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Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire

Historical Description

Beverley is a municipal borough, market and union town, and the capital of the E.R. Yorkshire. The town has a railway junction, the line from Hull branching here into two, one to York and the other to Scarborough. It lies at the E foot of the Wolds, about a mile W of Hull river, and 8 miles NNW of Hull. The country to the E is flat, but the parts adjacent are fertile and well wooded. All was anciently swampy, then covered with forest, then cleared for fuel and for cultivation. Lakes frequented by beavers, in the swampy epoch, are supposed by many to have given rise to the name Beverley in the form of Bever Lac. The town, however, may possibly have been the Petuaria of Ptolemy, with Roman origin, dating from the 2nd century, and it was known to the Saxons as Beoforiic and Beverlega. John, Archbishop of York, commonly called St John of Beverley, founded a monastery at it in 700, and died and was buried here in 721. The Danes destroyed the monastery in 867. King Athelstane, after his great victory of Brunanburgh in 938, found the church of the monastery partly restored, richly endowed and extended it as a collegiate church or minster, and gave it the right of sanctuary for a mile round the town, marked by four stone crosses, set up at the principal approaches. William the Conqueror, in 1069, encamped in the neighbourhood, and issued strict orders to his army to respect the property of the church. The principal part of the town, together with the church, was destroyed by fire in 1186. Edward I., during his wars against Scotland, in 1299-1316, frequently visited Beverley, and carried the standard of St John at the head of his army. Henry IV. visited the town in 1399, Edward IV. marched through it in 1471, and Charles I. alternately took post in it and was dislodged in 1639 and 1642. The town early acquired a right of prize and toll over the shipping of the Humber, and in later times it struggled hard against the transfer of that right to the rising port of Hull. Many a legend exists respecting alleged miracles in the old times in the minster, and a monkish pretence runs through old history that the standard of St John, together with the standards of St Peter of York and St Wilfred of Ripon, had much to do with the victories of the English arms. An old ballad, speaking of the battle of the Standard in 1138, and putting a speech into the mouth of the Scottish king, says
" The holy cross,
That shines as bright as day, Around it hung the sacred banners
Of many a blessed saint; St Peter and John of Beverley,
And St Wilfred there they paint. 'Oh had I but yon holy rood,
That there so bright doth show, I would not care for yon English host,
Nor the worst that they could do.' "

The town consists of several streets, and is well built; it has an ample supply of excellent water. The principal street is nearly a mile long, and terminates in an ancient gateway, called the North Bar. The guild-hall is a handsome edifice, erected in 1832, and contains rooms for the corporation and for county and revision courts. The market cross, erected in 1714 by Sir Charles Hotham, Bart., and Sir Michael Warton, Knight, is a handsome structure. There are also a corn-exchange, butter-market, and swimming baths, erected in 1886, assembly-rooms, recreation grounds, and a temperance hall. Remains of three of the ancient sanctuary crosses still exist. There were anciently a monastery of blackfriars, a monastery of greyfriars, and an establishment of Knights-Hospitallers; two gateways of the first may still be seen on the NE of the minster, and within them a considerable portion of the ancient buildings. There is a grammar school (endowed), national and other schools, a church institute, a dispensary, four hospitals for 6, 12, and 17 poor widows, and for 6 poor persons; a workhouse and almshouses. The charities amount annually to about £4000. The parish churches of St Martin and St Nicholas are extinct, and there are now the parish churches of the Minster (for St John's and St Martin's parishes), and St Mary's (for St Mary's and St Nicholas' parishes), three chapels of ease, seven dissenting chapels, and a Roman Catholic chapel. St John's Church, or the Minster, is supposed to have been completed in the early part of the reign of Henry III., and has undergone a complete restoration (1867-85) in accordance with the designs of the late Sir G. G. Scott. It consists of nave, choir, presbytery, transepts, central lantern, and two western towers, and is altogether 332 feet long. It shows a mixture of styles, yet is considered equal in purity of composition, correctness of detail, and elegance of execution, to any of the great English cathedrals. Mr Rickman says:—"The north porch of Beverley minster is, as a panelled front, perhaps unequalled. The door has a double canopy, the inner an ogee and the outer a triangle, with beautiful crockets and tracery, and is flanked by fine buttresses breaking into niclies, and the space above the canopy to the cornice is panelled; the battlement is composed of rich niches, and the buttresses crowned by a group of four pinnacles." Of Perpendicular fronts the same author says— "By far the finest is that of Beverley minster. What the west front of York is to the Decorated style, this is to the Perpendicular, with this addition, that in this front nothing but one style is seen; all is harmonious. Like York minster, it consists of a very large west window to the nave, and two towers for the end of the aisles. This window is of nine lights, and the tower windows of three lights. The windows in the tower correspond in range nearly with those of the aisles and clerestory windows of the nave; the upper windows of the tower are belfry windows. Each tower has four large and eight small pinnacles, and a very beautiful battlement. The whole front is panelled, and the buttresses, which have a very bold projection, are ornamented with various tiers of niche-work of excellent composition and most delicate execution. The doors are uncommonly rich, and have the hanging feathered ornament; the canopy of the great centre door runs up above the sill of the, window, and stands free in the centre light with a very fine effect. The gable has a real tympanum, which is filled with fine tracery. The east front is fine, but mixed with Early English." The chief monuments are the Percy shrine, erected about 1340 to the memory of Eleanor, wife of the first Lord Percy, the finest monument existing in the Decorated style; a magnificent altar-tomb of Henry Percy, fourth Earl of Northumberland; a splendid altar-tomb, a prebendary of the family of Scrope, called the "Maiden Tomb," and a monument to Major-General Bowes, who fell at the assault of one of the forts of Salamanca. St Mary's Church is cruciform, with a central tower, was originally Norman and Early English, but now exhibits Early Decorated and Perpendicular additions, has a very fine seven-light west window, between two beautiful octagonal pierced turrets, and contains an octagonal font of 1530, and some interesting monuments. The restoration of the edifice was carried out under the direction of Sir G, G. Scott during the period 1863-76.

Beverley has a head post office, a telegraph station, four banks, and publishes four weekly newspapers. A weekly market is held on Saturday, a fortnightly cattle market on Wednesday, fairs for horses, cattle, and sheep four times a year, and on Nov. 6 a statute fair for the hiring of servants, also great cattle fairs in April, May, Sept., and December, and races on the Hum pastures in June. Waggons, carts, carriages, agricultural implements, artificial manures, whiting, and leather are manufactured in large establishments. There are also windmills, steam, corn, and saw mills, large breweries and malthouses, and it is an important centre for the corn trade. A canal navigable for vessels of 80 tons connects the town with the river Hull. Beverley is the headquarters of the East Yorkshire regiment and the East York militia. The town sent two members to Parliament once in the time of Edward I., received a charter from Elizabeth, and continued to send two members to Parliament from her time until 1870, when it was disfranchised; it is now included in the Holderness parliamentary division of the East Riding. It is governed by a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors. The municipal borough consists of the parishes of St Martin, St Mary, and St Nicholas. Acreage, 2404; population, 12,539. Beverley gives the title of Earl to the Percys, and it numbers among its distinguished natives Alured, the ancient biographer, eight archbishops of York; Alcock and Fisher, Bishops of Rochester; Green, Bishop of Lincoln; Julia Pardoe, author of the "City of the Sultan;" and Mary Woolstonecroft or Godwin.

The parish of St Martin's comprises 875 acres; population, 5509; of St Mary's, 579 acres; population, 4345; of St Nicholas, 950 acres; population, 2685. Population of the ecclesiastical parish of St Mary with St Nicholas, 7256. St John's, the mother-parish, includes the townships of Thearne, Weel, Molescroft, Storkhill and Sandholme, Woodmansey-with-Beverley Parks, Tickton-with-Hull-Bridge and Eske. St Mary's is a vicarage, St Nicholas a rectory, and St Martin's and St John's vicarages, in the diocese of York. St Mary and St Nicholas form one living, of the net value of £446 with residence, in the gift of the Archbishop of York. St John and St Martin, with Tickton chapelry, form also one living, of the value of £450 with residence, in the gift of the Simeon Trustees. A new Wesleyan chapel was erected in 1892 at a cost of £4000. The East Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, about a mile from Beverley, was erected in 1871 at a cost of about £43,000. It covers nearly 2 acres, and has a farm of about 120 acres attached.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyYorkshire 
Poor Law unionBeverley 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

Findmypast, in conjunction with various Archives, Local Studies, and Family History Societies have the following parish records online for Beverley:

St John1879-19011754-17631558-19111558-1886
St John & St Martin   1886-1915
St Mary1883-19101653-17651561-19091877-1932
St Nicholas1882-1915 1886-19301886-1922

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Beverley from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for the East Riding of Yorkshire is available to browse.


Online maps of Beverley are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following East Riding newspapers online:

CountyEast Riding of Yorkshire
RegionYorkshire and the Humber
Postal districtHU17
Post TownBeverley