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2 - The Early History

Stillington does not mean 'stealing town' as Thomas Gill claimed.  The Domesday Book entry is 'Stivelinctun', a name we are more reliably told, which means 'The farm, or the Settlement, of Styfel' (spelling tended to be phonetic in those days). Apart from knowing that the name is Old English, so Styfel must have been Anglo-Saxon, we know nothing more about the village's founder. 

Styfel was not the first person to live here.  In the Iron Age and in Roman times, the area was thought to have been a productive grain growing region. In Stillington itself, in the late 1950s it was recorded that a number of Romano-British querns (hand corn-grinding stones) had been found in the village.  At the time they were being used as garden ornaments. Archaeological 'digs' in nearby Crayke have found traces of Roman pottery.  The Romans also left their mark in the name of the river the Foss (from fossa = a ditch). 

After the Romans left, things changed. Around this time the area was a focus for early Christianity in Britain. Tradition has it that Paulinus, who in 627 led to the conversion to Christianity of Edwin and the Kingdom of Deira, preached at Stillington, the site being marked by 'Paulinus Cross' now corrupted into the present day 'Pouland Carr'.  The neighbouring village of Crayke was an important monastic community, linked to Lindisfarne, and St Cuthbert.

In 878, following the Treaty of Wedmore between King Alfred and the Danish king Guthrum, Stillington became part of the Danelaw.  This was when the Roman town of Eboracum was re-named Jorvic - modern day York.  It appears that Norse families and Saxon families lived side by side in their own communities.  Styfel was Anglo-Saxon, as was Essing who lived over to the west  (Essing's would [wood] - Easingwold) and Streona  who set up a community to the east (Streonshalch, - 'Streona's place', - Strensall).  The '-by' ending to place names indicates a Norse settlement, as in Moxby, Huby and Uppleby.  Even so, Stillington was still under Viking influence.  Village place names such as Skeugh Farm and North Skeugh fields come from the Old Norse word 'skogr', meaning a wood (the Nordic equivalent of the Saxon 'wold').

The area became Saxon again when in 995, Alfred's three grandsons, Athelstan, Edmund I, and Edred re-conquered the Danelaw lands, but the Nordic names (and, probably, the Nordic settlers) remained. 

After the Danes the Normans came, and they made the Domesday Survey.  In 1086 the Lord of the Manor was the Archbishop of York, and there were ten carucates of taxable land and a mill, valued at three shillings.  There were six villeins, two ploughs, eight acres of meadow and an area of wood pasture a mile and a half long, and half a mile broad.  A villein was a tenant farmer who owed service and was subject to the rule of the lord of the manor.  The village was not doing too well.  In the time of Edward the Confessor, it was worth 40 shillings, but at the time of the survey, it was only worth ten.   

It was the Normans who established the Royal Forests.  Stillington became a village within the Forest of Galtres, subject to forest law.  Royal Forests were still mainly farmland, but farming practices were controlled to favour the herds of wild deer and the growth of timber, as a source of income for the Royal purse.

Official records of this time tell us little about everyday life, but we do get the occasional glimpse.  In 1270, Ralph le Rapere of Styvelington was pardoned of the death of a man unknown, it having been found before the Justices in Eyre that he had acted in self defence.

Any object or thing which caused the death of a person was called a 'deodand' and was forfeit to the King.  It was sold by the King's Almoner, and the money used for charitable purposes.  A list of Yorkshire Deodands collected in 1338 on behalf of Edward III includes the entry:

Libertas Beati Petri. - De villa de Stylynton pro quodam tasso straminis de quo Alicia filia Roberti Bertram oppressa fuit as mortem. vjd

This roughly translates as:

Liberty of Saint Peter - The village of Stillington, for the heap of straw by which Alice, daughter of Robert Bertram was crushed to death. 6d

In 1468, John Bedford (or possibly Bedforth) was appointed vicar of Stillington.  He must have been quite a character for on 7th February 1471 he was reported for:

'keeping in his vicarage a common tavern and selling beer in his vicarage as if he were a layman, to the peril of his soul, the expense of his church, and the great scandal of the jurisdiction of the Church of York'

Maybe Gill knew something after all, but the offence cannot have been too serious.  John Bedford still held office, and when he died in 1497, his will was proved at the Dean and Chapter Court.

Another major change in the village came in 1616, when the manor passed out of Church hands and was leased to a William Ramsden.  In 1625 the lease was granted to Christopher Croft, starting an association between the family and the village which lasted nearly 250 years.  This was a time of social and political change, and when Galtres was 'deforested' in 1630, the village of Stillington was awarded 694 acres at a rent of 6/8d (33p) in lieu of forest rights such as the collection of wood for fuel, and pannage (the right to allow pigs to forage for food). 

In 1649, Oliver Cromwell established the Commonwealth following the Civil War.  Parliamentary trustees were appointed for the sale of the lands belonging to the Dean and Chapter of York, and the Crofts purchased the estate outright.

A couple of generations later, the pattern of village life was changed for ever, when the 1766 Enclosure Act abolished the traditional pattern of open fields, meadows and commons.  In total, 1361 acres were 'enclosed' and allocated to individual owners.  This brings us up to the time of Lawrence Sterne, who along with the Lord of the Manor Stephen Croft, and other 'Proprietors', William Stainforth Esquire, John Barker, Christopher Bell, Robert Wiley, John Stapylton, John Wright and John Hall, jointly promoted the Act.  Following this, the village was roughly in the shape we see it today, and this is where the rest of this history takes over.