Highwaymen, cannons, and ancient kings

Mickleby and Ugthorpe Heritage Feature''Steve Hunneysett near Ugthorpe Mill''w134519d
Mickleby and Ugthorpe Heritage Feature''Steve Hunneysett near Ugthorpe Mill''w134519d

People come to the twin villages of Mickleby and Ugthorpe for the peace and quiet.

The settlements run parallel to each other, separated by fields of cattle and sheep and a day spent wandering from the Hart Inn to the Black Bull is hardly wasted.

Mickleby and Ugthorpe Heritage Feature''Ugthorpe House''w134519c

Mickleby and Ugthorpe Heritage Feature''Ugthorpe House''w134519c

Yet scratch just beneath the surface and 5,000 years of history, legend and its fair share of bloodshed comes pouring out of this ancient landscape.

The story of this area is to be told on Sunday at the Ugthorpe Local History Exhibition, where other forgotten tales are hoped to be uncovered.

Mickleby resident Steve Hunneysett helped organise the event and he said the history of the landscape is intertwined with the history of its residents.

“Because it’s fertile farmland you tend to get a lot of families staying in the same area,” he said. “You get smallholding farmers who tended to hand it down, so you get this amazing continuity of families. We’re used to that with the aristocracy, but here it’s happening on a yeoman level.”

Mickleby and Ugthorpe Heritage Feature''Arrow head''w134519b

Mickleby and Ugthorpe Heritage Feature''Arrow head''w134519b

Names such as Welford, Gallon, Readman, Hodgson - Steve’s mother’s maiden name - or Lyth have been recorded for centuries as families remained in the villages their entire lives.

“From here I can see a farm my family bought in 1645,” said Steve. “You get this amazing level of continuity at a lower level of society. That’s what makes doing a history in this sort of area particularly interesting.”

The Mickleby and Ugthorpe Heritage Trail leaflet has recently been launched and represents the culmination of a year’s work for the local history group.

Featuring local history, folklore and legend, the leaflet is part of the larger Mulgrave History Project and it was compiled following an initial exhibition, similar to the one taking place this Sunday, where over 100 residents contributed artefacts and anecdotes.

Mickleby and Ugthorpe Heritage Feature''Canon balls''w134519a

Mickleby and Ugthorpe Heritage Feature''Canon balls''w134519a

“One guy brought in a deed that had been signed by my ancestor in 1730,” said Steve. “There was my great-great-granddad’s signature on a piece of paper 283 years later.

“But I think the find I was most excited by was the Neolithic hand axe. You’re talking 3000BC and they were ceremonial objects literally turned over in a field by a farmer. They have no practical use, so they think it might have been a chief’s badge of office, like a ceremonial mace. They are very often broken and they think that might be because somebody came unstuck and the badge was broken. It’s an interesting find and it’s quite a rare one.”

Steve lives on an 128-acre arable farm in Mickleby. Although he works full time on Teesside for a television production company, his family is one of many from the village that can trace their ancestry back centuries.

A largely Catholic area, religious adherence has aided this research into geneology.

Mickleby and Ugthorpe Heritage Feature''The heritage map''w134519e

Mickleby and Ugthorpe Heritage Feature''The heritage map''w134519e

When Henry VIII’s protestant Reformation began, Catholic families would be fined for not converting. While inconvenient at the time, their names were placed on a register, which allows them to now be traced.

Yet it is not just physical objects and documents that record history and in areas where few people could read or write, history was passed down in oral tradition.

One of the continuing mysteries is the explanation for the place name Cumberland Corner, to the western end of the village. One theory says a duke known as the Butcher of Cumberland billeted troops there during the Jacobite uprising of the 18th century, but the truth is uncertain.

“That’s a classic example of oral history,” said Steve. “It’s not written down anywhere but the name Cumberland Corner has just been passed down by people living in the village.”

Elsewhere, Turpinlands is the name of an area to the east of the village and legends of highwaymen have long been handed down orally. A coin hoard dating to that period was discovered by a farmer and gives credence to the myth.

Another spot in Mickleby is called the Kelding Well. A spring which fed water into stone troughs, the well provides some context as to how long people have lived in the area.

Keld is a Norse word for spring, and ‘ing’ means people, so villagers would gather here to collect drinking water.

At last year’s exhibition a modern resident recalled how his granddad used the well to get his fresh water when he moved to the nearest farm in 1913, and so the well was in use for over 1,000 years.

Yet the history of the villages is not quite that idyllic, and there was a period when it was nothing more than ‘wasteland’. ‘Vasta’ is the entry relating to Mickleby in the Domesday Book of 1086, a result of William the Conqueror’s ‘Harrowing of the North’.

Steve said: “It’s not under the plough, no one’s here, because they have just been annihilated. It’s quite frightening, these battle-hardened soldiers making their way from village to village, killing people, poisoning wells, burning homes.”

Over 5,000 years of history have been recorded in Mickleby and Ugthorpe, both bloody and peaceful, and this weekend’s local history exhibition is set to extend that story further, aided by the ancestors of those who lived and breathed it.