Click Stillington - The Life of a Yorkshire Village to view the book published by the village history group in 2000. Click on the picture of the book cover on the left to view a printable version

Click to link to the web site of the Stillington and District Archive Group.

Click A Peculiar Parish to view a history of Stillington produced by Grahame Richardson.

The History of Stillington

Stillington is about half way between York and Helmsley on the former Oswaldkirk toll road. Never one to let facts get in the way of a good tradition, Thomas Gill in his 1853 history 'Vallis Eboracensis' claims that the name came from 'Stealing Town', or 'Town of Thieves' whose livelihood was 'robbing the king's forest of its deer, and the packman of their merchandise'. It is true that the village does lie within what until 1630 was the royal Forest of Galtres. Unfortunately for Gill's theory, the name is much older than both William the Conqueror and the forest laws which made it an offence to take deer.


The origin of the name is far less romantic. According to the Domesday Book in 1086 the village of ‘Stivelincton’ was held by the Archbishop of York and was worth ten shillings a year. Stivel or Styfel is a Saxon name and 'Tun' is Old English for 'enclosure'. So sometime after the Romans left and before the Normans came, Styfel the Saxon established a farmstead which developed into today's village. The manor continued to be run by the Church as part of the liberty of St Peter until the early 17th Century. No doubt the Archbishop would also have had something to say if his villains had supplemented their income by poaching and highway robbery. It is recorded that in 1471, one incumbent, John Bedford, was reported for ‘selling beer in his vicarage as if he were a laymen, to the peril of his soul, the expense of his church and the great scandal of the jurisdiction of the Church of York’. Perhaps Gill did know something after all!


Although the name is Saxon in origin, there has been a farming community here for much longer than that. In 2000, archaeologists surveying the route of a new industrial pipeline found the remains of both Iron Age and Romano-British settlements just outside the current parish boundary. Styfel was a comparative newcomer.


At the centre of the village is the Parish Church of St Nicholas. This dates back to the 12th Century, although the first vicar to be named was Peter de Topcliffe, who took up his post in 1329. Much of the present structure was rebuilt in 1840, and it has some good examples of Thompson furniture with the distinctive mouse trademark. The village also has a Methodist chapel, opened in 1972 as a replacement for a series of earlier chapels dating back to 1819.


In the early 1600s, the manor was leased by the Church, first to William Ramsden, then to Christopher Croft. He became Sir Christopher when in 1641, as Lord Mayor of York, he was knighted for playing host to King Charles I. In 1649, following the Civil War, Parliamentary Trustees were appointed for the sale of lands belonging to the Dean and Chapter of York. Purchased by Sir Christopher, the manor remained in the Croft family until 1895. They built Stillington Hall, one of the ‘lost’ houses of Yorkshire. After the Crofts left, the Hall was owned first by Rawdon Thompson JP, and then from 1903 until his death in 1934 by Matthew Liddell. After a spell as a Catholic convalescent home and a boy’s school, the Hall was purchased by a builder, stripped, and became derelict. It was demolished in 1966 to make way for the Parkfield housing estate.


In 1745, the novelist Lawrence Sterne became vicar. It is said that, dining at Stillington Hall with his friend Stephen Croft, he gave a reading from the manuscript of his new novel ‘Tristram Shandy’. Not getting the attention he felt he deserved, he threw the manuscript onto the fire. It was rescued and went on to make his literary reputation. One rather gruesome twist is that after his death from tuberculosis in London in 1768, Sterne’s body was ‘resurrected’ by body snatchers for use in medical research at the anatomy school of his own university, Cambridge.


One permanent legacy of Lawrence Sterne and Stephen Croft was their sponsorship of the 1766 Enclosure Act, which did away with the commons and the four great open fields. The hedgerows which were planted to divide the land into ‘allotments’ can still be traced today.


Another village resident who has left a permanent legacy in the English garden is George Russell MBE. Born in the village in 1857, and working most of his life as a jobbing gardener in York, he created the Russell Lupin. Slightly overawed by his fame, he always maintained that the work in developing it could be attributed to the humble bumble bee.


Younger children still start their education in the village school before moving on to the senior school at Easingwold. The social life of the village is enhanced by a very active Sports and Social Club and the Village Hall is the venue for several local organisations. According to Victorian trade directories, the village was once served by its own shoemakers, blacksmiths, millers, butchers and saddle makers. Sadly, in recent years trade has declined. For anyone wanting refreshment, there are public houses serving high quality English and Indian food, or you can get the traditional takeaway from the fish-and-chip shop. Stillington is still very much an active community. A good example came when due to the retirement of the postmistress, the village post office faced closure. Rather than lose an essential village amenity, the Stillington Community Association was formed in 2003 and this now runs the post office together with a village store and news agency as a very successful co-operative venture.


Alan Kirkwood

January 2008