Aspects of Life in Giggleswick and Horton Parishes during the Eighteenth Century

Sheila Gordon
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

The Giggleswick Inventories Project was born out of a desire to examine and subsequently transcribe a series of probate inventories drawn up between 1705 and 1750, before making them available to the general public for personal research. The documents are held at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at York University and can be divided into two groups: those up to 1722 which had not been put on microfilm but were available to view and photograph; and those from 1723 - 1750 which were still in their original state in tightly-rolled bundles and not accessible for viewing. This latter group required expert conservation before being digitised.

A successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid was submitted under the banner of North Craven Historical Research Group and work began in February 2015. Workshops were held locally when members of the general public were invited to join in the process of transcribing these fascinating documents which had not been seen before. It has long been recognised that detailed inventories from this period contain a wealth of detail concerning aspects of everyday life that historians of other periods might envy [Arkell, et al., 2000, 13].

The 289 inventories form the basis of the following analysis and cover the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick, comprising the townships of Settle, Giggleswick, Langcliffe, Stainforth and Rathmell (hereafter Giggleswick Parish) and also the parish of Horton in Ribblesdale. In all, 65 inventories were located for Horton and 224 for Giggleswick parish. They provide a unique view of life in the Early Modern period and on occasion also provide a glimpse of the inside of the shops which were emerging in greater numbers in towns across the country. There is a scarcity of records relating to shopkeepers of this period and ‘where they were made by conscientious appraisers with an eye for detail they provide a view not available from any other source’ [Vaisey, 1966, 107].

An inventory was a document drawn up after a person’s death, listing all the deceased’s goods and chattels and leasehold property but not his or her real estate. The appraisers valued the goods according to their secondhand value or selling price [Arkell, et al., 2000, 8]. These appraisers or assessors were often neighbours or friends or anyone with a vested interest (for example creditors), and comprised two, three or four men or women; in our own study they were more likely to be drawn up by three or four men. In the case of a shopkeeper’s inventory it was preferable for someone with detailed knowledge of the business to assist in this valuation process.

Occupation and Status

A study of the inventories for the first half of the 18th century proves invaluable when determining a person’s occupation, as people started to become associated with one trade or another. However, we must be wary of making assumptions as many people had more than one occupation, subsidising their farming activities with another trade; therefore what a man was described as was not necessarily what he did [Riden, 1985, 98]. Another point to bear in mind is that the appraisers were not obliged to list a person’s occupation or status, and where there were several they only chose one. A good example is Leonard Bolland of Settle, described as an apothecary (1712), whose inventory runs to four columns of goods and chattels. Apart from an extensive list of apothecary items he also had cattle, sheep, hay, straw and husbandry gear, confirming his farming activities. As we progress further we discover brewing equipment and ‘in the cellar Nine Barrels’ and find that he was also running the Golden Lion Inn. Another shopkeeper was Richard Balderstone, grocer of Settle (1732), who although not involved in farming was still multi-tasking. Apart from shop goods to the value of 115 (sadly not individually itemised) he also had ‘Implements Belonging to Book Binding’. As Philip Riden [1985, 98] notes in Probate Records and the Local Community : ‘Too many studies in the social and economic history of the 17th century and in particular studies of towns, still seem to make too much of the distinction between gentlemen, yeomen and tradesmen or professionals’, and this point could be made of the early 18th century also.

Having stated all the above it is nevertheless still an important and useful exercise to list all the occupations noted from the inventories, to help give an overall view of trades and professions at this time.

Occupations of testators in Horton

Analysis of 65 inventories in the parish of Horton shows the following breakdown of occupations and titles:
Yeoman18   Clothier1
Husbandman20   Mercer1
Widow7   Innkeeper1
Spinster2   Smith1
Tanner2   Linen weaver1
Singleman1   Not specified10

Occupations of testators in Giggleswick

Analysis of 224 inventories in the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick shows the following breakdown of occupations and titles:
Gentleman6   Feltmaker1
Yeoman42   Clerk1
Husbandman12   Ropemaker1
Spinster9   Musician1
Labourer2   Fellmonger1
Clothier4   Mason2
Tanner2   Chandler1
Mercer2   Sadler2
Innkeeper5   Shopkeeper1
Blacksmith1   Linen Draper1
Linen Weaver4   Physician1
Grocer5   Shoemaker1
Apothecary1   Sailor1
Carpenter4   Whitesmith2
Butcher2   Fisherman1
Ironmonger1   Not specified104

A comparison of the two parishes shows a large percentage of yeomen/husbandmen in Horton (59%) as opposed to 24% for Giggleswick. When we look at the figures for trades which include shopkeepers and innkeepers there were 22% involved in trading in Giggleswick parish and only 11% in Horton. As the parish of Giggleswick includes the township of Settle this makes sense as you might expect traders to congregate around the local town. However, if we look at the number of inventories where no trade is specified we see that 15% of the Horton and 46% of the Giggleswick inventories are untitled, so it is impossible to make any accurate assessment based on this information alone.

Similarly the above tables show that about 5% of Horton and 8% of Giggleswick testators were involved in the textile industry. If we include items such as looms, spinning wheels and textiles (listed in the inventories), the figures rise to 17% and 14% respectively. This is a clear indication of the importance of textiles in the two parishes which is not apparent from the occupation tables alone. Of the remaining occupations listed, many were trades or crafts found in most villages to meet local needs [Pers. comm., David Johnson, 2015].


Care must be taken when assessing a person’s wealth from their inventory alone; suffice it to say here that it is quite possible that a farmer who died with very few items listed in his inventory had retired and was living with his son who had taken over the running of the farm [Riden, 1985, 16]. Hoskins [1951, 12] describes the scene thus;
It is perfectly clear from the Yeoman’s will, if not from his inventory also, that he had handed over his farm, with all the live & dead stock, to his eldest son, & retained only his parlour in the old farmstead. There, surrounded by his few treasured bits of furniture, & with a cow or two & a bit of land to keep him quietly happy outdoors, he ended his days.
There are instances, however, where it is obvious that the deceased was of some considerable means. A case in point is the inventory of Mabella Lister, widow of Giggleswick (1743), who had her goods, chattels and money owing valued at 3,153, easily the wealthiest person found during this survey. Her household furniture was not itemised separately but all valued together, as was her ‘plate’, but she had 3,093 loaned out ‘on Securitys’. Mabella was a money-lender, an occupation popular with widows of substantial means and Anne Laurence [1996, 131] confirms this in Women in England 1500 - 1760: ‘Spinsters, widows and bachelors without business or family commitments invested their surplus cash in loans to their neighbours’. Although not in Mabella’s league, another widow loaning money was Mabell Banks, widow of Roome-houses, Giggleswick (1712), who had 105 lent out ‘in Specialty’ and 11.14s.0d ‘without Specialty’, i.e. without contract.

As far as Horton is concerned, the wealthiest person was undoubtedly Anthony Dowbiggin, yeoman of Newland House (1742), whose estate was valued at 1,483.10s.8d. Like Mabella Lister of Giggleswick, his wealth was far in excess of any others studied in the parish. Anthony was also probably lending money as amongst the items listed is one for ‘1,419.0s.0d owing by several persons’. This particular document is invaluable in giving us an idea of the size of his property as the items of furniture are spread over ten named rooms including ‘the little room at stairsfoot’. However, this can only be an approximation as any empty rooms would have been passed over by the assessors as they were only interested in valuing goods.

Beds and Bedding

Beds were a valuable item up to the mid-eighteenth century and even beyond, as many people did not possess such a luxury, merely sleeping on a pallet on the floor with just a ‘chaffe’ mattress for comfort: a ‘chaffe’ bed consisted of a mattress filled with cut straw and was common throughout the period studied. The number of beds listed in an inventory is therefore a useful measure of a person’s wealth, if not social standing. Bedstocks, which is the term most commonly used in this period, describes the frame of a bed which had perforated holes, through which strong cords were threaded, forming a base for a mattress [Milward, 1986, 9]. Unfortunately, it is impossible to give an accurate figure of the numbers of bedstocks contained within a property at this time - not least because there was a tendency in the early 18th century to group the items from one room under a single heading - for example, ‘Goods in the Parlour’ or ‘Household Stuff’. This proved to be the case in 39% of the Horton inventories and 21% in Giggleswick. As the century progressed it became the norm to group everything together, probably as a result of people gaining more possessions, no doubt helping the appraisers cut down on paper work.

For Horton, 40 (62%) of the inventories contain bedstocks, top of the list being Thomas Howson’s of Blindbeck, yeoman. Thomas made his will on 21 December 1705 and was buried on Christmas Day. His ‘Goods & Chattells debts & Creditts’ were assessed on 10 January 1705/6 and totalled 153.14s.7d. This extensive inventory listed cattle, sheep and many household items spread over seven rooms, plus a substantial amount of husbandry gear (farming equipment). When we count the number of beds and bedding it looks possible that he was running an inn as well as being a farmer. Apart from five bedsteads, six chaff beds, one feather bed and one truckle bed there are fourteen bolsters, several coverlets and eight pair of blankets: a truckle bed was a low bed which could be pushed under a standing bed [Milward, 1986, 56]. The fact that Thomas had a large number of dishes, plates, tubbs, gallons and piggins (a half barrel) further helps to support the idea that this may well have been an inn or public house.

Of the six people with no beds listed, Stephen Carr’s inventory of 1719 is arguably the most poignant:
His purse & his apparell1180
his wages0150
his debts0 60
In all 2190
funerall expences 1140
Stephen must have been an employee as he was receiving wages and appears to have had no possessions, so must have slept on the floor. Needless to say he died intestate.

The percentage of Giggleswick inventories containing references to beds is slightly less than for Horton, 57% as opposed to 62%, but these figures are only a rough estimate. There are many pitfalls when interpreting inventories and the one drawn up after the death of Dorothy Banks is a good example. Dorothy was a spinster with a total valuation of goods of 80 (a not inconsiderable sum in 1712), yet there was no mention of beds or bedding. It is difficult to believe that a woman who had 20 in her ‘purse & apparell’, 3 in pewter, 5 in linen, chests, desks and trunks valued at 2 plus 5 owing in bills, bonds etc. did not possess a bed. Either the bed was overlooked by the appraisers, which is unlikely, or Dorothy had already promised the bed to someone else and it had been taken away before the valuation.

When we look at Thomas Carr’s inventory (1718) we are on much firmer ground. He is described as a butcher but was running an inn as well, judging by the number of beds, which total 29 and include a ‘Press bed’, that is, one which folds up when not in use. Also included in this very long inventory are 26 pairs of sheets in one store room, and 189 gallons of ale, brandy, wine and cider in the cellar. When we look at his will we see that he had made provision for his wife to carry on this trade after his death (running an ale house was another acceptable occupation for widows): ‘And First I will and Require that my dear and well beloved wife Agnes Carr shall ... keep a publicke and follow the Ale Trade in that messuage or dwellinghouse at Settle aforesaid wherein I doe now dwell’. Thomas was also farming, as evidenced by the amount of husbandry gear and number of stock which included 138 sheep.

The Textile Industry

Spinning and weaving were carried on in most households during this period and were occupations which grew exponentially with the coming of the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Up to the middle of the 18th century however, these were cottage industries carried on in the farmhouse as an additional source of income. Farmers were self-sufficient long before the 1500s and these skills were put to good use in these later centuries to help augment their livelihood [Youings, 1984, 25].

The inventory of Christopher Lawson of Lodge, Settle (1706), is a good example of the above. He was titled a linen weaver, and a pair of looms and gear are included in the list, which also includes farming gear, cows, stirks and a mare, the latter probably for riding purposes. The income from weaving was obviously helping him to eke out a living and his total assessment came to 24.5s.4d. Christopher died intestate so we have no information about his family, although we are more fortunate with John Camm of Settle, weaver. He was a widower with six children as evidenced by his will and the total value of his possessions came to 3.6s.2d. John Camm’s only possessions appear to be his bedstocks, bedding, looms and gear and 11s.2d in household goods. Clearly, weaving was John’s sole occupation and with no horse to take his finished cloth to market (although he could have passed a horse onto his son), he must have been dependent on a clothier bringing him the yarn and collecting the finished web.

The clothier acted as a middle-man, buying the raw wool and transporting it to farms to be carded, spun and woven before finally collecting the finished web [Youings, 1984, 30]. The goods were transported on the backs of pack-horses which, together with horse sleds, carried everything in hilly areas, often along very narrow tracks until roads began to be improved with the coming of the turnpikes. Even then it was often cheaper and quicker to use pack-horses, particularly during the winter months, when carts would get bogged down and be unable to proceed.

Stephen Eglin of Selside, Horton (1706), was classed as a clothier, but to what extent he was involved in the ‘putting out’ system is difficult to say. His inventory lists looms, gear and a wool dyeing vat but there is no evidence of anyone spinning in the family, as no wheels or other carding equipment are mentioned. Possibly he took the wool to another farmstead to be carded and spun by the wife and children as was often the case. He died in 1706, leaving small amounts of money to his young children but passing the bulk of his estate, valued at 77.11s.0d, to his wife Margaret. She appears to have carried on the business, as her own inventory some 17 years later listed a pair of looms ‘and other things belonging woollen trade’.

If the term clothier was rather ambiguous, the term mercer could be equally confusing. Originally a dealer in silk, the mercer had by the mid-sixteenth century developed into more of a general dealer [Vaisey, 1966, 108]. The inventory of John Beck of Selside (1739) merely states: ‘In mercery & other wares which he traded in’. Unfortunately the ‘other wares’ are not listed, neither are they in the inventory of William Carr junior of Settle (1722) which simply states ‘Goods in the Shop 374.12s.4d’. We fare much better with William Carr senior, a Gentleman/Mercer of Settle whose total wealth in 1731 amounted to 1001.15s.5d, making him one of our wealthiest testators. William was obviously a prosperous farmer with lands valued at 300 and with six oxen and 126 sheep/lambs amongst his stock. The ‘4 She asses’ are an unusual item, and are valued at 3.6s.8d. Asses are sturdy animals and like mules were frequently used as pack animals in the medieval period, although this is the first instance I have come across in the Settle area at this time. As William’s inventory also lists three load saddles, we can safely assume that these animals were being used to transport goods. A load saddle was just one way of carrying them; often made of wood, the pack saddle was padded beneath and secured to the horse by a leather strap or wantey [Brears, 1972, 134]. There is no mention of looms, gear or fabrics by the appraisers, just wool to the value of 4.10s so possibly William was selling his fleeces at the markets, carried there on the backs of his asses.

William Carr was a friend and associate of Joseph Symson of Kendal, a prominent merchant at this time. Correspondence between the two can be found in Symson’s Letter Book [Smith, 2002]. Symson had trains of pack-horses travelling as far south as Southampton and London, delivering textiles and returning with imported goods but, more importantly for us, had a train of 20 to 30 horses travelling twice a week to Settle. He supplied goods to many of the tradesmen in Settle and the trains of pack-horses must have caused great excitement when they arrived in town with bells attached to the leading horse heralding their approach. A study of the letters between Symson and the Settle traders is just part of my personal ongoing research.


This article has presented a brief glimpse of some aspects of life in Giggleswick and Horton parishes during the Early Modern period, but the scope for more intensive research on any number of subjects is endless. One of the findings of the survey was the multiplicity of occupations of many of the testators and the significant part that the textile industry played in their lives. In these 289 inventories we have a microcosm of life in the first half of the 18th century within a small area of North Craven; the fact that from 1750 onwards the numbers of inventories decline rapidly throughout the country makes these documents even more important.

This research was made possible through a substantial grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for which the group is very grateful. The project was part of a much bigger body of work [Gordon, et al. 2010] concerning the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick. We now have all the wills/inventories from 1390 through to 1750 - a total of 1,092 documents - and all will be available on-line, providing an invaluable resource for historians and genealogists and anyone interested in the lives of the people of North Craven.


To Dr. David Johnson for his editorial assistance.

References and Bibliography

  • Arkell,T., Evans N., and Goose, N., 2000. When Death Do Us Part - Understanding and Interpreting the Probate Records of Early Modern England. Oxford, Leopard's Press Ltd.
  • Brears, P.C.D., 1972. Yorkshire Probate Inventories, 1542-1689. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series, 134
  • Gordon, S., Slater M. and M., 2010. The Giggleswick Wills Project: A study of wills made in the period 1390 to 1702.
  • Hoskins,W.G..,1951. 'The Leicestershire Farmer in the seventeenth century', Agricultural History, Vol. 25 No. 1, 12
  • Inventory of Stephen Carr, 1719. Original document, Borthwick Institute, University of York
  • Laurence, A., 1996. Women in England 1500-1700: A Social History. London, Phoenix Giant
  • Milward, R., 1986. A Glossary of Household, Farming and Trade Terms from Probate Inventories. Chesterfield, Derbyshire Record Series
  • Riden, P., 1985. Probate Records and the Local Community. Alan Sutton
  • Smith, S.D., 2002. An Exact & Industrious Tradesman: The Letter Book of Joseph Symson of Kendal 1711-1720. Oxford University Press
  • Vaisey, D.G.., 1966. A Charlbury Mercer's Shop 1623. Oxoniensia, 31
  • Youings, J., 1984. Social History of Britain: Sixteenth-Century England. Penguin Books

Rolled document prior to censervation


Rolled document prior to censervation