Written evidence for the state of a village before the Norman Conquest is very scarce because hardly anyone except the monks could read or write. After the Conquest there was rapid growth in the monasteries resulting in more written records.
The result is that most village histories begin with the Domesday Book but all but a very few villages existed for several hundred years before that.
For this period we have to make assumptions based on the few cases where definitive knowledge is available either from writings or excavation.
Celtic (i.e. ancient British) villages of the Iron Age culture existed from about 500 BC into Roman times and the remains of some of these can be seen in Cornwall the best being at Chysuaster.
While there is now no evidence for a Celtic village at Ferrensby it is just possible because:
- The headquarters of the Brigantes, the largest Celtic tribe in Britain was only five miles away at Aldborough and the track from there to the ancient settlement at Knaresborough must have passed through or very close to the site of our village.
- The vital water supply is present in the spring which comes through the bed of fine sand in the middle of the village pond
- A Roman founders stock of metal articles was found many years ago near Ferrensby (and was melted down at the forge in Knaresborough)
If an Iron Age site did exist it would have contained huts as shown in the sketch and they would have been surrounded by a stone of wood fence to keep wolves from the sheep and cattle which would be brought in at night.
After the Romans left there were numerous invasions of Saxons in the South of England and Angles in the North. By about 700 AD the last Romano British Kingdom of Elmet in the Leeds-Sherburn area had been taken over and Anglo Saxon became the national language.
For this period the chief sources of information are:
- The Anglo Saxon chronicle written by Saxon monks mainly about kings and their doings. These records are often biased, for instance, if a king taxed the monasteries heavily to pay for his wars he got bad press.
- The history of the English Church by the great scholar Bede (died 753)
- Occasional deeds – usually grants of land from a king to the church
- Study of place names
Invasions by Danish and Norse armies in the 9th and 10th centuries result in a very confused picture – some villages e.g. Farnham, Flaxby, Staveley and Walkingham retain their Anglian names. Arkendale whose Anglian name was Arkenden (denu = valley in Anglo Saxon) changed to Arkendal (dahl being Old Norse for valley). Loftus Hill derives from Old Norse, Ferrensby is derived from the Old Norse FÆREYINGR and although we do not know its earlier name there is little doubt it was an Anglian village and the houses would be as shown in the sketch of the Anglo Saxon styles. The new name refers to the man of men from the Faroes Islands.
The sketches show the early type of house as used by the invaders in Germany and the development which took place here.
Anglo Saxon houses were almost always of wood and this also applies to their early churches – one still exists at Greenstead in Essex.
The Danish invasions will have made little difference to Ferrensby except to its name and the fact that the Danes did not have slaves.
Now we come to the Norman invasion with the rebellion in the North shortly after.
The result was the harrying of the North in which, according to Doomsday book, Ferrensby and the neighbouring village were laid waste.
In the Doomsday survey on 1086 the following are the areas in CARUCATES (1 carucate = 120 acres) for the local villages:
BURGHSHIRE (CLARO) WAPENTAKE (Aldborough)
|Vill||Land owned by the king:|
|Burton Leonard||6 carucates|
|Loftus Hill||4 carucates|
|Farnham||3 carucates Gospatric 3|
This indicates the size of the villages. The carucate of 120 acres is taken as the area which could be cultivated by 1 plough team.
In 1160AD Henry second has a document drawn up defining the boundaries of the Forest of Knaresborough and the Liberty of the Forest. This also makes the first mention of the castle. I have seen a comment that the Forest and Liberty existed much earlier and this seems likely since Knaresborough and many of the villages in the Liberty belonged to the king in 1086.
A Liberty is an area which has the same privileges and laws and the manor to which it is attached.
To the Saxon and Danish population the conquest meant a serious loss of freedom. Previously local affairs had been settled at meeting of the hundred at Claro Hill where the approval of proposals was shown by clashing spears against shields. Claro Hill was what geologists a drumlin and was left by the glaciers where the road going east from Arkendale meets the great north road. It was removed to make the dual carriageway.
The Villages in the Liberty were called BEREWICKS i.e. barley villages for supplying the kings steward at Knaresborough with produce for the hunting parties. When Kings or Dukes travelled in those days they went in large parties – they had to for safety.
Ferrensby would have been rebuilt with wooden houses which would eventually develop to the type shown in the sketch.
The main change was the use of tie beams to take the thrust of the roof so allowing the roof to be supported on vertical walls.
The vertical timbers called studs were tenoned into horizontal cills resting on stone bases which prevented damage form rising damp.
A longhouse (farm) would house both the humans and the animals and in the three field system, which applied here, all the farms were grouped together in the village.
As shown in the sketch the byre would be 16 foot wide giving stall room for oxen (four) which were used for ploughing etc This width called he ROD, POLE or PERCH became the foundation for the English system of measurements but that is another story.
Besides the farms all the villages had a blacksmith, wheelwright, shoemaker, carpenter etc. as difficulty of travel made local crafts essential.
The Ferrensby blacksmiths place stood on the village green and was removed because it was considered to make the crossroads dangerous and the pound which stood in front of the Grange was pulled down for some less likely reason.
The Pinder who put stray animals in the pound and the constable were elected at an annual meeting and could not refuse to serve.
If you disregard the new houses built since the 1914-1918 war the appearance of Ferrensby will have changed very little in the last three hundred years and the number of the population has been fairly constant.
The use of timber for building became limited first by the demand for oak for ships for the navy in Tudor times. This was the reason that half timbered houses were no longer allowed and you will notice that later wooden framed houses have large square panels instead of the older close studding.
Risk of fire was another strong reason for the change to brick construction which became popular from the sixteenth century while stone was used where it was locally available as in the dales.
So apart from minor changes like fashions in windows etc the main differences from the recent past are in the supply of electricity, gas and water. The surrounding fields changed with the enclosure Award of 1808 – this may be seen at the records department in Northallerton but it is a little difficult to read as the capitals especially are rather archaic. Many other medieval documents are at Northallerton but the court rolls for the Manor of Knaresborough which include the Ferrensby cases are at the Duchy of Lancaster archives in London. The manor passed from the King to the Duchy in the middle ages. They still own the castle.