Nostalgia: Royal Manor of Falsgrave

Tap and Spile, Falsgrave, Scarborough
Tap and Spile, Falsgrave, Scarborough

Two centuries ago, in Jane Austen’s time, up to 90% of England was rural and owned by the nobility and country gentry whose houses were often palatial residences set in extensive, planned grounds. So seasonal visitors to Scarborough were then advised, not just to take the spa and sea waters, but also to go out into the countryside to view these mansions and parks in Scarborough’s interior hinterland.

The first guide book, published in York in 1787, had as its long-winded title A Historical and Descriptive Guide to Scarbrough (sic) and its Environs; and Thomas Hinderwell’s History and Antiquities was of Scarborough and the Vicinity. In fact, of Hinderwell’s second edition of 1811, which was divided into three books, the whole of the third, 154 pages out of 426, was devoted entirely to the vicinity of Scarborough.

Interestingly to us, the first place described by Hinderwell was “Walsgrave or Falsgrave, one mile west of Scarborough”. Quoting accurately from the Domesday Book of 1086, though not accurately identifying all the place-names in it, he explained that before 1066 the village had been the hub of an extensive manor and soke of 21 settlements, stretching as far north as Staintondale, as far west as Ruston, and south as far as Filey. Surprisingly, Scarborough did not appear in this great Norman census because, he thought, it was then in “a miserable state of obscurity”, but it must still have been within the boundaries of Falsgrave’s jurisdiction.

Some of us no longer believe that Scarborough existed as a settlement before 1066, and that the Scandinavian sagas referring to it at that date were legends. On the contrary, the evidence, or lack of it, indicates that Falsgrave pre-dates Scarborough by several centuries; that Scarborough was originally a suburb or offspring of Falsgrave and only later were their roles and relationship reversed, a generalisation that would have astonished Hinderwell and his contemporaries.

Otherwise, Hinderwell had little more to write about this once royal manor which, unlike its nearest neighbour, the royal manor of Pickering, never acquired a parish church, a royal castle and borough status. By his time, Falsgrave had declined and shrunk into a mere, rural dependency of Scarborough.

Not that 200 years after Hinderwell we can yet claim to know all that much more than he did about Falsgrave’s past, other than that in the 40th year of Henry III (1256) it was “fully annexed to the liberties of Scarborough”; that in 1774 its commons and moors were enclosed; and that around 1800 the village had “received several improvements”, not least of them a stone-lined conduit carrying water from a nearby spring. At that time, Falsgrave had a population of about 350 living in 80 houses.

Anyone today attempting to recall the history of Falsgrave would be severely challenged by many obstacles. Despite the lack of positive archaeological information, it is clear that the geography of this ancient settlement has changed radically during the centuries. Formerly, the original village stood at the head of Ramsdale, where the stream, from which it gets part of its name, the Wash Beck, ran down what is now St James Road until it joined the Mill Beck to form Weaponness valley.

The “grave” or “griff” (Domesday spelling) in Falsgrave’s place-name probably refers to the valley of the Wash Beck which rose in the swampy area later occupied by a tannery, then the Snowdrift laundry and now Strawberry Court. (Incidentally, true natives of Falsgrave still pronounce it “Falsgriff”, as it would have been spoken a thousand years ago.)

Secondly, over time, names have changed. Where the Tap & Spile pub (once the White Horse Inn) now stands was in a four-acre field called the King’s Close, the centre of this royal manor; and what became the Westbourne Park estate more than a century ago was previously called Chapel Close, so-called as the site of a church there dedicated to St Clement.

Thirdly, in its wisdom, Scarborough Borough Council in the twentieth century has persistently revived Falsgrave’s obsolete field-names and transported them to where they were entirely inappropriate and irrelevant. The real Barrowcliff, a prehistoric burial mound, overlooked Peasholm Glen from Peasholm Drive. Gildercliffe, Briercliffe, Oxcliff, Endcliff and Bracken Hill are all re-used names of Falsgrave’s town fields, in each case originally describing their location. Of these, today the position of only Gildhuscliff (Gild House Cliff), the place where the assembly of the freemen of Falsgrave soke met together, is known. Nowadays we call it Spring Hill.

Finally, the route of the turnpike of 1752 from York to Scarborough passing through Malton, Snainton and Ayton gave a new orientation and alignment to Falsgrave. Instead of following Burtondale (Seamer Road) and then St James (Wash Beck Lane) and Londesborough (Stony Causeway) roads along the old Roman way to Castle Hill, the turnpike ran down Town Street (Falsgrave Road). The first Ordnance Survey map of 1852 shows what this new way to Scarborough had done to Falsgrave in the previous century.

A ribbon residential development had taken place from the junction with North Street (Scalby Road) all the way to the fork with Victoria Road. Falsgrave was no longer a settlement on a slope overlooking the head of Ramsdale: it was becoming a linear village en route to Scarborough.

Clearly, Hinderwell saw nothing in Falsgrave that might delay the passage of the visitor as he drove to more interesting places further inland; but in doing so he did the ancient manor a serious historical disservice.

Falsgrave’s demotion began in the 12th century when first William of Aumale and then Henry II chose Scarborough’s headland as a place for their castles. From then on, Scarborough, a new planned town, encroached deeper and deeper into Falsgrave’s territory and authority. Newborough was formerly several acres of Falsgrave’s arable. Ramsdale (The Valley), Burtondale (Seamer Road), the Mere, South Cliff – all once part of Falsgrave manor – were annexed by the expanding borough of Scarborough.

Though governed as part of the incorporated borough of Scarborough, Falsgrave long retained its own two elected constables, two byelawmen and its own warrener or gamekeeper. For centuries it was assessed at one tenth of Scarborough’s tax liability, the so-called “eleventh penny”. The final blow to Falsgrave’s medieval character came with the enclosure award of 1774 which privatised its 367 acres of commons, when one of the men allowed a private allotment there was no other than Thomas Hinderwell.