Knaresborough (St. John the Baptist)

KNARESBOROUGH (St. John the Baptist), a borough, market-town, and parish, in the Lower division of the wapentake of Claro, W. riding of York; comprising the chapelries of Arkendale, and Bilton with High Harrogate, and the townships of Brearton, Knaresborough, and Scriven with Tentergate; and containing 9947 inhabitants, of whom 4678 are in the township of Knaresborough, 18 miles (W. by N.) from York, and 197 (N. N. W.) from London. This place, from the vestiges of an intrenchment, and the discovery of numerous coins, among which were some of the Emperors Claudius and Constantine, is supposed to have been a Roman station. At the time of the Domesday survey it formed part of the royal demesnes, and was given by the Conqueror to Serlo de Burgh, baron of Tonsburg, in Normandy, who had accompanied that monarch into England, and by whom its stately castle, now a ruin, was originally built, on the rocky heights north of the river Nidd. In 1371, the castle and manor were given by Edward III. to his son John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; and since that period, the manor has continued to form an appendage to the duchy. The castle, which had become partly dilapidated, was put into substantial repair in 1590, and at the commencement of the war in the reign of Charles I., was garrisoned for the king. For a long time it opposed a formidable bulwark against the progress of the parliamentarians in this part of the country; but after the battle of Marston Moor, in 1644, General Fairfax, appearing before the town at the head of a numerous army, assaulted the castle, into which the garrison had retired, and it finally surrendered by capitulation. It soon afterwards was dismantled, and abandoned to neglect; and the only remains of this once stately fortress, which occupied a circular area 400 yards in diameter, are, a small portion of the keep, some of its dilapidated towers, and some vaulted apartments of very beautiful and elaborate workmanship, in which the murderers of Becket are said to have taken refuge. A priory for brothers of the Holy Trinity was founded by Richard Plantagenet, brother of Henry III., about the middle of the thirteenth century, and continued to flourish till the Dissolution, when its revenue was £35. 10. 11.; the remains, which are in the valley of the Nidd, half a mile below the castle, consist chiefly of scattered heaps of ruins overspread with grass.

The town is pleasantly situated on the northern bank of the river Nidd, and comprises several streets, diverging from a spacious market-place, and well paved, and lighted with gas, under an act of parliament obtained in 1823 for general improvement; the houses, many of which are handsome buildings, are chiefly of stone found in the vicinity. There is a subscription library and newsroom, well supported. The environs abound in beautiful scenery, and the town was formerly a fashionable resort on account of the efficacy of its medicinal waters; but these were long ago abandoned for those of Harrogate. The sulphureous spring at Starbeck, however, which, after the inclosure of the forest lands, had fallen into total neglect, was brought again into public estimation by a proprietary of shareholders, who, in 1822, preserved it from external injury by the erection of a fountain which discharges nearly two gallons per minute, and who provided excellent accommodations for warm and cold bathing. The linen and cotton manufactures were carried on to a very great extent; but from the inland situation of the town, and the want of an adequate supply of coal, the trade has been very much diminished, and now affords employment to a few only of the inhabitants. A railway to York, called the East and West Yorkshire Junction, was commenced in November 1846; and a railway has been formed to Harrogate, forming a branch of the Leeds and Thirsk line: the Harrogate railway is half a mile long, and crosses the river Nidd at Knaresborough by a viaduct, the first stone of which was laid in April 1847. The market, which is on Wednesday, is one of the principal cornmarkets in the county, and is very numerously attended; a general market for provisions is held on Saturday. Fairs, chiefly for horses, cattle, and sheep, are held on the first Wednesdays after the 13th of January, 12th of March, 5th May, 12th August, 11th October, and 10th of December; and a statute-fair takes place on the Wednesday before the 23rd of November.

The borough, though it has no charter of incorporation, received the elective franchise in the reign of Mary, since which it has continued to return two members to parliament: the right of election was originally vested in the proprietors of the burgage tenements, 88 in number; but by the Reform act, the limits of the borough were extended, and the right of election was vested in the resident £10 householders: the bailiff is returning officer. Petty-sessions are held every alternate week by the county magistrates; a court of record for the recovery of debts to any amount, is held every fortnight for the borough, and there is another every third week for the forest and forest liberty of Knaresborough, before the steward (who is barrister) and under-steward of the duchy of Lancaster. The gaol for the borough is situated in the centre of the town, and the prison for the forest courts in the castle-yard. Courts for the borough and forest liberties are also held under the Duke of Devonshire, as lessee of the manor, at Easter and Michaelmas, these being distinguished as the grand courts leet; and there is a court leet at Michaelmas for a small district called the manor of Beech Hill, which forms part of the borough. The powers of the county debt-court of Knaresborough, established in 1847, extend over the greater part of the registration-district of Knaresborough. The Michaelmas and Christmas quarter-sessions for the West riding, likewise, are held in the town: the court-house is a handsome building, erected in 1838, at an expense of £2000.

The parish comprises 12,382a. 3r.: the soil, though various, is generally fertile, and a large portion of the population is agricultural; the surface is boldly undulated. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £9. 9. 4½.; gross income, about £350; patron, the Bishop of Ripon: the tithes were commuted for land and money payments, under acts of inclosure, in 1772 and 1774. The church, erected at different periods, is a spacious and handsome structure chiefly in the early and later English styles, with a tower between the nave and chancel; it has a beautiful east window in the decorated style, and contains several interesting details: a gallery was lately erected. There is a chapel of ease; churches were erected, respectively, at High Harrogate in 1831, and at Brearton and Arkendale in 1837. The Independents, Wesleyans, and Roman Catholics have places of worship. A free grammar school was founded in the reign of James I., by the Rev. Dr. Robert Chaloner, who endowed it with a rent-charge of £20.

About half a mile south of the castle is an excavation in the rock, called St. Robert's Chapel, 10 feet 6 inches in length, 9 feet wide, and 7½ feet high, formed by Robert Flower (son of Took Flower, twice lord mayor of York), as a place of solitary seclusion, in which he passed the remaining years of his life; it contains a figure of the hermit in monastic attire, surrounded by his books. There are various other excavations in the rocks, among which is one called Fort Montagu, in honour of the Duchess of Buccleuch, with an arbour, greenhouse, and tea-rooms; in another, named St. Robert's Cave, was perpetrated the murder of Daniel Clarke by Eugene Aram, a schoolmaster of this place, who, after fourteen years' concealment, was detected, and executed at York. In addition to the Starbeck spa, already noticed, are, a chalybeate nearly adjoining; St. Mungo's Well, situated in Bolton Park, but long since fallen into disuse; and, near the castle, the celebrated dropping well, which rises in a deep narrow dell, about 50 yards from a rock, over a projecting ledge of which it falls in drops from a height of 10 feet. This last has been more regarded as a natural curiosity, and for its powerful petrifying properties, than for its medicinal virtues.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.