A Glimpse of Settle’s Past - A Study of Deeds held at Wakefield Archive.

Sheila Gordon
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Transcripts of the deeds for Settle, Giggleswick and Stainforth can now be found on the Capturing the Past web site at www.dalescommunityarchives.org.uk. The information within these documents makes for fascinating reading, opening a window into life in these three townships over the period 1704 to 1844.

In this article the deeds relating specifically to Settle have been studied with emphasis on the occupations mentioned therein. Settle was becoming established as an important market town at that time, lying as it did on one of the main east/west routes across the north of England. Trade increased dramatically once the route between Keighley and Kendal became a turnpike road in 1735.

The deeds deal with land and property transactions; all fields are named and sometimes their position in the landscape is described in great detail. Sadly this doesn’t apply to property except on very rare occasions. Fortunately for our purposes the title or occupation of the participants is nearly always stated. Little has been written about the officials who drew up and wrote out by hand these lengthy documents but it certainly appears that they worked very long and unsociable hours. The date and time when the deed was drawn up was usually stated in the margin, the majority being between eight in the morning and six in the evening. However several were written up as early as six in the morning and as late as ten in the evening. One scribe was obviously of an artistic disposition as he often filled in spaces in the ledgers with elaborate drawings which were highly decorative.

For the purpose of analysis the occupations of the local people were categorised as in the table below but this is purely arbitrary. An individual may be classed as a mercer in one document and subsequently a merchant in the next and some people had more than one job. Also the very nature of deeds means that some occupations, for example labourers and domestic servants are going to be under represented as they usually only appear when acting as witnesses. Despite these drawbacks some form of categorisation is necessary if the aim is to draw conclusions about the various trades and occupations which the inhabitants were engaged in during this period.

Occupations 1704 to 1844
Textiles and Clothing121
Grocers and Shopkeepers 73
Food and Drink Suppliers 48
Merchants, Brokers and Dealers 26
Domestic Service including Agriculture14
Miscellaneous Craftsmen and Tradesmen135

People with occupations involving the textile and clothing trade appear frequently amongst the deeds i.e. 24% of the total, coming second only to other craftsmen who appear in 27% of cases. The woollen industry in particular was a major factor in the growth of the area, subsequently to be superseded by cotton manufacture. The list below shows the variety of occupations found relevant to this woollen textile for the period under discussion.

Textiles and Clothing

Breeches Maker, Calico Manufacturer, Clothier, Cordwainer, Cotton Manufacturer, Cotton Spinner, Dyer, Flax Dresser, Hat Manufacturer, Hosier, Linen Draper, Linen Weaver, Mercer, Milliner and Dressmaker, Serge Weaver, Staymaker, Stuff Weaver, Taylor, Wool Comber, Wool Weaver, Woollen Draper, Woollen Stapler, Worsted Weaver.

The term ‘Cotton Spinner’ doesn’t appear in the deeds until the late eighteenth century, prior to this the spinning process was part of a cottage industry performed at home by women and children until at least the advent of the spinning mills. Many spinners were needed to keep up the demand from the weavers for yarn. Bridget Hill describes how ‘In the early eighteenth century it took seven to ten spinners to provide yarn for one weaver and thus considerable employment was provided for women’ [1] The first deed found which mentions the spinning mill at Runley south of Settle is dated 1786 and is between James Brennand and John Wray [2]. The deed concerned a piece of land known as Runley Close and also a half part of ‘Wheels Frames Engines … etc. Appertaining to the Business of Cotton Spinning’.

Weaving was also invariably done at home, often with the looms rented out to the weavers by a clothier. A John Wetherald is described as a serge-weaver in a deed of sale dated 1742 [3]. He owned three properties at ‘Cooksons of the Nook’ which by 1748 became known as White Hall and nowadays is called Whitefriars; John may well have woven this loosely worsted twill there.

The names of twenty-one mercers were discovered, one of whom was William Carr senior and his son also called William. William senior, whose chief trade was selling fabrics, was a successful business man who ‘supplied over forty different types of cloth during his time as a mercer’. His inventory ‘totalled £1,001.15s.5d. making him one of the wealthiest men in the parish’[4]. Less successful was his contemporary Henry Haydock who was also trading as a mercer in Settle in 1711 and who was declared bankrupt by 1721 [5].

Another bankrupt of the period was Thomas Hall, a Hosier, whose house in Settle was used as a Comb Shop in the 1775 [6]. The word ‘shop’ in this instance is a misnomer as the term ‘comb shop’ usually referred to a group of men combing wool together in the upper chamber of a house.


There are many references to shops in the deeds held at Wakefield Archive but few describe the exact location of the premises. However mention of shops to the east and west of the Toll Booth appear regularly, the Toll Booth being replaced by the Town Hall in 1832. The 1851 Tithe Schedule lists thirty-three shops all centred on the Market Place and radiating out along Duke Street, Kirkgate, Capel Hill and other adjacent streets very much as it is today. Many were at ground level but equally there are references to shops above houses, barns and other buildings. Shops discovered amongst the deeds include those for an Apothecary, Butcher, Carpenter, Draper, Grocer, Hosier, Joiner, Leather Worker, Mercer, Nailer, Saddler, Shoemaker, Smithy, and Staymaker.

Often a tradesman would also use his work area as a place to sell his goods and Nelson’s cobblers in Duke Street is a perfect example, combining a shop with work-room next door. The family have been making clogs, sandals and shoes in Settle since 1847. Similarly in a deed dated 1739 the smithy where George Picard worked as a whitesmith is also described as ‘a Smith’s Shop’ [7].

The present Naked Man Cafe was originally the site of houses, shops and warehouses used by grocers, mercers and a woolstapler. William Carr senior (mentioned previously) bought the Naked Man in 1723 from John Cookson and his mother. William ran his mercery business from here and on his death in 1731 he bequeathed the Naked Man to his Nephew Henry Town. An idea of the scale of this property can be gleaned from the relevant deed of sale [8]. The building included at least one dwelling, a lower parlour which had been converted into a shop, several other shops, warehouses, barn, three stables and one coal house.

Craftsmen and tradesmen were the most frequently encountered occupations, accounting for 27% of the total and the majority of these were found in the period 1764 to 1783.

Craftsmen and Tradesmen

Blacksmith, Cabinet Maker, Carpenter, Clocksmith/Watch Maker, Clogger, Cooper, Cordwainer, Currier, Fell Monger, Glazier, Joiner, Journeyman, Ironmonger, Mason, Nailer, Paper Maker, Periwig Maker, Printer, Sadler, Skinner, Slater, Tallow Chandler, Whitesmith.

Numerous deeds were found relating to smithies in Settle but locating the sites proved problematic although a search of the Tithe Awards and local Directories enabled one in Chapel Street to be located. The first house on the left as you approach Greenfoot Car Park was described in the 1844 Tithe Award as a house and smithy owned by Thomas Coar, a blacksmith. A subsequent search of the Parish Registers showed that a Thomas Core married Frances Dale in 1747. A deed of 1764 substantiates this, describing ‘Thomas Coar of Settle Blacksmith and Frances his Wife’ selling a plot of land called Natbreak. [9]. One year after the marriage they had a son also called Thomas. Thomas senior died in 1800 aged 74 and so it appears that Thomas junior carried on the family business as shown in the 1844 Tithe Award. The original building was demolished and was replaced by the present Masonic Lodge [10]

Other deeds record a smithy in Duke Street and one in Bowkill’s Yard; the latter was still a working blacksmith’s until recent times. Three blacksmiths were listed in Baines Directory for the West Riding (dated 1822) and five in White’s Directory for 1837. By the time of the 1851 Census these figures had increased to eight although two of these were apprentices and so not indicative of separate smithies.

Tanning and leather working were also important industries in Settle Town and a currier’s business was located in Duke Street amongst the shops south of the Golden Lion. In a deed of 1834 the Reverend John Clapham sold to Matthew Whittam, tanner and currier, three properties in Duke Street lately occupied by William Redshaw and now by Matthew [11]. Both gentlemen appear in the Directories of the time: William in Baines Directory of 1822 as ‘Currier & leather seller’ and subsequently Matthew in White’s Directory of 1837 as ‘Currier & Tanner, Duke Street.


In the 1740’s there were just two references to people working in a professional capacity but from then onwards the numbers increased dramatically. In the last twenty-one years of study between 1823 and 1844 the number rose to thirty-five. Of these over 50% were clerks to local solicitors, often acting as witnesses. Other professionals included two surgeons, six solicitors, one attorney-at-law, three bankers and one schoolmaster.

The above is just a brief look at some of the occupations of people in Settle over a period of approximately one hundred and forty years. There is so much more to be gleaned from a closer scrutiny of these documents. The food and drink suppliers, in particular the licensing trade, is a whole section on its own which is worthy of study. I hope you will agree that utilising old deeds as a resource material is worth all the effort, giving new insights into the lives of working people in the early modern period.


  1. Hill, Bridget, 2001. Women Alone - Spinsters In England 1660-1850. Yale University Press.
  2. West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield (WYAS) Registry of Deeds. CS357 540 1786.
  3. WYAS Registry of Deeds QQ146 177 1742.
  4. North Yorkshire County Record Office (NYCRO). The Account Book of William Carr Senior. Settle Mercer 1721-1731. Copy also held at Settle Library.
  5. WYAS Registry of Deeds Q221 279 1721.
  6. WYAS Registry of Deeds BX117 167 1775.
  7. WYAS Registry of Deeds LL713 948 1739.
  8. WYAS Registry of Deeds AN624 850 1757
  9. WYAS Registry of Deeds BA175 234 1764.
  10. Hudson, Phil & Rita, 2000. Take a Closer Look at Settle. Hudson History.
  11. WYAS Registry of Deeds LU287 277 1834


  • The Tithe Apportionment 1844 NYCRO
  • Settle Census Returns 1851 NYCRO
  • Baines Directory 1822 NYCRO
  • Whites Directory 1837 NYCRO
  • Hoyle R.W. Ed. The Parish Register of Giggleswick Vol.2 . Yorkshire Archaeological Society 1986