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Otterburn- A Brief History

There is ample evidence of prehistoric activity within the current Otterburn township with the existence of earthworks to the north and west of the village, some shown on the Ordnance Survey map of the area and listed on the Yorkshire Dales National Park sites and monuments records and others not. They are generally reckoned to be Bronze Age although the only formal excavation to be carried out was just outside the township boundary at the Lingber Hill Barrow in 1885 when a Bronze Age beaker, a perforated stone axe, a bronze blade and other pottery dating from around 1500BC were found.


The Domesday Book describes Otterburn as a manor of 3 carucates - waste, formerly belonging to Gamelbar but now part of the fee of Roger of Poictou and from here it grew to hold a position of some influence within the parish of Kirkby Malham during the 13th and 14th centuries when the family of de Otterburn along with their relatives, the de Malham family, were the principal donors of lands, principally in Malham and Malham Moor, to Fountains Abbey and, to a lesser degree, Bolton Priory. Their dwelling would probably have been on the site of the present Otterburn Hall.

The fields of Otterburn show many signs of medieval arable farming and this appears to have been the only occupation of the villagers during this period as there is no record of any other trades or crafts apart from a blacksmith. The other villages of the parish all had some other trades as shown by the 1379 Poll Tax returns.

The size of the village has fluctuated somewhat over the years. According to the 1379 Poll Tax there were 13 families, 2 servants and one single person living in it and by 1672 this number had increased to 17 inhabited homes but by the time of the 1841 census there were only 10 and as the table below shows it remained fairly constant, varying between 9 and 11 until towards the end of the twentieth century when several former agricultural buildings were converted to dwellings bringing the total to its present 17.

Population Statistics from the Census

No. of dwellings
Total Population

There are four Grade 2 listed buildings in the village:

Grove Farmhouse - C17 origins but mainly later C18
Otterburn Hall - Early C19
Otterburn Lodge - Early C19
Otterburn Bridge - Late C18 or early C19

Otterburn Hall
The information regarding Otterburn Hall is not strictly accurate as the deeds to the property show it to exist in C18 and to have been altered and improved around 1840. It held an estate of just over 216 acres embracing six other houses, including Bodkin House and Kendal House, in 1806 when it was sold by the then owner Thomas Clapham to the sitting tenant John Gill, yeoman, and, as stated earlier, there would almost certainly have been a substantial property on the current site since medieval times.

In 1808 the estate was sold for £7,780 to Robert Nightingale, father of 10 children; the eldest son, John, believed to have served in the Craven Militia and been promoted to Major in 1809 and another, William, being the leading coursing judge in the country, known as the 'Chief Justice', when coursing was becoming established as a national sport. He judged his first Waterloo cup in1839 and his last in 1857 and was also famous as an expert on greyhounds. He was buried with a greyhound carved on his coffin lid. Robert served as churchwarden at Kirkby Malham in 1812 and 1813 and died in 1817. After his death, the Nightingale family were sued in 1820 for having obtained some of the monies for the purchase of the estate by fraud and were eventually ordered to pay £3,000. This they did by taking out an additional mortgage on the property. Their total mortgage indebtedness, including arrears of interest, was eventually £9,807 and, as they could not repay this amount when required to, they had to sell the estate to the mortgagee, Richard Waddilove of Rylstone who then leased it out.

Details of the changes in ownership of Otterburn Hall Estate
26/4/1806 John Gill buys from Thomas Clapham £7,280
23/4/1808 Robertt Nightingale buys from John Gill £7,780
23/9/1812 Robert Nightingale buys Reek House land from Francis Petty £525
2/2/1846 Richard Waddilove buys from Robert Nightingale £13,225
2/3/1850 Richard Taylor of Newfield, cousin, inherited from Richard Waddilove
10/11/1865 Anthony & Robert Taylor inherited equally from father Richard
6/2/1925 Robert Procter, gentleman of Eshton House, inherited Anthony Taylor's share
19/1/1927 Robert Procter & Hannah Turner inherited Robert Taylor's share equally
19/8/1927 Robert Procter buys Hannah Turner's share £1,000
1/4/1935 Robert Procter buys Pot Lumb Meadow & Otterburn Moor Pasture from the mortgagee in possession re I H Coates £335
16/10/1949 Robert Procter dies leaving Otterburn Hall estate to his wife & daughter on trust
24/10/1954 Wife, Agnes Edith, dies and the estate passes to their daughter on trust
1/9/1959 Estate vests in daughter, Winifred Mary Clough
12/11/1964 G E & J R Metcalfe buy from Clough

Kendal House
It is not known when the present house was built, but whilst it's now a private dwelling house that has been extended by converting part of the attached barn, it was originally a working farm of approx 81 acres forming part of the Otterburn Hall estate.

Kendal House

Kendal House- early 20th century

Kendall Hill and Kendall House took their name from the Kendall family who first appear in the village during the 16th Century. The earliest records found are the witnessing of the will of Thomas Atkynson, another villager, by John Kendall, dated 19th January 1543 and his entry in the Lay Subsidy of that year:

Lay Subsidy 1543

Thomas Paithnall £4 8d
Henry Atkynson £3 6d
Robert Atkynson 40s 4d
Thomas Atkynson 40s 4d
Robert Holgate 40s 4d
Relict Robert Spenser £3 6d
Robert Ricroft 20s 2d
Thomas Atkynson 20s 2d
Christopher Thomson 20s 2d
John Facett 20s 2d
John Kendall 20s 2d

He does not appear in the Lay Subsidy of 1525 so it may be that his arrival in the village coincided with the dissolution of the monasteries. His assessment, along with those of the other four villagers also assessed at 20s, being the lowest in the village, indicate that he was not a wealthy man. This is borne out by the survey taken by Sir Thomas Tempest and John Lambert into the potential manpower available, if required, for combat taken sometime before the above (Robert Spenser still being alive) which shows him having neither horse, leather protective jacket nor weapon i.e. bill.

Otterburn Muster

Thomas Bowhurst
Henry Atkynson jak bill hors
Thomas Atkynson hors
Cr Thomson hors jak
John Kendall
Rob't Atkynson bill jak hors
Rob't Holgate hors jak bill
Leonarde Holgate
Thomas Pathnalle hors & hern
John Fawsit
Robtus Spenser hors & hern
Thomas Atkynson hors jak bill
John Anderson
Will'm Swer

In 1672 William Kendal was the village constable at the age of 73 and the last reference found to the family is the death in 1740 of a Joan Kendall, at the age of 38, daughter to the great-great grandson of John.

Hill House

Hill House, now divided into two dwellings, Hill House and Hill Place, was in the nineteenth century originally a farm of some 300 acres, with a range of farm buildings that were converted towards the end of the twentieth century into the four cottages seen today.

Hill House
Hill House, Otterburn - early 20th century

It was purchased at the beginning of the 19th century by William Gomersall, who had a dyeworks in Birstall, along with Otterburn Lodge farm (then known as Cranefield farm) and further lands known as Great Howber, Crossber Hill and Trantinber. There is no record of him ever having lived in the village and the farms were tenanted by Augustine Hardacre at Otterburn Lodge and William Moorby at Hill House. Eventually he bequeathed his estate to his three children, one of whom, also called William, appears to be living with the Moorby family at Hill House on the 1841 census. The other two children, a daughter and another son received Otterburn Lodge and the further lands respectively. The young William eventually bought the other two properties giving him a total land holding of just under 500 acres, almost half the total village land, and farmed Hill House as a gentleman farmer with Otterburn Lodge remaining tenanted. He lived in some style, at one time employing a cook and a nursemaid and raising ten children, the eldest of whom, also named William, entered the church and was also a well respected poet.  

He built up a well regarded herd of shorthorn cattle, wintering about thirty head and buying in Irish heifers in spring for either killing or feeding on, along with approx two hundred black-faced ewes that were crossed with Wensleydale rams and the produce sold fat.

Unfortunately, the 1870/1880 period saw a dramatic decline in farming fortunes and in September 1879 the shorthorn herd was auctioned with a large crowd attending but, as reported in the Craven Herald: Prices were not so good as had been expected. Thirty-four females realised £782.15.6 (approx £37,800 at 2006 values). None of the bulls brought large prices. Eleven bull calves averaged between £7 and £8.

The family fortunes continued to decline and, on May 14th, 1884 both farms were offered for sale at auction at the Midland Hotel in Skipton but were unsold and eventually, having been heavily mortgaged for many years, were repossessed by the ultimate mortgagee, the Craven Bank, who allowed Gomersall to remain living at Hill House until they sold the entire estate in 1897 to Frederick J Haggas of the well known Keighley textile manufacturers. He also bought Otterburn House which it is believed he lived in as a gentleman farmer whilst accommodating his farm staff, gardener and coachman in the other properties. He played a very prominent role in local affairs, serving on Settle Rural District Council for twenty-six years, eight as chairman. He was also chairman of the local Military Tribunal during the 1914-1918 war and, at his death in 1924 was the oldest Justice of the Peace at Settle.

Hill House has recently been refurbished and an original inglenook fireplace with its beehive oven uncovered and restored. The construction of this fireplace with its many cut and shaped voussoirs suggests a date of the early seventeenth century for the original building as does the presence of a window mullion with a concave chamfer that could well have been reused when the original building was modified and extended.

The Bridges

An early reference to Otterburn Bridge is found in an abstract of the will of Robert Spencer of Otterborne dated 1542:

To be buried in the ch: yarde of Sancte Michaell Tharcangell of Malloughdale. Item I will have placebo and dirige with messe & requiem solemplie songe for my soull in the day of my buriall with prests and clerks of the same churche for the which service so doinge I will have every prest have iiijd and clerks and singers every one 1d. Item I give and bequethe to the church warks of Malloughdale xiid. Item I give and bequeathe to Sir Christopher Branthwate our ladie prest xs to singe one trentall of messe for my soule. To Long Preston ch. xiid. Item I give and bequeath to the mendynge of Otterborne brige xiid. to the making of the stone (?) bridge xxd.

This almost certainly refers to the bridge in the heart of the village on the Hellifield to Airton road and indicates that, at the time of executing his will, a new bridge of stone construction either was being, or was proposed to be, built to replace a wooden one. It is likely that the abutments to be seen upstream from the present bridge and opposite the lane that was the original road are the remains of that bridge.

Today's bridge, which presumably replaced the above, is a Grade 11 listed building built, according to the Sites and Monuments Record, between 1767 and 1833.

The bridge between Otterburn and Bell Busk was built, by subscription, in 1870 by Thomas Varley at a cost of £76 to replace another wooden bridge that was sold for £1-5-0 (£1.25) with William Gomersall of Hill House in the village being one of the prime movers and the first to subscribe. He gave £5, as did eight others, with Walter Morrison of Malham Tarn House donating £10, the balance being raised from a further 19 donors.

Jack Ramshaw
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