The de Alwoodley family

Nevertheless, there were still major changes and after the conquest the Anglo Scandinavian lord, Roschil, had his lands confiscated by William the Conqueror and in 1086 Alwoodley formed part of the king’s property, administered from the new military base at Dunkeswick.8 

William leased the lands to a Norman French family who took possession of the key site of Alwoodley Old Hall. Documentary evidence for the period is sparse but it seems likely that they were called ‘de Mohaut’ as around 1166 Henry de Mohaut, adopted the name de Alwoodley when he witnessed a grant made by one Jordan and his wife, Annais, of land and pasture for 160 sheep to the nuns of Sinningthwaite Priory, a small Catholic community located nine miles west of York.9   This generous gift was later supplemented by Alexander de Alwoodley who gave 25½ acres of land with common pasture for seven oxen, three cows, seven oxen and 160 sheep with ‘as much wood as the nuns of Sinningthwaite had occasion for their own proper use’.10

As important members of the local Norman élite the Alwoodley family were regularly asked to witness to property transactions. About 1180 Henry de Alwoodley’s signature appears on a deed of Kirkstall Abbey and his son witnessed a similar transaction in the reign of Henry ΙΙΙ.11

The manor consisted of just over 1500 acres, a vast estate, and it is clear that the de Alwoodley did not lease all the land as in 1218 German de Thornhill held just less than a third of the lordship.12 Richard de Mora also held land in the township and he granted the nuns of Arthington Priory the right to remove twenty waggon loads of turves from the turbary there, however, this land soon fell into the hands of William de Alwoodley who confirmed this valuable gift of fuel to the nuns.13 They continued to collect this dried peat for their fires for over three hundred years! 

The power of the de Alwoodley family appears to have grown during this period and by the time of Kirkby’s Inquest in 1284 only a ‘carucate’ leased by William de Brandon and a small estate held by the monks of Kirkstall Abbey were not in their possession.14 So how did they become so wealthy? A clue can be found in the record of two thirteenth century court cases.

In 1275 Richard de Davenporte, probably a merchant based in Pontefract, accused William de Alwoodley and others of defaulting on the payment of 100 marks, of which William’s share was 14 marks (£9 6s 8d). It is not clear whether this was a loan or remuneration for goods purchased but the sum was a large one. Four years later William was sole defendant in a case brought by Gilbert de Louth, an important York merchant, for non-payment of £48. William had evidently agreed to supply Gilbert with five sacks of wool at 12 marks (£8) a sack, two sacks at 6 marks at Pentecost following, and then one sack a year until the sum was entirely repaid.15 It looks as though William was selling ‘wool futures’ as did many of the abbeys, including Kirkstall. He clearly had a sizable sheep flock and was producing for a buoyant foreign market with huge demand for wool from the cloth producers of Italy and the Flanders regions. William, a member of the local gentry class, was a lay wool producer but on a much smaller scale than his Cistercian neighbours. One of the surviving pieces of evidence for the period is a list kept by an Italian merchant, Pegolotti, attributed to the 1290s, in which he records that 12 marks a sack was the local price for wool at the time.16 A sack was defined as holding between 240 and 300 fleeces. It is impossible to assess how much wool the Alwoodley estate was producing and it may be that William was purchasing additional supplies from other farmers, nevertheless, this must have been a potentially lucrative source of income. Kirkstall, as a middling sort of abbey, had 25 sacks a year for sale so that a dozen or so ‘gentry’ with two sacks each could produce as much.


8. Dunkeswick West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council, West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Survey to A.D. 1500, (Wakefield, 1981), pp.360-1.
9. W.T.Lancaster, Notes on the Early History of Arthington, Thoresby Soc., Misc. Vol. ΙV (Leeds, 1895) p.157 f.n.
10. John Jewell, The Tourist’s Companion or the History and Antiquities of Harewood, (Leeds, 1822) pp.97-8; Convent suppressed in 1535, see: John A.Nichols, The medieval remains of Sinningthwaite Nunnery Journal of Cistercian Studies Series No.66 Studies in Cistercian Art and Architecture Vol.1 ed. M.P.Lillich (Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982) p.49.
11. W.T.Lancaster and W. Paley Baildon eds., The Coucher Book of Kirkstall Abbey, Thoresby Soc., VΙΙΙ (Leeds, 1904) pp.81, 205, 257 and 350.
12. J.Parker, Feet of Fines for the County of York from 1218 to 1231, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series, 62 (Leeds,1921) p.12.
13. W.T. Lancaster, Four Early Charters of Arthington Nunnery, Thoresby Soc., XXΙΙ (Leeds, 1895) p.125; C.A.Lupton, Arthington Nunnery, Thoresby Soc., LΙΙΙ (Leeds, 1972) pp.224–229.
14. West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council, West Yorkshire: An Archaeological Survey to A.D. 1500, (Wakefield, 1981), pp.305-6.
15. Information provided by Michael Collinson: S.B. personal correspondence 28 March 1999.
16. H.E.Wroot, Yorkshire Abbeys and the Wool Trade, Thoresby Soc., XXXIII, p.10.


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