Langcliffe Manor pastures

2 May 2010
Leaders - Mary and Mike Slater
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

On a cold but bright day we met at the cattle grid at the entrance to the lane to Winskill and first looked down over the townfields of Langcliffe on which arable crops were grown in much earlier times. Attention was then turned to the higher pastures on which sheep and cattle graze. A theme of the walk was walls and pasture enclosures made since 1591 and the measurement of field areas. We walked eastwards on the track towards Jubilee Cave then climbed the stile into Over Close and followed the path across the pastures and through the wood to the gate in the wall (of pre-1591 origin) on the Langcliffe to Malham bridleway. We then turned back westwards and climbed up to the wall (of 1789) and followed it towards the cliffs above Jubilee cave where there is a good view of the southern pastures of Ewe Close and Warrendale Knotts. We dropped down to the cave and crossed Cow Close straight back to the cars rather than following the track to Langcliffe since the cold wind was in our faces.

The Manor of Langcliffe was held by Sawley Abbey from the 1100s to 1536 when the Abbey was dissolved. The Manor was then sold to the Darcy family and in 1591 Nicholas Darcy, possibly in financially straightened circumstances, sold the Manor in several lots to the then current tenants and a set of trustees. The several packages of pasture land sold had a total area of 1000.2 customary acres. It is necessary to know how large a customary acre in Langcliffe was compared to a Statute acre; Langcliffe estate maps of 1751 and 1801 quote field areas in both units so it is known that a customary acre is 1.62 times larger than a Statute acre. Since there are 160 square rods to an acre, the local rod (or pole or perch) length was 21 feet. By Elizabethan Statute the rod length was defined as 16.5 feet but local variations were common. The manorial sale documents for 1591 say only that the rod length used to measure areas was 5.5 ells; various ell lengths existed at that time but 5.5 English ells of one yard and a quarter (45 inches) make 21 feet. The tithe map of 1844 gives field areas and the total for Henside, Daw Haw, Over Close, Langcliffe Scar, the Cow Closes, Ewe Close, Clay Pitts, High Carts, Blua and New Close is 1001.9 customary acres, differing from the area quoted in 1591 by only 0.17%. The walls surrounding the 1591 pastures can therefore be identified with confidence. The walls may have decayed over time but surely were mended using the same stones.

In 1789 an enclosure map was made which subdivided the very large early pastures; nearly all these walls were made in straight lines compared to the rather irregular earlier walls. The Tithe map of 1844 shows even further division but mainly in fields lower down.

It seems quite remarkable that surveyors in 1591 were able to measure areas of very large irregular fields with a high degree of precision. Theodolites, plane tables, measuring chains and calculation aids including sines of angles were all in use and are described in detail in several books published in the late 16th century. The sale of Daw Haw (jackdaw enclosure) plus Over Close (upper close) in 1591 of ‘one hundred and fifty two acres and one rod (rood) and twenty [square] poles of pasture’ (152.34 customary acres) was defined as being on the north side of Cow Close on Langcliffe moor beginning at the east end of Langcliffe and descending to the ‘old turf moor yeat’ and following the wall to Skarris and following the same wall to the east side of Cowside Close to Henside and then to Winskill land towards the west. The Cowside Close referred to is later called Over Close; the area of this land calculated from the Tithe map information is 152.38 customary acres, differing from the 1591 quoted area by only 0.03%.

In 1600 Henry Sommerscales (who built Langcliffe Hall in 1602) bought ‘the common pasture ground or moor called Langcliffe moor then lying abroad and not enclosed…’ The Fountains Abbey Lease Book in the Malham Court record of 1534 says that the Abbot of Salley (Sawley) enclosed 80 acres at Hensett, where the ‘tenants ought to have intercommoning’. The area of Henside as of today is 220 customary acres so only part of this land was involved in this dispute.

The interest in this walk is much enhanced by reference to the documented history of Langcliffe but the views of the surroundings make it a very pleasant outing regardless of this background knowledge.


The manorial pastures of Langcliffe In 1591, about 1000 customary acres of land were sold to existing tenants and trustees by Nicholas Darcy and Henry Billingsley. The pasture land can be identified with area details given in the Tithe map of 1841-4. The enclosure awards include the 1710 agreement for stinting and the 1793 enclosure map showing Cow Close, Over Close, Langcliffe Scar, Dawhaw, Winskill Stones and Gorbeck, total 1400 statute acres. The ages of the field walls,or at least their line, can therefore be determined.

Areas and rod lengths used to measure areas

The areas in early documents are in customary acres. On Langcliffe estate maps of 1751 and 1801, 1 customary acre = 1.62 Statute acres. One acre equals 160 square rods and by Elizabethan Statute 16.5 feet make a (Statute) rod, hence in Langcliffe the length of a Customary rod = Statute rod × √1.62 = 21 Statute feet . The manorial sale documents of 1591 quote 5.5 ells per rod used to measure areas. The English ell was a yard and a quarter, 45 inches. Thus 5.5 English ells equate to a rod length of about 21 feet, in agreement with the area ratio.

Total area of pasture land

The 1591 sale documents relate to the sale of 1000.2 customary acres of pasture. Using the Tithe map to suggest which pastures were meant

Henside+Daw Haw+Over Close+Langcliffe Scar+Cow Closes+Ewe Close +Clay Pitts+High Carts+Blua+ New Close= 1001.9 customary acres (0.17% difference).

Daw Haw (Jackdaw Enclosure) and Over Close (Upper Enclosure)

Sale document no. 2 of 1591 gives the description : “one hundred fifty and two acres and one rod and twenty poles of pasture lying and being within the said Lordship of Langcliffe that is to wit on the north side of one close of pasture upon Langcliffe moor called the Cow Close beginning at the east end of the town of Langcliffe and descending directly to a place called the old turf moor yeat and so from there folowing the wall there to a place there called Skarris and so following the same wall on the east side of the great close called Cowside Close to the side of one great close of pasture called Henside and so [to] the place assigned and measured out for the tenants of Wynskall towards the west “

The suggested make-up totals 152.34 customary acres (c.f. 152.38, 0.03% difference)

Langcliffe Scar

This was purchased by Henry Sommerscales of Stockdale in 1600. This pasture perhaps became an extension of the Stockdale property beyond a headwall on the current parish boundary.

“ the common pasture ground or moor called Langcliffe moor then lying abroad and not enclosed ...”


The Fountains Abbey Lease Book in the Malham Court record of 1534 says

‘The lord’s land: item: they say that the abbot of Salley enclosed eighty acres of the lord’s land at Hensett, where the lord’s tenants ouht to have intercommoning, therefore they require remedy’