Summerscales Family History
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The place and family records  to about 1500

Somerscales is now just a small hamlet consisting of no more than a substantial farmhouse and some farm cottages.  The hamlet lies 2 miles east of Bolton (Priory) bridge on the main Knaresborough to Skipton road, map reference SE 103 545.  The name is derived from the Norse meaning the shelter on the summer pasture (the sommer skalles).  Somerscales is situated 260 metres above sea level and 150metres above the nearby village of Beamsley to which it was originally attached.  The moorland immediately to the north of Somerscales rises to a peak of 400 metres.

Before the Norman conquest the town of Bolton (nowadays commonly known as Bolton Abbey) was the largest in Craven.  Somerscales was its neighbour on the other side of the river Wharfe and was once a highly important area too.   It is well provided with reliable fresh water springs (which to this day supply Bolton Abbey village).  It commands a defensible position above a Roman road and is protected by the moors and on three sides by rivers.  Norwegian immigrants undoubtedly settled there some two hundred years before the conquest.

The Normans made Skipton the fortified capital of Craven  and granted Somerscales and Beamsley to  the Mauleverer family.  The Mauleverer  family (who did not always get on well together) dispersed the ownership of vast tracts of land belonging to Somerscales.  One member of the family endowed Bolton priory whilst another supported Bridlington priory.   The Summerscales family of today descend from the family that remained on the Bolton priory owned lands.

Between 1120 and 1140 Helto and Bilioth Mauleverer  granted a place called Stead to the Prior of Embsay (which was the pre-curser to Bolton).   Alice de Rumilly confirmed the grant in 1159 and William Mauleverer (Helto’s grandson) did so between 1170 and 1219.    In 1297 – 1298 Robert of Somerscales rented the cowhouse of Stead with 29 cows for one year for a rental of “2 stone of cheese and 1 stone of butter for each cow”.  He rented it again the following year but for 17 cows at 4 stone of cheese and 2 stone of butter for each cow.

The same William Mauleverer who confirmed the grant of Stead to Embsay Priory granted the priory all his lands in Storiths sometime between 1190 and 1225.  The boundaries describe an area “between Storiths and Paternosterland” (our fathers land, i.e. Stead described above).  This grant included a bovate of land in Beamsley with all its appurtenances tenanted by a man called Leuwinus, which was all that was left (“the only remaining {remotior} of 10 bovates in the vill” with its garden and croft lying between Kirkgate and the land of Gilbert.

In 1202 William Mauleverer exchanged all his land between Iccomescakebec and Nottelscakebec and between Edoluesdik and Kexebec for Ralph Mauleverer’s part of Somerscales by the great watercourse of Iccornescakebec and the by the great watercourse of Nectelscagbec. In return Ralph agreed to make an access for William and his heirs by building a straight road 4 perches in width for going and coming to his pasture on the moor.  Shortly afterwards Ralph granted all his lands, woods and cattle in Somerscales to Bridlington Priory.  This deed was endorsed "Ralph Mauleverer of Summerscales from certain land in the ville of Somerscales which is near Blubberhouses”.  But William Mauleverer, son of Helto, also owned lands in Somerscales and at about the same time  (1205 or thereabouts) he granted the vaccary (cattle farm/dairy) with arable lands and common of pasture to the church and canons of Bolton (priory).  Somerscales was an important holding once described by the Mauleverers as “a park”.   This is the grant that undoubtedly represents the farm of Summerscales today.  Between 1219 and 1232 Giles Mauleverer gave the prior of Bolton a further 2 acres and 2 roods of meadow in Somerscales in exchange for a bovate of land in Beamsley and an assart called Twyselwatholm that William (Giles’ father) had given them.

So, as the Normans gradually imposed their will on the Yorkshire population and created their great monastic houses, the pre-conquest  townships like Somerscales were reduced to smaller dependent hamlets.

In 1450 John Somerscales tenanted substantial priory lands in Kildwick and it is from him that the vast majority of all the Summerscales families of today are descended  .  

The view from Summerscales farm 2011

There are few medieval mentions of Somerscales’ people.  The first  is in 1190 when Geoffrey de Sumescales owed half a mark (Pipe Rolls and it is not known for what reason) but was not prosecuted because of his surety.

Later mentions include Henry the cowherd who took the Somerscales farm from Bolton priory for 3 ½ stone of cheese and 1 ½ stone of butter per cow (he looked after 18 cows).

In 1310 Henry of Somerscales donated 6/8 to the priory and William of Somerscales donated 10/-.   Sometime around 1300 William of Somerscales granted William the son of Robert de Stayneburne a toft and croft at Farnley (near Otley) called Knyxtecroft to hold of William son of Henry de Farnley (this is the first indication that the family had lands anywhere outside Beamsley and it is possible that William is the son of Henry of Summerscales but now called “Henry of Farnley”).

The arable crops failed in 1315 and 1316 and because of torrential rain the sheep flock reduced from 3000 to 1000.  Before the people could recover, in 1318, the Scots invaded Craven and devastated the estates of Bolton Priory.  At least two tenants were killed and many families fled in fear of their lives.  The monks themselves sought sanctuary at Skipton Castle and later at Barnoldswick.  It is perhaps as a result of this raid that some Somerscales went to Lincolnshire.  Bolton Priory had merchant contacts in Boston.  A Somerscales turns up in Norfolk as a landless peasant in the fifteenth century.  Others arrive in Hull.

In 1324 – 1325 William de Somerscales rented some lands in Skyrom in the parish of Appletreewick.  There were mines in the area and in 1378 – 1379 a Richard Somerscales  supplied Bolton Priory with some iron “the account of the keeper of the forge: for 13 ironstones bought from Richard Somerscales, through the cellarer, 6s 6d”

In 1379 there was a taxation of all people aged over 14.  There were no Somerscales in Beamsley but they can be found as follows:

Clapham     John de Somerscales and his wife
     John Somerscales jnr and his wife

Horton in Ribblesdale  William de Somerscales and his wife
     John de Somerscales and his wife
     Thomas son of William de Somer

Coniston (Kilnsey)   Thomas Somer’ and his wife
John the son of Thomas Somer’ and his wife
     Isabella servant of Thomas Somer’

Richard Somerscales of Skyrom who supplied the priory with iron stones the year before  is possibly represented by John son of Richard; Henry son of Richard and Robert son of Henry son of Richard in the taxation returns for Appletreewick but no last names are given.

In Hetton where there were Somerscales in the 16th C there is an Elena servant of John Somerler’.

The 1379 poll tax shows Sir Peter Mauleverer and his wife heading the poll for Beamsley. Richard Mauleverer (son of Peter) succeeded on the 22nd May 1399 and died without issue.  His sisters Alice (who married John Middleton of Stockeld near Ilkley) and Thomasine (who married William Moore of Otterburn) inherited.  William Moore’s  daughter and coheir (Elizabeth) married Thomas Clapham of Clapdale Castle in Clapham the ancestor of the Claphams of Beamsley.  This family had dealings with the Somerscales some two centuries later.

The Somerscales of Horton in Ribblesdale can be traced with confidence through the sixteenth century in the parish of Giggleswick,  however I have some doubts whether they originated in Beamsley.  There is a long lost Somerscales in the Lonsdale valley and the Giggleswick family may have originated there, it makes geographical sense.

The Somerscales of Coniston with Kilnsey were probably linked to those in Rylestone and Hetton in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In 1473 John Somerscales appears as a tenant at will of the Prior of Bolton in Cononley (on lands donated by Sir Robert de Nevill).  John held a messuage with its customary land and paid 24s rent, the highest rent for any tenant at will in Cononley.  He is an ancestor of William and Robert Somerscales of Glusburn in 1522.  The family can be traced from there down to the present day.

However, at some stage a member of the family moved to York because in the mid fifteenth century John Somerscales appears in a number of records dated between 1445 and 1460.  John was the sergeant at mace to the mayor of York receiving payments of between a farthing and 8s 8d. at irregular intervals for his work.  He was paid 16d for riding to Bradford to lead William Bradford to York for 2 days in the month of February.  He repeated the work in April this time for 18d and for a third time (12d).  Later he was to receive a pension of 3s 4d.  His son could have been Richard Somerscales the smith (of York) who while John was receiving his pension was fined 10d for “rebellion against the scrutineers”.

Between 1515 and 1518 John Somerscales merchant appealed to the archbishop of York for help restoring some property of his in Dunsforth.  The property consisted of a messuage and six oxgangs of land (a substantial holding) which one Whyxley a clerk had taken from him by withholding the deeds and muniments that were rightfully his.  John’s petition was supported by pledges from John Hirst of London (bookbinder) and Richard Hunter of London (Goldsmith).  This implies that this John had moved to London where various Somerscales can be traced from the mid sixteenth century.

A William Somerscales of Moremonkton wrote his will on the 19th August 1517.  He left sheep, livestock and wheat to various religious houses.  He bequeathed a sheep to the parish priest (Richard Darcy) and another to Michael Marshall.  Everything else was left to his wife Alice Somerscales.  The will was witnessed by Richard Darcy and William Gray, probate was granted on the 2nd of December 1517.

The available records do not permit an accurate picture of the family during the medieval period.  What does survive shows that the Somerscales were mobile, both geographically and socially.  Some were tenants of Bolton Priory and donors to the priory.  Entrepreneurial spirit was demonstrated by their activities as merchants and miners.  A job as mace-bearer can demonstrate social mobility at a time when civic dignitaries were respected.  It is unlikely that John Somerscales ever retrieved his estates in Dunsforth but he did take the family name to London.  William Somerscales of Moremonkton was obviously a sheep farmer and, again, had moved from the family locus in Craven.  Whether driven by the violence of the Scots, or a wish for family and self-improvement, their dispersion is evidence that the long-standing image of “peasants” being locked into an underclass and prisoners of their lords’ sphere of influence is simply not true.

Note:  the defunct Giggleswick family is an important example of social mobility during the sixteenth century.  Over the next few months I shall be adding more information on this family and their community.

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