Local History Notebook

The Eures of Witton

from "The Bishopric of Durham in the Later Middle Ages" by Christian D. Liddy pp47-52
Published by The Boydell Press 2008 ISBN 978-1-84383-377-2

It is, then, hardly surprising that the western half of Durham contained very few resident knights. The Eures of Witton le Wear were the only greater knights who lived here. With the exception of the large Neville complex at Brancepeth, their principal estate at Witton le Wear in Weardale was the only major lay estate in this part of the bishopric. Witton le Wear in the parish of Auckland St Andrew, four and a half miles west of Bishop Auckland, was originally part of the pre-Conquest estate of Aucklandshire belonging to the church of Durham, but was split up when Ranulph Flambard granted land to the Amundevilles, a Norman family, in the first half of the twelfth century.121 In 1166 Robert Amundeville held a total of five knights' fees centred upon his main residence of Witton le Wear.122 The Amundevilles continued to reside at Witton in Weardale until the early fourteenth century, when it would appear that one Sir John Eure acquired the estate with hunting rights in the forest of Weardale.123 Sir John Eure was a Northumbrian knight, whose main estate, comprising three manors, lay in the barony of Mitford, but who also held substantial property in and around the manor of Stokesley at the foot of the Cleveland Hills in the North Riding of Yorkshire.124 At first closely associated with the household of Edward II, he later became disillusioned with the king, joining forces with Thomas of Lancaster, with whom he fought at the battle of Boroughbridge in March 1322.125 {He was beheaded shortly after in Bishop Auckland} It was in the late 1310s that the Eures acquired the property at Witton le Wear. Hitherto, their caput had been the Northumberland manor of Kirkley. The complications arising from the forfeiture of Sir John Eure in 1322, which meant that Sir John's son and heir did not receive livery of Kirkley until 1358, perhaps persuaded the Eures to make Witton le Wear their primary residence in the second half of the fourteenth century.126 As befitted an estate which had originally been enfeoffed upon one of the bishop's twelfth-century barons, the Eure caput of Witton le Wear was held of the bishop of Durham for knight's service, homage and fealty and suit of the county court of Durham. 127 Sir John's Durham lands included the neighbouring estates at Redford and Hoppyland in the forest of Hamsterley, two miles west of Wilton le Wear, and the manor of Bradley in the eastern corner of the parish of Wolsingham, four miles north west of Witton. In this sense, the Eures' property in the bishopric amounted to a relatively compact lordship. A closer examination of this multiple estate, however, reveals a different story. The three properties of Bradley, Redford and Hoppyland were all, in origin, single farmsteads taken from the waste: they constituted previously marginal lands (moorland and woodland, rather than arable and improved pasture) which were drawn into cultivation. Bradley was in existence by the 1180s, but toponymic evidence suggests that Hoppyland was a fairly recent creation in 1300, and the first reference to Redford is from 1314 when Bishop Richard Kelloe made a grant of eight acres of waste `apud Le Roteford'.128 In the mid fourteenth century, then, the Eure lands focused upon Witton in Weardale were a less stable and less firmly entrenched territorial power base than might first appear to be the case.

In the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Eures did much to consolidate their lordship at Witton le Wear through the piecemeal accumulation of land which began, after 1350, with Sir John Eure's purchase of the estate at Witton belonging to the Barmptons. The Barmptons could trace their descent from one Walter Barmpton, a forester of Bishop Robert of Holy Island and a servant of Bishop Antony Bek in the later thirteenth century, who received several grants of waste around Witton le Wear in 1294 to extend his holdings next to his residence there.129 By the mid fourteenth century this estate amounted to a small manorial property at Witton, worth a couple of pounds a year, which was referred to in later records as Barmpton Hall.130 The main residence of the Eures, at this date, seems to have been what later became known as Witton Hall, a quasi-fortified manor house situated at the west end of the village of Wilton le Wear, which is still extant and which retains some twelfth-century features.131 Sometime after 1350 and certainly by the time of the Hatfield Survey, the Eures were in possession of all of the Barmpton lands around Witton le Wear. These properties, according to the Hatfield Survey, included some thirteen pieces of land ranging in size from one to twelve acres, all of which were held by Sir Ralph Eure by the late 1370s.132 Most significantly, the Barmptons' principal property, known as Barmpton Hall, was taken over by the Eures and `improved' as their own manorial residence in the second half of the fourteenth century. When Sir Ralph Eure secured a retrospective licence to crenellate his manor from Bishop Thomas Langley in September 1410, the new three-storey tower house enclosed within a curtain wall must have been close to completion.133 This new property was described as the fortalice and manor of `Bermetonhall' in Witton le Wear in a 1431 enfeoffment to use, and it was located on the south bank of the river Wear about a mile from the village, which lay on the other side of the river.134 By 1422, on the death of Sir Ralph Eure, the Eure complex at Witton le Wear comprised two main properties, one called the manor of Witton le Wear and the other described as the manor of `Bermetonhall' with appurtenances in Wilton le Wear. Each was now valued at 20 per annum, which meant that the entire Eure estate at Witton produced an annual income of 40.135 This was a dramatic increase in the productivity of the Eure estate: on the death of Sir Robert Eure in the late 1360s, the total income from the two properties had been estimated at 11 per annum.136 In the second half of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries the Eures had managed to develop what was essentially a patchwork of lands and small enclosures, newly cultivated from the waste (in the late thirteenth century) into something much more coherent and substantial. In 1422 the manor of Barmpton Hall, as the castle of Witton le Wear was still called, was said to contain 600 acres of land, combining arable, meadow and woodland.137

In the western half of the bishopric the Eure estate at Witton le Wear was unusual in its size, but not in its complexion. First, located in relatively marginal terrain as it was, the Eure lordship contained a considerable amount of pasture. The estate lay in what might be termed a wood-pasture zone. Secondly, reclaimed waste constituted a sizeable portion of the estate. Indeed, the Eures owed the extension of their property eastwards into the area of Escomb to a grant in perpetuity by Bishop John Fordham in 1384 to Sir Ralph Eure, for his past service to the bishop, of two pieces of the bishop's waste.138 The first consisted of just over eighty-nine acres and was described as lying in the bishop's forest next to the river Wear. The second portion of waste was much smaller, consisting of eight acres on the eastern side of Ralph's manor, formerly called `Bermetonhall', together with four acres lying towards the south. In both instances the bishop granted that Ralph and his heirs should be able to enclose the waste and to hold the property in severalty. Crucially, however and this is an important point to which we shall return though the land was marginal in the sense of it having been previously woodland, the bishop was fully aware of the economic potential of the resources which might lie beneath the land. The grant explicitly reserved to the bishop and his successors both his rights to coal and stone, iron and other metals, if they should be found within the bounds of the waste, and his access to the same through the construction of pathways and aqueducts. If a coal mine should be established within the bounds of the newly enclosed waste, then Sir Ralph and his heirs could only take the coal necessary for fuel at the manor house of Witton le Wear, to which they were entitled free of charge.

Their annual income from land, by the end of the period, put them on a par with families such as the Bowes of Streatlam, the Claxtons of Claxton and the Hyltons of Hylton, on the rung below the Lumleys of Lumley castle. According to the 1436 income tax, to which Sir William Eure contributed because of his possession of nine manors in Northumberland, the Eures of Witton le Wear enjoyed a clear annual income from their manors, lands, tenements and rents throughout England (namely, from estates in Durham, Northumberland and the North Riding) of 160, of which about half came from manors in the western parishes of Auckland St Andrew, Lanchester and Wolsingham.139 But apart from the Eures, the only other resident knights in the western half of the bishopric were the Lumleys of Ravensworth castle and the Redheughs of Redheugh, and even these two families were most definitely lesser knights, with an annual income of around 40: the Lumleys were a cadet branch of the Lumleys of Lumley castle, whose principal holdings were the adjacent manors of Ravensworth castle and Lamesley in the parish of Chester-le-Street,140 whilst the Redheughs flickered brightly in the 1360s when Sir Hugh Redheugh purchased several manors in the parishes of Whickham, Lanchester and Chester-le-Street, but seem to have been in debt by the early fifteenth century, when they mortgaged several of their estates, including Hollingside in the parish of Whickham, and sold their patrimony of Redheugh on the southern bank of the river Tyne to the Newcastle merchant, Roger Thornton.141

There were a handful of resident families in the western half of the bishopric, whose annual income from land amounted to between 20 and 40, placing them in the ranks of the squirearchy. These included the Binchesters of Binchester and Hunwick, neighbouring properties in the parish of Auckland St Andrew, the Burnigills of Burnigill and the Randolphs of East Brandon in the parish of Brancepeth, the Claxtons of Old Park in the parish of Whitworth, the Eshs of Esh in the parish of Lanchester and the Eures of Bradley (a cadet line of the Eures of Witton le Wear) in the parish of Wolsingham. Although the manors of Binchester and Hunwick were long established estate centres, with their roots as dependent vills of the pre-Conquest estate of Aucklandshire belonging to the church of Durham,142 the majority constituted farmsteads either wholly taken from the waste, such as Burnigill, Old Park and Bradley, or else consolidated by the acquisition of waste land, such as Esh. None of these manors was especially large; certainly not compared to some of the manors to the south and east of the bishopric."' Hunwick Hall was perhaps typical of these manorial residences. Dating from the fifteenth century, this was a very simple courtyard house, with ranges on three sides of the plan, but without a moat.144 Bradley Hall was an exceptional building in this regard. In 1432 the lord of Bradley acquired a licence from Bishop Langley to fortify, crenellate and embattle his manor with a lime-stone wall.145 The remains of this fifteenth-century manor house, located on the north bank of the river Wear on the road towards Wolsingham, are still extant, revealing a four-sided moated site enclosing a courtyard plan.146 However, the licence to crenellate was indicative not of the imposing nature of this residence, but of the aspirations of its new lord, Robert Eure, the younger son of Sir Ralph Eure of Witton le Wear and founder of a cadet line of the Eures.

117 DURH 3/2, fol. 114r-v.
118 Cf. Harvey, Manorial Records, p. 2; Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law, p. 598.
119 DURH 3/2, fol. 44v; HS, pp. 116-17.
120 DURH 13/224, fol. 13r.
121 For the original composition of Aucklandshire, see Roberts, Green Villages, pp. 13-18.
122 Aird, St Cuthbert, pp. 186, 217.
123 Grant dated 28 December 1318 at Witton le Wear: DRO, D/X 99/1.
124 CIPM, Vol. VI, pp. 206-7, 462-3.
125 A. King, `Bandits, Robbers and Schavaldours: War and Disorder in Northumberland in the Reign of Edward II', Thirteenth Century England IX, ed. M. Prestwich et al. (Woodbridge, 2003), pp. 126-7; J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II (Oxford, 1970), pp. 41-3; W.P. Hedley, Northumberland Families, 2 vols (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1968), Vol. I, p. 184.
126 CIPM, Vol. VI, pp. 462-3; Hedley, Northumberland Families, Vol. I, p. 184.
127 See, for example, DURH 3/2, fol. 80r.
128 Boldon Buke, ed. W. Greenwell (SS 25, 1852), pp. 28, 63; V Watts, A Dictionary of County Durham Place-Names (English Place-Name Society Popular Series 3, 2002), p. 61; RPD, Vol. II, pp. 1248-9.
129 RPD, Vol. II, p. 1285; Bek, pp. 42-4.
130 DURH 3/2, fol. 38v.
13' R. Hugill, The Castles and Towers of the County of Durham (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1979), p. 108.
132 HS, pp. 51-2.
133 DURH 3/34, fol. 6r: the licence records the enclosing of the manor of Witton with a lime-stone wall and its embattlement, crenellation, turreting and fortification.
134 DURH 3/36, fol. 2r.
135 DURH 3/2, fols 214r-217r.
136 DURH 3/2, fol. 80r.
137 DURH 3/2, fols 214r-217r.
138 For what follows, see DURH 3/32, fol. 7d.
139 The income tax return is in E 179/158/38, m. 5d. For the value of the landed estate in Durham, see DURH 3/2, fols 214r-217r.
140 For the best estimate of the Lumleys' income from land in the late fourteenth century, see the dower assignment recorded in DURH 3/2, fol. 117r.
141 Acquisition: DURH 3/31, m. ld (Hollingside and Bradley); Loss: DRO, D/St/D5/2/6 (Hollingside), DURH 3/2, fol. 167v (Redheugh and Axwell) and DURH 3/34, m. 7d (Ivesley and East Rowley). Sir Hugh's acquisitions are also recorded in HS, pp. 93, 117, 125.
142 Historia de Sancto Cuthberto, pp. 66-9, 113.
143 Old Park, for example, was a 180 acre site: DURH 3/2, fols 139r-140r.
144 A. Emery, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales 1300-1500, Vol. I: Northern England (Cambridge, 1996), p. 106.
145 DURH 3/36, fol. 5r.
146 See Emery, Northern England, pp. 55-6, although the historical details are wrong: the house belonged to Robert rather than Sir William Eure, his elder brother.