History of Thirsk

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History of Thirsk

Thirsk Carnival 1921 (video – silent film from Pathé News)

Lying in the fertile Vale of Mowbray between the Hambleton Hills and the uplands of the Dales, Thirsk has long been the focus of trade for a score of villages. The name may have originally denoted ‘settlement by a river’ and certainly the oldest dwellings cluster on either side of the Cod Beck. On the east bank St James Green bears the name of a long-vanished chapel and was the traditional site for horse and cattle dealing.

Old picture of Cod Beck

Across the bridge the road leads into the Market Place proper where the Cross and the Market Hall once stood. On Castle Garth excavations in 1994 uncovered early Saxon graves on the site where the Normans built a castle in the years after the Conquest. The lands around were held by Robert de Mowbray who gave his name to this district. The Mowbrays castle was later destroyed, but by the fifteenth century the citizens were prosperous enough to undertake the rebuilding of their parish church. The church apart, most of the architecture seen today dates from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the improvements made by the great landowners brought prosperity to the farming community.

Read about Shopping Week 1930

Set amid good grazing land, Thirsk was a centre for sheep, cattle and horses, where the Monday market and annual fairs saw lively dealing in beasts and produce. Skins and hides provided raw materials for tanners and leather workers working in shops and sheds crammed into yards behind the houses.

Old picture of Thirsk Market

There were corn mills and breweries. There was trade in wool and linen; the wool industry eventually departed to the West Riding, but flax dressing and linen weaving continued into the middle 1800’s.

See the shops in the Market Place 1916-25

There was work for other trades as well; there were blacksmiths and farriers, there was an iron foundry in Norby, there were wheelwrights, carpenters and joiners, tailors, haberdashers and the oldest drapers in the kingdom. Shopkeepers supplied the needs of town and country folk alike, while a score of taverns slaked their thirst.

The courts met regularly in Thirsk with the gentry sitting as justices. The well-to-do built prestigious town houses or moved to the more salubrious surroundings of neighbouring Sowerby.

Old picture of the packhorse bridge

Medical men joined with the clergy, the wealthier farmers and successful merchants to form a social elite.

Read The History of the Clock Spire

With the building of turnpike roads in the later eighteenth century Thirsk became a post stage on the route from York to Edinburgh; three of the Inns were noted as coaching establishments. Other houses offered stabling for the horses that were the chief means of local transport until well into the twentieth century.

The coming of the railway in the 1840’s and, later, the growth of motor transport combined with the effects of two world wars, brought radical changes to a way of life that had persisted for some two hundred years.

Crafts have died out and family businesses have closed; the old way of life has largely disappeared, but new industries have developed and fresh skills have emerged to keep Thirsk a thriving community.

The story of Thirsk goes back 1500 years Link to top of page

c550 Anglo-Saxon community thriving in Thirsk

1086 Mentioned in Doomsday Book as two manors in Tresche with total value of 30 shillings. (12 houses; 60 inhabitants)

1092 Norman Castle built by the de Mowbray family

1145 Market privileges confirmed, held weekly on Mondays to present day.

1174 Thirsk Castle destroyed by order of King Henry II.

1398 Castle Garth laid to grass - previously garden

1430 Rebuilding of St Mary's Parish Church begins on an earlier Norman Church site

1480 Parish Church completed

1489 The people of the North refuse to pay new taxes. Earl of Northumberland slain.

1513 The room above the church porchis the home of a hermit.

1580 Draper Bartholomew Smith runs a stall in the Market Place and founds a business that continues in Thirsk for 400 years.

1623 Earliest records of Thirsk Court Proceedings

1658 Deeds to Castle Yard (Garth) passed to the Bell Family

1672 Pack Horse Bridge over the Codbeck at The Worlds End built

1676 Thirsk Prison built where the Marage was at the end of Kirkgate

1698 Bell family Dowager House built, later known as the Three Tuns Hotel

1720 Thirsk Hall built as a two story building

1723 Earl of Derby sold the Thirsk Manor and Hall to the Bell family who become Lords of the Manor of Thirsk

1740 Three Tuns Hotel established - converted from the Bell Dowager House

1754 Bull Baiting in Bull Ring outlawed

1754 Floods, washing Finkle Street bridge away – rebuilt as present

1755 Thomas Lord of Lords Cricket Ground born in Kirkgate, Thirsk

1765 First Methodist Chapel (octagonal) built on The Green

1768 Work started on Thirsk Canal construction – Harbour wall, Lock, etc.

1771 Disastrous floods in the town - also in 1826, 1879, 1930 and 2000.

1774 Extension of Thirsk Hall completed (third centre story and wings)

1775 Mill Race built to supply The Mill with a head of water to drive the wheel

1775 Thirsk Mill built, where previous Mills dating from 1143 and 1287 were

1786 Thirsk is a posting stage for coaches calling at the Three Tuns and the Fleece.

1789 Thirsk Prison demolished (inmates transferred to N’allerton)

1790 Quaker Meeting House in Kirkgate built

1797 Admiral Nelson wounded in landing at Santa Cruz - his right arm is amputated by surgeon of HMS Theseus, Thirsk-born Thomas Eshelby.

1810 The Golden Fleece established as a Coaching Inn by George Blythe

1814 Methodist Chapel built on The Green (replacing previous 1765 one)

1818 Elm tree on The Little Green burned down

1824 The Golden Fleece expanded by Blythe

1828 The Hall family inherited The Golden Fleece, becoming ‘Halls Fleece’

1833 Thirsk Infants School built on Finkle Street

1834 Gas works built in Long Street – town lit by gas

1834 Tollbooth, Market Hall and Old Court House building burnt down

1834 Gas Works built in Long Street - town lit by gas until 1906.

1836 W Foggitt set up business in Market Place as a Chemist - later Boots

1838 Thirsk Union Workhouse built on Sutton Road.

1839 Bull ring in Market Place removed

1839 Union Workhouse built on Sutton Road

1841 Railway Station built for NE Railway

1841 Undenominational School on Long Street built

1841 William Hall adapted The Golden Fleece to the coming of the railway

1841 NE Railway opened. Line to Leeds opened in 1848 with station at Town End

1845 Salem Chapel built at end of Finkle Street (foundations failed)

1846 Mechanics Institute on Westgate built

1846 Mill on Long Street started operating

1847 Register Office built at the end of Finkle Street

1848 Rail link to Ripon and Leeds opened also Town End Station

1849 The Savings Bank on Castlegate built

1850 Infermary built behind the Workhouse on Sutton Road.

1851 Methodist Chapel built in Castlegate

1851 Thirsk Church Vicarage built

1851 Thirsk’s first Cricket Ground opened North of the Cemetery

1852 Norby Foundry started

1854 Police Station in Westgate built

1854 Race Course laid out

1855 Steam Engine installed at The Mill

1855 Town End Station closed to passenger traffic

1856 Town sewage drain laid from Kirkgate to Codbeck at Finkle Street

1857 Gas Mains extended to Sowerby

1857 Tollbooth etc and nearby ‘Shambles’ demolished

1860 Bamletts started business on Station Road

1861 Wesleyan Chapel built on St. James’ Green

1862 New Cricket Ground laid out on Newsham Road

1864 Bakers Drapery (parents of John - noted Kew Botanist) burnt down

1865 Church School built on Piper Lane and The Green

1867 Catholic Church built in Castlegate

1870 New premises built on site of Bakers

1872 Zac Wright opened Bookshop and Stationary shop next to The Fleece

1873 Blue Row or Victory Row built on Sowerby Road

1873 Masonic Lodge built on Picks Lane

1885 Court House in Westgate built next to Police Station

1886 New Salem Chapel built on site of 1845 old one

1886 Fever Hospital (Infectious Cases) building built to N.E. of Workhouse

1887 Castle Villa built

1887 Lime trees planted on Sowerby Front Street

1890 Lambert Memorial Hospital opened

1890 ‘The Crescent’ built

1890 Lambert Memorial Hospital opened, named after a noted Thirsk physician.

1892 Rail crash - killing 10, including 5 year old Lottie Hamilton

1896 Royal Pavilion built on Race Course.

1896 Market Clock built to mark 1893 wedding of the Duke of York and Princess May of Teck - later to become King George V and Queen Mary.

1898 Metal bridge from The Green across The Codbeck erected

1901 Ayres on the Corner of Finkle Street added ‘Dutch Gables’ to its facade

1901 Midland Bank took over The Yorkshire Banking Company on Millgate

1904 Electric street lighting installed

1905 Paving ‘flags’ on North side of The Market laid

1905 Thatched roofs on Central Block replaced with tiles and ‘spruced up’

1907 Newsham Road Cricket Pavilion opened

1907 Performances of the Thirsk Historical Play celebrate a thousand years of the town's history.

1908 Centre block of shops in Market Place demolished

1909 Meynell’s at the Town End opened

1909 New Post Office and Sorting Office built in centre of The Market

1910 Barclays Bank rebuilt

1910 Ingramgate laid with Tarmacadam

1911 Road Bridge over Codbeck at Worlds End built replacing ford

1912 B Smiths shop front on South side of The Market Place modernised

1912 Gaiety Cinema in Long Street built

1912 Mechanics Institute converted to a Cinema – later known as The Ritz

1913 Town Hall on Westgate built

1914 Cattle Market on The Green ceased

1914 Gas Lamps removed

1918 The Fleece purchased by Ellen Lee, becoming ‘Lee Fleece Hotel’

1920 Norby Foundry closed

1920 Thirsk Grammar School built

1920 The Royal Pavilion on the Race Course demolished

1924 New Grandstand constructed at The Race Course

1927 Sign on YBC building changed to Midland

1928 Regent Cinema built

1928 White Mare Hotel demolished

1932 Gaiety Cinema on Long Street burnt down

1933 Knowles Ice Cream shop opened on East side of market

1934 Royal Oak facing had ‘cladding’ fitted

1935 Boots The Chemists bought Foggitts Chemists on South side of Market

1935 Regent Cinema opened

1935 Taylors (the Chemist) became Timothy White and Taylors

1936 The Fleece purchased by Trusthouse Forte, as The Golden Fleece

1937 Clock converted to operate Electrically

1937 The Mill Race dredged

1940 Central Café opened in centre of market by Dolly Dennis

1943 PoW Camp built at Stonybrough on Stockton Road

1947 Hambleton View houses built

1953 New sewage system serving Thirsk and Sowerby installed

1955 Mill ceased operating

1957 Mill Race filled in

1957 Original Grammar School now the Thirsk and Sowerby Junior School

1957 Thirsk Grammar and Modern School built on Topcliffe Road

1958 New Public Toilets built on site of old underground ones

1958 Telegraph poles removed from Post Office and Bakers Alley

1960 Glovers (Mowbray Farm Services) built on Town End allotments

1960 Methodist Chapel on The Green demolished

1963 Boots modernised and T.W. and Taylors sold.

1963 Crown Hotel demolished and Fine Fare built in its place

1964 Round window installed above Knowles’ shop

1965 Main line Rail link to Ripon and Leeds closed

1965 Electric Showroom replaced Mosses

1966 Maltings on Topcliffe Road ceased operating

1967 New Beech tree planted on The Little Green replacing the Elm

1967 Rail crash killing 7

1970 New Grammar School renamed Thirsk (Comprehensive) School

1971 B Smiths building demolished

1971 Swimming Pool built

1972 A19 Bypass opened

1972 Golden Lion Pub in S.E. corner of The Market closed (1st time)

1972 Market Place cobbles re-laid

1972 Ozzey Hall in The Market Place changed to Frank Jones

1975 Thirsk Museum in Kirkgate (birthplace of Thomas Lord) founded

1978 Woodhead and Bray (previously Shaw) moved from Market Place to Glovers site at Town End

1978 Yorkshire Bank extended to Harlows, Maynards etc. modernised

1979 Infants School on Finkle Street converted to The Library

1980 Pelican Crossing replaced Zebra Crossing

1985 Bamletts closed

1986 Golden Lion closed (2nd time having re-opened earlier)

1986 Fine Fare changed to Somerfields

1987 Clock completely overhauled and renovated

1987 Threshers built on East Side of Market

1988 Coop replaced Somerfields

1988 Salem Chapel burnt down

1988 Zac Wright’s shop closed down

1989 William Low (Supermarket) built on Bamletts site

1989 ‘Period’ Street Lighting installed

1990 About £120,000 raised by the town to keep the Lambert hospital open

1990 Knowles expanded into Electric Showroom

1990 Post Office closed and facilities moved to the Coop shop

1990 Trusthouse Forte sold The Golden Fleece

1991 Bus shelter relocated

1991 Public Toilets in the Market removed

1991 Ruins of Salem Chapel removed

1991 Swimming pool extensively renovated

1992 Waterside cottages demolished

1994 Tesco replaced Wm. Low on Station Road.

1995 Ritz Cinema re-opened

1997 Red Bear Pub in The Market changed its name to The Darrowby Inn

1998 Workhouse site converted to residential use

2000 Kings Arms Pub at the start of Kirkgate redeveloped as Police Station

2000 Millenium celebrations

2006 Thirsk Farmers Auction Mart moved from Station Road to edge of Thirsk on A19 and the old site of Auction Mart developed for housing

2009 Lidl supermarket built on old Johsons Stables site on Station Road

2011 Thirsk's information centre moved into converted public toilets building and taken over by volunteers.

2013 Market Place cobbles re-laid

2015 Lambert Hospital closed

2015 Library moved from Old Infants School Finkle Street to new Meadowfields Site

2017 Aldi, Premier Inn and Orchid House opened on Topcliffe Road as part of Sowerby Gateway expansion

2019 Lambert Hospital purchased by Hambleton District Council

2019 Two-direction junction to and from A168 opened

2020 Sports Village in Sowerby opened

Historical trail

Drawing of original Thirsk Castle

Thirsk and Sowerby Past and Present is a town and countryside trail that has been designed by the local community.

It takes in 12 sites of historical and environmental interest. The route is circular, flat and approximately 3 miles long, but may be shortened (alternative routes are indicated on the leaflet).

In total there are 15 interpretation boards that extend from the centre of Thirsk and include such sites as Thirsk Castle, the old Mill Race and a prehistoric burial mound.

A leaflet with a map and walkers’ guide to find the explanatory boards around the town is available in the Tourist Information Centre. To see the trail online right now start here. You can also download (pdf).