The Isle of Axholme Drainage

Bryan Wainwright

Natural England


Version 12 (unfinished)

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

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Prologue 2

Preface 2

Introduction 3

Prehistoric Geology & Peoples & The End of The Ice Age 18,000 BP 4

The Holocene Begins 11,650 BP 6

Historic Time Periods and Characters 7

Bronze Age 2100 to 750 BC 7

Iron Age 500 BC to 800 AD 8

Roman 43 to 410 AD 8

Anglo-Saxon 500 to 1066 AD 13

Danes 793 to 1150 19

Norman 1066 to 1154, to Drainage 1626 22

Extracts From Domesday Book 28

Place Names Past and Present and Meanings 29

Human Artifacts Found in the Area 30

Pre-Drainage Landscape Features & Vegetation 30

The Drainage 1626 46

Post Drainage, Enclosure & The Emerging Peat Industry 50

Artificial Structures 56

The Modern Day Landscape 57

Present Woodland at Thorne 57

Present Woodland at Hatfield 61

Summary of the Effects of Vermuyden’s Drainage 72

References 73


Thorne 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. 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 Hatfield Chase 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 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. I hope to put these old quotes in better context with more circumstantial evidence.

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.


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, they encompass 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 this area was included in the chase and therefore the eastern boundary was then the River Trent. 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 specifically, 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.

The major river of the chase is the River Don, which historically had its three arms, which split with one going north and the other two east between the bogs of Thorne Moors and Hatfield Moors. 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, Conisborough, Sproteborough, 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 plain 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 3m 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’. It was certainly well more defined and controlled from the Norman period, when it was first called Hatfield Chase. It remained as the largest Royal Chase until the Vermuyden drainage of 1626. So, for over 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 and forest and had a long history of revolt against tyrannical rule. They have always been independent and hated the rule of institutionalism. This attitude dates to before Roman times and 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. The people then, were not about to give up their lands and rights and become total farmers and start paying taxes. On into the Vermuyden drainage period and the huge riots resulting from that which lasted for over a century. On top of these many national events, there were seemingly often personal feuds of one sort or another between aristocracy, 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 field system, right up to the claiming of the peat moors by private interests for exploitation and the miners’ strike of 1984. 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 investigations; 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) with Neanderthal Man Homo sapiens neanderthalensis who followed the game on the edge of the receding ice. 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 sapiens. 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 initially blocked to the sea still 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, 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 of 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 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 develop into a true bog by the sustained growth of Sphagnum 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 120m 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). The inundation and final submerging of this area, to islands and then the near present sea level was completed by three giant landslips off the coast of Norway, known as the Storrega Slides (6225–6170 BC) which caused a giant tsunami. This tsunami was up to 4m higher than current high tide levels (so perhaps 100m+ 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 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 headed 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 etc. 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 and more went extinct or would become so during this period with the changing climate and increased human pressures. Vanished species included such herbivorous as Woolly Rhinoceros Coelodonta antiquitatis, Woolly Mammoth Mammuthus primigenius, Dwarf Elephants Palaeoloxodon and Mammuthus sp. European Ass Equus hemionus hydruntinus, and Bison Bison subspecies. 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, oak Quercus and Beech Fagus sylvatica forest. Along with the plants came the species that depended on them. Many would be familiar today, even if they 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 is a part, by biotic affinities with mainland Europe (Eversham, Skidmore 1995) particularly those of Poland and the Baltic states, and they are Western outliers of their type, and so being 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 Middle or Mesolithic Stone Age (9000 to 4300 BC) came and went followed by the New or Neolithic Stone Age (4300 to 2000 BC). Modern Man had appeared in this region and began the foundation of some farming which allowed civilization to develop along with writing and includes events of 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 from Doggerland and Jutland Germany, apparently driven here by rising sea levels. 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 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 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). (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 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.

Birds being more mobile and adaptable could generally hold out longer than arctic megafauna, 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, 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 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).

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).

ROMAN 43 to 410 AD

Tacitus (reign AD 42-54) Roman writer.

Caractacus and his brother Togodomus leaders of native tribes who were present here or their armies were.

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.

Contemporary Glossary

Brigantes tribe of Britons in this area

Cimbri collective name for the Britons

Cymru Welsh tribe of Cimbri

The Roman Empire is Mediterranean origin, from the area now known as Italy and formed one of the greatest empires ever, invading Britain 43 A.D. and eventually ruling from around 200 BC. In Britain this was progressive and was never total. In the SW and S where new immigrants, often Phoenicians, 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.

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. 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.

Tomlinson 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 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. 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 this 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 were established at York (Eboracum) and also Doncaster (Danum) as outliers on their enemies’ south-eastern edge.

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. 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.

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).

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. 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 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 Edelfrid son of King Æthelric.

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 (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 King Cearl’s daughter Ethelberga who had his royal seat at Hatfield where eventually he was killed in battle by the alliance forces of Penda and Cadwolleder.

Queen Ethelberga (Cwenburh or Quenberga) wife of King Edwin.

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 Wurfrean Edwin’s son.

King Penda King of Mercia (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.

Baron a lesser ruler than a king.

Borderer or Borholder a person who lived on the edge of a manor or common and often widely thought to choose to live there for poaching in neighbouring manors or on the common.

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.

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 could not sell their property therefore.

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, granted by a higher power than a lord. Land permanently held in reward for service to the king or local constitutional ruler. This may be for service of the community, such as building a church or for going into battle.

Freeman held land permanently often given for valiant endeavours and held communities or ‘hundreds’ and headed the court of Hundred-gemot

Hundred-gemot local court.

Hundredary head officer of the hundreds.

Hundreds Consisted of ten tythings. 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 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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

Norse Magic & Beliefs Channel (2022) Differences between Norwegian, Swedish and Danish Vikings. 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 (and fewer Angles and Jutes) now held much of the land and great numbers of them left their over-populated homeland for these new shores. 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.

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

The handful of Saxon kings or gentry ruled quite fairly and democratically. He 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 changed. The meanings therefore, which can seem at first perusal confusing and many need to be understood with regards to the time periods referred to. Lords and manors were early less defined concepts at this period. See the contemporary glossary above for meanings. There were in order Sochmanni or Socmans, then Privileged Villani, then Villani and Colliberti.

It should be noted that kings often claimed areas they were not de facto ruling, so at some times two kings may claim the same area. In our area 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.

This battle 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 Edwin 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 became King of Northumbria (Deira) in 626. He made his royal seat at Hatfield, his palace was called Cambodunum, and 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 provision 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 and was defeated and killed along with his son and 10,000 others. The victors then set to destroy Hatfield and murder everyone, man, woman and child. Hatfield was so destroyed that it did not hold a royal court again for many hundreds of years, until it became a Royal Chase.

The account of such an important battle, not just locally but nationally, deserves copying here.

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 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.’

Following this utter defeat and destruction of the royal town, the rest of his family; his wife and daughter 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.

Captain John Hatfield (Parliamentarian Army mid-17th Century) on a visit to the area could still see the remnants of the earthworks made for this battle. Including trenches from Hatfield Woodhouse to Wroot fortified with trees dug from the peat and stuck upright as palisades. The eventual battle site was 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 at SE71090103866.

DANES 793 to 1150


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

Contemporary Glossary

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.

Middle Ages Begin (c.500 to 1500) with the Dark Ages being the first half after the final collapse of the Roman Empire.

The 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.

Viking often piratical raiders of Scandinavian origin.

Wite a fine.

The Scandinavian people were collectively known as Vikings. The Danes were from the area now known as Denmark, and others from Norway and Sweden (and later Iceland). 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 invasions from 865. 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 islands and remote coasts and places where they could easily flee. This meant they attacked the Scottish Orkney Islands and Shetland Islands (and onto Faroes Islands and Iceland) and Scottish west coast and islands. They raided for spoils. 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).

Norse Magic & Beliefs Channel (2022) Differences between Norwegian, Swedish and Danish Vikings. 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 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, and more battles continued for more than another hundred years with their conquest 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 split Britain with the Vikings and the North-East, our region, fell into Danelaw and later Danegeld had to be paid as a tax.

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 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).

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

William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey -1088

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

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

  • Magna Carta (1215)

  • First Barons' War (1215–1217)

  • 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 then c.1322 to 1509

  • Queen Philippa of Hainault 1310-1369

King Edward III 1312-1377

  • William of Hatfield 1336

  • 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)

Reverted to the Crown (Edward IV, Edward V, Henry VII) 1460 to 1509.

Henry VIII 1491-1547

Sir Gervase Clifton 1516-1588

  • 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)

Queen Elizabeth I 1533-1603

Sir Henry Lee 1533-1611 Head Keeper

Edmund Lord Sheffield 1564-1646

King James I 1566-1625

  • Sir Robert Swift 1568-1625

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales 1594-1612

King Charles I 1600-1649

Cornelius Vermuyden 1595-1677 Dutch drainage engineer living in England who was the architect of the largest drainage works ever undertaken in the area up to that time. 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.

Contemporary Glossary

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

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

Bordar a feudal tenant holding a house and land of his lord and bound to menial service and provision of victuals.

Carucate a measurement of land which could vary between 60 and 160 acres.

Chase a royal hunting ground, unenclosed for hunting Red 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. 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.

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.

Demesne land of the manor retained and maintained by the lord of 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 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 commissioned by above conqueror to assess what spoils he had won.

Duke the highest nobility not of immediate royal line, ruled a county or several counties on behalf of the crown.

Earl or Comes below a Duke became the comitatus of at least one county or several counties and over-ruled barons.

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, 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 (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 occurred.

Freeman owned small amount of land.

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.

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

Knight a mounted warrior with feudal allegiance to the Lords, Earl, Duke and King. An officer in an army.

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 or Vassal one who held a fief. It was a general term for the lower feudal person in an exchange. For example: everyone was a vassal of the king and a lord was vassal of an Earl.

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 not greater than 1,500 acres and ruled over by the Lord of the Manor. Tomlinson states when referring to the amount of common land Vermuyden seized from the commoners of the Isle of Axholme (2868 acres) that this was four times the size of any manor in the land allowed by the Court of Exchequer at that time; 17th century (so did not allow manors over 717 acres, or probably 750 acres). 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.

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. It was often more complicated, 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 Fallow Deer.

Patron Lord of the manor.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Following this Norman Conquest 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 the feudal system, where lands were awarded to 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. 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 may be knights, but they also had knights in their lordship. The king determined how many knights should be provided by each area by divided 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.

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. 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 beforehand had bribed the Danes to leave before seeking revenge. 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.


Extracts From Domesday Book

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 Conisborough:

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) 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. 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 and the accounts are:

Thorne: Hundred: Strafforth, Area: West Riding, County: Yorkshire, Total population: 16 households (medium). Total tax assessed: 4 geld units (medium). Head of manor: Conisborough. 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.

Hatfield 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: Conisborough. Taxable units: Taxable value 8 geld units. Value: Households: 12 freemen. 1 priest. Ploughland: 6 men's plough teams. Other resources: Woodland 6 * 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.

Tudworth: Hundred: Strafforth Area: West Riding, County: Yorkshire, Total population: 14 households (medium). Total tax assessed: 1 geld units (very small). Head of manor: Conisborough. 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.

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’ 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.

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

Cusworth Cuzeuuorde.

Dalton Daltone.

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

Dinnington Domnitone.

Doncaster Campodonum and by the Romans Danum.

Edenthorpe Streetthorpe, Striterop, Sristerop, Tristropp.

Finningley Fynnyngley.

Fishlake Fiscale.

Goole means mouth, as in river.

Greasborough Greseburg.

Harthill Herthil

Hatfield Hedfeld, Heathfield, Hayterfield. Located in the lower division of the wapentake of Strafforth and Tickhill in the West Riding of Yorkshire

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.

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

Ravenfield Rauensfeld.

Rawcliffe Roe-cliffe.

Rufford Rughford.

Sandall Sandale.

Stainforth Staynford, Steynford, Stenforde.

Sykehouse Dowsthorpe.

Thorne Thorn, Thurn, Thurne a hill covered with thorns. Located in the lower division of the wapentake of Strafforth and Tickhill in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Tudworth Tudeuuorde, Tridsworth.l.

Warmsworth Weinesforde.

Wilsic Wilseuuice.

York Jorvik.

Town Population in 1369 (Tomlinson, 1882)

Hatfield had a population of 123 in 1369, excluding criminals, and all were lowly husbandmen or labourers.

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

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.

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 (with churches).


It is natural to assume that in an area with so much human history that there should have been a diverse range of artifacts found from many different eras. Unfortunately, as archaeologists know only too well, the ravages of time means very little survives to be discovered, and anything preserved is buried out of sight. In the latter respect, in our peat bogs this is a good thing, as the acidic peat water is an excellent preservative. Peat has been dug and exploited for centuries for all manner of purposes, from the initial use of turbary, where it was dug and dried to be used as fuel for heating and cooking. Much latter, when coal took much of the fuel market from peat it was then exploited for horse bedding and was used for this in great quantities throughout the Victorian era. It was also used to improve heavy soils, and for growing of ericaceous plants in formal gardens, however it was deficient in nutrients so was not used more widely. This changed however with the addition of manufactured chemical nutrients being added to the peat in a factory like yard and the mix being bagged or carted to anywhere it was needed. This continues today, but not now fortunately from the Humberhead Peatlands which from around the turn of the millennium became a National Nature Reserves. Dense, deep basal peat has also been used in the manufacture of petrochemicals such as paraffin. This was a necessity during the WWII to run tractors on because imports had virtually stopped.

All this human excavation has turned up numerous natural and manmade objects. Some have been mentioned or alluded to in other parts of this article. Here, what little detail there is on these artifacts will be given, along with any references.

potteries nearby at Cantley just to the east, and others near the vexillation fortress at Rossington Bridge.” (Roman Britain). Of the pottery quite a bit has been found and is on display in Doncaster Museum.

De-la Pryme tells of a ladder that was found.

“About xx [20] years since also, in the moors at Thorne (near five foot in depth) was found a ladder of firr, of a large substance, with about xl [40] staves [steps], which were thirty three inches asunder [the width of the ladder] ; 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.”



Blackwater is a name used on Thorne and 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 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.

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.

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 under their ice.

Raised Mire the dome of a bog formed by moss.

Swamp forest on permanently inundated land, not really applicable in UK, except for a standing forest inundated permanently and dying. Real swamps comprise of 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 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 altered.

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. Below with more legible words.

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 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. At the east side of the peat moors the Don is joined by the combined waters of the Went 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.

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 (who travelled the land collecting information for Henry VIII) was referring to on his journey from Thorne to Sandtoft at the Isle of Axholme. 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 Conisborough. b Hatfield, Yorks. Thorne. (Archive Stream.org)

From Conisborough 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. 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. It is quite possible therefore that he had not seen the still larger mere (or so it looks on the map) hard against Thorne 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 1m. 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. And “Large boats laden with xx 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.

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 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 in 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 if it were, 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 Sandal 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 27,270ha (60,000 acres) and the waters were commonly of up to 1m in depth even in summer (Casson). There were 68 forests (places of Red Deer) in Norman times and ours was the largest of the 13 Chases 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.

Drawn from Daniel Byford (2005) and digitally remastered

Drawn from the Perambulation of the Chase Boundaries of 1607 (Hunter, Vol 1, p152)

Armthorpe and Crowle (Lincs) were added to the Chase by Henry VIII in 1539, Crowle was not included in this perambulation 

his 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 belong 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 one or more lords of the manor. Being designated a royal chase merely gave the king the exclusive rights to specified game in that area. Hatfield Chase at times was owned by the king or privately, which included much common land and waters. 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 Park, a park being an enclosure for non-native Fallow Deer brought over by the Normans. Hatfield Park enclosed an area of 500 acres located near Edenthorpe (Casson) between Edenthorpe and Hatfield. 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.

Mute Swans in particular amongst birds were often claimed by the king; any bird without a mark of a lord (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 to look after his swans and take any unmarked ones. In 1607 anyone who brought an unmarked swan to the lord of 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 (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 large quantity, and they suffered heavily from destruction by the vast numbers of Red and Roe 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.

CHRONOLOGY OF THE LORD OF THE MANOR OF HATFIELD LINE OF SUCCESSION & OTHER MAJOR INFLUENCES in detail. 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 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 and if they fell from grace all could be relinquished. He gave the soke of Conisborough 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 Wirce.

William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey -1088 who was made earl by William the Conqueror after fighting alongside at Battle of Hastings and was from his command in battles a favourite of William the Conqueror, as can be seen from his rewards of land of Surrey and Conisborough. In his time, we find that within a radius of 3 miles of Hatfield there were 20 fisheries, of Eels mainly, each taking 1000 annually, so equalling 20,000.

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. William after the conquest, having bought off the Danes, who had come at the invitation of Northumbria, took single vengeance upon the whole territory, 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. He 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.”

William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey -1138 had his English lands taken from him but later they were restored.

William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Surrey 1119-1148 was with Stephen, King of England at Battle of Normany.

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

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.

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.

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.

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 at some time became lord. 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.

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 the Magna Carta, which he signed.

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.

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. 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 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 2nd Barons War and 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 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.

Map of Isle of Axholme 1596. Special Commission of Elizabeth I (Korthals-Altes 1925)

Reverted to the Crown (Edward II) between 1322 to 1327 and c.1322 to 1509 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 Tp.52. 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. William the son died just after 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 shortly after.

  • 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) 

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.

Reverted to the Crown (Edward IV, Edward V, Henry VII) 1460 to 1509.

Henry VIII 1491-1547 the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541) was enacted by the king to remove Catholic power and wealth and replace it with The Church of England which he formed so he could get divorced, but also to stop tributes to the Catholic Church. The king seized the church lands and sold it to adventurers (businessmen) or gave it 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 assembled on Scawsby-lees, north of Doncaster.”

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 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.”

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, 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 1566-1625 owned the manor of Hatfield.

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. (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. 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”.

Cornelius Vermuyden 1595-1677 this Dutch engineer drained the chase starting in 1626.

Woodland at Thorne

Apart from the 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 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 eldest son 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. Also present are some very old Alder coppice, which perhaps was much more extensive when this product was more important for firewood and fencing.

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 W 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 aforementioned Bluebell Wood. This equates to double the girth as 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 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.


Stonehouse (1839) mentions some birds of the time.

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.

Above Stonehouse p.94, in Vermuyden’s time before drainage.



Abraham de-la-Pryme 1671-1704 Reverend of Hatfield (born and died there) and Fellow of Royal Society, a descendant of Dutch Huguenots.

Cornelius Vermuyden 1595-1677 Dutch Drainage engineer Drainage Contract of 1626 was signed between him and King Charles I on 24th May 1626.

King Charles I signed the drainage contract 1626 with Vermuyden. Wars of Three Kingdoms (British Civil Wars) 1642-1646 and 1648-1649 was between King Charles I Royalists (Cavaliers) and the Parliamentarians (Roundheads) of the New Model Army led by Oliver Cromwell 1599-1658 and were conflicts about governance and religion. The latter prevailed and Oliver Cromwell executed King Charles I and became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. He formed a Rump Parliament. Upon his natural death in 1658, King Charles II was invited to return from Scotland and take the crown to rule all three lands, which he did in 1660.

Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron 1612-1671 passed through the chase after his defeat at the Battle of Adwalton Moor 1643, in which his Parliamentarians were roundly defeated by the Royalists led by the Earl of Newcastle. Fairfax wrote of his plight as he fled the battle; from Carlton near Snaith he came to Thorne, and thence by way of Crowle “It proved a very troublesome and dangerous passage, having oft interruptions from the enemy ; sometimes in our front, and sometimes in our rear. I had been at least twenty hours on horseback after I was shot, without any rest or refreshment, and as many hours before. And further addition to my affliction, my daughter, being carried before her maid, endured all this retreat on horseback ; but nature not able to hold out any longer fell into frequent swoonings, and in appearance was ready to expire.”

Prince Rupert of the Rhine 1619-1682 Commander of Royalist Cavalry led Royalist forces in many battles, as at Marston Moor 1644.

John Lilburne c. 1614-1657 born in County Durham (‘Freeborn John’) was of gentry and became a Roundhead, and he was probably one of the most argumentative even amongst his own. He was very active in the Doncaster and chase area, beginning his campaign here by the taking of Tickhill Castle, a Royalist stronghold. He was shot through his arm whilst storming Walton Hall, Wakefield. Later he formed The Levellers a party fighting for equal rights, who’s views the New Model Army largely upheld. His writings were influential in The United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Richard Overton 1640-1664 one of the Levellers leaders.

Willian Walwyn 1600-1681 one of the Levellers leaders.

Thomas Prince 1630-1657 one of the Levellers leaders.

Dr Nathaniel Johnston 1627-1705 a friend and source for Pryme who was writing The History of Yorkshire (unfinished) after revolution went into hiding.

James Torre 1649-1699 a Royalist from the Isle of Axholme.

Robert Portington II -1660 a Major in Sir William Saville’s Regiment of Horse and held Arksey manor. He fought hand to hand with Thomas Cromwell, beheading his horse in the process. He was killed by the bite of an ape, while on the Booth Ferry crossing, gangrene set in. De-la Pryme tells us.

Ye aforesayd valiant Rob Portington, after having escaped 1,000s of dangers in warr dyd by ye bite of an ape, which he was playing with as he came over Whitgift ferry, about ye year 1662.”

George Stovin 1695-1780 was Acting Commissionaire of Sewers, married Sarah, father was James. Lived at Tetley near Crowle which he owned. He was an antiquarian also and produce an unpublished manuscript on the history of the area of 458 pages, only some of which survives (see references). During the Civil Wars his grandfather of the same name was a Roundhead and as such was seized later for dubious reasons (attending prayers in an unlicensed place) and sent to Lincoln Castle where he later died.

Gregory from Barnby Dunn

Thomas Rainsborough (Raynsburrow) 1610-1648 Parliamentarian and supporter of the Levellers who opposed slavery, was killed at his camp at Doncaster by some valiant Royalists, who were actually trying to kidnap him, these Royalists then also got away. Our enthusiastic chronologist De-la Pryme narrates.

While Raynsburrow was quartered at Doncaster, he sent 3 companys to Quarter at Hatfield and Woodhouse, to preserve them in subjection and to overaw Robin Portington, who had most commonly a troop of his own constantly in ye Ldship, and who had got such a terrible name amongst ye rebills that he was commonly called Robin ye Divel. While ye 3 troups were in quarter as above, a poor mad woman came crying ye town that Robin was coming out of ye levels with a great army, and was resolved to kill every body. Upon that ye above sayd 3 troups, being almost frighted out of their witts, mustered upon ye lings in ye greatest confusion imaginable, and immediately fled as fast as their horses could carry them to Doncaster, which giving that town ye allarm they immediately sent for more forces, which being joynd they courageously resolved to fall [on] ye enemy ; but when ye thing came to be examined into it was found that Robin was at Pickering in Holderness, and that ye old woman was but in a dream. Soon after Raynsburrow was killed in ye middle of his men by some valiant Royalists, and tho’ that ye town of Doncaster was full of his men, yet they that killed him escaped.”

John Tomlinson 1815- author of Hatfield Chace and Parts Adjacent (1882) Doncaster antiquarian born at Epworth.

Cornelius Vermuyden 1595-1677 this Dutch engineer drained the chase starting in 1626.

John Wesley 1703-1791 was born at Epworth, Isle of Axholme and founded the Methodist Church.

Contemporary Glossary

Gore, Gime or Gyme when floods breached banks the waters would swirl as they poured through the opening and gouge out a bowl-shaped depression often several hundred yards across and very deep. Because rebuilding the bank in the same place cost too much labour, the new bank would curve around this deep hole, and so over many years the flood-bank would go from being relatively direct following the river course to having some large curves away from it. This is evident on Ashfield Bank at Thorne, where old breaches altered the once much straighter bank.

Mere a fishing right, there may be only one on a stretch of river but there could be many on a large area like a lake. There were 20 fisheries within a three-mile radius of Hatfield, each taking around 1,000 Eels annually.

Post-drainage Conflicts started before and continued after the Civil Wars. On account of Vermuyden being for the King the locals took up arms against the king by joining with the Parliamentarians, as did the Protestant Dutch and French immigrants, who were persecuted in their homeland and now here.

The Drainage of Vermuyden 1626-1629 Axholme & Hatfield, Records Office (Korthals-Altes 1925) 

Town Populations in 1801

Austerfield 232

Finningley 293

Hatfield inc. Hatfield Woodhouse 1301

Thorne 2655 and in 1820 c.3500 and increasing fast

The population of the Isle of Axholme in 1832 was 12,000. A very great number of them were landowners either freeholders or copyholders and numbered 1000. (Stonehouse). The great majority however were not well off.

The following section mainly follows the book: Hatfield Chace and Parts Adjacent, John Tomlinson 1882. (322 pages with maps). This book was facsimile reprinted in 200 copies, so was not common. It has since been reprinted in 2021 and is easily available now. In the following account, I attempt to convey and put in easy reading order much of which he wrote, in plain English. I have augmented his account with any other material I could find and tried to stitch the whole together here. For present day vegetation there are also passages from my tree study.

Vermuyden’s Plan

King James I had desired to drain the chase, which in his reign was at its greatest extent of “170,000 acres of which at least 70,000 acres of no value except for hunting, fowling, and fishing.” but could not neither find the means or men to undertake it. The idea to drain the chase was revived by Charles I by the encouragement of Vermuyden but caused untold problems since. There were various views on the land use of the area at the time. It is stated that many kingsmen wanted the land drained by making sluices etc and straightening and embanking rivers. They also did not want obstructions on the rivers, such as fisheries traps, so boats could pass unhindered. However, locals wanted flooding for fish and did not want sluices so fish such as eels and lampreys could pass; fisheries were a main livelihood for them. (Tomlinson)

Firstly, it is helpful to understand the origins of the chase itself, which are of uncertain date but probably were a hunting ground of royals from Saxon times (see earlier). The actual definition of the area of the chase and allotment of land ownership was much more thorough with the advent of the Norman period. Vermuyden knew the area already from his attending Prince Henry Frederick Prince of Wales hunt here. The quarrels following the drainage were well known at Westminster, since they had been on-going for three score years and ten (70 years) by 1700 (Pryme).

Vermuyden signed with King Charles I in 1626 to drain Hatfield Chase and improve it for agriculture. The reason the king was keen to do so was so he could have more control over the unruly inhabitants of his chase who abused his game, and since they had no farmed produce beyond subsistence level, their wealth could not be ascertained for taxation. He would also gain a third of the improved land to sell or rent, with Vermuyden getting another third and the residents the last third. King Charles I was very arrogant, unpopular and not trusted and believed in his right to be an absolute monarch. He imposed taxes without the consent of Parliament and married a Catholic, while he was Church of England. Charles was younger brother of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales who’s visit and hunting at Hatfield Chase is described above, who unfortunately died very young leaving Charles heir.

Dugdale said of the Commission appointed to look into the possible drainage of the Chase by King James I. “The Isle of Axholme and the bogs was considered to nourish beggars and idle persons.” And that the inhabitants abused their rights of common by taking the kings game, overgrazing, taking standing wood [as opposed to lying dead wood which commoners could take] and working land for crops which they had no right to (Tomlinson).

Hunter says “The peasantry of a country abounding in game will be less civilised and less tractable than where there is not the same temptation to brave the hazards which attend nocturnal depredation… the temptation to marauding and plunder were great in the vicinity of a well stocked chase, in which no owner resided, and lawless spirit which such a mode of life would generate, is probably to be in part attributed the violence with which the natives of these regions opposed the persons who undertook to reclaim the flooded land.”

In other parts “The dwellers in Lincolnshire fens were, in Saxon times, called Girvii, or Fen Dwellers ; a race of men, according to the nature of the place where they dwell, rude, uncivil, and envious to all others.” (Stonehouse)

De-la Pryme described the area and its inhabitants as ‘Poor and beggarly, barbarously and thinly inhabited’. (Tomlinson)

Skertchley wrote, of the fens of the Wash area “The land literally overflowed with food and as a consequence the people degenerated into a thriftless race, whose only strong passion was a love of freedom.”

Of course, the residents of Hatfield Chase were very fond of their freedoms and had no desire to willingly give up their liberal existence. They did not want to be farmers only, and knew if their wealth could be measured, they could be taxed accordingly. They were also no doubt aware that their allotted third of land, whose improvements were paid for by the other two thirds, would be the least fertile and prone to flooding.

King Charles I asserted he owned all the chase and the 15 manors which bordered it, there being only tenants and copyholders living there and there were no rights of common (except minor ones like turbary for Crowle) and in order to effectively drain Hatfield Chase, it was necessary to also drain a large portion of the adjoining Isle of Axholme, where the people claimed they did have common rights due to an ancient deed. This was something the residents here wholeheartedly opposed too. Here Vermuyden was granted extraordinary powers. Firstly, the Mowbray Deed, which was supposed to protect the common land of the manors of the Isle of Axholme forever, was deemed unlawful since his ancestor was a traitor of the crown and following his execution by hanging at York his lands had been ceased by the crown, therefore annulling the deed. A lord of the manor was still needed to reside there but the manor itself belonged to the crown. On this pretence Vermuyden seized 2868 acres of common land, which was four times the size of any manor allowed by the Court of Exchequer. The second injustice was that Vermuyden was allowed to make whatever ditches and drains were required to drain the land for the participants in the chase and that the upkeep of these drains would be met in full by the Islemen, since it was also beneficially draining their land too. The fact that they didn’t want their land draining at all was a moot point. To profit from the drainage it required the commons and shared open fields be enclosed, and so become private, which Vermuyden tried to have included in his act. The Islemen resisted this better and largely kept their open field system until new bills made enclosure easier. Following these new bills an act for enclosure was obtained for Crowle, Eastoft and Ealand in 1813. This act made great provision for the warping of the land from the Trent.

The Immigrant Dutch and French Huguenots

Because of lack of local support, Vermuyden struggled to employ locals for his grand scheme and so he employed immigrants and encouraged more to come over. If they became participants, that is investors, they could expect great rewards in land and money, he promised them. Many of the immigrants to our area at the time of the drainage were Dutch and French Huguenots (Protestants) who were escaping religious persecution from the Catholic Church. They also settled much of lowland SE England too. Some Belgium Walloons who practiced a distinct Celtic Catholicism also arrived.

Vermuyden laid into his plans with great energy and speed, and within a short period, had affected the same. His speed and greed however were to be his undoing, as it later transpired his drainage scheme had severe limitations and were insufficient to hold back the combined waters. This meant although he had made great swathes of land now profitable to cultivate, he also had displaced flood waters to other areas previously little or largely unaffected.

Vermuyden drained Hatfield Chase in five years and it cost £55,825 for labour and materials and altogether £200,000 including compensation for land etc.


Landscape Features & Vegetation

The Participents Allocation, Vermuyden (Korthals-Altes 1925)

Landscape Features & Vegetation

There was much vexation caused by this drainage and this can be seen by later claims from west of the River Don and the Chase area of Fishlake, Sykehouse and Snaith who became disadvantaged by increased flooding. Vermuyden tried to fob the people off by saying they should raise their banks higher o prevent this. To which the people rightly said he should pay for that as it was he was set to gain by these great drainage works not them. Vermuyden was implacable and this led to these people taking Vermuyden to court and rioting and causing great damage to Vermuyden’s works and materials.

Vermuyden’s work wrought huge changes on the landscape and we will look at each feature here. Two years after commencing his works Vermuyden had completed most and sent his commissioners to deal with land allocation amongst the hostile locals. The commissioners were:

Viscount Aire, Sir John Saville, Sir Ralph Hansby, and Sir Thomas Fanshaw, proceeded to allot the so-called “reclaimed lands.” The commoners’ claims wanted satisfying ; and, no doubt, the participants were anxious to hold real securities for their great risk and expenses. De-la Pryme tells us:

The country being thus draind a Commission of Survey and Division was sent down in 1627, directed to ye Right Honble Lord Viscount Aire, Sr John Saville and others, summonds ye inhabitants of ye Manor of Hatfield unto them, gave up all their pretended Rights of Common that they had in ye King’s Chace into his majesty’s hands ; begging onely as much common to remain to them and their heirs for ever as his majesty should think fitting, &c., whereupon their part was immediately set out to them.”

And you would rightly guess that they had absolutely no say in this and this was the worst land of the three parts (Vermuyden’s, kings and commoners). There was great anger amongst the commons for being deprived of their land rights, especially those who had been granted it forever in the Mowbray Deed. The other aggrieved parties were the unfortunate residents at the west side of the River Don. They had previously never known any floods the like of those in the chase, but now with the overburdening of the north arm of the River Don they were the ones receiving the excesses of water during heavy rains and high tides. This was flooding areas around Fishlake, Stainforth, Sykehouse and Snaith and Cowick. They countered the commissioners saying:

“You are trying to reclaim a vast district by throwing the waters upon us, who have had anciently a greater immunity from the same : there can be no equitable adjustment of rights among new settlers on the levels, until the injury done to us is amended.”

Vermuyden replied: “You must follow our example ; raise your banks on the north side of the Don river to a level with ours, when the water will be carried down more speedily towards the Humber.” “But,” said the Fishlake and Sykehouse people, “we are not undertaking great engineering works for a money consideration ; and why should we be injured, and put to increased costs through your schemes and alterations ?” The participants would not or could not acknowledge the reasonableness of these complaints ; so through many subsequent years there was much litigation, and even riots in consequence. From MSS (manuscript) of one of who was a participant we read :- “While the great projector was actively employed in this undertaking he found himself mightily annoyed by the gnats and flies, that is the common sort of inhabitants, that set upon him when he should rest ; for they, finding those mounds of earth cast up for his ease and security would prove their utter ruin, and dam that water upon their ancient lands above, which should lay upon his improvements below, disturbed him in his works ; and when that would not do, in great numbers they burnt his carts, barrows and working instruments in great heaps at night. They were aided in those riots by persons of quality and position, especially Robert Portington, Esq., of Barnby-dun.” Pryme continues “Yet for all this, tho’ they had yielded up their pretended right to their common thus, and signed it with their own seals, and thereby cut themselves out of all title thereto, yet one Robert Portington and other factious seditious people, had ye impudence to rise up in rebellion against them and destroy their banks and works, and to shoot and wound several of ye workmen, and burn and destroy all their wheelbarrows, spades, &c.”

The consequence of which was that the banks upon Fishlake, Stainforth and other parts not being thorow [through] these riots able to be got finished, a small flood came, which did some tho’ not much damage. Upon this, tho’ it was long of themselves, ye inhabitants of Stainforth, Fishlake and Sikehouse made a terrible complaint.”

Pryme being of Dutch descent and in favour of ‘improvement naturally took Vermuyden’s side. As for the inhabitants signing away their rights, this probably wasn’t voluntary, the king granting Vermuyden exceptional rights to complete his works and they obviously were not getting the benefits of the drainage they were no doubt promised. At the court in Pontefract, the somewhat exaggerated accounts of loss and damage (according to Vermuyden) were listened to favourably. It was now clear to all that cutting off two arms of the River Don and channelling all that water via the last northern arm to the River Aire and then Ouse was notworking as planned. Vermuyden carried on and got knighted for his work too. The king also decided to now, 5th February 1629, to realise some cash by a life lease of his third of improved land (of the former common and chase) to Vermuyden for £10,000 straight away and annual rent of £195. 3s. 5.5d., and one red rose. This third included part of the chase, and the manor of Hatfield also, which were legally the king’s.

“Sir Cornelius Vermuyden,” says a bitter enemy “began to cast about what he was doing, and what he should do. And now it is he begins to trick. Therefore, before all the parcels of commonable ground were by his Majesty’s agreement allotted to the freeholders, copyholders and tenants, he applies himself to the king, and purchases of his majesty not only his third part of the commonable grounds, but also the manor of the lordship of Hatfield ; and by colour of this he and his partners had possessed themselves of all or most of the surrounding grounds, and had enclosed, shared, and divided the same amongst themselves, without calling any of the said inhabitants and tenants thereunto ; and had left to the said tenants such part of the said commonable ground as did lie in the flats and lowest places.”

Vermuyden also got grants to the king’s other thirds of improved lands in the Isle of Axholme, and also in the Snaith, Rawcliffe and Crowle areas. The fee-farm rents being £462. 17s. and £281. This was a crafty move by Vermuyden as it meant since he was now the owner, all the tenants and copyholders had him as lord of the manor, which basically quelled their complaints, since they would come to nothing.

North-west of the Don in Fishlake and Sykehouse, Vermuyden eventually came to an agreement through the appointed referees of The Viscount Wentworth and The Lord Darcy on 26th August 1630 to install a good bridge over the Don and maintain the banks both sides for a reasonable annual fee. Here again Vermuyden showed he was crafty and untrustworthy as he neglected these works in favour of ones to benefit himself and his participants. This did not work, following legal complaints in 1632, it was ruled in the Star Chamber on 8th May 1635 and in fact the referees mentioned and the Lord President and Council of the North took severe action against Vermuyden for breaking the agreement. It was ruled that Vermuyden should make their damages good and that furthermore all lands of the inhabitants manor should be returned as was to original copyholders with all previous rights and privileges at fixed rates. All tenants would have liberty to cut wood and for graving [peat] turves in the following allotted commons plots. In the West Moor 893 acres, the Lings 210 acres, East Tramlings 202 acres, Riston and Brereham Carr 380 acres, Bramwith Marsh 66 acres, The West Nab 138 acres, Kirk Town Nab 15 acres, with a portion of Ditch Marsh and 200 acres beyond.

Vermuyden was so aggrieved that he abandoned the area for a time and concentrated instead in putting his Hatfield manor in order and resolving the issues there remaining with participants.

But of course, floods and damage continued and this eventually led Vermuyden to build the Dutch River to alleviate this, which was not totally successful and cost him a lot of money.

As stated, the people of the Isle of Axholme suffered immensely too and would not cease their struggles for compensation for a long time. If Vermuyden thought he had had a hard time of it already, he was unaware that worse was yet to come. Following the Mowbray Deed, see earlier, granting the common of the Isle of Axholme to its inhabitants forever, the said inhabitants did not recognise Vermuyden’s right through the king to compulsory take whatever land he needed for his drainage scheme, for whatever compensation price he deemed reasonable. Indeed it was worse than the Isleonians originally thought, since they believed Vermuyden only required to cut drainage channels through their land, when in fact Vermuyden planned to claim all the land, since the king deemed their Deed invalid since the previous Mowbray had forfeited this land back to the Crown due to acts of treason, for which he was hanged.

The troubles in Axholme were lengthy and started with Vermuyden’s purchase from the king of the Manor of Epworth. The inhabitants of Epworth would agree to no compromise, or compensation, either in land or money (Tomlinson). The Commission appointed to allot the drained land, a third each to the king, Vermuyden and the commoners, allotted at first 6,000 acres out of the total 13,400 acres of the common to the commoners. The inhabitants totally rejected this and referred a complaint to the Attorney General Sir John Banks. He decreed that an addition 1,000 acres be allotted from Haxey Common as well as also Epworth South Moor and Butterwick Moor. Furthermore, he ruled that since the poor of Epworth, Haxey, Owston and Belton, all part of the Epworth Manor, would be greatly suffer due to the now lack of fish, that the participants should pay for £400 for hemp to employ them in the making of sackcloth and cordage. (Tomlinson). Still unsatisfied the people claimed the whole of the isle commons, citing the Mowbray Deed. They set to destroying the works of the participants in riots and some were arrested. About this time the Civil War broke out, and the Isleonians took against the king and his drainage scheme with Vermuyden and sided with the Parliamentarians.

In a pretence to flood the land again, the commoners circulated a rumour that Sir Ralph Hansby was in Doncaster with a Royalist army about to attack them. So, again using the Parliamentarian pretext they opened the flood gates at Snow sewer and drowned the land to a considerable depth all around for 4,000 acres. They posted soldiers with muskets for seven weeks to shoot anyone who attempted to close them. The king at this time was in York arranging his supporters to vote in favour of war with his parliament.

“Seven of the inhabitants of the Manor of Epworth brought their actions at law against the said participants, for recovering of what had been previously settled by decrees, with their own consents.

Whereupon the said participants exhibiting their bill in the Exchequer chamber, for establishing their possession against those seven, obtained this order ; viz. that the Solicitor-General should proceed upon the same in that court with all convenient speed : and in the mean time possession of the lands in question to be held in quiet by the plaintiffs, as it had been formerly settled by the said court, and enjoyed at any time since the said decree made : and likewise, their suits at law should be stayed by the injunction of the same court until the hearing of the cause.

Upon which injunction the sheriff had a writ of assistance, and came with near a hundred persons to quiet the possession, and set up the banks of those 4,000 acres first laid waste. But one Daniel Noddel, solicitor for the before-mentioned inhabitants, hearing of the said sheriffs’ coming, got together about 400 men, and forced him with all his assistants to fly ; and having so done, demolished what he the said sheriff had before caused to be set up.

The participants therefore being thus forcibly kept out of possession brought their bill to hearing ; which the said Noddel discerning, he drew in to his aid Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburne (a person of a most turbulent spirit, and who since died a quaker) and Major John Wildeman ; and whilst the cause was hearing, joined with the said inhabitants in a further riot on the remaining 3,400 acres, impounding the tenants’ cattle, and refusing to admit of replevins [where a landlord has levied distress, the tenant may apply to the county court for replevin], and so forced them to what rates they pleased for their redemption.

Whereupon the said participants, not knowing otherwise what to do, complained several times to Michal Monckton, a justice of the peace in those parts ; who not only refused to grant any warrants, or pursue any legal course for their preservation , but on the contrary gave encouragement to the rioters ; and upon an indictment exhibited against some of them in the sessions for those outrages, which were found by the jury, some of the justices there sitting, thinking it fit to fine the delinquents at four or five marks a piece, the said Monckton moved openly that their fines might be but six pence a piece ; and insisted so earnestly thereon that the fine was imposed on them was no more than twelve pence a man.

Howbeit after this, viz. in February 1650, upon a full hearing in the Exchequer, a decree was made for establishing the possession with the participants ; which being published on the place in the presence of divers of the said inhabitants, the latter having gotten the influence of the said Lilburne, Wildman, and Noddel, declared that they would not give any obedience thereto, nor to any order of the Exchequer or Parliament, but said that they could make as good a parliament themselves, some pressing that it was a parliament of clouts, and that if it sent any forces they would raise men to resist them ; and thereupon proceeded to the defacing of the church at Sandtoft, and within ten days’ time did totally demolish the town itself with other houses thereabout to the number of fourscore and two habitations, besides barns, stables and outhouses, as also a windmill ; and destroyed all the corn and rape then growing on the said 3,400 acres ; the damage of all which amounted to fourscore thousand pounds, as appeared by testimonies of sundry witnesses.

All which waste and spoil being done the said Lilburne, Wildman, Monckton, and Noddel confederating together, made an agreement with several of the inhabitants of Epworth, that in consideration of 2,000 acres of the said land so wasted to be given to Lilburne, and Wildman, and 200 acres to Noddel, they the said Lilburne, and Wildman, and Noddel should defend them from all those riots past, and maintain the said inhabitants in possession of all the rest of the 7,400 acres ; and in accomplishment of that agreement sealed deeds accordingly.

And after this the said Lilburne and Noddel went to another lordship, called Crowle, where they agreed with some of the inhabitants thereof to get their commons again, as Epworth had done ; advising them to impound the tenants’ cattle and that if any replevin were brought they should impound them again, and break down their fences, eat up their crops, and so tire them till they had attorned tenants to them ; all which they accordingly did. The tenants therefore being thus terrified, and seeing their condition no better than their neighbours, took leases from Jaspar Margrave and George Stovin (two of Lilburne’s confederates) who gave bods to save them harmless. And at the making of these leases Noddel declared openly in the presence of diverse persons that he would lay £20 with any man that as soon as Lilburne came to London there should be a new parliament, and that Lilburne being one of them should call that parliament to account ; adding further that they having now finished this of Lincolnshire (meaning gotten the land back) they would go into Yorkshire (i. e. the rest of the Level), and do the like there ; then they would give the Attorney General work enough to do.

And Noddel said at another time, that now they had drawn their case they would print it, and nail it to the parliament door ; then if members would not do them justice they would come up, and making an outcry pull them out by the ears. Having thus possessed themselves of the proportions above mentioned, they demised the several parts thereof to sundry persons, Lilburne himself repairing the house [at Sandtoft] which had been built for the minister, and almost pulled down by the rioters. He put his servants to reside and keep possession in it, and employed the church as a stable and barn.

All about that time, likewise, some of the inhabitants of Misterton pulled down another slues, neer that town, which occasioned the river of Trent to break down the banks and overflow the whole level, so that the barns and stacks of corn were drowned a yard high, at the least.

And thinking this not to be mischief enough, the inhabitants of the Isle of Axholme did about Michaelmasse in the year 1645 tumultuously throw down a great part of the banks, and filled up the ditches, putting in cattle into the corn,” &c.

Tomlinson says of one of the main ringleader, John Lilburne, this:

One of the most remarkable demagogues who took part in these local disputes was John Lilburne, alias, “Freeborn John.” While an apprentice he gave signs of repugnance to restraint by complaining before the city chamberlain of his master’s harshness. Clarendon observes : - “This man, before the Troubles, was a poor bookbinder ; and for procuring some seditious pamphlets against the church and state to be printed and dispersed had been severely censured in the Star Chamber, and received a sharp constigation, which made him more obstinate and malicious against them.” While in prison he read with avidity all the virulent polemic discourses and libellous tracts which could be procured ; “from whence, with the venom, he had likewise contracted the impudence and bitterness of their style, and by practice brought himself to the faculty of writing like them : and so, when that licence broke in of printing all that malice and wit could suggest, he published some pamphlets in his own name, full of that confidence and virulency which might asperse the government most to the sense of the people, and to their humour.” The number of tracts written by and of him amounted to several hundreds. During the Civil War he entered the army, and was taken prisoner by the Royalists, when the Parliamentarians regarded him as a martyr ; to whom Lilburne, having bribed his jailor, escaped. Royalty being deposed, and episcopacy trampled down, Lilburne turned the power of his invective, first against the parliament, and afterwards against the Protector- always discovering some glaring abuse to be rectified. At length Cromwell was denounced as the most evil, treacherous, mendacious, hypercritical, and tyrannical of leaders. The Protector met these public aspersions with apparent equanimity, but nevertheless, set spies to watch all the movements of “Freeborn John”; so that there was accumulated abundance of evidence, as the judicial advisers said, to sustain a charge of High Treason. Lilburne having been arrested and committed to Newgate, the trail commenced. Lilburne pleaded Not Guilty, and “sharp answers to some questions of the judges shew’d that he had no reverence for their persons, nor any submission to their authority.” He defended himself with all the adroitness of an Old Bailey practitioner, and put on that assumption of virtue which could suffer anything for the common weal.

On reading a contemporary report of the trail, to furnish material for this note, it is difficult to say which feature has surprised me most, that complacency the prisoner manifested (feeling probably, that he had the jury and populace on his side) to wrest obliquely the evidence against him, or the manifest zeal of the bar and the bench (based upon the highest instructions) to obtain, at all hazards, a conviction. When the jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty, extraordinary efforts were made by the judges in order to reverse the decision, but arguments and entreaties alike proved unavailing.

Lilburne, although acquitted by the Jury, was considered by Cromwell too dangerous an adversary to be allowed his liberty ; he was sent “from prison to prison,” until the protector of England himself died.

That Lilburne was a capable man, although cantankerous, no one will deny. Butler in his “Hudibras” makes pointed allusions to Freeborn John. Judge Jenkins said of him, that if the world was emptied of all but himself, Lilburne would quarrel with John, and John with Lilburne. After his decease appeared the following memorial :-

Is John departed, and is Lilburne gone?

Farewell to both, to Lilburne and to John.

Yet, being dead, take this advice from me,

Let them not both in one grave buried be :

Lay John here, and Lilburne thereabout,

For, if they both should meet, they would fall out.”


The legal proceedings for the Isle of Axholme commons dragged on until 1651 and are detailed in Tomlinson. The Michaelmas Term 1651. In the Court of the Exchequer the Common-right owners had trail, verdict, judgement, and execution in their favour, in the name of Thomas Vavasour of Bellwood, whose ancestor Richard de Belwood, was one of the eleven parties to the deed of Sir John de Mowbray. (Tomlinson) This was not however the end of the matter.



Earlier Periods

Remains from some earthworks suggest that some modification of the landscape occurred in this area during the Iron Age by native people. Much of their works has been lost or overworked since and so origins are much obscured.

The earliest artificial structures left in the study area relate to the Roman occupation era. People generally know of Roman roads, that were the first constructed hard surface roads of any length. In our area the Great North Road is the best example, stretching from London to the Scottish border and now largely incorporated into the modern A1. Local people are also aware of the Roman stone forts of the area too, the best example of which is York. In Doncaster far less is to be found because the fort here was made of the abundant wood. Less well-known large scale Roman structures are though actually still present in this area. South of the River Don are many Roman embankments which may have been built over earlier smaller scale Iron Age works (The Research Resource). The Romans also had weirs built upon them. Parts of the embankments of the northern part of the River Don itself are thought to be Roman in origin too. Of other settlements in the area, there were several, as the following tells.

There is a small fortlet at Burghwallis, 6½ miles (11km) along the road north towards Castleford, a small villa at Stancil about four miles to the south, also potteries nearby at Cantley just to the east, and others near the vexillation fortress at Rossington Bridge.” (Roman Britain)

Of the pottery quite a bit has been found and is on display in Doncaster Museum.

From the Roman period to the Vermuyden era, there were of course many other attempts to control the waters of the area to mans’ advantage, often not successfully. This included many dikes and weirs but nothing like on the magnitude of the Romans or what Vermuyden later undertook. Indeed, most of the locals positively embraced the wild nature of the area including its abundant waters and adapted their living accordingly. The freedom this gave them made them protective of any largescale attempts at drainage and conversion of their living to an agrarian way of life. They did not want to be farmers and pay rents and taxes. Much of the alterations to water courses then in this intervening period came via traders who wanted better managed rivers for boats for the transport of their goods to market towns. This caused conflict with the locals particularly with regard to their fish garths, their netted or wooden traps to catch fish especially eels. Weirs at water junctions caused problems too and were sometimes ripped out by angry boatmen. Low bridges or fords caused other boating hazards and conflict, arched bridges were harder to cross with a horse and cart and cost far more to build and maintain.

Ashfield Bank, Thorne built in 1626 this was one of the first structures to be built before the cutting off of the two eastern arms of the River Don. The bank is still present today, much as it was and is now a popular right of way where the public can walk through the countryside. The bank now has several curves in it, and these are explained due to breaches creating gores, or deep pools by the swirling of the waters. During bank repairs it was easier to build around these deep depressions than across as described earlier.

River Don the most important river of the area by volume had its two eastern arms between Thorne and Hatfield Moors severed in 1626, with all the waters instead being channelled into the main northern arm which had been straightened and deepened and embanked. This then at its northern most end emptied into the River Aire and so NE into the River Ouse/Humber. Of course, this killed the three major meres between the moors and their dependant fisheries. The increased load of water flowed well enough until heavy rains in the hills of its source combined with high tides overwhelmed all enormously and caused the largest floods of those times.

River Torne altered mainly in 1626 and 1768, greatly straightened, embanked and controlled into the Idle. It has a soak drain to protect land from flooding.

River Idle altered mainly in 1626 redirected by new cuts and channels into the River Trent. Much of its upper reaches beyond Doncaster, south of Bawtry are comparatively natural and much held by nature conservation bodies. Very recently European Beavers have been re-introduced.

River Went altered mainly in 1626 diverted and straightened and deepened, with some embankment but still a nice river.

Dutch River built in 1632 to 1635 at a cost to Vermuyden of £33,000. A latter works by Vermuyden, not as a canal for transport but to try and alleviate the flooding his works had now caused on the west of the River Don (northern arm) around Fishlake, Stainforth, Sykehouse and Snaith and Cowick. As straight as a canal and running NE to Goole. Between this and the canal alongside is an area of unused ground that has naturally regenerated woodland upon it and a cycle path.

Before hard surface covering for roads were invented by John McAdam, canals were the main arteries of the nation for heavy goods transport. Before steam engines took off in the industrial revolution of the Victorian 1800s, boats had sails or were pulled by horses that walked along the canals on towpaths. Nearly all towpaths these days, though unsurfaced or surfaced with loose aggregate, are public rights of way open to anyone on foot (Public Footpath) and for foot and non-motor transport (Public Bridleway) or all traffic (Byway).

In this area there are untold hundreds of miles of canals and dikes, with the major dikes large enough to take a small boat. Not all named drains are mentioned here, there are way too many, just the most significant ones.

Turnbridge Dike an artificial waterway to the River Aire of ancient and unknown date, possibly of monastic construction to ease flooding.


Stainforth Keadby Canal and South Soak Drain

Construction completed in 1802. It is km in length. South Soak Drain runs parallel and south of this canal. It was built as a precaution of floods overflowing the canal and drowning the farmland. For much of its length the canal also has a soak drain to the north, which however is not as substantial or continuous.

New Fleet Drain

Aire & Calder Navigation Knottingley and Goole Canal

Construction completed in 1905 and runs parallel to the Dutch River terminating at Goole docks. It is km in length.

New Junction Canal

Construction completed in 1905 and runs in a direct line from Barnby Dun north-north-east terminating at Southfield Reservoir, near the River Went and River Aire and west of the River Don.

River Dun Navigation

Started in 1793 and finished in 1802. A not straight canal running East of the River Don until it joins/becomes the New Junction Canal at Kirk Bramwith, with another arm running north-east to Thorne where it becomes the Stainforth and Keadby Canal and heads east between the moors, in places in much the same route as the former two eastern arms of the River Don before terminating at Keadby at the River Trent.

South Engine Drain

Folly Drain

Three Rivers

Started in 1789 and finished in 1813. From near the A18 north-east to the River Trent at Keadby.

Thorne Waste Drain

Old Moor Drain

Warping Drains

Swinefleet Warping Drain

Reservoirs and Quarry Excavation Ponds

There are few actual reservoirs built in the area, but an uncountable number of former quarries which are now recreational ponds of various sizes. Many of the larger of these were excavations for sand and gravel, or for limestone for construction works. The sands and gravel deposits sit largely in the area south and west of Hatfield Moors, and so in the southern area of the former chase. Generally smaller ones were the result of excavations for clays for the making of bricks which would be fired in kilns using local coppice wood and latter coal. These old-style bricks were nearly always stamped with the local company name and there were a great many of them. Their use was often in the immediate area as can be seen still today in the Victorian time houses, such as the former colliery houses at Thorne and Moorends.

Southfield Reservoir

This is a balancing pool for the canals in this area, New Fleet Drain which becomes further east when it straightens the Aire & Calder Navigation Knottingley and Goole Canal.

Seven Lakes Country Park

Located at Ealand near Crowle these are former brick works excavations. Now fishing lakes with many holiday cabin.

Lindholme Lakes Country Park

Former sand and gravel pits.

Boston Park

The former sand and gravel pits that are on the southern part of what is now the Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve, Hatfield Moors.

Vermuyden said “These waters, as well as the boggs and morasses which they helped form, were accumulated by the destruction of the great forest by the Romans; that the trees which they left standing, after having set the brushwood on fire, being destitute of that support, as well as scorched and partially killed by the flames were easily overthrown by the strong wind; all which trees falling across the rivers which ran through this low country, soon dammed up the same, turned it into a great lake, and gave origen to the great turf moors that are here, by the gyrations and workings of the waters, the precipitation there from of terrestrial matter, the consumption of petrification of rotten boughs or branches, and vast increase in water moss, which wonderfully flourishes and grows upon such rotten ground, which even now since the drainage, and since that country is laid dry for miles round about – yet for all that are so turbid with water, and so soft and rotten, that they will scarce bear men to walk upon them.” (Tomlinson).

The majority of the extinctions (of insects mainly) from the local peat record are associated with ancient woodland habitat especially native pine forests. Many of the rare and nationally extinct beetle species also had a continental distribution and are not found in more oceanic western parts of Britain and NW Europe (Dinnin 1997).

After the Roman period and running up to the Norman period there was agricultural decline and forest grew back in swathes (Smith) and from then on increased mainly due to 35% (some say 50%) of the British population being killed off by plague, so that the population went from 4 million to maybe 2 million. From Domesday book we find that several parishes had in the Isle of Axholme wood and pasture a mile by one mile square, or even two miles square (Stonehouse). From then until the 16th Century, Leland (Henry VIII antiquarian) informs us “The principal woods of the isle (Axholme) is at Bellegrave Park by Hepworth (Epworth). There is also a praty wood at Crulle (Crowle), a lordship a late longing to Selleby (Selby) monasterie”.

Soon after the drainage King Charles I continued to disregard Parliament and tried to rule as an absolute monarch as in times past, as he believed was his right. The final straw was imposing new taxes which had not been approved by parliament, which he had disbanded in 1629, and which understandably many refused to pay. Almost without exception the people of Hatfield Chase and adjacent Isle of Axholme were already against the king on account of his and Vermuyden’s unfair imposition of the drainage of their land. King Charles was also unpopular with religious sects, as he tried to impose the Church of England universally and persecuted any others, particularly Puritan Protestants. As we saw with the immigration of workers for the drainage many of the Dutch and French were already escaping religious persecution from the Catholic Church on the continent. Huguenots could largely identify with Puritans and the Roman Catholic Walloons, though different were obviously still against the king. Methodism was not founded until over 50 years after the Civil Wars by John Wesley, from Epworth, Isle of Axholme. Therefore, the people here naturally supported the Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and riots then war broke out in 1642. The demands of the people were that there should be limits on the king’s power. Other troubles were happening in Ireland where Catholics were massacring Protestants, and to prevent this an army needed to be raised, but an army in the king’s name could not be trusted and so a parliamentary army was formed. Of course, this enraged the king and battles took place in England.

Oliver Cromwell, born 1599 was from East Anglia and a Member of Parliament for Huntingdon in 1628 and then for Cambridge from 1640-1649. He was related to Henry VIII minister Thomas Cromwell and so landed gentry (people with enough rent from their land as to not need to work for a living and owning land). His family circumstances had unfortunately left him poor and this is why he sold up and moved to rented accommodation at Huntingdon. He found faith with the Puritans and so opposed the king’s persecution. Cromwell joined the Parliamentary Army rising to captain. He was a fearless and enthusiastic cavalry leader and was always at the front of the charge, putting his faith in God’s protection. In 1644 the Royalists under Prince Rupert swept up the north-west of England and over the Pennines to relieve the besiegement of York by the Parliamentarians, which they did, and camped three miles west of the city at Marston Moor. The Parliamentarians met them, but battle did not commence immediately. When it did it was to be the largest and bloodiest battle of all the civil wars and saw Rupert lose his winning streak. They were not only defeated but routed as they fled back to York, with many more being struck down in the three-mile dash. The result of this was decisive and effectively meant the Royalists had lost all the north.

The success of the Parliamentarian army this time was put down to the discipline Cromwell imposed on his men. Rising in rank, he insisted that new recruits must have religious zeal and outstanding disciple. The men were ordinary common men, who were pious and their leaders were not gentry or aristocrats. They were not to mistreat civilians by plunder and rape, they must not drink or go with whores. This army was known as the New Model Army. By 1647 the war was all but over and negotiations began with the defeated, but uncooperative king. These talks went unresolved for a long time, as no one could decide what to do with the king. This did not sit well with some sections of the political movement, particularly the Levellers, who stood for equality between all men, particularly the vote, increased suffrage and tolerance of all religions. This group arouse in 1649 through protests to release the outspoken Parliamentarian John Lilburne from his numerous bouts in prison. Lilburne would not be silenced when he saw corruption. Whilst in prison he wrote his manifesto ‘An Arrow Against All Tyrants and Tyranny’. His supporter were Richard Overton, Willian Walwyn and Thomas Prince and for the most part had the support of the New Model Army. Things culminated with the publication of the ‘Agreement of the People’ which appeared at the Putney meetings in 1647. Parliament was mainly against the king’s trail and tried to find another agreement, but the king would still not cooperate. The New Model Army therefore stormed parliament with only those that supported the king’s trail allowed in to vote. This ‘Rump Parliament’ therefore passed a bill to put the king on trial. Cromwell seeing no alternative, came around to fully supporting this. The trial was on 20th January 1649, but the arrogant king refused to recognise its authority, declaring that since he was king, how could he be tried for treason? How could any court try a king? Cromwell had hardened his line by now seeing the king could never be trusted if allowed to continue to be monarch and would always seek more power over parliament and the people as he saw fit and so he forced a verdict which was given on 25th January to execute the king by severing of his head from his body and he was beheaded on 30th. The land was now a Commonwealth and Cromwell saw unfinished business with his army now, in Ireland, where the Protestants were still being massacred by the Catholics. He took the NMA over there and zealously fought the Catholic army. Here Cromwell’s disciplined army seemed to run riot, through rage, and many atrocities have been recorded. In 1653 he left Ireland and returned to London. On his return the reluctant Cromwell was hastily installed as Lord Protector. Cromwell died naturally in 1658 at 59, and Parliament then invited Charles II back from Scotland to retake the crown.

On his campaigns Cromwell passed through our region as de-la Pryme says “Oliver Cromwell, that great rebell and villane, marched through Hatfield and Thorne with several companys of horse into ye north and came back the same way.”.

George Stovin, who became Acting Commissioner of Sewers in Hatfield Chase collected all he could about the area and its drainage and intended, but never did, publish it. It is 458 pages long.

Main crops after the drainage and following warping included much Hemp and Flax with the market for them being at Gainsbrough. Wheat grew so heavy headed due to great fertility that it dropped its head to the ground and rotted. Wheat stems were twice as long as modern varieties. Following the introduction of potatoes, which were heavily adopted from 1800 in this area, they so drained the soil of nutrients that a following crop of wheat would not grow so heavy and made a much better crop. Cropping of potatoes was first followed by a crop of beans before wheat. The land was also heavily manured.

Up until enclosure the moorland scrub and woodland were cleared by landowners from their property into the moors, all land thus ‘improved’ could be claimed. These strips were called cables and there were originally 46 such cables here. The length of this strip was not set, only the width and this was set at a Dutch cable (cavell) length (kabellengte) 232.3 yards (212.4 meters) which fits fairly well with spacing on the maps. This may possibly have been corrupted in English for instance in the name Jones’ (Johan’s?) Cable (kabel) later. The other measurement used by Vermuyden was rods which equal 5.029 metres (16.5 feet).

In 1813 Thorne parish held 6086 acres of farmland divided into: Grass 1936 acres and arable: wheat and rye 1000, oats 1000, fallow 850 (of which about 150 acres were sown with turnips), clover 700, barley 300, potatoes 150, beans 150 (Miller 1804).

In about 1839 Stonehouse tells us a good crop of good land in the Isle of Axholme was around “one hundred sacks of potatoes per acre is reckoned a good crop, four quarters of wheat a fair crop, from eight to ten quarters of oats, four quarters of beans, and about two tons of clover. A good crop of flax would produce from thirty-five to fifty stones per acre. Sixteen tons of carrots per acre is a very good crop. At the time Stonehouse wrote, Hemp was no longer grown and had given way to more profitable potatoes. Flax was still grown but much reduced.

A UK quarter is 12.7 kgs. One ton is 907 kgs. One stone is 6.35 kgs. One sack is 50 kgs.

The Inclosure Act of Hatfield Manor was in 1811 and enclosed 2,300 acres between the moors. Following this was the 1824 Ordnance Survey map, very little woodland is shown in the vicinity of the moors, except for the Western edge. This map just predates the next field Enclosure award for Hatfield, Thorne and Fishlake of 1825. Apart from that which is still extant, such as that around Bell’s Pond, was a particular interesting piece which sat on the W side of Thorne Waste Drain and immediately N of Elmhirst Pump. It was triangular in shape and the long side which abutted the drain was about 500m, with the shortest side to the south being about 200m this gives an approximate area of 9.5 ha. The wood was in an area known as Tweenbridge and called Elmhirst Plantation, but many locals called it Bluebell Wood as there were native Bluebells present. It seemed to have plenty of English Oak trees and this along with the Bluebells suggests it could have been at least in some parts on a quite ancient previous wood. Indeed, many huge oaks were hauled up from the peat here (see later). It was totally destroyed in the 1950 or 1960s for agriculture, the only vestige being the area at the N end and E of the drain now known as Woodpecker Corner and at Elmhirst were some big oaks from that period or before and others survived as they were on the moor side of Thorne Waste Drain, this drain was dug in 1815. Both native Hyacinthoides non-scripta and Spanish Bluebells Hyacinthoides hispanica are found here today. About 0.5 km into the field to the W were two very much smaller outlier bits of woodland of which I have no details. Heading further S along Thorne Waste Drain there was woodland in the area that is now Elmhirst Wood just N of Casson’s Garden. The largest piece of woodland marked though is from the present southernmost point of the moors mainly along the E side of Thorne Waste Drain with a bit on the W side also, known as Whitaker’s Plantation and extending to about 50 ha. This woodland reached halfway to North Soak Drain which later was transformed into part of the Stainforth & Keadby Canal. Only the small western part of the wood now remains (though altered in shape by slight extension) and still goes by the same name.

The Commoners Lament; The Goose and the Common (annon.)

The law locks up the man or woman

Who steals the goose from off the common

But leaves the greater villain loose

Who steals the common from off the goose

The law demands that we atone

When we take things we do not own

But leaves the lords and ladies fine

Who take things that are yours and mine

The poor and wretched don't escape

If they conspire the law to break

This must be so but they endure

Those who conspire to make the law

The law locks up the man or woman

Who steals the goose from off the common

And geese will still a common lack

Till they go and steal it back


They hang the man and flog the woman

Who steals the goose from off the common

Yet let the greater villain loose

That steals the common from the goose

The law doth punish man or woman

That steals the goose from off the common

But lets the greater felon loose

That steals the common from the goose

The law locks up the hapless felon

who steals the goose from off the common

but lets the greater felon loose

who steals the common from the goose

The fault is great in man or woman

Who steals a goose from off a common

But what can plead that man's excuse

Who steals a common from a goose

There is also the ‘Powte’s Complaint’ (anon.).

Powte means the Sea Lamprey Petromyzon marinus. This ballad was sung about the streets in the Fen towns in Vermuyden’s days. (Korthals-Altes)

Come, Brethren of the water, and let us all assemble,
To treat upon this Matter, which makes us quake and tremble ;
For we shall rue it, if’t be true, that Fens be undertaken
And where we feed in Fen and Reed, they'll feed both Beef and Bacon.

They 'll sow both Beans and Oats, where never Man yet thought it ;
Where Men did row in Boats, ere Undertakers brought it ;
Ceres, thou behold us now, let wild oats be their Venture,
Oh let the Frogs and miry Bogs destroy where they do enter.

Behold the great Design, which they do now determine,
Will make our Bodies pine, a prey to Crows and Vermine,
For they do mean all Fens to drain, and Waters overmaster,
All will be dry, and we must die - 'cause Essex Calves want pasture.

Away with Boats and Rudder, farewell both Boots and Skatches,
No need of one nor t'other, Men now make better matches ;
Stilt-makers all, and Tanners, shall complain of this disaster,
For they will make each muddy lake for Essex Calves a Pasture.

The feather'd fowls have Wings, to fly to other nations ;

But we have no such things, to help our Transportations ;

We must give place o grievous Case : to horned Beasts and Cattle,

Except that we can all agree to drive them out by battel.

Wherefore let us intreat our ancient Water-Nurses

To shew their power so great as t’ help to drain their purses

And send good old Captain Flood to lead us out to Battel,

Then Two-penny Jack, with Scales on ‘s Back, will drive out all the Cattle.

This Noble Captain yet was never known to fail us ;

But did the conquest get all that did assail us ;

His furious Rage none could assuage ; but, to World’s great Wonder

He tears down Banks, and breaks their Cranks and Whirligigs asunder.

God Eolus, we do thee pray that thou will not be wanting ;

Thou never said’st us nay-now listen to our canting ;

Do thou deride their Hope and Pride that purpose our confusion,

And send a Blast that they in haste may work no good Conclusion.

Great Neptune, God of Seas, this Work must needs provoke ye ;

They mean thee to disease, and with Fen-Water choak thee ;

But with the Mace do thou deface, and quite confound this matter ;

And send thy Sands to make dry lands when they shall want fresh water

And eke we pray thee, Moon, that thou wilt be propitious,

To see that nought be done to prosper the Malicious ;

Tho’ Summer’s Heat bath wrought a Feat, whereby themselves they flatter,

Yet be so good as send a Flood, lest Essex Calves want water.

Following the Enclosure Awards, most hedges in this planned countryside were planted, (Rackham 1986) and some woodland planting was undertaken as former open field, ridge and furrow systems and some common land was parcelled into private landholdings. The extent of the planned countryside in this area can be seen by the larger uniform oblong fields used for arable crops in the former Chase area as opposed to say Moss, Sykehouse and Fosterhouses area of small irregular shaped hedged fields of unplanned countryside. The latter unplanned countryside was mainly pastureland and therefore had hedges of old long before any enclosure. This land was not enclosed either because the land was not good enough for more profitable arable land or because it flooded in winter (as much of it still does, for instance Went Ings) and so was only fit for grazing or hay meadows.

During the Twentieth Century however, nearly every hedge was grubbed out and woodland, previously planted mainly for game cover, much reduced. Even in the Twenty-first Century old hedgerows are still being ripped out, most notably in 2019 a hedgerow from Medge Hall NW to Pony Bridge. Very little woodland has actually been planted around the moors, though some farmers have proved the exception, some planting or extending existing wildlife or game cover to compensate a little for the removed hedgerows, for example at Top House Farm.


Present Woodland at Thorne

Then up to the Victorian era, but the modern era is relatively unknown, from pollen, due to the removal of virtually all the upper layers of peat over most of the site. However, quite accurate maps appeared from this period on, and so do some written records, so all is not lost. In this study we are concerned with the period from just before historical times to present.

If we discount extensive scrubby birch which has invaded much of the site post peat winning and the scattered older birch and focus only on woodland not on pure peat, then there is not a great extent. A natural bog would have had a lagg margin where there would be an intergrade or ecotone from peat bog to mineral soil fen which would have been covered with carr woodland and open fen. This is almost totally absent today with only small areas of artificial fen which has developed on poorly human warped areas or where substrate has been excavated when ditch digging.

Will Pits

As mentioned this is one area of woodland that developed on poor warp land. Will Pits dates from around mid-19th Century warping period, though there may have been some willows there before this. The greatest area of woodland at Thorne is located at Will Pits, or Willow Pits as they were (not Will Pitts as given in some publications; Shearburn & Pitts engineers who did some of the drains and warping around here were not involved) on the east side of Thorne Moors. Here marginal warpland on the wrong side (west) of the warping drain was abandoned and left to overgrow. This woodland can therefore be dated to when Swinefleet Warping Drain was dug from 1821 to 1845 (the drain was extended a couple of times following the initial main cut) so around 200 years. The wood has a fairly diverse mix of trees for carr woodland which is often species poor due to usually poor soils and standing water, including in descending order of presence 5+ species of willows, Silver and Downy Birch, Alder, Hawthorn, English Oak, Holly, Elder, Rowan, Aspen, Alder Buckthorn and Yew. The odd bit of Rhododendron that had got hold here has been eliminated. The wood was much more extensive having been reduced by about a third in the 1980s by the peat company, with that area becoming Will Pits Scrape. The peat company also dug the fire water pits of the name, at least one of which is still a pond full of sticklebacks.

Pony Bridge Wood

The second largest area of mature woodland is situated in the SE corner, and though much of it is relatively young mature birch there are older sections. These older parts are like Will Pits, situated on poorly warped land that was not used for agriculture and includes some English or Pedunculate Oak and even some Sessile Oak. Other species are 5+ willows, Rowan, Hawthorn and Elderberry. Infiltrating from the margins is rhododendron, but this has undergone large scale management clearance work from the adjacent areas and although it won’t be eliminated for many years it is however just stumps with some regrowth in most parts now.

Limberlost Wood

A very nice woodland of mature birch in the southernmost part of Thorne Moors on mainly drier higher ground peat with little species diversity, there being odd Rowan and Sweet Chestnut present along with Common Hawthorn.


Formerly Casson’s Gardens; is a peat area in the south of Thorne Moors where there was much rhododendron, now much reduced, but also extensive areas of birch, with a lot of mature examples. Variety is somewhat limited and apart from the aforementioned species there is little else apart from some willows.

Woodpecker Corner

Though small this is the most diverse patch of woodland on the moors, being situated on warpland, some species not expected on the acidic peat include Beech and Common Lime. Other species not found elsewhere or rare on the moors includes Horse Chestnut, Swedish Whitebeam and Norway Maple. The wood may be a remnant of the much more extensive ‘Bluebell Wood’ which was razed half a century ago and covered Elmhirst and other areas W of Thorne Waste Drain to the extent of 9.5 ha and was largely native woodland predominately of English Oaks.

A survey with photographs was undertaken by myself in 1991 (as a young English Nature volunteer) of this wood and is included here, and it may be noted there have been small changes, mainly due to a few large trees being lost to fire (generally from misguided camp fires). There is much young growth of several species.

Former Colliery Area

Some woodland exists in this area on poor warpland, and the underlying clay, which in places is not very far down, has been exposed by ditch and pond digging. Bell’s Wood is the main area here. It is largely Sycamore with some lovely young oak woodland and much hawthorn. None of the woodland is particularly old and indeed most did not survive during the miners’ strike 1984-85. The now mostly coppiced woodland has regrown strongly. It does include a lot of Wild Privet and quite a few nice Hazel or Filbert bushes and two Sweet Chestnuts formerly trees but now coppice (and at least one sapling). A Norway Maple avenue was planted along part of the former colliery road. There are several mature Norway Maples. The only elms, Wych Elm, are found here and number 16, but with some of the largest already dying from Dutch Elm Disease.

Black Poplar Populus nigra hybrids (Populus x canadensis type) with N American Eastern Cottonwood P. deltoids exist on the eastern margin of the Moorends Colliery Recreation Ground, which most conform to the old variant ‘Railway Poplar’. White Poplar are found around the Recreation Ground boundary. On other colliery land covered with spoil it is mostly birch and willow scrub but also with plenty of young oak. On the level colliery spoil there are quite a lot of Cultivated Apple trees (40+), which have regressed to unrecognisable strains. There is a medium Lombardy Poplar Populus nigra ‘Italica’ on the flat colliery spoil and several smaller ones elsewhere and some Scot’s Pine and there are a few Dogwood. There are quite a few small Swedish Whitebeam (maybe 20). Field Rose is scarce but Dog Rose is present here and around other margins. Broom is present in some areas, such as along the former colliery road, Gorse is very rare. In Bell’s Wood there are 2 mature False Acacia. Wall Cotoneaster and Buddleia are widespread. There is at least one Himalayan and two Tree Cotoneaster.

Jones’ Cable

This is a one-mile strip of land belonging to Thorne Moorends Council its alternative name being Council Strip. It was for many years just a lane but eventually gained Public Footpath status and was a main access point to the NNR at Woodpecker Corner. It was originally 60 m wide. Forty years or more ago it consisted of a raised bank, which formerly was used for council tipping of mainly ash and rubble. On both sides were two large ditches and both were lined with huge mature very species diverse hedgerows particularly at the eastern end towards the moors. It was much barer to the west and overrun will Rosebay Chamerion angustifolium where ash had been dumped and towards the houses were many garden escapes such as Japanese Rose. It was devastated on 9th and 10th November 1984 when a local farmer decided to rip out the outer two most mature hedges and put plastic drainage pipes in the two outermost ditches and fill them with soil and claim the land for agriculture and also at around the same time removed the hedgerow from the end of this path to Woodpecker Corner and the two brick bridges at each end of this bit. The link to the north to the colliery area here was treated likewise. This theft quite rightly caused public outrage but following letters to the press, the council refused to take him to court but he was asked to plant some trees. About 200 tiny saplings of various species, some of which did not grow here before (Field Maple for example) were planted but were a sorry compensation for the mature oak, Ash and full-sized Hawthorn hedges lost. The result is a public footpath which is now only 45 m wide at its widest W end and only 30 m at the moors end, where a huge Dogwood grows. Eventually, when Tweenbridge Windfarm was built, it was extended to meet the moors at the colliery area, Bell’s, again.

Inkle Moor

This area is very interesting in that it retains the only vestige of old unwarped fenland in this area. The original covering of peat if any must have been removed long before any major drainage works. The reason this strip was spared from warping is that the owners would not pay Makin Durham to participate in the land improvement program. The area has been dug for clay for the local brick kilns, and therefore as a consequence has some interesting small water bodies, most notably Inkle Moor Pond. This pond has retained a remarkable relic assemblage of fen invertebrates and is one of the most important water bodies in Yorkshire for water beetles (Hammond 2017). The trees, particularly the Grey Willow are severely encroaching on this pond. Other common species include English Oak, Ash, and some large unclipped Hawthorn hedges. In amongst the hedges are other interesting species such as the 2 Cultivated Pears and a very large Crab Apple. Exotics include one mature Swedish Whitebeam, the largest of the moors, laurels and hybrid poplars. Along the margins with the railway are some very straight trunked tall White Willows, that resemble Cricket Bat Willow variety; though whether they are or not I cannot say.


The deep pools here were dug into the deepest depths of peat to harvest the densest basal layers, which contained natural peat wax which is a dark waxy substance extracted from the peat using organic solvents. Useful products extracted by heating the peat in a kiln and condensing and distilling the gases include: methyl or wood alcohol, ammonia or ammonium sulphate, and acetic acid or acetate of lime, which are obtained by treating the tar water or lighter distillates; and illuminating oils, lubricating oils, paraffin wax, phenol (creosote oil and carbolic acid), and asphalt, which are obtained from the tar (Davis 1953). These products were particularly important during the war years when oil was difficult to import and the paraffin from here was used to run tractors on the farms. After the war, when oil became easily available again, it was no longer practical or economic to continue and the industry died. Many trees here were of practical use with much Sycamore coppice present, some of which was last cut during the miners’ strike and Cultivated Apple and mature hawthorn hedges around small meadows. The very deep peaty pools have mature birches and young oaks around. There is also plenty of willow on the margins at the extreme south end of Longthorpe’s the largest single stem tree on the moors a huge White Willow.

North-Western Goole Moor

A spur of moorland juts N at the W side of Goole Moor, often referred to as Northern Goole Moor. It is perhaps the only area of virtually unworked peat on Thorne Moors, but seems to have been cleared of vegetation ready for warping as it is not shown on earlier maps, and a drain was dug across its south part going E-W. Being higher ground, it perhaps couldn’t be warped and was left to nature and is now a private area for pheasant shoots. The fact it was higher undisturbed ground means some very large trees have grown here, particularly about 7 English Oaks. These are all more or less on the line of the warping drain so may have grown up along it since that was dug. Other species include willows, with a huge example of White Willow present, a fairly large stand of Aspen, birches, some Alder (including a huge coppice which has the largest girth of any tree on the moors), Hawthorn and Elder.

Marginal Woodlands

Some remnants of wooded areas and of overgrown boundary features (perhaps along a warping drain or an isolated corner) hold a few nice trees. The most notable area is NE Goole Moor where some nice old Hawthorns are left from the boundary. Also present are a few mature White Poplar and some huge White Willows. On the actual peat moors there are only one or two Guelder Rose on the NW side but not far off, in less acidic farmland there is plenty. Gorse is scarce but present along Thorne Waste Drain between Woodpecker Corner and Elmhirst and also at the colliery area. Alder is scattered throughout all the edge of the moors.

Crowle Moor

Crowle Moor is owed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and fortunately never suffer from open peat milling. Some private parcels of peat moor were still being extracted for peat even after the handover of Thorne Moors in 2005, but all have since been bought out and ceased. Crowle unlike Thorne has several houses with large gardens on its edge, with some exotic species planted there; for example Eucalyptus, laurels and co. whilst there are some exotics many have a lot of native vegetation such as birch, willow and pine. There is also a conservation grazing area with some Gorse which has been planted with standard native trees. Across Crowle Moor the species to be found are: Leylandii and other exotic evergreens, Scots Pine, White Willow, Grey Willow, Goat Willow, Golden Weeping Willow, (probably other willows too), Aspen, Silver Birch, Downy Birch, Common Alder, Beech, English oak, Cultivated Apple, other fruit trees in gardens, Rowan, Common Hawthorn, Gorse, Blackthorn, Japanese Cherry, laurel, Sycamore, Holly, Rhododendron, Dog Rose, Eucalyptus, Ash, Elder, Wild Privet, Garden Privet.

Introduced Non-Native Species of Trees and Shrubs on Thorne Moors

Some species have already been mentioned. The most widespread of introduced woody stemmed plants is Rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum and varieties thereof. This originated from two main sources and areas, namely the ‘gardens’ of Makin Durham on the W side and William Casson on the SW side. These gardens specialized in the propagation of ericaceous garden plants for sale to the public. Of course, on abandonment of the gardens the rhododendron ran riot over the peat moors covering around 200 hectares, before large scale clearance and control. Casson grew all manner of plants and his gardens were a place for rich locals to come and spend a day. Fire was always a constant hazard and Casson placed notices up which read.

Ye who come here to laugh and talk,

To smoke a pipe, or crack a joke,

I’d have you know it is my desire,

You do not set this place on fire.

Botanist also came, particularly to see Rannoch Rush Scheuchzeria palustris which was an extreme rarity even then, located at a bog pool a little way onto the moors.

Sheep’s Laurel Kalamia angustifolia is found in the S part of the moors towards Limberlost. There are about four Cherry Laurel Prunus laurocerasus bushes on the NW side of Goole Moor, none very big at present.

Present Woodland at Hatfield

Surrounding Hatfield is a more diverse landscape than found around Thorne Moors. This is mostly the result of natural land features such as old and existing river courses. Besides these linear features with often accompanying meadows there are the extensive deposits of sand and gravel which have been worked for a long time leaving a legacy of old quarry workings which have mostly turned into ponds and been developed for fishing, water sport, holiday chalets or nature conservation. Further variation is found with the small rises left by drifted deposits of glacial material, particularly Lindholme Island. The former airfield and prison area and gardens also contribute variety.

Lindholme Island

This was not surveyed by Ian McDonald for his Flora by Foot (2005-2006) as it is held privately. Some of it is SSSI however. This site (48.5 ha) therefore yielded some new species; all non-native however. A surrounding woodland comprises mainly Silver Birch with some Rhododendron. Most of the notable trees are near the buildings, except for the largest English Oaks, Stovin remarked in Gentleman’s Magazine 1747 that there were ‘a few old oaks’ (Peck 1813). Also, near the buildings are some planted non-native species, most of which are not found elsewhere on the reserve. Native species include Yew, Scot’s Pine, Beech and Common Lime. The largest oaks however are the trees which most draw attention with their impressive size. Non-natives include Monkey Puzzle, Leylandii, European Larch, Sitka Spruce, Corsican Pine, Cultivated Pear, Cultivated Apple, Cultivated Cherry, Portugal Laurel, Sycamore and False Acacia.

Sandy Lane

This appears to be a very old route (now private in long stretches) with extensive birch woodland along it, and a few big ones, but with also many mature trees of a few other species, which have either simply grown along the route or been planted. The track seems to follow the soil boundary here where it goes from the peat bog to the more sandy soils, which no doubt influences the range of species which may grow. As well as the Silver Birch, there are many mature Sycamore, but none of any particular large size. Similar can be said for the English Oaks of which there are less. The Scot’s Pine here are few, large, quite straight and spaced and may well have been planted. Odd Rhododendrons can be found too. Just off of Sandy Lane to the South less than 100m and on the boundary of the NNR and farmland, stands a truly impressive sized Wild Cherry, with several tree sized suckers.

Badger Corner

This area has quite a few hectares of woodland around it, some of the very nice young birch and oak woodland adjoining from the farmland is private but no doubt increases its usefulness for wildlife. Actually on the reserve it is nearly all dense youngish birch stands but there has been quite extensive thinning to benefit wildlife by NE.

Ten Acre Lake

The 10 hectare lake (more than one lake merged making the current lake much larger than the name) is surrounded on all sides by mature birch woodland, in places quite dense. Where this abuts private land, such as the airfield or farmland boundaries it seems to be older and have more diversity of species. Again this is no doubt aided by the transition from pure peat substrate to sand and gravel soils. Here can be found some nice but not remarkably sized oaks for example and some Rowan as well as 10 Wild Cherry, derived from suckers. There is also Scots Pine, Aspen, Alder, Holly and Rhododendron.

Stainforth Moor

This is an interesting area due to the marginal private houses and gardens with their specimen native trees and exotics.

Marginal Woodland at Hatfield

Around much of the perimeter of Hatfield Moors there is extensive birch woodland, often dense and young and generally on drier ground. This can extend over the boundary into private moor or farmland as at Hatfield Peat Works, Belton Moor, Sandy Lane, Roe Carr and New Porters or the prison area. There is also extensive woodland, with much oak along Roe Carr and North Idle Drain. Different species may be found in these non-peat areas such as the Lombardy Poplars at Canberra Farm or Wild Cherry near the prison.

Introduced Non-Native Species of Trees and Shrubs on Hatfield Moors

The most widespread of introduced woody stemmed plants is again Rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum and varieties thereof. At Lindholme Island near the buildings are some planted non-native species (some already mentioned), most of which are not found elsewhere on the reserve. Species include Monkey Puzzle, European Larch, Sitka Spruce, Portugal Laurel and False Acacia. Further to the south of the Island is a stand of mature Corsican Pines.


It is obvious from even a cursory glance at the history of our area and Britain and Europe in general that times past could be very turbulent and unpredictable in the extreme. The sword ruled and this filtered down through all levels, and if you stepped out of line or pretended to a higher position, then you had to be prepared to fight in battle. We like to believe we live in more settled times, but do we really? Even since WWII conflicts continued in Europe even to this day. It is not just the people who suffer either, the land suffers enormously too. Looking at the most recent and ongoing conflict in Ukraine, it is obvious the farming industry has been totally disrupted and we can be quite certain wildlife has suffered considerably as well. It is not just from conflict in protected reserves, but also in areas such as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone where wildlife was thriving and several re-introductions of species such as European Bison and Wolf were going well. As well as physical damage to the forest and bogs there can be no doubt that anything edible has been mercilessly pursued to supplement bland army rations.

Looking specifically at the main event in the study area, the Vermuyden drainage scheme beginning 1626, it is obvious that he and Charles I were embarking on it for personal gain in a clear capitalist manner, which would be readily identifiable with business interests today. They had little regard for the people of the area and their claims to rights and the plans and subsequent allocation of ‘reclaimed’ lands were done with no dialogue with the locals and were carried out regardless of all their protestations. That the locals were very unfairly treated at all stages is quite clear and their loss of previously enjoyed rights and way of life was in no way compensated for by the ‘improved’ (for agriculture) land they were allotted. Not only this but nearby communities outside the drainage areas were also heavily adversely affected and treated with similar disdain. The lengthy legal battles which went on for decades eventually clawed back some concessions, some of which were large, such as the Dutch River cutting and increased common land returned.

Vermuyden, both in his language and actions and according to people familiar with him, was very confident and arrogant in his dealings, not only with the people he dispossessed but seemingly with his participants (business partner) in many instances. Many of the participants came out with imperfectly improved land and many tried to sell as soon as they got the deeds due to the ongoing disputes with the locals. Many lost some money and some lost all of it.

In our local area today, Vermuyden is used as a name of some significance (correctly) and he is held up as a businessman who did great good in our area ‘improving the waste’ to make it productive, which is more questionable. The fact that the ‘waste’ was already extremely productive seems irrelevant until the locals’ wealth could be measured and it could be taxed effectively to the gain of the Exchequer. That he was undoubtably an important character in local events cannot be denied, whether his influence was for the greater good of the area can be strongly contested. The losses suffered can maybe be better comprehended if we imagine what the landscape may have been like had this major drainage not taken place. Perhaps if we draw from a more famous example, it will become clearer. The fens of the Norfolk Broads, East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk) similarly had their peat removed and the land drained and ‘improved’ for agriculture, but the resulting pits became over centuries wildlife rich wetlands and are rightly celebrated as such today, with a recent National Park status adding credence to this. Our area which also lost its fens and much of its bogs and heath to agriculture and industry still retained two large peat bogs following Vermuyden’s vandalism. Unfortunately, these remaining areas did not remain untouched since then and peat exploitation on a large and later total scale extensively destroyed what wildlife had taken refuge here. Further, the remaining areas and smaller outliers became fragmented and cut off from each other, most notably between the moors by a canal, railway and then a motorway (eight lane with hard shoulder) and a mile width of intensive industrial arable land. We are fortunate in recent years to have secured the remaining peat bogs as wildlife reserves and the great biodiversity that remains, though a shadow of what it once was is still rightly treasured as restoration continues.

To imagine what may have been a more northerly counterpart to rival the Camargue of France or Coto Doñana, Spain is painful. Many species we now think of as southern European actually occurred in lesser numbers in this more northern area then when good habitat was plentiful (however, being on the edge of their ranges meant they were naturally more vulnerable to decline) species such as cranes, storks, pelicans, spoonbill and crakes. There were also White-tailed Eagles and kites. There were breeding waders such as Ruff, Dunlin, Golden Plover and Black-tailed Godwit. Mammals would have included European Beaver, Otter and earlier Wolves and Brown Bear. Some are making progress returning after long conservation efforts including re-introductions. The tourist potential for such a region can easily be imagined as generating far more revenue annually than the intensive industrial agriculture that dominates the area today. With increasing awareness of the value of wild areas not just for their own sake but for the mental health and well being of all of us, these areas are now valued in ways above and beyond the simple metrics of biota they preserve. This widening and increasing appreciation of nature is not only valuable in the fight for their preservation but also has become increasingly important in the local economy and also in education. These wildlife reserves generate in many ways jobs and income from a wide range of areas both local and further afield. Peat also preserves history, and so is important in this context too.

It should also be borne in mind the increasingly valued role of nature to lock up carbon and prevent it forming the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There are few better biomes equipped to facilitate this than peat bogs.

Climate change unfortunately is still happening, due to the failings of corrupt governments who sadly value their economies above anything other than remaining in power. We can only hope that the damage limitation will be small and that we and our biodiversity don’t suffer too much. It would be good, if probably unlikely, to hand on the planet’s biodiversity in a better state than we gained it and see these and other reserves’ wildlife flourish under the next generations stewardship.


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