suggest their origins; Thorne being higher ground with thorns and Hatfield being on sand was a heath and Wroot. Other high ground was found between the two southern arms of the Don and was called Midlings, and just about all farms and settlements were located on sandy knolls of glacial origin. Lindholme Island was the main one, but there is also Tudworth, Hains (Haynes) Hill and Bradholm. Even to the north of Thorne moors was a rotten waste of ‘fenny and morische ground’ according to Vermuyden and when much later this area was in turn warped and cultivated all the farms on these Goole Fields were located on the higher, drier less fertile sandy knolls (James Hinchliffe pers. comms.). Rawcliffe is such a village, and the name refers to Roe as in deer. Further east beyond the meres the rivers south of Hatfield Moors flowed east and merged, these being the River Torne and from the south the River Idle. These two small rivers then joined the southern Don which here was of just one arm again and the whole flowed north to another hill town, on the extreme isolated north tip of Isle of Axholme, of Crowle and then north again to Eastoft. All this low ground just west of the River Trent was all marshland and open water, so that the Isle of Axholme was a proper island which could only be reached by boat. Crops were grown on seasonally dry ground, but not in as large quantity as other areas, and they suffered heavily from destruction by not only flooding but the vast numbers of deer, which could not be harmed. Crops were watched at night to scare deer away, but many simply gave up on cultivation and instead hunted and fished and fowled, often poaching at night to avoid being caught. Venison on the table of locals was said to be as common as mutton in other parts, though if caught they would be fined.

Just prior to the drainage period an important law was passed to help the poor. The Poor Law acts came in 1598 and 1601. The poor of a parish became its responsibility, and this was to be paid for by the Poor Rate which was to be included in rents. The able poor of this area were given the work of digging peat turves for sale. The women and children dug them in the summer and the men transported them by boat in winter. “When the harvest is over, the men bring them in small boats from the moors, down the canals and drains made by the undertakers of the drainage, into the river Don, through Thorne Sluice, and put them on board keels and other small vessels, which carry them to market to York, Selby, Leeds, Wakefield, Hull, Gainsborough, Lincoln, &C where they have ready sale for them.” (Stovin) 

Agriculture then, particularly arable was a precarious endeavour, even livestock husbandry could be difficult in extreme floods for lack of higher ground pasture and rents were very poor averaging just 4 pence per acre, and 2 pence was the worst of which there was much. The Royal Survey of the Manor of Hatfield 1607 by the Earl of Salisbury found half the livestock in the area was cattle, which included oxen for the plough, although poor people used their milk cows for ploughing also. The area was important in the leather trade, oak bark was harvested for tanning. Many (65%) had horses and most had pigs for domestic use. Only a quarter had sheep and few had many. Geese, ducks and hens were also kept again mainly for domestic purposes. Most of the grazing lands lay on the sandy grounds in the west or on the wet grounds of the north. Arable did account for half the wealth, but it was mostly as hay. Barley and Rye were the next most important, followed a long way behind by wheat and oats. Legumes, hemp and flax were on a small scale, mainly as cottage industry crops (Byford). Ports were at Thorne, Bawtry and Doncaster, Pennine goods such as salt and cheese passed through Saltersbrook to here and on to the coast and down to London. Peat turves were exported mainly to York. Hatfield Manor farmland was found to be 5,456 acres divided as follows: 609 arable, 398 pasture, 254 meadow, 372 multi-use. It found 213 tenants had use of the peat moors and 13 held marshland. 45 had holdings beyond the [Thorne] Mere of meadows and pasture. Of the turbaries 19 had buildings on them. It was found by the survey that many owners were dishonest about how much land they held (tax evasion). Also included then were Fishlake and Sykehouse which showed returns of 1,311 acres of which 525 acres were meadow, 671 were pasture. The whole Hatfield Manor then was of 38,000 acres (most was royal chase), which shows how little was regularly farmed, but given the small population it also showed agriculture was an important enterprise. The marginal lands and commons, of which there was much was used by 230 inhabitants mostly from Thorne which had less arable, this included the peat moors of which 213 tenants had rights. The results of this survey meant land rents were increased by six times and all other costs increased too.

Woodland was much cleared in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, so while there was much forest left in the area, in the west and south principally, the areas of woodland were much the same until early Victorian times, but by then had contracted. Peat turves were being cut in great quantities from the fourteenth century and exported by boat, mainly to York. This cleared ground then had the underlying silt or clay substrate farmed, so by degrees the edges of the mires were being progressively and methodically eaten away (Byford).

CHRONOLOGY OF THE LORD OF THE MANOR OF HATFIELD LINE OF SUCCESSION & OTHER MAJOR INFLUENCES expanded. This expands on what is known about the list of people and major events given before.

Note that the de Warenne, Earls of Surrey were the Earls of Conisbrough, and this included the Manor of Hatfield.

King William I (William the Conqueror) c.1028-1087 (1066 to 1087). Defeated King Harold and won the crown of England in Battle of Hastings 1066. Technically owned the chase. Through the feudal system he introduced he was the single landowner of all the land. Everyone else ‘owned’ land by his grace only, as a fief, and if they fell from grace all could be relinquished. He gave the soke of Conisbrough that included Hatfield Chase to William de Warenne, whom he had already made the Earl of Surrey. This line continued for many years, but the de Warrens were not all related since some took on the name upon marrying a de Warrene widow. This was the case with William I Count of Boulogne and Hamelin and from then on. The eastern adjoining manors that made up the whole of the Isle of Axholme (Epworth, Belton, Haxey, Owston, Crowle, Althorpe, Luddington, Burnham and Lound) were given to Geoffrey de (Guerche) Wirce 1040-1100 lord of Isle of Axholme.

William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey -1088/9 who was made earl by William the Conqueror after fighting alongside at Battle of Hastings was from Normandy and was from his command in battles a favourite of William the Conqueror, as can be seen from his rewards of land of Surrey, Lewes (Sussex) and Conisbrough and Carletune and Benington in Lincolnshire, and Chirkland, Broomfield and Yale. He also married the conqueror’s daughter Gundred, thus gaining even more manors. In his time, we find that within a radius of three miles of Hatfield there were 20 fisheries, of Eels mainly, each taking 1000 annually, so equalling 20,000.

William after the conquest, having bought off the Danes, who had come at the invitation of Northumbria, took single vengeance upon the whole territory in 1070, for its insurrection, slaughtering, burning and laying waste the whole district. No one who was caught, man, woman or child was spared, all being put to death. Other sources say Hatfield manor being given to one of William’s favourites was totally spared this purge of ‘Harrying the North’. So, following the conquest, it seems Hatfield enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity, as De la Pryme tells us “From ye aforesaid time [Norman Conquest] unto ye year 1266 the town of Hatfield enjoyed a confirmed series of halcionian days of pease and quietness, no one making noise or disturbance in ye same.” However, this quietness was of a much-reduced population, the remainder of whom feared the new masters. Pryme continues “Hatfield, however, standing high and dry above the junction of rivers, and near the main thoroughfares north and south, would possess recuperative means, so that, early in the 13th century, it would again nurture a busy human population.”

Drogo de Beurere at the time of the first earl, he was a large landowner also in Thorne with two carucates of land that were taxed.

William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey -1138 had his English lands taken from him but later they were restored. His wife was Isabel, daughter of Hugh, earl of Vermandois.

William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Surrey 1119-1148 was with Stephen, King of England at Battle of Normany. Wife was Adela, daughter of Robert, earl of Belesme.

Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey -1203 only surviving heir to 3rd earl’s estate which she gained.

William de Warenne, I Count of Boulogne, ? Earl of Surrey c. 1137–1159 Isabel’s first husband, younger son of King Stephen of England. Who by right took the title and lands, she remarried after his death. Isabel was already Countess and William took the surname, so though an Earl, wasn’t of the same line.

Henry II took possession of the lordship from 1159 (following the 3rd earl’s death) until 1163.

Hamelin de Warenne, 4th Earl of Surrey -1202, natural half-brother of King Henry II, and Isabel’s second husband, illegitimate son of Geoffrey of Anjou. He took the name de Warenne after his marriage. Built Conisbrough Castle. He survived Isabel and was allowed to keep the manor until his death four years later.

William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Surrey 1160-70?-1240 is listed as one of those barons who advised King John to accede to Magna Carta (1215). Also established Salisbury Cathedral. Later opposed the king. First wife was Maud, daughter of Arundel. His second wife also Maud daughter of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke.

  • Magna Carta (1215) mainly shifted power from the king to parliament, and also made royals subject to law not above it.

  • First Barons' War (1215–1217) against King John for not abiding to the Magna Carta, which he signed.

  • Simon de Montfort 1208-1265 Lord of Isle of Axholme who opposed King Henry III from his stronghold of Kenelworth Castle on the banks of the Trent, Prince Edward was sent to thwart him.

John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey 1231–1304 During the Second Barons' War (1st 1215-1217, 2nd 1264-1267) he switched sides twice (between king and Simon de Montfort) ending up in support of the king, for whose capture he was present at Lewes in 1264. He had his lands confiscated upon the capture of the king and fled to the continent, but had his lands restored and returned. He fought William Wallace at the Battle of Stirlng Bridge and lost and fled to York. Later he retook Berwick and was with the king in the decisive Battle of Falkirk, where they were victorious.

John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, Earl of Strathearn 1286-1347 Opposed the kings (Edward II 1284-1327) favourite Piers Gaveston I Earl of Cornwall but later returned to the king’s side and took on the war against the barons, and as a consequence the estate was given to him by the king. On 13th May 1346, shortly before the earl’s death Queen Philippa passed the estate to the Monastery of Roch (Roche Abbey) and its 13 monks. The barons were led by Thomas 2nd Earl of Lancaster, whose wife Warenne abducted in 1317. Later, as a consequence he had his Hatfield manor destroyed by rebelling nobility led by Simon de Montfort.

  • Second Barons’ War (1264-1267) against King Henry III sought fairer rule. Led by Simon de Montfort.

De la Pryme tells us “Then the Barons’ War being hot, and those that took against the king growing weak, were all of them disinherited by particular order from his majesty King Henry ye Third. This so irritated and enraged great numbers of them that they fled into ye Isle of Axholme, bordering upon this parish, fortifyd themselves, and made excursions from out of ye same into all ye country round about that would not take part with them, utterly destroying ye same. It does not appear by history that this town then suffer’d, but nevertheless it is very probable that it did, for John Earl of Warren (6th), the then lord thereof, was on ye kings side, and they [the disaffected barons] made sure to destroy the manors of all those that sided not with them : and besides it appears that they were so strong that they took and sack’d ye citty of Lincoln.”

We are told that Prince Edward was sent to “Destroy the viper’s nest’ of the Isle of Axholme, but that it was ‘no easy matter to dislodge the male-contents from a place so strongly fortifyed both by art and nature.”

Tomlinson adds as a footnote, about how feuding barons would always seek revenge on ‘property and retainers’ and gives the tale about Alice de Lacy below.

Roger de Mowbray, 1st Baron Mowbray 1254-1297 had a castle at his manor the Isle of Axholme. This Kinnaird or Kinnard Castle was besieged by King Henry II men in 1174 where Roger was holding out. Had his rights as lord forfeited.

Thomas 2nd Earl of Lancaster, Leister, Derby, Lincolnshire, Salisbury c.1278-1322 following the abduction of his wife by John de Warenne (7th earl), there followed a private war which resulted in Hatfield being destroyed by Thomas.

Alice de Lacy 1281-1348. Pryme describes her abduction “On Monday before Ash-Wednesday, in ye year 1317, Alice wife of Thomas [2nd] Earl of Lancaster, Lord High Steward of England, was rudely and violently seized upon (tho’ not without her consent, who was a very wicked woman) by a certain knight of ye family of John [7th] Earl of Warren, the then Ld of this manour of Hatfield (and it was this knight did it not without this earl’s command) ; but as they were carrying her away to ye Earl of Warren’s Castle at Rygate, in the passage amongst ye hedges and woods between Holton and Ferham, they suddenly saw on ye side of them beyond some hedges a great many banners and streamers which struck them with such terror – imagining that it was ye earl or some of his retinue that were comeing to rescue ye lady- that down they set her all of a suddain, and fled as fast as they could. But perceiveing their error as they fled (the sight they saw being nothing but ye people of ye neighbouring town going about ye fields in procession, with banners and streamers, as ye custom was in them days), they returned again, and with them a crooked knight whose name was Sir Richard de St. Martin, who having taken ye lady up did with wonderful impudence challeng ye sayd lady for his wife, affirming that she was marryd to him before she was marryd to ye earl, which she freely acknowledgd to be true ; and what did he, but having thus got possession of her, he became so insolent as in a short while after to claim in ye King’s Court ye Earldom of Lincoln and Salisbury, tho’ without effect. The Earl of Lancaster being then in ye north, and having heard of all those insolencys, and how that ye Earl of Warren did with ye aforesaid knight defaim his wife at Rigate aforesaid, he was so enraged, thereat, that gathering an army of his tenants about him, he fell furiously upon ye manours and possessions of ye Earl of Warren in Yorkshire, took his castle of Sandal and Wakefield, rifled, plundered, and demolished the same, then fell upon this town of Hatfield, plundered it, wasted it, drove away the inhabitants, slew others, and then setting fire to ye same departed, served all ye earl’s manours and possessions so on ye west of Trent. This vexed ye Earl of Warren exceedingly, but what ye consequence thereof, or how these two great enemys were reconciled does not appear in history. [Edward the Second, by a writ dated Nov. 13th, 1317, commanded the Earl of Lancaster to desist from the attack. Tomlinson] However we find that the Earl of Lancaster would never look at his lady after, but divorced her, and left her to him that had taken possession of her.”

Upon her husband’s capture and execution, the king confiscated nearly all her considerable lands and gave a life lease to de Warrene of some. She had a very turbulent life and was later abducted again, raped and imprisoned twice as well as having her lands confiscated and restored several times.

Sir John (I) de Mowbray 2nd Baron 1286-1322 Lord of Isle of Axholme and Hatfield, He fought the king’s army at the Battle of Boroughbridge (1322), Yorkshire, for which act he was captured, tried and hanged at York. Alexander de Mowbray 1288- born at Epworth.

  • In 1356 Edward Balliol, ex-king of Scotland was at Wheatley, Doncaster and enjoyed himself with sporting on the chase. The Foedera (a book) gives an account of game he killed for which the king pardoned him. “Sixteen hinds, eight stags, six does, three calves and six kids. At Hatfield Park, where Fallow Deer were kept; eight damas, one souram, and one sourellum. In the ponds two pikes of three-and-a-half feet in length, three of three feet in length, twenty of two-and-a-half feet, fifty pickerels of one-and-a-half feet, six of one foot, one hundred and nine Perch, Roach, Tench and Skelys (Salmon), with six Breams and breamettes.” He was excused by King Edward II for hunting on his chase without prior consent.

Sir John (II) de Mowbray 3rd Baron 1310-1361 Lord of Isle of Axholme and Hatfield, only Hatfield area was a royal chase under forest law though. He was often a rebel who was twice imprisoned in the Tower of London. Took possession in 1327 when Edward III 1312-1377 took the crown. He later played a major role in the War of the Roses. John granted his commons, 13,400 acres, in a Deed of 31st May 1359 to the commoners forever provided they ‘Shall not approve (improve) any waste, moor, woods, waters, nor make any manner of approvement of any part within the said Isle of Axholme.’ The deed was apparently written in order to settle disputes between the Socmanni who held commoners rights, because Mowbray had approved (improved) part of the common for his own use and the commoners were anxious he took no more for himself. The deed covered 13,400 acres of common land. However future disputes over land allocation after the drainage said the land was not the commoners as it had been forfeited due to the first baron Roger de Mowbray in the 2nd Barons War by betrayal (1264-1267) when he fought the king’s forces at the Battle of Boroughbridge, Yorkshire, for which act he was captured, tried and hanged at York. These commoners were all but one now French; Rawlyn of Burnham, William of Burnham, Roger of Burnham, John of Thetilthorpe, Thomas Melton, Geoffrey Lundels, Vincent Bavant, John Gardner, Richard of Belwood and John at Hagh. The sole Saxon was John Cutwulf. The deed allowed all his tenants these rights ‘he gives them privilege to dig in the said moors and marshes turf, trees, and roots found within the soil of the said moors and marshes ; to dig turf for the walls of their houses, and to enclose the walls of their messuages or mansions ; to dry flags in all the wastes, for to cover the ridges of their houses and walls, and to bring trees to repair the river of Trent, when cause of repairing is, and to make them new.’ He also granted them the further privilege of putting their hemp to be rated in the waters of the said waste, except in the Skiers, a place in the parish of Haxey, which was reserved for the use of the said Lord ; and that those who, by their tenure, were bound to enclose the Lord’s woods, might take underwood from certain places for that purpose. He further grants them the privilege of keeping dogs, free from the molestation of his servants ; exempts them from the penalty for not appearing to ring their swine ; and ordains that the chase of beasts of commoners be made only once a year ; and that none of the tenants should be amerced for trespass, when impeached by the minister of the said Lord, without answer given in court ; and “then by their peers to be fined if they are amerceable.” (Stonehouse). The king insisted, anyway, he had the right in any case to overturn any right or law he pleased to. The original deed is in French, which had since the conquest become the official language. In reality most people didn’t speak French or try to learn it, it being a reserve of the upper-classes and nobility and law. In court it caused endless problems as the common people couldn’t understand anything. In time courts were ordered to be conducted in English only. The commoners were initially offered 6,000 acres after drainage, which they totally rejected claiming the whole. The total of drained land under Vermuyden’s scheme was 73,515 acres which was to be split into thirds (24,505) for the king, Vermuyden and the commoners of the Hatfield Chase. The matter dragged on and they were further awarded 1,000 acres of Haxey Common and also Epworth South Moor and Butterwick Moor. They were furthermore given £400 stock of hemp as a compensation industry for lost fishing and fowling to earn money. This still did not satisfy them, and they continued to insist their land wasn’t to have been improved at all and the drainage scheme only should have allowed a few drains through their land from the chase. During the Civil Wars (1642-1651) this dissatisfaction with the king amongst other reasons meant they took the side of the Parliamentarian Roundheads. This included local lords including of Epworth and Misterton who had destroyed the manors in favour of the king resulting in over £2,000 of damage. They also destroyed houses and even in 1642 a church. Sir Ralph Hansby was a Royalist sent against the Parliamentarians of the Isle who destroyed the Snow Sewer on the Trent, they said to stop him but also because the Participants of the drainage had never paid the award they were due. The Parliamentarians here number two companies of foot (495 men) Epworth at this time had 1110 Commoners with rights. It was following this that Nodell employed Lieutenant-Colonel John Lilburne and Major John Wildman who were to play large roles, more details below.

P.7 The Isle of Axholme Pre-Drainage (Korthals-Altes)

Reverted to the Crown (Edward II) between 1322 to 1327 and basically retained after his reign by the crown until the drainage. Certain people were given the estates as fiefs with various titles such as Head Keeper, but they were not lords in the true sense. So, the chase along with its common lands apparently reverted to the crown due to a forfeiture of lands. At this time the total number of people at ‘villa de Haytefeld’ (Hatfield) over sixteen living there was 123 all small husbandmen or labourers. Doncaster had 760 adults but that was more than Sheffield.

Queen Philippa of Hainault 1310-1369 wife of King Edward III gave birth to a son at Hatfield after leaving the king at war in Scotland. Prince William of Hatfield died shortly following birth in 1336.

It is no small honour unto this town, and to this at present old ruined pallace, that it had ye happiness to have ye son of one of ye greatest kings that ever sat on ye English thrown born here. For when ye valiant and famous Edward ye 3rd was carrying on his warrs against ye Scots, his loving Queen Philippa (who was daughter to William Earl of Hanault, and sister’s daughter to Phillip, King of France) would not stay behind, but attended him in all his dangers. But at length, finding herself somewhat great with child, shee desired leave of ye king to return by easy marches unto London, who having most willingly granted her request, shee set forwards with a great retinue. She fell sick by ye way, and having got to Doncaster shee caused her self to be carryd to ye king’s next adjoining palace, which was this of Hatfield, where shee remained sick and weakly several months, and at last was brought to bed of a young prince, which she called William after her father’s name, and de Hatfield of ye place where it was born ; which when notice thereof was sent to the king, he was short enough, for within a few weeks after he received ye unhappy newse that ye prince was dead, who was carryd to York and buryed there in great solemnity ; and the Queen out of blind zeal and unsound divinity and faith, granted and gave unto ye neighbouring Abbot of Roch (that had a cell in Dunscroft near this town) 5 marks a year, for to pray ye soul of this her son, not considering either ye vanity of praying for ye dead, or the folly of praying for those who never committed any actual sin after baptism. The campain being ended on ye borders of Scotland, by reason of ye Access of winter, ye king hasted down unto this place with John Ld Archbishop of Canterbury, and several more of his nobles, to visit ye queen, and having condoled with her for her loss, and perceived that shee was in a fair way of recovery, and even almost well, after having spent a few days in ye Chase they all departed (with the queen amongst them) to London, where they happily arrived about ye latter end of November.”

King Edward III 1312-1377 on returning from his battles in Scotland (with John Archbishop of Canterbury) came to Hatfield in 1336 to collect his wife who had just given birth. Whilst here he hunted on the chase.

William of Hatfield 1336 born here to King Edward III and Queen Philippa but died a few weeks after.

  • The Great Famine 1315-17

  • The Plague a series of infections in 1349, 1389 which eventually reduced the population of the land from 4 million to about half a million.

Reverted to the Crown Henry VI 1421-1471. (ruled 1422 – deposed 1461) in 1460 the private chase became a Royal Forest and remained so until the 1626 drainage. Lords of the manor or head keepers were still in place but they were not the owners.

Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham, 6th Earl of Stafford, 7th Baron Stafford, 1402-1460 had Hatfield manor granted to him by Henry VI but was killed soon after at the Battle of Northampton.

  • War of the Roses (1455-1487) was fought between the House of Lancaster and House of York and the former were victorious leading Edward IV to the throne.

Edward IV, Edward V.

King Henry VII (1457-1509) 1461 to 1509 passed through Doncaster in 1486.

King Henry VIII 1491-1547 the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541) was enacted by the king to remove Catholic power and wealth (the king had to pay annual tributes to the Catholic Church) which the king believed was becoming more powerful than himself and replace it with the new The Church of England which he formed. It would also enable him to get divorced. The king seized the church possessions and lands, including Roche Abbey who owned Hatfield Manor and sold it to adventurers (businessmen). At this time, it’s tythes were worth £3000 per annum and the vicar was paid £249 per annum. Alternatively, he gave ecclesiastical land to favourites in lots of ten, fifteen or twenty, which together made farms. This is told by Tomlinson from his paper, ‘The Etymology of our District’.

“Whatever we may think about the motives impelling Henry the Eighth to destroy monastic rule, the effects of such a radical measure as the dissolution of religious houses could not be otherwise than temporarily disastrous. There were vital dependencies and clerical administrations of religious property which affected a great number of persons. Men under pious influence, or to atone, as they thought, for sins, gave portions of their land to the church, which lands were usually divided into small allotments, so as to encourage industry, the monks taking out rents in kind ; thus the spiritual and the temporal were mutually helpful, and there was no schism in the body politic. After the convents were dissolve, and the property was sold to adventurers, or given to royal favourites (often strangers to the neighbourhood) those owners let their newly acquired lands to dependants of their own, putting ten, fifteen or twenty lots into one farm ; so that all local ties were ruthlessly snapped, the church was robbed, and the people suffered, at least for a time. The persons evicted from their little holdings fraternised with the monks, and a great but undisciplined mob (of 40,000 against Royalists 5000. Tomlinson 1875) assembled on Scawsby-lees, north of Doncaster.”

King James I 1603-1625

Speed a contemporary who favoured the king noted.

“Their pretence was religion, and defence of holy church, their banners painted with the five wounds of our Lord, the Challice, the Cake, and other like inventions of Rome, and upon their sleeves was writ the name of the Lord : and so forward and fervent were they in their proceedings, that this their attempt must be termed the Holy Pilgrimage.”

This army – if so it may be termed – observed the following oath: – “Ye shall not enter into this your Pilgrimage of Grace for the commonwealth only, but for the love that you do beare to God’s faith and the church militant, and the maintenance thereof, and the preservation of the king’s person and his issue, and the purifying of nobility, and to the intent to expresse all villaines bloud and evil counsellours against the commonwealth, from his grace, and the prive counsel of the same. And that yee shall not enter into this our said pilgrimage for no particular profit to your selves, nor doe any displeasure to any private person, but by the counsell of the common wealth, ne to murder or sley for any envy, but in your heart to put away all fere fro the common wealth, and to take before you the crosse of Christ, and in your hearts his faith, to the restitution of God’s church, and to the suppression of erroneous opinions.

God Save the King.”

This was the start of the movement the Pilgrimage of Grace which De la Pryme tells us of in this area.

In ye year of our lord 1536, being the 28th year of King Henry ye 8th, there was nothing but dreadfull noise of warr and blood shed in ye town of Hatfield, all was up in arms by particular command from ye king, all stood upon their guard, all talk of nothing but warr, as if nothing had a name but it. The occasion of all which hurly burly and stir was a great rebellion raised in ye north against ye king for having pull’d down the religious houses. They [the insurgents] were at least 50,000 strong, and were advanced from ye north as far as ye antient town of Doncaster, upon the River Don, four or five miles from Hatfield : at which place they were met by ye king’s army that was raised against them, commanded by ye Duke of Norfolk, ye Earl of Shrewsbury, ye Earl of Huntingdon, ye Earl of Rutland, and ye Marquis of Exeter, who immediately sent some thousands of men, commanded by old captains, to Hatfield, Stanforth and other places to secure and keep ye fords and ways over the Don, to hinder ye enemy pasing the river.

“As soon as every place was thus secured and put into a good posture of defence, ye aforesayd noble commanders begun to consider how they might conquer the enemy without fighting, and shun ye effusion of Christian blood : but having dealt with them all they could, and made them ye farest proffers in ye world if that they would lay down their arms, go home, and return to their allegiance they got no answer but that they came to fight and they would fight, to ye end that ye king and ye realm might not be so abused with evil councellors as they were. Where upon ye aforesayd commanders accepted their proffer, and appointed ye morrow for this cruel action. But to the great surprise of ye two armys there fell so much rain yt ye River Don swelled so high that Doncaster Bridge was overflown, so that the two armys could not possibly come near one another to engage, so that God’s good providence was manifestly apparent to the preserving of many an innocent man’s life.

After this by ye great wisdom and policy of ye nobles and captains, through ye again apparent goodness of God, ye two armys were made friends, ye rebells begun to relent for what they had done, and agreed to certain articles offer’d them, and then return’d to their respective homes.”

The terms laid out in surrender by the rebels to the king listed quite lengthy articles that they wanted agreed to. Henry VIII was not one to forgive and forget and in reply to them was even more lengthy and very scathing of their arrogance (both are reproduced in full in Tomlinson) and was a portent of things to come some months after the amnesty when smaller scale revolts broke out in the north. Those arrested were Lord Darcy, Sir Robert Constable, Sir Thomas Percy, Robert Aske and others, they were tried and executed.

Then it was that king Henry wrote a letter of commendation to the Duke of Norfolk, as follows: – “We do right approve and allow your proceedings in the displaying of our banner. And forasmuch as the same is now spread and displayed, by reason whereof, till the same shall be closed again, the course of our laws must give place to the ordinances and statutes martial ; our pleasure is, that before you close up our said banner again, you shall, in any wise, cause such dreadful execution to be done upon a good number of the inhabitants of every town, village and hamlet, that have offended in this rebellion, as well by hanging them on trees, as by quartering of them, and the setting of heads and quarters in every town, great and small, and in all such other places, as they may be a fearful spectacle to all other hereafter that would practice any like matter ; which we require you to do, without pity or respect, according to our former letters.”

This brutal murdering ordered by Henry VIII was some of the worst of his reign. Later the king planned to hunt here on his journey to York but on arriving at Bawtry was steered away by possibly unwelcoming factors (the above), as people who did not favour the king resided here. These barons were revolting against the king’s dissolution of the monasteries and claiming their land.

De la Pryme tells us “About ye beginning of August, in ye year 1541, King Henry ye eight set forward for York to meet his nephew ye king of Scotland, who had promised him an interview there : and it being understood that ye king would make Hatfield in his way, and view ye town, and hunt awhile in ye Chase, there was great preparations made by the Bow-bearer and Master of ye Game to make him all the sport they could, and to entertain him ye best they were able. Sr William Fitz-William, Earl of Southhampton, Lord Privy Seal and Treasurer of ye King’s Household, Writt to Frances Earl of Shrewbury who was …. For ye king, of ye Chace of Hatfield, and sent him warrants for ye taking of twenty bucks, which he ordered to be convey’d to Hatfield a day or two before ye king’s coming, to end that when he was arrived thither they might be let loos to be chaced.”

“To which letter ye Earl of Shrewsbury makes an answer on ye 6th of July - that ye number of bucks should with all care and speed be provided for ye king’s pleasure, but that he intended to spare several of ye warrants which had been sent him to be issued out to ye several keepers and regarders to catch ye sayd bucks, and that he would make ye number up out of his own grounds at Sheffield ; and therefore desired that ye king might be moved to see his poor house (as he calls it) at Winfield when he comes through Nottinghamshire, and that he would be pleased to hunt in Driffield (?) Forrest.

“After which or before is uncertain – because that ye date of ye following letter is wanting – Frances Earl of Shrewsbury writ ye following letter to … Master of ye Game of ye Chace of Hatfield :-

“Being given to understand from my Ld Privy Seal that ye kings most sacred majesty will shortly be on a journey for York, and that he will pleasure himself with seeing some bucks run in his Chace of Hatfield, I have sent 14 warrants to be by you distributed unto ye Regarders, commanding and ordering you with all care and speed to take ye number of bucks therein specifyd, and to keep them safely in some convenient place not farr from ye town, that they may be ready as soon as our dread sovereign appears.



From Tomlinson. ‘The king appears to have entered the precincts of Hatfield Chace at Bawtry (travelling, probably, by a route now known as ‘the Great North Road’), where he was met by Earl of Shrewsbury with a large retinue. Now Scrooby, where the Archbishop of York had a hunting-palace, is not two miles from Bawtry ; but from hence the course which Henry the Eighth took, on that occasion, is considerably involved in doubt.

Hunter remarks :- “It is usually said that he turned to the right, and went through Lincolnshire to Hull, and, having visited York, returned to Hull. But it appears to have been during this progress that he dined at the house a little north of Doncaster, as Leland pointedly notices, and that he held the conversation on Barnsdale with Bishop Tunstall, which has been often mentioned. Hall expressly says that he was met on his progress by the Archbishop on Barnsdale, and was twelve days at York. 200 gentlemen and 4000 yeomen and serving-men met him on his entrance on the country.’

De la Pryme almost regretfully concedes “But for all this, tho’ that ye king had at first appointed to come this way to York, and hunt in his chace here, yet nevertheless (for what reason tis unknown) he changed his mind, and went through Lincolnshire, and so on to Hull and York ; and returned ye very same way again, without coming near this town.”

The reference to Leland’s comment above is this. “The fenny part of Axholm berith much galle, a low frutex swete in burning. The upper part of the isle hath plentiful quarres of ala-baster, communely there caullid plaster : but such stones as I saw of it were of no great thiknes and sold for a xijd. the lode. They ly yn the ground lyke a smothe table : and be beddid one flake under another : and at the bottom of the beddes of them be roughe stones to build withal. From Dancaster to Causeby lesys b a mile and more, wher the rebelles of Yorkshir a lately assemblid. Thens a 2. miles farther I saw on the lifte hond an old manor place caullid…… wher the king dynid. And so to Wentbrid c a pore thorough fare a 5. miles, wher Wente ryver rennith under a praty bridge of v. arches of stone, and so to Pontefract a 3. miles. The ground betwixt Dancaster and Pontfract in sum places meately wooddid and enclosid ground : in al places reasonably fruteful of pasture and corn. e Key: a West Butterwick. b Scausby. c Went Bridge. It can be seen Wentbridge is several miles NW of Hatfield Chase.

The fenny part of Axholme has much Sweet Gale [a plant of bogs Myrica gale], a low bush sweet to smell when burning. The upper part of the isle has plenty of quarries of alabaster [a stone like marble], commonly there called plaster ; but such stone as I saw of it were of no great thickness and sold for 12 pence the load. They lie in the ground like a smooth table ; and are bedded one flake under another ; and at the bottom of the beds are rough stones suitable for building with. From Doncaster to Causeby lies a mile and more, where the rebels of Yorkshire lately assembled. Then 2 miles farther I saw on the left hand an old manor place called……..where the king dined. And so to Wentbridge on a poor road for 5 miles, where the River Went runs under a pretty bridge of 5 arches of stone, and so to Pontefract 3 miles. The ground between Doncaster and Pontefract is in some places well wooded and enclosed ground [has hedges, is private] : In all places reasonably fruitful of pasture and corn.”

Sir Gervase Clifton 1516-1588 was Master of the Game at Hatfield.

  • Pilgrimage of Grace (1536-1537) was a movement against Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Thomas Lord Darcy c.1467-1537 appointed Surveyor General of Hatfield Chase by Henry VIII in 1509; which also meant he was Lord of the Manor, though the king kept the ownership as a Royal Chase, he opposed the Dissolution of the Monasteries and was part of the Pilgrimage of Grace movement. He was executed at the tower for this opposition.

Francis 5th Earl of Shrewsbury 1500-1560 Surveyor General of Hatfield Chase, Lord of the Manor.

George 6th Earl of Shrewsbury 1528-1590 Surveyor General of Hatfield Chase, Lord of the Manor.

Queen Elizabeth I 1533-1603 owned the manor of Hatfield.

Sir Henry Lee 1533-1611 The Lee family had several of the family as Master of the Game at Hatfield. Henry being Elizabeth I courtier was obviously the most famous.

Edmund Lord Sheffield 1564-1646 was Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire (1603-1619) and Master of the Game at Hatfield Chace.

King James I (VI) 1566-1625 owned the manor of Hatfield. In 1603 the king passed through Doncaster and stayed at The Sun and Ber Pub. He came through again in 1615 and 1644 and again in 1645 this time staying at the Three Cranes Pub. These pubs were in fact large coaching houses then. The king tried to get a drainage scheme underway in 1624 but nothing eventually came of it.

Sir Robert Swift 1568-1625 King Henry VIII last bowbearer for Hatfield Chase and high sheriff under Elizabeth I and James I.

There is an amusing anecdote, The Story of Slack and Swift: ‘This Sr Rob Swift bought the aforesayd place of Stristerop (Edenthorpe), where he dwelt. He was an ingenious, witty and merry gentleman, concerning whom this town has many traditional stories. They told how that he having once discovered a gentleman of Cantley, a town hard by, whose name was Mr. Slack, steeling one of the king’s deer, he apprehended him, and having heard that he was a constant transgressor, (the assises then being at York, and all ye other delinquents being sent from Thorn prison) Sr Rob sets out with this gentleman to ye same place ; but night comeing on they took up their lodgings by the way, and finding there by chance a pot of good ale, this Mr. Slack told him so many merry tails over ye same, and enticed them to drink so long, that he got Sr Rob and those with him dead drunk, upon which taking a piece of paper he writt thereon these following lines :-

To every creature God has given gift,

Sometimes ye Slack does over run ye Swift,

and having slopd them into Sir Robert’s pocket (where he found them by chance next morning) he made his escape that night, and was not heard again of a long while. Sr Rob seeming as if he was not at all concerned kept on his journey to York, and having performed his business returned to his station.’ (Tomlinson).

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales 1594-1612 Hunted at Hatfield Chase in mid-July 1609 and Vermuyden was with him. He was only 15 years old at the time (he died aged only 18). There is a detailed account of the hunting and a famous painting (privately held) on the cover of Martin Taylor’s book Thorne Mere and the Old River Don. De la Pryme observes. “As it is a great pleasure and satisfaction unto an ingenious and curious man to behold ye rarity and works of art and nature in all countrys, so the noble Henry Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, and Earl of Chester, ye first son of King James ye first, had a mind to take a progress into ye country to divert himself, and to behold ye raritys thereof. He set out of London about ye 9th July, in ye year 1609, having many attendant noble men and gentlemen in his company. They bent their course towards York by easy marches to see that second citty in England ; but being mett upon the road by Sr Robert Swift, Sr Henry Lee, and Sr Robert Anstrudder, Sr…. Copley, and several other gentlemen, many of which belonged to ye king’s manor and Chace of Hatfield, as ye two first named, they prevailed with the prince to go with them to Hatfield, and to hunt a stagg ; which thing they agreed to, Sr Robert Swift, who was Bowbearer unto ye king, gave ye prince and his retinue a noble treat at Stristerop [Streetthorpe = Edenthorpe], where he lived, and where ye prince lay that night. The next day ye prince being earnest for ye sport, desired to be pursuing ye same, which being understood, they all mounted on horseback, and having faln into a rang, they soon raised a stagg, which being very strong kept them in play a great while, and then striking over ye low commons escaped them : but another being soon raised, after a fine chace the dogs pulled him down, not farr from ye town of Hatfield. Here the prince being met and welcom’d by ….. Portington, Esq. (belonging likewise to ye king’s game) and by others, Sir Hen. Lee invited him to his house , where they feasted and enjoyed themselves very plentifully. After this the Chief Regarder of Thorn, and …. Portington, Esq. having promis’d the next day to let the prince see such sport as he never saw in his life, the prince and his retinue went with them ; and being come to Tudworth, where Mr Portington lived, they all embark’d themselves in almost a hundred boats there were provided ready, and having frighted some hundreds of deer out of ye woods, grounds and closes adjoyning (which had been driven there in ye night before) they all as they were commonly wont took ye water, and this little royal navy pursuing them, they soon drove them into that lower part of ye levels called Thorn Meer, and there being up to ye very necks in water, their horned heads seemed to represent a little wood ; and here being encompass’d bout with ye little fleet, some ventur’d amongst them, and feeling such and such that were fattest, they either immediately cut their throats, drew them up into ye boats or else tying a strong long rope to their heads drew them to land, and then kill’d them. Having thus taken several [they] returned in triumph with their bootys to land, and ye prince that day dined with …. Portington, Esq., and was very merry and well pleased at his day’s work. But longing to be at York, he came that night unto Hatfield and lodged there ; and being attended with all ye gentlemen that ye country could of a sudden afford, they waited on him to Doncaster, and then takeing their lieves returned home.

It was noted by an inquisition of 1607 – two years previous to Prince Henry’s visit – the number of Red Deer was estimated at about a thousand ; but it was stated that they had become considerably reduced through the depredations of the borderers (poachers who often lived on the fringes of manors, to poach next door. Better not to do in your own manor!). (Tomlinson).

King Charles I 1600-1649 the manor of Hatfield, and 15 adjacent ones, were now owned by the king and he signed a contract with Vermuyden to drain the chase, mainly to gain land taxes from farmers as his wars had depleted his treasury. The chase and its commons were virtually ungovernable, and taxes could not be calculated, so the land was merely a ‘waste’. Also, Charles I passed through here in 1642 but did not hunt, as this was after the drainage it was no longer a royal chase anyway. De la Pryme tells.

Be it remembered that ye pious and good Charles ye first, with many of his nobles, in a jorney that they were in out of ye south, came from Rossington briggs unto Armthorpe, drunk there at a landladys that kept an alehouse by ye gravel pit side : from thence they went to Hatfield and Thorne, and so ye guide and conduct of one old Mr Canby (unkle to Mr Edw Canby of this town) an old officer in ye late Chace, was led over John a More Long to Whitgift Ferry, and from thence to Beverley.

The same most excellent king also in a jorney from Beverley to Nottingham, where he set up his standard, came over at ye aforesayd Ferry of Whitgift to Gool [Goole], and so all along ye great banks unto this town, called and drunk at an alehouse at ye north end thereof, passed quite through ye same, and so through ye levels with design to go through ye Isle unto Gainsbrow [Gainsborough], but being got to Sandtoft where a guard was kept by ye Islemen against ye king’s party then at Hatfield under Robin Portington, who as soon as they saw so great a number comeing against them all fledd. The king learning there that ye isle were all in arms against them turned his course and went down the great bank on ye right hand, and so to place called Bull hassocks, and leaving Haxey and all ye isle on ye left hand passed onwards to Stockwith, and so to Gainsburrow, whence to Lincoln, and thence to Nottingham.”

The footnote Tomlinson gives to this account gives further information on some local family names, which have in some cases become place names, as with the latter here. ‘The Canbys were for several generations a family of influence residing at Thorne, the Elmhirsts being connected therewith by marriage.’

Another account states. “that king Charles I passed through Thorne, on his route to Hull, the time that he was refused admittance into that place; and that the king, when at Thorne, stayed a short time before the door of an old mansion that was then standing near the entrance of the Marshland Road, where he had some refreshment. The old mansion was demolished 50 years ago, and replaced by a modern building there, belonging to Mr. J Mason”. (Casson). Casson also quotes De la Pryme who says: “that his majesty stopped at an alehouse at the north end of the town where he refreshed himself, with a cup of ale”.

Johannes Liens The principal engineer for the 1626 drainage, who employed Vermuyden as his accountant, and it was therefore Vermuyden who signed the contracts and allocated money and land. Built the Bikersdike sluices and Dutch River. He described himself to the king as ‘Director of the work of draining Hatfield Chase’.

Sir Cornelius Vermuyden 1595-1677 this Dutchman was a tax collector in his native Holland and had no known qualifications or experience as an engineer. He settled in England in 1621 after an invitation from Johannes Liens and became his chief engineer and his accountant and drained the chase starting in 1626. In 1629 following the drainage he was knighted. Today, he is a famous person in the area, but opinion is divided as to whether he did great good or bad. He died in London, penniless after all the works he had to correct at his own cost or compensation he had to pay out.

Woodland at Thorne

In earlier times it is stated a forest existed in the north-west area but that it became inundated by natural rising water levels until it became permanently flooded. At this point the trees could no longer survive and the whole began to rot and decay, without further regrowth. 

In the year 1100, all Belton, Epworth, Crowle, Haxey, and Owston commons, part of this Level, were covered with a great old decaying forest, or wood, and all down from Crowle Causey to Althorp upon Trent.” Philo Transactions Vol 1st Part 3rd pa:218. (Stovin)

Much later as well as waters of the area there was some seasonally wet land often used for pasture or crops and the amount of actual woodland in the chase was restricted to higher ground that was always dry or nearly always so. The main forest was thus located to the west of Thorne and Hatfield and further to the south at Bawtry, where it eventually was dominant and merged with Sherwood Forest as it then was. Other higher ground in the eastern Isle of Axholme still had some woodland too, particularly around Crowle.

Woodland at Hatfield

Woodland at Hatfield has a slightly different history to Thorne, in that there are deposits of glacial sand and gravel, some of which were raised above the surrounding inundated mire. These sandy areas were where the larger majority of Scot’s Pine woodland grew along with huge areas of heath and gorse, fragments of which can be found throughout the area. In Roman and later times extensive areas had already been cleared either for pasture or crops and these areas are sometimes referred to in connection with battles such as at Austerfield (under the Roman Ostorius) and High Levels (the Battle of Hatfield Chase 12th October 633 in which the Northumbrian King Edwin and his sons were killed). Such places as Lindholme Island therefore managed to retain some exceptionally old trees, particularly English Oak in a parkland like setting and also some fine pines some of which may be related to pines from Roman times with others obviously planted and not of local origin or even of another species, such as the stand of Corsican Pines Pinus nigra. Also present are some very old Alder coppice, which perhaps was much more extensive when this product was more important for firewood and fencing.

There were four very small woods listed in a survey of 1607, which seems to be only concerned with the most valuable tree the oak.

Bradholme, Uygin [Uggin], Lindholme, and Brickhill, containing respectively twenty, nine, twelve, and sixteen oaks.” (Casson)

Uses of Wood from the Chase

Apart from the above-mentioned coppiced Alder, there was also coppiced Hazel both of which were most likely used to produce charcoal, firewood, and pale and fencing, but other older uses have been found. A Neolithic trackway was found west of Thorne on Nun Moors and Bronze Age trackway on Hatfield. The latter made of pine with a bit of birch.

De la Pryme says in Philosophical Transactions No 275.

“Round about by the skirts of Lincolnshire Wolds unto Gainsborough, Bawtry, Doncaster, Balne, Snaith and Howden are found infinite millions (?) of the roots and bodies of trees, great and little, of most part of the sorts that this island either formerly did, or at present does produce, as firs, oaks, birch, beech, yew, winthorn, willow, ash, &c., the roots of all or most of which stand in soil in their natural postures, as thick as ever they could grow, as the bodies of most of them lie by their proper roots. Most of the great trees lay all their length about a yard from their great roots (unto which they did evidently belong, both by their situation and the sameness of the wood) with their tops most commonly north-east, though the smaller trees lie almost every way across these, some above, some under ; a third part of all of them are firs, some of which have been found of thirty yards length, and have been sold to make masts and keels for ships. Oaks have been found twenty, thirty, and thirty-five yards long, yet wanting many yards of the small end.”

And also, elsewhere states

Firs of which there are more than any other some xxxvi long (36 yards).” (Pryme 1701). And “But the fir trees do lye a foot or eighteen inches deeper ; of which kind there are more than any other; many of them being above xxx (30) yards in length ; nay, in the year1653, there was a firr pole taken up by one Robert Browne of Haxey, of xxxvi (36) yards long (besides the top) lying near the root, which stood likewise as it grew, having been burnt and not hewed down, which tree bore at the bottom ten inches square, and at the top eight.”

Oaks were also very large the largest noted being one found by Mr Edward Canby

found an oak tree within his moors, 40 yards (36.6 m) long, 4 yards (3.7 m) in diametrically thick at the great end, 3 yards (2.7 m) and a foot in the middle, and 2 yards (1.8 m) at the small end” (Pryme 1701) his land being in the Nun Moor and Tweenbridge area of the Bluebell Wood. This equates to double the girth of the present largest living oaks at the thick end, and the trunk length is also much shorter on these living trees.

Uses of these bog oaks was often for building work but also one was used to make a huge coffin like chest which can still be seen in Hatfield Church today. Other items made of this bog wood include a ladder.

“About xx (10) years since also, in the moors at Thorne (near five foot depth) was found a ladder of firr, of a large substance, with about xl (11) staves, which were thirty three inches asunder (?) ; but so rotten that it could not be got up whole. And in Haxey Carr, at the like depth, a hedge with stakes and bindings.”

It was remarked that 2000 cart loads of tree trunks are removed from the bog each year (De la Pryme 1701). Stovin says “I have known an oak tree taken up that afforded a thousand pales five foot and a half long and from six to seven inches broad, for which I paid ten shillings a hundred, besides several loads of firewood.”

The Chase had various people employed for roles such as Royal Bowbearer (one person) for example William Swift was followed by his son Robert Swift who was the last, based at Streetthorpe (Edenthorpe), a Head Keeper (one person) for example Henry Lee was for Henry VIII and Masters of the Game (19+ people at 19+ stations): Holmhouse, Dubble Dail, Branwich (Bramwith), Flaxley, Bloudwell, Domsteinfield, Bartry (Bawtry), Eastoft, Sandle (Sandal), Crawl (Crowle), Belton x3, Sampson Lodge, Sandtoft, Gaitwood, Lindholm, Thorn several, Tudworth, Woodhouse and Armthorpe. The prison for the chase miscreants was Peel Hill Castle, Thorne. The remaining mound of this small stone tower still remains and is public park land of the town now.

In the time Charles I seized Hatfield Chase for drainage (1626) it was 73,515 acres and the combined commons then of Hatfield, Thorne, Stainforth, Fishlake and Sykehouse amounted to 2,328 acres. The turf moors (peat) of Thorne were 6,800 acres (Casson 1829). Hatfield parish was estimated at 8830 acres, and in 1813 had five fields in the open fields system and additional pasture fields, divided by the Doncaster to Thorne road (Byford).


The earliest mention of specific wildlife was of Ruffs at Crowle in 1586, mentioned in a pamphlet. This was the first account of the species in Britain and the first use of Ruff for Philomachus pugnax (Mullens 1919). There is also an illustration. Sir Henry Lee, Knight, Master of Game for Hatfield Chase is mentioned.

…In the year of our Lord God 1568, within the parish of Crowley nere adjoining to the pastures of the Lordship of Hafild in the Countie of Lyncolne, one Richard Wallar, and Richard Preston, of the same parish of Crowley, having set certaine Lime-twigges intangled and caught in the same seven great Foules, all of one bignes, & of intermixt coloures: the like whereof were never seen or heard of in any Countrie, by any man having hitherto seene them or their pictures: which being lively in their true coloures portrayed by one Blackborne a Paynter in Yorke, at the procurement of the right Worshipfull Sir Henry Lee Knight, are diversly amongst divers persons dispersed. Three of the same foules were brought and presented to the same Sir Henry Lee, then lying at his brother’s house at Hatfield in Yorkshire. The Fethers on their heads and fronts grewe and stood out, not unlike to the frysled haire of men and women: and the Fethers about their necke, being of divers coloures, grew and stood up very high, even, and formally like unto great Ruffes: and were hilde up with stiff quills, as it were Wyers or Supporters, such as are now commonly used of our Gallants. These Foules going loose, seemed so careless of their libertie and to escape, that (though threatened by shaking and shoving with the hands, or otherwise) they would not shrinke from or shunne any person: retaining still as it were one and the same countenaunce, their use was all three in rankwise and with great stateliness to walke divers turns up and downe in the Hall, and then eftsoones to stay and drawe all their heads and billes together. Standing so long a time, as it were in consultation or counsel of some weightie matter, and then to fall againe to walking, refusing to tak, and not seeming to make any account of any meate, which they were oftentimes offered. In this order they continued until all three dyed one after another, about three days after their taking. When they were dead not any man with both his handes could scarse stirre one of their fethers about their neckes. Divers Foulers were sent for to see them, but neither could they tel what Foules they were, or ever had seene or hearde of the like…

Stonehouse (1839) mentions some birds of the time before drainage.

In addition to that most graceful of all birds the swan, which graced these meres with their presence, there were cranes, storks, bitterns, herons, and several of the falcon tribe, curlews, judcocks (Jack Snipe), snipes, ruff and godwits; redshanks, plover, water-crakes (Water Rail), water-hens (Moorhen), and coots; various species both of wild geese and wild ducks, widgeons, and teal. Of these both the tame and the wild swans, with the cranes and storks, have entirely disappeared. Bewick, who wrote about the year 1800, says that swans without an owner were still common on the river Trent; but I cannot learn that there have been any in the recollection of any person now living, except a casual one, shot during the rigours of a very severe winter, which, no doubt was an emigrant in search of food, from the more northern parts of Europe. The same events, however which prolonged the generation of ancient fowlers for a century, prolonged also the existence of other species of these birds, which were the object of their pursuit. The egret and the night heron are, I believe entirely extinct, but the common heron may still be seen standing motionless, near ditches and pools of water, exhibiting, says Buffon, “the picture of wretchedness, anxiety, and indigence.” I am of the opinion, however that Buffon sometimes wrote strange nonsense.”

And goes on “Flocks of wild geese are frequently met with on less cultivated parts of the low ground; and the different species of wild duck are now caught in that most efficient of all methods of taking them, the decoy. One of these engines of destruction is regularly worked during the season, about a mile from the town of Crowle. Besides the mallard and common duck, I have seen specimens of the scaup duck, the shieldrake (Shelduck), and the pockard (Pochard) or great-headed wigeon.