Moving Boundaries

Sheila Gordon and Rita Hudson
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

North Craven Historical Research Group

In 1978 the Yorkshire Archaeological Society (YAS) undertook a survey of all the Parish Boundaries within the ancient three Ridings of Yorkshire (1). This was a response to Parliamentary Boundary changes brought in a few years earlier, the abolition of the three ancient Ridings of Yorkshire as councils, and the formation of the new authorities of North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, East Yorkshire and Humberside. At the same time part of the ancient boundary between Yorkshire and Lancashire was moved north-eastwards from the River Hodder to the Resting Stone high on Rathmell Moor at SD 756 615.

Mr. Ian Roberts (local historian and solicitor) undertook the survey of the five townships within the ancient Parish of Giggleswick on behalf of the YAS. This was the era before computers and digital photography so the survey consisted of paper forms to fill in and copies of local Ordnance Survey maps to follow. Any boundary markers were noted, sometimes drawn and Standard Datum (SD) numbers taken from the maps. The authors decided it would be a good idea to revisit the boundaries to make a digital record of the whole ancient Giggleswick Parish Boundary complete with photographs, to note any changes that had been made and stones that had disappeared since the 1978 survey. Copies of the refined completed CD will be deposited with YAS, Yorkshire Dales National Park , North Yorkshire County Record Office at Northallerton, West Yorkshire Record Office at Sheepscar in Leeds and Skipton Reference Library as well as being available at the NCHRG office at Procter House, Settle, for research purposes.

The majority of ancient parishes contained several townships within them dating back to Anglo-Saxon times. Each township was as self-contained as possible, each having its share of arable land for growing crops, meadows for hay-making, pastures for grazing, moorland for turbary or peat digging rights, stone for building foundations, heather or rushes for bedding and thatching, wood for buildings and implements, and most important of all, water for drinking, as well as water power for grinding corn and fulling mills etc.. For this reason water courses were often used as natural boundaries and as such were also often the cause of disputes. The River Ribble is a natural boundary for four of the five townships within Giggleswick, with only Stainforth having land on both sides of the river. But even here it acted as a boundary between the land owned by Sawley Abbey on the east side and that of Knight Stainforth on the west (2).

During the mid 19th century, with populations growing rapidly, many new churches were built and old townships were made into ecclesiastical parishes mainly following the older township boundaries. But the first edition O.S. maps were also being surveyed and printed at this time and it was much more convenient to move an old boundary a few yards to follow a nice straight enclosure wall, than to follow the convoluted lines of a stream or other natural boundary, and thus many old boundaries were shifted slightly at this time. So often when following the modern boundary as defined on the current maps by straight walls, it is always worth looking for older boundary signs nearby such as a stream or a bank and ditch, or a large rock or mound.

The mid -19th century boundaries were marked with new slate boundary stones on roadsides, often of Helwith Bridge blue slate, a triangular shape in two halves placed close together, approximately 40cm wide by 40cm high rising to 50cm at the apex. Others are oblong shaped stone in two pieces joined as on Stackhouse Lane between Stainforth and Langcliffe, measuring approximately 50cm high by 30cm wide each side and concreted together. Some of the more ancient boundary stones on the other hand were usually much smaller, oblong-shaped sandstone.

One reason for boundary markers being moved is modern road works; widening roads by large machinery has destroyed some boundary stones altogether and sometimes stones have been put back in the wrong place, if put back at all. An example of this can be found on the B6479 road near Helwith Bridge, where the boundary wall between Horton and Stainforth reaches the road at SD 8136 6908. The boundary stone on the roadside should be in line with this wall, but when road works were carried out in recent times the stone was moved 10 m into Horton township (3). A further example can be seen near the junction of the same road where it leaves Church Street in Settle. Here, when road widening was carried out, the stone was built into the garden wall of one of the houses on Northfield Estate.

Occasionally boundaries are moved specifically for the convenience of the people living in the area, as happened at the boundary near the river Ribble between Giggleswick and Langcliffe at The Locks. Prior to 1911 the township boundary is shown as coming away from the present river channel following the land contour commencing at SD 8177 6542 and rejoining the present river channel at SD 8151 6507. We are of the opinion that in medieval times, before the first corn mill was built in 1234, the river channel used to follow the contour of the land as shown by the old boundary. With the building and then enlarging of the mills at Langcliffe, and head and tail races to service them, the course of the river became diverted to the present channel, but the boundary remained within the field where the river once ran. So when the mill houses were built at The Locks, they were built in Giggleswick, but the only road for the inhabitants was the one up to Langcliffe. There was only a ford across the river to Giggleswick at this time, the footbridge came later. In 1911 the residents of the Locks houses got up a successful petition (4) to have the boundary moved to the centre of the River Ribble, stating that all the men worked in Langcliffe, all the children went to school in Langcliffe, and they all shopped and worshipped in Langcliffe. This successful petition thus moved the boundary to make the river the continuous boundary between Giggleswick and Langcliffe township, and moved the Locks residents into Langcliffe township .

The greatest boundary movement in the ancient parish has been in the south-west corner in Rathmell township. The Resting Stone at over 300m high on Rathmell Common has always been an important ancient ‘meeting place’, with five townships converging at this point. With the boundary changes in the 1970s the Resting Stone also became the focal point of the Lancashire /Yorkshire boundary. At the same time, part of Gisburn Forest township around the Brayshaws was annexed into Rathmell township.

Although we know that the Resting Stone is an important meeting place, the authors do not subscribe to the idea that it is on an ancient burial route to Giggleswick Church and was used for resting coffins on (5). We have several reasons for this; firstly most burial routes are very well documented with well laid out set routes, but we have found no such evidence in manuscripts or in the field for this; secondly there are Churches just as ancient as Giggleswick in the southern valley so there was no need to ‘go over the hill’ to bury the dead!; thirdly the fact that a few people from outside the southern edge of the parish were buried in Giggleswick Churchyard in the 17th century is not proof that they were carried over the fell via the Resting Stone to Giggleswick. It is much more likely that they would be carried through Long Gill and the old road through Brayshaws, Rathmell Green and Close House to Giggleswick. We think the Resting Stone is so-called because it is the highest point of five townships and a natural ‘resting stone’ for the good townsfolk to sit and eat their food when they were doing their duty in ‘walking their bounds’.


  • 1. YAS DD224/3/57
  • 2. Stainforth History Group Book, (2001). ‘Stepping Stones Through History’
  • 3. Information from David Johnson, Stainforth History Group
  • 4. Official Papers & article from Craven Herald in Dugdale Collection
  • 5. Kaneps, D. (2006) Article in North Craven Heritage Trust Journal p.4

The Resting Stone, Boundary Marker for Lancashire/Yorkshire and Five Townships
The Rathmell Township Boundary changes.

The Resting Stone, Boundary Marker for Lancashire/Yorkshire and Five Townships

The Rathmell Township Boundary changes.