“The settlement by the river Skell. Sc(h)eltun 1086, 1130. River name Skell + Old English tun. It is suggested that the specific is the name of this stream identical with the river name Skell, North Yorkshire. Alternatively it might be Old English scelf with Old Norse (sk) for English (sh), “the farm or village beneath the shelf”.
Information about this place-name was provided by Victor Watts by personal communication.
Under the heading “Lands of the Count” it says
“In Scheltun. 13 carucates for geld, and 7 ploughs can be (there). Uctred had 1 manor there. Now Richard has (it) of the Count. On the demesne (there is) 1 plough, and (there are) 12 villeins with 3 ploughs, and 20 acres of meadow. Pasturable wood(land) 2 leagues in length and 2 furlongs in breadth. The whole manor (has) 5 leagues in length and 2 in breadth. T.R.E. it was worth 40s.; now (it is worth) 16s.
(A carucate was roughly 100 acres. Geld was a tax that had to be paid and T.R.E. means “in the time of King Edward the Confessor”)
Based on William Farrer’s translation in “The Victoria History of the County of York” vol.2 (ed.) W.Page (1912).
The first Norman overlord of Skelton was Count Robert de Mortain. His man at Skelton was named Uctred. In the early 12th century, King Henry I granted Skelton and large tracts of Cleveland to Robert de Brus. At first, de Brus used Castleton as the head of his barony, but before long he transferred to Skelton. The de Brus family were lords of Skelton until the male line died out in 1272. The lordship then passed to the Faunconberg family, and continued in their hands until the late 15th century.
See “Victoria History of the Counties of England: Yorkshire North Riding” vol.2 (ed.) W.Page (1923).
An Early Mention
At the Guisborough Quarter Sessions in February 1627 two Skelton men were presented before the magistrates:
“A Skelton labr. for an assault on a man in the presence of the Court. (Submits &c, is fined £5, and to sit in the stocks for four hours with a paper on his head setting forth his offence); Leon. , Constable of Skelton, for suffering certain rogues and vagabonds and committed to his custody by Will Baites, one of the H. Cs. of Langbargh, to escape. [Fined 10s.]”
An early mention in literature can be found in “The History of Cleveland in the North Riding of the County of York”, J.Graves (1808):
‘The village of Skelton stands high, scattered irregularly on the declivity of an elevated ridge; and contains some neat and commodious buildings. At a little distance, towards the north-west, stands Skelton Castle, the seat of John Wharton Esq. which having suffered much by time, and still more perhaps from family feuds and violence, has, at different periods, undergone considerable alterations and repairs; in which taste and a wish to preserve the ancient character of the place, have been so little consulted, that the present edifice, we presume, affords a very inadequate representation of its former grandeur and magnificence. . . .
The castle presents a long extended front to the west, situated on the brink of a small stream; which, by being collected into a reservoir, forming an extensive sheet of water, with sloping banks, adds greatly to the natural beauties and surrounding ornaments of the place. . . .
The church of Skelton is a neat modern edifice, and stands in a retired situation at a small distance from the village towards the north-west.’
The Lay Subsidy of 1301
63 householders were listed in the returns for this government tax. It is possible that twice this number were below the tax threshold, in which case Skelton and its borough must have been quite populous. Easily the highest taxpayer was the lord of the manor, Walter de Faucomberge, who was assessed at almost 18 shillings. Some of the surnames on the list suggest occupations; Mercator, Paynerman, Carpentarius, Waynman, Carnifex, Parcour, Carter, Piper, Porcarius, Fullonis, Pistor, Faber, Textor, Figulus, Mareschallus (merchant, pannierman, carpenter, waggoner, butcher, gamekeeper, carter, pepperer, pig keeper, fuller, baker, smith, weaver, potter, marshal). The surname Pykewastelle may have been connected with wastel bread.
Derived from “Yorkshire Lay Subsidy” edited by W.Brown (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series) 1897.
Skelton Castle (1770) Built on the site of the medieval castle.
All Saints old church (1785)
Sterne’s well (late 18th century)
Cottage on the High Street with a sundial dated 1787.
Skelton Castle stable block (c.1800)
Primitive Methodist chapel. (1865)
Wesleyan chapel (1877)
All Saints (1885)
A Few Lost Buildings
The medieval castle of the de Brus family. (12th century) demolished c.1770.
North Skelton railway station (1902) Closed in 1964 and subsequently demolished.
Some People of Note
Robert de Brus (c.1070-1142) A Norman Baron from Brix in Normandy who came to England during the reign of King Henry I. The king granted him extensive estates in Cleveland. He made Skelton Castle his base.
John de Faucomberge (1290-1349) The Lord of Skelton who had a long military career. He fought at the Battle of Bannockburn and the Battle of Crecy.
Joan de Fauconberg (1406-1490) An heiress who was born in Skelton Castle. She married a great grandson of King Edward III. Her husband was made Earl of Kent, so Joan became the Countess of Kent.
John Hall Stevenson (1718-1785) The owner of Skelton Castle in the 18th century. He was a friend of the author Laurence Sterne, and was himself the author of Crazy Tales.
Frank Wild (1873-1939) Commander John Robert Francis Wild was an Antarctic explorer from Skelton. Between 1901 and 1922 he went on five expeditions to Antarctica. On two of these he was second-in-command to Ernest Shackleton.
Eric Garrett (1931-2009) A Skelton-born bass singer who enjoyed a forty-year career with the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London.
The Hearth Tax of 1673
Skelton was quite a large village according to the returns for this government tax. There were 60 houses with 1 or 2 hearths while a further 3 houses had 3 hearths each. The largest properties were those of “Geo Bosman” with 5 hearths and Skelton Castle where “Edw Trotter esq” had 17 hearths. A further 26 properties fell below the tax threshold.
See “The Hearth Tax List for the North Riding of Yorkshire, Michaelmas 1673, Ripon Historical Society (2011).
1951 7,019 (Skelton with Brotton)
2011 7,454 (Skelton Ward)
White’s Directory of 1840 listed 5 grocers, 2 butchers, 4 tailors, 2 shoemakers, a plumber and glazier, a surgeon, 3 wheelwrights, 4 blacksmiths, a farrier, a corn miller and 31 farmers. Two inns were named: the Duke of York and the Wharton’s Arms.
By the time of Kelly’s Directory of 1914 Skelton had become a busy market town. There were 9 general shopkeepers, 5 butchers, 4 grocers, 3 confectioners, a greengrocer, 2 wine and spirit merchants, 4 drapers, 3 tailors, a shoe dealer, an ironmonger, a china and glass dealer, a stationer, a printer, a plumber, 2 joiners, a cabinet maker, a watchmaker, a saddler, 2 surgeons, a hairdresser, as well as 7 farmers and a gamekeeper. There was a post office, a co-operative store and a branch of the National Provincial Bank. The inns named were the Duke William, the Wharton’s Arms, the Royal George, and the Green Inn.
A Selection of Dates
1119 Between 1103 and 1119 Robert de Brus acquired the castle at Skelton.
1216 King John besieged Skelton Castle and Peter de Brus was compelled to surrender.
1319 Skelton market day was changed from Sunday to Saturday.
1557 Robert Trotter purchased the Conyers family lands at Skelton, amounting to about one third of the Skelton estate. The Trotters later acquired the whole estate.
1573 The parish registers date from this year.
1618 Work began at an alum mine at Selby Hagg.
1677 A Skelton man was fined for holding a Quaker meeting in his house.
1785 All Saints church was built.
1788-94 John Wharton demolished much of Skelton Castle and rebuilt it.
1814 A horse-drawn coach from Whitby to Stockton was inaugurated. It stopped at Skelton.
A school for ten free scholars was built around this time by means of a public subscription.
1816 The Wesleyan Methodist chapel was dedicated.
1840 At this time the Whitby and Middlesbrough coach ran three times a week, stopping at Skelton.
1844 Skelton enclosure award was granted.
1861 Skelton Shaft ironstone mine began production. North Skelton mine was also opened.
1865 The Primitive Methodist chapel was dedicated. Longacres ironstone mine began production.
1866 Skelton Local Board was formed.
1868 Skelton and Brotton became separate parishes.
1872 Skelton Park ironstone mine was opened. The railway viaduct over Skelton Beck was completed.
1877 A new Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built to replace the old one.
1883 The Miners’ Accident Hospital on Skelton Green was opened.
1885 The new All Saints church was consecrated. Skelton and Brotton were amalgamated with a joint Local Board.
1887 Skelton Green elementary school was built.
1899 The Literary Institute opened its doors for the first time.
1892 The school was enlarged.
1912 Skelton Castle Cricket Club won the Cleveland Challenge Cup.
1916 Longacres mine was closed.
1924 A bus service from Loftus to Middlesbrough began running through Skelton.
1925 North Skelton Sword Dancers won a trophy at the North of England Musical Tournament.
1933 Passenger services to North Skelton station ended.
1938 Skelton Shaft Mine and Skelton Park Mine were abandoned.
1942 Skelton Mill was hit by a bomb during a wartime air raid.
1951 North Skelton railway station was closed to passengers.
1964 North Skelton mine was the last Cleveland ironstone mine to close.
1966 The first annual Skelton Carnival was held.
1969 North Skelton and District Band was formed.
1973 Skelton Health Centre was built.
1979 The De Brus secondary school was opened.
2001 The Skelton and Brotton bypass was completed. De Brus school was closed. Pupils were transferred to Freebrough Academy.
2009 Skelton Youth Centre reopened after refurbishment.
2013 The Methodist church moved into the former Skelton Green Village Hall.
2016 An indoor minigolf course was opened, including the world’s longest minigolf hole, at 264 feet
This list of events was compiled using the Victoria History of the Counties of England: Yorkshire North Riding vol.2 (ed.) W.Page (1923).
and other secondary sources.
Suggested Further Reading
“Skelton and its History” Tom Curnow (1985)
“Skelton: A Brief History” A.Whitworth (2006)
“The Lost Borough of Skelton in Cleveland” B.Harrison, C.T.L.H.S. Bulletin No.14 (1971)