Confession time. I have a terrible habit. One that I’m finding impossible to kick. One that regularly annoys my family, and drives them to distraction. I do try to break it. Honest. But every year I lapse back into this irresistible vice.
Wherever I go on holiday it ends up becoming something akin to a field trip. If the location is not linked to family history, I look for other avenues to explore. And this includes spending some time finding out a little about the local history.
A holiday in October 2021, based in a cottage in the North Yorkshire hamlet of Spaunton, proved no different. Falling within the parish of Lastingham, a parish which is widely scattered across an expanse of moorland, in 2013 Spaunton had a population of 72.1 This is little changed from a century ago and its 1911 census population of 78. It is therefore tiny in terms of population, but big on history. The 1890 Bulmer’s Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, History, Topography & Directory described the Spaunton Township area as:
…comprising 1,540 acres, of which 1,287 are cultivated….Spaunton is the head of an extensive manor formerly held by a family which took its name from the place, and resided here in a castle, the foundations of which are still visible near Manor House….the hamlet consists of about half-a-dozen houses situated on the brow of a hill, half-a-mile from Lastingham.2
I had no family history connections to the area. But, as usual, I did not let that stop me. I’m so glad I pursued it. Because who could have thought such a quiet, rural backwater, and its environs, could contain so much history? From medieval crypts and a crashed Lancaster Bomber, to a manorial history with a Court Leet still operating today, dealing with petty transgressions. The area is chock full of history. Even my husband got involved in finding out more. Especially as there ended up being a food interest!
And it really does have a long history. Pre-Norman conquest a manor and 6½ carucates at Spaunton were held by Gamel.3 Documented in the Domesday Book, with nine households and an annual value to the Lord of 10 shillings,4 the overlordship in 1086 was held by Bernegar de Toni. He gave six carucates to the abbey which had been removed from Lastingham and refounded outside York.5 More of Lastingham, and the York connection, later.
Taking a look around Spaunton, Woodman’s cottage, a Grade II Listed building, originally of Cruck Frame construction, has the year 1695 inscribed on its lintel, and is described as a “fine example of a 17th century yeoman’s house”.6
Another Listed building in the hamlet is the Grade II 18th century Hill Top Farmhouse. This was the farm neighbouring the one where our cottage was located, and is better known today as the home of Yorkshire Organic Millers.7
As an avid bread maker I brought home some of their milled bread flour for my next batch of loaves.
The land in front of many of the properties is common land, with grazing and common rights still in existence.
Remnants of the court system of the Manor of Spaunton still operate, with the Court Leet still meeting annually in October to levy fines for those who breech grazing and access rights. The current Lord of the Manor is George Winn Darnley, and the manorial jurisdiction covers land in five parishes.8
There is a restored Grade II pinfold, dating from probably the 18th century. This enclosure, also known as pound, was where stray animals were confined, with a fine payable by the owners to the pinder, a manor official, to release them.
The next piece of history associated with Spaunton came as a real surprise.
The 1939 Register shows farmer William Strickland, his Special Constable nephew George, also a farmer, and his niece Elizabeth Ann (Annie), living at Manor House farm at Spaunton.9
The Stricklands were an old, established farming family, residing at the Manor House. In fact the Strickland’s home was the venue for the annual Court Leet, referred to earlier. Prior to her elderly grandmother’s death in 1915 Annie had assisted her in providing the excellent meal in the Manor House, traditionally served after the court proceedings.10 So it was a family embedded in the community and history of Spaunton and its manor.
On 10 July 1940, less than a year after the Register entry, William Strickland died. This left George and his sister at Manor House farm. They were there, along with an evacuee girl, on the evening of 7 October 1943.
That night Lancaster Bomber II D.S.724C took off from Linton-on-Ouse. It’s a RAF base with which I’m acquainted, having visited and flown from it (that’s another story). Part of Squadron 408 of the Royal Canadian Airforce it was bound for a bombing raid on Stuttgart. On board were Flight Sergeant John Douglas Harvey (Pilot), Sergeant Eric James Hurd (Navigator), Flying Officer Stephen William Dempsey (Bomb Aimer), Pilot Officer G.R. Butchart (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner), Sergeant Stanley Enos Campbell (Mid Upper Gunner), Sergeant K.L. Davison (Rear Gunner) and Sergeant H.J Branton (Flight Engineer).
This evening was the first of 408 Squadron’s operational flights since converting to Lancaster Bombers. The entry in 408 Squadron’s Air Operation Book on 7 October 1943 excitedly notes:
At last! the Squadron is back on Operations after almost two months at converting to Lancaster Mark II aircraft. Sixteen aircraft were prepared for Bombing Operations, but two were scrubbed. The remaining fourteen took off on time. Twelve aircraft were successful in reaching their objective…one aircraft made an early return due to the rear guns going u/s…11
That left one aircraft – the one piloted by R141147 Flight Sergeant J.D. Harvey. He had a total of 331 hours flying time at the time of the crash, but only 37 of his hours were on Lancasters. It was also his first operational flight in this aircraft type.12
The details of his aeroplane’s catastrophically short flight, as logged in the Squadron’s Air Operation Book, read as follows:
This aircraft took off from this base at 20.59 hours, but had to be abandoned at 21.08 hours due to controls jamming up. This aircraft crashed at Hutton Le Hall [sic], Yorks approximately 8 miles north of Thirsk. The crew of this aircraft managed a safe parachute descent. One member of the crew Sergeant Campbell, Stanley Enos (Mid Upper Gunner) dislocated his shoulder, fractured a few ribs and suffered pains and shocks, otherwise conditions was fair. The remainder of the crew were uninjured. One civilian Mr. George Strickland, (Farmer) from Manor Farm, Spraunton [sic], Yorkshire was killed by the explosion of a bomb. The inquest to this accident was held at 1600 hours on October 8th, 1943. This aircraft is now categorized E.2 (burnt).13
The aircraft, with its full load of bombs, is believed to have come down in the field adjoining the farm. The device which killed George Strickland was a 4,000lb High Capacity bomb,14 the blast from which apparently blew the heavy farmhouse door on top of him.15 It also did considerable damage to the house, and partly demolished the farm buildings.
The Malton Gazette and Malton Messenger of 15 October 1943 reported on the inquest, where a verdict of ‘death by misadventure’ was returned on 53-year-old George.16
As for the cause of the air accident, according to the wonderful Yorkshire Aircraft website, which covers air accidents in the county:
The post-crash investigation found that severe icing on the surfaces of the aircraft was considered to have been a factor in the control of the aircraft having been lost. However the main theory for control being lost almost immediately after take-off was suggested to have been down to the aircraft’s auto-pilot being accidently switched on prior to take-off and this went un-noticed.17
George Otterburn Strickland is buried in the churchyard of Lastingham St Mary’s.
This leads nicely on to the next piece of history, at Lastingham St Mary the Virgin Parish Church, which is the location of a historically significant crypt.
As Kelly’s 1913 Directory describes:
This place was the site of a monastery founded in 648 by St. Cedd, a Saxon bishop, and brother of St. Chad, bishop of Lichfield; St Cedd was eventually buried in the stone church of St. Mary, erected some time after his decease, and the present church, if it does not incorporates portions of the early structure, at least occupies its site, and the very interesting crypt below the church confirms this view….the crypt, which extends under the whole church, with the exception of the western bay, is in fact an underground church, possibly of Early Norman construction, c.1078, and consists of apsidal chancel of two bays, and a nave and aisle of three bays, with a vaulted roof carried on massive piers and capitals enriched with interlaced arches and rude volutes; in the crypt are preserved some stone crosses carved with interlaced work; an altar, possibly Roman, 17 inches high by 14 inches wide, and a pre-Reformation bier; the windows, small and circular-headed, are deeply splayed….18
It is thought the crypt was built possibly on or near the vicinity of the earlier 7th century St Cedd founded structure, with the crypt being part of a huge Benedictine Abbey planned, but never completed, by Abbot Stephen of Whitby. The project was abandoned in 1088 when Stephen and his monks moved to York, and built St Mary’s Abbey.
It really is well worth seeking out. As you descend the stairs to it, you are enveloped in a sense of peace and calm. The early crosses and bier, described in the Kelly’s Directory, are still in situ. I found it a wonderfully contemplative space. And, for the less religious, there’s a highly recommended pub across the road (sadly shut for refurbishment on our visit).
Finally, just over two miles down the road from Spaunton is the village of Hutton-le-Hole, with land which forms part of the Manor of Spaunton. This is yet another location within the Ancient Parish of Lastingham. The village is home to the impressive Ryedale Folk Museum.
An open-air site set amongst 6½ acres, it has more than 20 heritage buildings. From the thatched Manor House from Harome, to an Edwardian daylight photographic studio, a Medieval crofter’s cottage, the almost 500-years-old thatched longhouse from Stang End, Danby, furnished in the style of the early 18th century, and a Victorian thatched cottage, washhouse and dairy. There are also various workshops including that of the saddler, tinsmith, blacksmith, cobbler and carpenter. Then there’s the vintage chemist and village store, plus the undertakers. And, going back 4,000 years, there is an interpretation of an Iron Age dwelling. Think a North York Moors mini version of Beamish, with buildings from across the National Park dismantled and reassembled on the site.
You can learn about the farming year, and view the range of historic farming implements and machinery. There is also a variety of livestock – including the greedy Tamworth pigs.
This is only a small fraction of what is on site. It is a great place for all the family to spend a good couple of hours. If you’re into house history or family history, and wanting to find out more about your ancestors’ living conditions or village occupations, I’d say the museum is a must.
I stayed at The Wests, one of the cottages on Grange Farm. Whilst there, and finding out a little of the history of Spaunton, I must admit I did think it would make a fabulous one-place study. For a moment I felt really tempted. Really, really tempted. I even got as far as looking at the Manorial Documents Register…then reality kicked in. I’ve enough on already. But if someone else has any free time, and the inclination to embark on a fascinating piece of research, they wouldn’t go far wrong with Spaunton! And yes, there was a bread maker and bread mix in the cottage to bake a loaf!
1. Appleton le Moors, Lastingham and Spaunton Parish Report, 2013: https://democracy.ryedale.gov.uk/documents/s17204/AppletonleMoorsLastinghamandSpauntonParishPlan.pdf. Accessed October 27, 2021;
2. History, Topography, and Directory of North Yorkshire: Comprising Its Ancient and Modern History ; a General View of Its Physical Features ; Its Agricultural, Mining & Manufacturing Industries ; Family History and Genealogical Descent ; Myths, Legends, Biographical Sketches, &c., &c. ; with a Map Prepared Expressly for the Work. Preston: T. Bulmer, 1890.
3. A carucate was an area of land used as a basis for tax assessment in the Domesday Book. It equated to the amount of land which could be ploughed in a year by one plough with an eight-ox team;
4. Powell-Smith, Anna. “Home: Domesday Book.” Home | Domesday Book. Accessed October 27, 2021. https://opendomesday.org/.
5. “Parishes: Lastingham.” British History Online. Accessed October 27, 2021. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/north/vol1/pp524-529.
6. Appleton le Moors, Lastingham and Spaunton Parish Report, 2013: https://democracy.ryedale.gov.uk/documents/s17204/AppletonleMoorsLastinghamandSpauntonParishPlan.pdf
7. Yorkshire Organic Millers. Accessed October 27, 2021. https://yorkshireorganicmillers.com/.
8. “Court Leet.” Hutton le Hole, March 27, 2019. https://huttonlehole.ryedaleconnect.org.uk/about/court-leet/.
9. 1939 Register, The National Archives (TNA), Reference: RG101/3279D/007/4 Letter Code: JHIJ – Relationships are not show, but these were established from additional research
10. Whitby Gazette, 24 October 1913
11. Operations Record Books, 408 Squadron RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) Records of Events: Y, 1 September to 31 October 1943, TNA Reference AIR 27/1797/17
12. Lancaster DS724 at Spaunton village, Yorkshire Aircraft. Accessed October 27, 2021. http://www.yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk/aircraft/planes/43/ds724.html
13. Operations Record Books, 408 Squadron RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) Records of Events: Y, October 1943, TNA Reference AIR 27/1797/18
14. Operations Record Books, 408 Squadron RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) Records of Events: Y, 1 September to 31 October 1943, TNA Reference AIR 27/1797/17
15. Lancaster DS724 at Spaunton village, Yorkshire Aircraft. Accessed October 27, 2021. http://www.yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk/aircraft/planes/43/ds724.html
16. The Gazette and Herald Online, 10 October 2012. Accessed October 27, 2021. https://www.gazetteherald.co.uk/news/9977266.from-the-malton-gazette-and-malton-messenger-friday-october-15-1943/
17. Lancaster DS724 at Spaunton village, Yorkshire Aircraft. Accessed October 27, 2021. http://www.yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk/aircraft/planes/43/ds724.html
18. Kelly’s Directory of the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire, with the Cities of York and Hull, 1913. London, etc: Kelly, 1913.
• England and Wales Censuses, 1841 to 1911;
• GRO Indexes;
• Imperial War Museum website;
• National Library of Scotland Maps;
• Probate Records;
• Ryedale Folk Museum. Accessed October 27, 2021. https://www.ryedalefolkmuseum.co.uk/
• St Mary’s Church, Lastingham. Accessed October 27, 2021. https://www.lastinghamparishchurch.org.uk/
• Spaunton Court Leet. Accessed October 27, 2021. https://www.spauntoncourtleet.co.uk/
• Yorkshire Air Accident website. Accessed October 27, 2021. http://www.yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk/index.html