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 oppurtunities brought to the region by the roman legions.
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. 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 that 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 bright stream in the Saxon (Old English) language. Anglo-Saxon settlers will have merged with the indigenous population.
In 866 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 Danish overlords with many of them possibly taken as slaves. However it does seem that the Danish 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. The hill at Sherburn offered a good position dominating the area and there was a church there from Saxon times. King Athelstan, held a Manor House or Hunting Lodge on land north of the church. His rule was not popular and he tried to reconcile the local aristocracy by lavishing gifts on the Archbishop of York, one of which was the manor of Sherburn which he gave in 937. The Archbishops developed it further and used it as a principal country residence until moving to Cawood Castle in about 1360. The manor fell into disrepair or was demolished to provide building material for the new palace at Cawood. Only bumps in the field, known as Hall Garth, now remain.
In the Domesday Book of 1086 the manor of Sherburn (Scireburn as it was then) was valued at £34 whilst Leeds was only valued at £7. The area had suffered enormously from William the Conquerer and his “scourging of the North” but he was a pious man and Sherburn seems to have benefitted from the protection of the Church.
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 almost certainly the origin of South Milford.
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.
Steeton Hall Gateway, in South Milford, is now owned by English Heritage. It is a fine example of a Manorial gatehouse dating from about 1360. Steeton Hall, or Stiveton as it was then, is believed to have been owned by William de Reygate but is a bit of a mystery since its location is unknown.
During the Wars of the Roses the battle of Towton took place just outside the village in 1461.
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.
In the 18th century the new turnpike road along the line of the present A162 brought with it the coaching Inns that served the mail and passenger coaches to and from York. The centre of Sherburn shifted down to its present position. At one time there were at least 4 inns serving this trade in Sherburn.
The 19th century brought the Railways and one of the earliest routes from Leeds to Selby in 1834 brought jobs and development to South Milford. Soon after in 1839 the York and North Midland line created the railway communities at Sherburn station and Milford Junction.
Until early in the twentieth century the village was almost self supporting, not only with grocers, bakers and butchers but with blacksmiths, wheelwrights, tailors, dressmakers and boot and shoe makers.
Sherburn 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.
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.
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. This shows how important it is to record what we have left before it is too late.