History of Sherburn

Early History

In 2015, archaeological investigations to the East of Low Street in Sherburn uncovered evidence of a settlement that dates from the 1st to the 4th centuries AD. Analysis of pottery finds demonstrates that the site was occupied during the Iron Age but flourished during the Roman occupation before apparently being abandoned completely by the year 420. 12 skeletons were uncovered as well as evidence of grain storage and animal husbandry demonstrating that this was a farming community. It seems most likely that the people living there were indigenous British who benefitted from the peaceful years and the trading opportunities brought to the region by the roman legions. Although the Roman military road between Castleford (Lagecium) and Tadcaster (Calcaria) passes to the west of Sherburn through Aberford it was clearly near enough to allow this community to thrive.

The Dark Ages

Elmet was one of a number of small Kingdoms to emerge at the end of the Roman period in the 5th century. It was founded by Mascuid the Lame in 440 and broadly covered an area we would now call the West Riding of Yorkshire with Sherburn being on its eastern  boundary . Their language was Brythonic indicating they had emerged from pre-roman British tribes. They were somewhat isolated, being surrounded by the Anglo Saxon kingdoms of Bernicia to the North, Deira to the East and Mercia to the South and West. After Deira and Bernicia had become amalgamated to become Northumbria under Edwin he further consolidated power by annexing Elmet whose last King, Ceretic was expelled in the year 617. For more than 200 years the area was part of the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Northumbria with power passing between numerous Kings and overlords to whom the local farmers would have had to pay food rent. It must have been at this time that the village was given the name Scireburn, meaning either bright stream or dividing stream in the Saxon (Old English) language. Anglo-Saxon settlers will have merged with the indigenous population.

In 867 the Great Heathen Army of Danes took the city of Eoforwic (York), which had become the main centre of Northumbria. The Viking leaders Ivor the Boneless and Halfdan left the Northumbrians in control as a puppet regime whilst they attacked Wessex but, following an uprising, returned in 869 to expel the Kingdom of Northumberland to North of the Tyne. The local people of our area will have found themselves working for Viking overlords with many of them possibly taken as slaves. However it does seem that the Danish and Norse gradually settled the area, converted to christianity and the populations merged such that they are referred to by historians as ‘anglo-scandinavian’. The local place names reflect this mixture with places such as Selby and Lumby of Danish origin whilst Saxton and Fenton are Old English and Barkston possibly a mixture of the two.

In 927, Sihtric, the Danish King of Yorvik died and the king of Wessex, Athelstan, took his opportunity to seize control and become the first King of all of England. His rule was not popular locally and his attempt to reconcile the local aristocracy clearly failed as, with the encouragement of the influential Archbishop of York, Wulfstan, they joined with the kings of Scotland and the Dublin Vikings in armed rebellion in 937. This resulted in the battle of Brunanburgh which most likely took place not far to south in the Don Valley and once again resulted in a resounding victory for Athelstan. Still wishing to reconcile himself to Wulfstan, Athelstan granted the manor of Sherburn to the Archbishop. The hill at Sherburn offered a good position dominating the area and there was a church there from Saxon times. North of the church there was a Manor House or Hunting Lodge and evidence of the archeological remains can be seen today. The site is shown on maps as Athelstan’s Palace but it is unclear whether it was built by Athelstan, who only visited the area briefly, or by the Archbishop.

Yorvic and the area remained reluctantly within the overlordship of the West Saxons but despite signing a treaty in 939 recognising Athelstan’s successor King  Eadred, at Tanshelf near Pontefract, within months they were inviting norseman Eric Bloodaxe to be their king. Eric once again led failed rebellions, notably at the battle of Castleford in 948, and his death in 952 marks the end of the kings of Yorvic.


Yorkshire suffered enormously from William the Conquerer and his “Harrying of the North” in 1069/70. In order to subdue any resistance to his power William set about the complete destruction of everything between York and Durham. His troops killed every living thing, humans and livestock, as well as destroying all buildings, crops and tools in order to make the land uninhabitable.  Thankfully the Sherburn area escaped the worst of this genocide but there was a period of terrible famine that affected all the surrounding areas for many years to come . In the Domesday book of 1086 the manor of Sherburn (Scireburn as it was then) was valued at £34 whist Leeds was only valued at £7 and the just about all the area to the North was still described as “waste”.

The Manor of Sherburn remained in the hands of the Archbishop, although other land in the area was taken by Norman barons such as the de Laci family. The Archbishops used Sherburn as a principal country residence until moving to Cawood Castle in about 1360. The Manor house fell into disrepair and was demolished to provide building material for part of York Minster. Only bumps in the field behind the church, known as Hall Garth, now remain.

At that time the centre of the village will have been the area around the church with Sir Johns Lane being the road to the North via Saxton and Garden lane the road from Ferrybridge and the South. The place where this track crossed the Mill dyke is probably  the origin of South Milford.

During the time that Walter de Gray was Archbishop (1215 -1255) Sherburn was granted the right in 1223 to hold a weekly market on Wednesdays by King Henry III. At that time the market place would almost certainly have been in the triangular shaped area at the junction of Garden Lane and Church Hill. In 1238 the additional right to hold an annual fair on the 13/14th September was granted.

The Subsidy roll of 1379 shows that the village had a population of about 310 people with about 60 houses.

The area is situated on a limestone ridge and and the stone was quarried from very early times notably for buildings such as York Minster and Selby Abbey. Recent archaeology in Monk Fryston has shown how the stone was transported on waterways down to the Ouse and this also happened from Sherburn, using Bishop’s Dyke. Evidence of many old quarries can be seen in the landscape today.

The Archbishop of York continued to hold the land belonging to the Manor of Sherburn until 1545. It was held for him by local aristocracy such as William Scargill who was appointed Senescahal in 1446 and likewise Sir John Pilkington in 1475, Anthony Hammond of Scarthingwell held it for the Archbishop from 1539. The archbishops were enormously powerful, behaving like Kings, meting out justice and hunting in private parks such as Rest Park and Bishops Wood

During this period Sherburn seems to have been well known for trading in wool and growing wine sour plums.

During the Wars of the Roses the battle of Towton took place just outside the village in 1461.

Early Modern

In 1545, as part of larger exchange between Archbishop Holgate and Henry VIII the manor of Sherburn passed to the King. It then passed to the Hungate family of Saxton and in 1661 was granted to Arthur, Earl of Anglesey only to pass back to the Hungates. In 1726 Mary Hungate married Sir Edward Gascoigne of Parlington and the descendants of the Gascoigne family remained the principal landowners until modern times.

In the 16th and 17th centuries visitors to the area particularly noted that many inhabitants earned their living from the manufacture of bronze metal pins. The processes of grinding, shaping and soldering in the confined spaces of their own cottages had consequences for the workers health.

In 1775 the common land around Sherburn was enclosed by act of parliament.

During the Civil War two skirmishes took place in Sherburn. First of all in 1642 and then 1645. The latter of these was more significant and resulted in a rout of the Royalist forces commanded by Lord Digby.

The Doncaster and Tadcaster road became a turnpike trust in 1741, along the line of the present A162. There is a great deal of evidence to show that this was an ancient route between the river crossing at Ferrybridge and Tadcaster from the earlier mediaeval period. It is cited as the route taken by the armies of William the Conquerer during his “Harrying of the North” when it is described as a ‘path so narrow that two soldiers could not march side by side’. It probably remained as little more than a cart track until it was improved by becoming a toll road in the eighteenth century, attracting the coaches that served the route to and from York. The centre of Sherburn shifted down to its present position to serve this trade with at least 3 coaching Inns on Low Street.

In 1801 the village contained 197 inhabited houses with a population of 953 of which 539 were employed in agriculture . By 1821 the population had grown to 1144. At that time there were 5 inns, the Red Bear, the Rising Sun, the White Swan, the Butcher’s Arms and the New Inn.

Industrial Revolution

The 19th century brought the Railways and one of the earliest routes from Leeds to Selby in 1834 brought jobs and development. Soon after in 1839 the York and North Midland line created the railway community at Sherburn station.

Until early in the twentieth century the village was almost self supporting, not only with grocers, bakers and butchers but with blacksmiths, farriers, wheelwrights, tailors, dressmakers and boot and shoe makers. In 1821 there were also 7 flax dressers and dealers, an excise officer, 2 surgeons and a china and glass dealer.

The Sherburn area was well known in the nineteenth century for growing teasles for use in the West Riding textile industry. The Bortofts of South Milford were one of the largest Teasle Merchants in the region. The Sour Wine plum was also grown commercially in the village. No trace of either are now apparent.

Modern Times

Early in the twentieth century the Blackburn Aircraft Company built and tested aircraft on the edge of the village and Avery Scales had a large factory employing many people.

Sherburn had the benefit of gas being available for lighting as early as 1866 but it was not in significant use until the 1890s. Sherburn had to wait until the 1930s before the arrival of mains electricity.

On the south side of the village stood a fine house known as Eversley Park, standing in its own parkland. This has now disappeared under housing development, the way much of the village is now going.

Compiled by Kevin Sibson