Home Places Streets and Communities Fifteenth Century Wombwell – When Black Death Touched the Dearne Valley

Fifteenth Century Wombwell – When Black Death Touched the Dearne Valley

January 1940

Mexborough and Swinton Times January 13, 1940

Fifteenth Century Wombwell

When Black Death Touched the Dearne Valley

Article II (by J.Lawson M.A.)

Taxable Population

At Darfield in 1379, there was a taxable population of 84, and among these were Robert de Hegham and Thomas de Crok, masons, the wright Richard  Annotson, who all paid sixpence, and Adam de Woodhall, the cattle dealer, who paid a shilling.

There were also two women with rather interesting names—Alice Parsonservant and Joan Vikarservant. The former was obviously the maidservant of the rector (the word parson or “persona” always meant the rector), and the latter the servant of the vicar.

Why two masons should have been living in so small a place as Darfield when there was none at Wombwell might seem rather strange. The medieval mason was an itinerant workman and these two were possibly in Darfield on some temporary job of work. It is tempting to think that this might have been the construction of the south aisle of the church, for the window tracery and other features show that this part of the church must have been built about this time.

Was it Robert Hegham and Thomas Crok who carved those very amusing heads on the hood moulds of these windows? They are clearly the work of two different masons.

Some of these people must have lived through the frightful plague, the Black Death, which swept the country with dreadful mortality from 1348 to 1350. Wombwell, we know, did not escape the plague, for Thomas Allott, making his will in the first year of the pestilence makes provision for his sons and daughters if they should survive it. Beyond the names of these people and, in the case of some of them, their relative prosperity and occupation, there is very little that we can get to know about them.

One thing about them is clear, however, and that is their violence and lawlessness. But we must remember that these qualities were common everywhere in England at this time. Nevertheless, the crimes recorded of the district are astonishingly numerous, and those which are recorded are only those for which the accused for some reason or other received a royal pardon.

On Wednesday, June 4th, 1382, for example, Edward Bosville was done to death at “Middelwode” by Thomas Derlyng and Beatrice Hegham of Darfield, aided and abetted by Robert Haynard of the same place. All three were pardoned. Thomas Derlyn’s father, Robert, had been a bad lot for he had been outlawed for not appearing in the courts to answer charges of trespasses. Beatrice Hegham was the daughter of Robert Hegham the mason.

Hemingfield “Slayer”

Another local murderer was Adam Bate of “Hilmyngfeld” who killed a servant of Hugh Wombwell at Christmas, 1387 and then fled to Pontefract. Some of these criminals were soldiers home from the French wars who received pardons because of their military service, in two cases—that of John Skauseby, of Wombwell, who murdered Robert Setgrout, and Thomas Kew who killed John Tumbholm at Barnburgh—as a result of the intercession of their commander, the Black Prince himself. So it seems not unlikely that these men, and perhaps others from the district with them, might actually have fought at Crecy or Poitiers. Persons accused of major crimes like murder were taken by the Sheriff (if they could be apprehended by the bailiff or serjeant of the wapentake) to the county goal in York Castle where they were imprisoned until the king’s justices came round to deliver the goal and try the prisoners.

On two occasions in the fourteenth century Wombwell murderers were pardoned because the Justices at York found that their crimes had been committed in self-defence.

But there were plenty of other crimes besides murder which we frequently hear of. In 1409 Adam Baxster of Wombwell stole three oxen worth thirty shillings from John Taillour, Richard Darlay and Agnes Unshelf; and in 1356 a gang of villagers assaulted Robert de Syres “broke his closes and houses at Wombwell and Holand-by-Wyntworth, and moved his crops there, and carried away these crops and other of his goods.” Later, in the fifteenth century, John Cresacre, the Lord of Barnburgh, was cited in Chancery by Robert Merssh to answer for assaults on his tenants and theft of his cattle. And this suggests another clearly marked feature of the men of this district at this time—and that is their love of going to law. The medieval Englishman was a very litigious person. In 1425 there were long and involved Chancery proceedings between John Drax of the Woodhall and his brother-in-law John Bosville. It appears that they had both married sisters, co-heiresses of Thomas Barlay, who owned the Manor of Woodhall and the manor of High Melton with lands in Darfield, Wombwell. Monk Bretton and other places farther afield, and John Bosville had got and kept more of his share of this property than lawfully was due to him. At least this is what John Drax alleged and he appears to have won his case. But perhaps he had an unfair advantage, for he was by profession an official in the Court of Chancery.

Delinquent Clergy.

A Chancery action was a costly business and quite beyond the means of common people. Nevertheless we do sometimes find smaller local persons seeking justice there; Robert Hill, for instance, twice sued Robert Cawode, the tenant of a house of his at Darfleld. It is not surprising (alas) to find that clergy were not infrequently cited in Chancery to give account of their doings, —in the fifteenth century a Vicar of Darfield (William Steven). was accused of appropriating the income of a chantry where he had formerly been chaplain, and Thomas Bolton, Vicar of Hooton Pagnall, was sued by Ralph Anne, lord of Frickley Manor, for the theft of certain deeds. And we find Richard Wynton, of Bolton, and Robert Hardcastle, of Hickleton, both of them priests, sued in other courts for recovery of debts.

An interesting fact to note is the relative importance of Wombwell in the district at this time. Small though it was compared with its present population, it was one of the largest villages in the neighbourhood.

In 1379 when the poll tax was levied the chief town in the district was Doncaster, which had a population of 750 people over the age of 14. Next came Sheffield, already noted for its whittles, with a population of 531 adults, then Tickhill with 462, then Rotherham with 358. Wombwell; came next with an adult population of 193.

Of the neighbouring villages Conisborough had only 148 inhabitants, Barnsley 141, Bolton-on-Dearne 134, Barnburgh 126. Wath 114, Hooton Pagnall 109, Mexborough 99, Brampton 96, and Thurnscoe 58.

One indication of the prosperity of Wombwell is the fact that the total amount collected there in 1379 was £4 3s. 6d., a very considerable sum for the size of the place—in Conisborough, for instance, the next largest place, only £1 18s. Bd. was raised. One reason for this fairly large sum was the number of inhabitants who were assessed at more than fourpence, which was the normal assessment for common folk. Thirteen of the ordinary villagers paid sixpence or over, and there were persons with special occupations, small tradesmen and not ordinary villeins. Five of them were tailors, three smiths, two butchers, and three respectively baker, chapman and shoemaker.

Important Families.

Another reason was the fact that there were established in Wombwell two important landed families, the Woodhall family at the “Wodehall,” and the Wombwell family at the Hall. The heads of both these families in 1379 John de Wodehall and Hugh de Wombwell—were each assessed at twenty shillings, a sum which according to the’ statute law technically Trade obliged to seek knighthood.

In the first half of the fifteenth century Wombwell must have derived no small importance locally from the fact that it was the seat of one of the best known public figures in South Yorkshire. This was Thomas Wombwell, lord of the manor of Wombwell, who lived in the Hall. The history of the origin of the family of the Wombwells is a matter of some obscurity. It is enough to say here that Thomas Wombwell was the son and heir of the Hugh de Wombwell who was In taxed in the 1379 poll tax at twenty shillings—the value of a knight’s fee – and his wife Joan, the daughter and heiress of another Wombwell landowner, John Lowell. Hugh Wombwell himself must have been a fairly prominent person locally.

Occasionally we find him acting as the attorney or legal representative of important figures like the Prior of Pontefract and the Prior of Monk Bretton to act for them and attend to their interests during their absence. He was also a Justice of the Peace—at a time when that office meant very much more than it does now and when men who occupied it had to be persons of some wealth and substance—and in 1384 we find him appointed with others to enquire into the theft of 200 sheep at But his son Thomas was to be a much more important person. Perhaps he was born about 1390. Much that we would like to know about him it is impossible to discover. Perhaps he was taught the rudiments of education—his alphabet, the Pater roster, Credo and ‘Ave Maria, and some other miscellaneous pieces of information—by his father’s chaplain or the priest at the chapel of St. Mary. If he received any higher education it might have been, ; though nobody can say, at the small grammar school kept by the priest who officiated at one of the chantries of Our ‘Lady in the parish church at Bolton-on- Dearne. Here he might have learned the elements of Latin and some scraps of logic and rhetoric.

A Road Diversion.

But most of his education he doubtless received from his father from whom he probably learned things like the details of farming and estate management, something about the customary rules and practices which governed the life of the manor, and the duties and responsibilities of local administration.

The extent of Thomas Wombwell’s property it is impossible to know. We can assume that most of the land in Wombwell belonged to him as lord of the manor, and he probably held smaller pieces of estate in many of the other manors and villages of the district. For instance, in 1450 he had parcels of land in Cudworth. In 1436 he obtained permission from the King to close a road which ran through his Wombwell property “from Grenelane right to Tunstallecrosse.”

Much of the land in Wombwell, however, was held by several landlords. Sir James Cresacre, the lord of Barnburgh, who died in 1419, had parcels of land in Wombwell and also in “Herlyngton, Mylnehowse. Derfeld, Wodhall and Tershyll.”

The Flemmings of Wath and the Bosvilles of Ardsley also had land in the village, and in 1428 Joan, widow of Roger Swillyngton, died possessed of property in “Derfeld, Wombewell, Erdesley, Ederesthorpe, Kirkeby, Akethorpe, Southelmeshall and Northelmeshall.” The Earl of Shrewsbury in 1460 also had land in Wombwell and the district.

A very considerable landowner appears to have been the prior and convent of Monk Bretton, who had land on the Wombwell side of the river Dove including, by a deed of 1332, alcose called “Le Brom Lande” with tenements and “all appurtenances, commons and roads to the common of Wombwell.”

It is interesting to note that certain pieces of land in Darfield belonged to the chantry of St. Mary on the Bridge in Wakefield.”

(Article III next week).