A Brief History of the Village of Tockwith

There has been a village on the site since at least 1086 when Tocvi was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Tockwith's greatest claim to fame is being used as a staging post by Oliver Cromwell prior to the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. He made reference to Tockwith in his diaries, in which he said: "If heaven should be half as blessed as the fields of Tockwith, all those who should pass St. Peter's Gate shall be met with joys unequalled".

The name Tockwith may derive from the Old English name Toc(c), and wic, which is most commonly interpreted as 'dairy farm'. The word wic was later exchanged for the Scandinavian word vid(r) meaning 'wood'. The name of the village is recorded in a number of forms: 
  • Tocvi in the Domesday Book of 1086
  • Tockwic and Tockwith in 1121-27
  • Tocwic in the early Yorkshire Charters of 1428 and 1430
  • Tocwyz in the 1249 Charter Rolls and
  • Tockewyht in the 1280 Charter Rolls
  • Tockheight in the 1460 Census
  • Tockwith in the 1723 Census
  • Tockwith in the 2011 Census 

Tockwith was constituted as a separate parish in 1866 and was described as being 1,680 acres, chiefly in the ownership of A. Montague Esq – who was termed as the Lord of the Manor. He resided at Ingmanthorpe Hall, Wetherby. In 1885 the population was 572.

Tockwith played a major part in the English Civil War during the 17th century when the village was occupied by the Parliamentarian army commanded by Thomas Fairfax. In 1644, the Battle of Marston Moor occurred on the land between Tockwith and Long Marston. A stone monument on the road between the two villages commemorates the site.

The Village Church – the Church of the Epiphany – was built between 1864-1866 at a cost of £3,000. Prior to the Church being built the Parish Church was at Bilton in Ainsty.
The Village Hall was formerly the village school and was built in 1870 and was originally built to house eighty children.
The village saw very little development in the 100 years between 1870 and 1970.
The village did formerly have a large brewery in the main street and besides a number of shops had five public houses.

Tockwith also, during the 2nd World War had 3 military runways. Originally called RAF Tockwith its name was changed to RAF Marston Moor to prevent it being confused with RAF Topcliffe. The airfield was operational between November 1941and November 1945. At its height there were over 2,000 RAF personnel on the base. Group Captain Cheshire was Commander for a short time and the legendary Hollywood actor Clark Gable is reputed to have served on the base.

In October 1945 the main street of the village was totally decimated when a Sterling aircraft crashed in the main street killing all six crew members and the village Post Master. It was never established with any complete certainty why the crash happened but it is strongly believed the pilot mistook the main street for the runway. One of the oldest houses in the village which was thatched and reputed to have been the house where Oliver Cromwell had a wound dressed during the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644 was destroyed.

In 1970 a large housing estate was built on part of the old airfield and the population of the village doubled in 15 years.
A new school open in 1972 and over the years it has been extended. There are currently 185 pupils in school.

The buildings and hangars from the old RAF base now form part of a large business park where there are a large range of businesses providing employment to many of the village residents.

The village has many thriving organizations ranging from The Tockwith Players, Tockwith Art Group, Tockwith Senior and Junior Football Club, Tockwith Bowls Club, and Tockwith Walking Club to name but a few.

The well-established Tockwith and District Show held annually on the first Sunday in August welcomes visitors for across the region.
Tockwith Festival held in May each year is one of the not to be missed events of the year.
Tockwith village is steeped in history with a village street that many would recognize from a century ago but has a population that is adaptive and accepting of changes providing the basic quintessential country lifestyle is maintained.

The Lost Village of Wilstrop

We are pleased to acknowledge the source of this information as being the website dedicated to research into the name Willstrop:

The medieval village of Wilstrop vanished long ago but, six miles west of York, in the parish of Tockwith with Wilstrop, on the banks of the River Nidd archaeological remains are still visible. The name Wilstrop has Viking origins. In the part of Denmark known as Jutland, which has at times belonged to Germany, there are four villages named Vilstrup (the Danish use a V often where the English use a W). When the Vikings invaded England and occupied York in 870 AD they almost certainly named Wilstrop after one of these.

In 1085 William the Conqueror, William I of England, ordered a survey of land ownership. The information collected was completed in the Domesday Books less than a year later. The entry for Wilstrop states: Wilstrop Wi(u)lestorp: 2 of Osbern's men from Osbern d'Arcis. Wilstrop is the modern name and Wi(u)lestorp the name it was known by in 1086.

The land belonged then to two of Osbern d'Arcis' men. Sir Thomas Widdrington, Recorder of York and Speaker of the House of Commons, says in his 'Analecta Eboracensia or Remaynes of the Ancient City of York' printed in 1897.

"Wivellsthorp. This was anciently the lands of de Wivelsthorpe in the time of King John, but in the time of Edward I [1272-1307], I find, according to Esch. 34 Edward I, No. 12, that Robert Pontefract* was owner of this manor. From the Close Rolls, 40 Henry III, m. 15, in dorso, it appears that the King gave respite to Robert Wivelsthorp not to be made a Knight from Easter, next to come, till a year; and it was commanded to the Sheriff that he should not distrain him in the interim.

In another book 'The History, Topography and Directory of York, West and East Yorkshire' published in 1900, it says:

"Sir Robert Pontefract was the Lord of the Manor, as was his son Thomas de Wilesthorpe."

From the evidence available it seems then that the village definitely existed by 1086 but that some kind of settlement could have been there as early as 870. It also appears that the Wilstrop family took their name from the village during King Edward I's reign in thelate thirteenth century.

From The History, Topography & Directory of York extract it seems likely that Thomas de Wilesthorpe was the first person to use the name.

The early spelling of Wilsthorp, instead of Wilstrop or Willstrop remained as a variant spelling until the middle of the 1800s when Ann Wilsthorp, daughter of James and Frances, was baptised in Pickering on July 11, 1808. When she married in the September quarter of 1850 the Wilsthorp variation disappeared forever.

The only other early reference found so far is for Margaret de Willesthorp, who was Prioress of Nun Monkton, a religious house. Margaret was confirmed in 1365 and died in 1376. Four hundred years later in Queen Anne's reign (1702-1714) a type of census, known as a Visitation, was carried out. Messengers of the Queen recorded details of the pedigrees of the nobility. In the Yorkshire Pedigrees the family tree of Sir Edmund Wilstropp, Knight was recorded. Sir Edmund's family tree gives enough detail to start building a picture of his descendants and also the events, which culminated in the destruction of Wilstrop village and the demise of the old family. The earliest date recorded on the tree is 18 September 1400 when Alice Wilstrop married Richard Banke, son of Thomas of Quixley.

Allowing about twenty-five years per generation, and working back from this date, Sir Edmund Wilstrop was probably born in about 1325. Sir Edmund's great grandson, Sir Miles Wilstropp, was the King's Escheator in Yorkshire in 1470-1. Until 1926 if there was no legal heir to land it reverted to the Crown. In the 1400s such land reverted to the feudal lords and it was the Escheator's task to make such claims. In 1484 Sir Miles acquired the manor of Bustardthorpe". But, by 1521 his son, Guy Wilstropp, had been "siesed of ye manors of Wilstropp, Tockwith, and Bustard Hall, in ye city of York". Even so until 1591 the Wilstrops are still recorded "of the manor Wilstropp".

The following information about the lost village of Wilstrop is based on an article by M W Beresford published in the Geographical Journal, Volume 117 dated June 1951 entitled “The Lost Villages Of Medieval England”.

Supplementary material is taken from Volume 7 (1976) published in Britannia, the journal of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies entitled “Roman Britain in 1975”, written by R. Goodburn, R. P. Wright, M. W. C. Hassall and R. S. O. Tomlin.

Wilstrop, along with many other villages in Medieval England, was the victim of conversion from arable to pasture and from the open-field landscape to the enclosed sheep-run. There is a common assumption that many villages were laid waste by the Black Death, which ravaged England between 1346 and 1353, but evidence from Poll Tax Records from before and after the Black Death show that this was generally not the case. In Wilstrop, the records showed 25 people residing in the settlement in 1381, but all had gone by 1446. In fact, the population were forced out by Miles Wilstrop, the local landowner, in order to graze sheep. So ended a community which had existed since Roman times – proven by the findings of archaeological excavations on the site.

In the case of Wilstrop, the process of depopulation was not accepted passively. Beresford records that in 1497, shortly after the enclosure, rioters from neighbouring villages, including some distinguished Yorkshire gentry and the Abbot of Fountains Abbey, gathered around Wilstrop Hall, broke down the fences of the park and threatened to kill the ‘depopulator’ – Miles Wilstrop, its owner. Sadly, their efforts failed to restore the dwellings there.

In 1514, the parson of Kirk Hammerton took a suit in the Court of the Star Chamber against Guy Wilstrop alleging that ' . . . in defraud his father Miles Wilstrop and he did cast down the town of Wilstrop, destroyed the corn fields and made pastures of them and hath closed in the common and made a park of it.’. Neither, sadly did this lead to the restoration of the village although there are a number of modern dwellings in the area today.

One notable consequence of the depopulation of Wilstrop is that the adjacent Church of England Parish of Kirk Hammerton appoints three churchwardens each year instead of the traditional two, one of whom is still the representative for Wilstrop. This long-standing custom has been preserved despite changes in Canon Law restricting the number of churchwardens to two except in cases such as this. Similarly. Tockwith with Wilstrop Parish Council contains one representative elected by the inhabitants of the area – thus the village’s name lives on more than half a millennium later.


The village is situated on the south bank of the River Nidd, to the west of the old Roman road of Rudgate; it is primarily an agricultural area.

Before the advent of large, modern agricultural machinery and the onset of 'contract' farming, there were several small farmsteads. There were cottages for the agricultural labourers, built on a ribbon development along the main road to Wetherby.

The Enclosure Act of 1848 saw changes, with two or three farms situated on their newly enclosed land away from the main road.

The population of the area varies around 100-150; it has changed very little over recent times although the facilities have.

The Domesday Book records that Saxons occupied the area and there was a church located in Chapel-fields. There is evidence of Roman activity: beehive querns have been found locally. In addition, Saxon stonework is apparent in the present church, utilised from an earlier Norman church, St Michael's and All Angels is unique with its unusual tower and is recognised as of medieval build in 1458. The church became redundant in 1977 and is now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust.

People often visited Cowthorpe to view the famous Old Oak Tree - reputed to be one of the largest and oldest oaks in England. J W M Turner visited and sketched the tree, which gave its name to the well known Old Oak Inn. Sadly both tree and Inn no longer exist.

Generally, most residents have moved into the 'electronic' era; their occupations reflect this. To progress to 'super-fast broadband' would be beneficial.

The village now has no pub, active church, village hall, bus service or shops. There are street lights but only a short length footpath in the main street. The traditional red telephone box has been retained but is redundant.

Within the community there is a very active Forum, which is co-ordinating the healthily growing spirit within the village. The recent creation of of children's play area has been a popular achievement.


“The glory of England and the Pride of Yorkshire” 

Back in the days when there were few tourist attractions, during the latter part of the 18th and much of the 19th Century the “Cowthorpe Oak” was putting Cowthorpe on the map. Little evidence now remains that this tree ever existed. It was described in journals as being one of the wonders of Yorkshire. In books written about the oak it was said to be not less than 1600 years. This is doubted but it was certainly older than the 14th century church and manor house near by. It stood on sloping pasture by the Nidd, the soil being a rich old alluvium with subsoil clay. Though not the oldest, the tree at one time was unquestionably the largest specimen of living vegetation in Britain, if not in Europe.

Cowthorpe Oak

The first recorded measurements of the tree were taken in 1768, when it was found to be 40 feet 6 inches (12.5m) in circumference at 4 feet (1.2m) from the ground. The height of the tree was stated to be 85ft (26m) and one of its limbs extended 16 yards (14.6m) from the trunk. The tree was already in decay at that time.

Records show that in 1718 a leading branch broke from the tree during a storm. It was found to contain 5 tons of wood. Before its accidental mutilation the shade it spread was said to have been near half an acre.

Visitors came to visit the tree from all around and acorns from the tree were greatly prized. They were often sold in pots or sent to horticulturists, and as much as a guinea being paid for a single acorn-sprout. Several oak trees in the Cowthorpe area are said to have been credited to have sprung from the grand old oak.

There are also records that show that some of saplings found themselves in North Island New Zealand.

Looking at the picture on the left what a field day the Health and Safety officials would have to-day. It would have to be felled whether we liked it or not. At one time the tree was supported by 25 oak props.

In the mid 1800’s a hollow in the tree trunk measured 14ft in diameter and was used as a calf house.

In 1829 the oak was re-measured by Rev Thomas Jessop of Bilton Hall. He wrote, ‘The dimensions of the tree according to my measurements are as follows 45ft high (little more than half what it was 53 years ago and then its chief limbs had been not destroyed.) circumference close to the ground, (not including projecting angles) 60ft ditto at a yard high, 45ft extant of principal branch, 50ft (an increase of two feet in more than half a century )’ ... It is said by the inhabitants of the village that seventy persons at one time got within the hollow of the trunk: but on inquiry I found that many of these were children and as the tree was hollow on top, I suppose that they sat on each other’s shoulders, yet without exaggeration, I believe the hollow capable of containing forty men.’

It is hard to imagine these days people from Wetherby coming for a day out in Cowthorpe but indeed they did. At the end of the 19th century it is recorded that the Vicar of St James’s, Wetherby and churchwardens and ninety five school children got inside the tree, and while the Vicar raised the Union Jack, the children sang the ‘Old Hundreth,’ and the National Anthem.

It is known that the world famous landscape artist William Turner visited Yorkshire several times making pencil sketches of potential scenes to be painted. On a visit in 1815-16 he passed through Cowthorpe making several sketches of the Cowthorpe Oak , St Michaels Church and also of Cowthorpe Hall on who’s land the oak stood.

There are digital copies of these sketches on display in St Michaels church Cowthorpe.

Cowthorpe Oak