Absentee landlords

Alwoodley Old Hall

The Clifton family let Alwoodley Old Hall to tenants and Richard Smithson leased the house and adjoining 160 acres of land for over twenty years. When he died in 1704 he left £340 9s 0d to his 'Loveing Wife' Dorothy and his children Richard, Thomas, William and Anne. A detailed inventory was made of the contents. In the kitchen, in addition to the usual cooking apparatus, were a clock, 15 pewter dishes, 15 plates, 16 tins, 3 pewter tankards, 2 candlesticks, 1 ring, 6 chairs, five stools, 2 flasks and a little table. In the great chamber they found a bed, bedding, a rug, 2 tables, 6 chairs, 1 chest and 2 rolls of linen, whilst in the hall a table and 'one fowling pare'.


One of the first actions of the new owners was to construct an impressive hall to the west of the former Frank residence. They retained the large, ancient timber framed structure with its formal gardens but these must have seemed dated and in marked contrast to the fashionable new hall, built of beautifully dressed stone, complete with mullioned windows and a modern stone slab roof. 31

Stairfoot Bridge
Richard Wrigglesworth's timber framed home near Stairfoot Bridge, 1682. Adel Beck can be seen to the left hand side of his cottage.
Interestingly the deeds to what is today Bridge Cottage allow the occupant to obtain fresh water from a spring in the field across the bridge in Adel

On 15 May 1661 the property formed part of the complex marriage settlement of Robert Clifton. He retained ownership of the estate during his lifetime but upon his demise all rights transferred to his bride to be, Sarah Parkhurst, as part of her marriage portion. This is very significant as they both had extravagant lifestyles, living well beyond their means and she was to use this estate on several occasions to secure loans. On 15 November 1672 Sarah borrowed £1000 from the Earl of Chesterfield but within two years this figure had risen to £1500. She was clearly short of money and unable to repay the loan so in April 1676 she visited John Hanson, who paid off her current debt of £1665 and advanced her a further £335. That same year George Ogden, Minister of Harewood, reported there were 189 communicants in Alwoodley. Unfortunately Sarah, as an absentee landlord, had little interest in the estate and even less in the welfare of the people of the district. She defaulted on the repayments and in 1679 the manor was sold in two halves to Roger Jackson and Cornelius Clarke. Sarah Clifton’s heirs were horrified at the prospect of losing such a valuable estate and legally challenged the sale, claiming that women could not own property and that it was illegal to use this land as collateral to raise money. The Chancery decree made it clear that this argument was not valid, however, the Clifton family were not so easily defeated and later challenged the ruling.32

In 1682 Cornelius Clarke decided to sell his half of the manor to Roger Jackson, thus re-unifying the estate. This was a highly significant event as it led to the employment of Joseph Parker to survey the whole of Alwoodley and to create a beautiful plan of the district showing the exact bounds of each individual farm and the size and shape of the timber framed buildings. It even identified the location of key facilities including the blacksmith’s workshop, located where the shops are today at the junction of The Avenue and King Lane. Twenty two tenants are listed with farms ranging in size from Samuel Midgley’s valuable holding of 206 acres to the meagre plot leased by Mr. Prince of just over an acre. Every single scrap of land is farmed and the landscape must have been virtually denuded of tree cover apart from ‘Springwood’ near Alwoodley Old Hall and the trees that clung to the steep side of the valley abutting Wike Beck to the north east of the estate.

This first plan of Alwoodley indicates that the key route-ways through the district, King Lane, Harrogate Road, Alwoodley Lane and Stairfoot Lane were ancient even then, as the field system runs like a patchwork quilt from this skeleton of roads. It is remarkable that even today some of the former sites of these tenanted farms are still occupied by desirable detached residences.

One such house is Stairfoot Cottage located on the western boundary of the estate near to the bridge. In 1682 it was a humble timber framed dwelling occupied by Richard Wrigglesworth. He farmed just over 36 acres of marginal land that is today wooded. He eked out a living utilising the best fields for his arable crops, though the majority of his holding produced nothing other than heather, gorse and stone.

golf house
Joseph Chamber's farm on King Lane, 1682. The place name Tenter Garth indicates that the family were involved in cloth production. Today the site is occupied by Golf House.

More fortunate was Joseph Chambers whose farm and substantial outbuildings occupied the site of what is today 'Golf House' on King Lane. He had around 100 acres of relatively rich farmland that hugged the western bounds of the scarp slope. He fanned large areas of arable, meadow and pasture land which must have generated a decent income. It is highly significant that two of the fields abutting the farm are called Tenter Garth and Tenter Bottom. These field names indicate that cloth had been manufactured here. When a clothier had finished weaving the piece of cloth it was cut from the loom, 'walked' in tubs of urine to remove grease and to felt the material, before finally being stretched on tenter-frames to stop shrinkage and to allow to dry.


moss hall
William Stead's farm on Alwoodley Lane, 1682. It shows a substantial timber framed building with a stone flagged roof shortly before its demolition. Some of the timber was reused in the new stone built house which is today called Moss Hall.

One of the most picturesque properties in Alwoodley today is 'Moss Hall', located off Alwoodley Lane, near the entrance to Sand Moor Golf Club. In 1682 this was the home of William Stead who lived in a modest timber framed building and leased 117 acres. He had some decent arable land and a small amount of meadowland but over half the acreage was occupied by the huge bog, 'Great Moss'.33

Unfortunately Parker only drew the area where the farms were located and omitted the common land. This oversight would complicate matters in the future when later owners had to contend with no end of irksome boundary disputes.


31. WYAS LF/M53
32. WYL72/LF Additional 14.
33. WYAS LF/M53

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