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  • How the church was the only form of authority in pre-industrial Castleford and how it raised money for its religious and secular functions.

Until well into the nineteenth century and in all but a small number of long-established towns which were run by their own corporations (Pontefract and Wakefield being local examples), considerable power lay in the hands of the Church of England. This was especially so in parishes such as Castleford, where the only centres of population were small villages of a few hundred people – in this particular case the townships of Castleford itself and (Glass) Houghton. Until government  legislation began to change things from the early 1800s onwards, the parish was, in effect, the local authority and was responsible for upkeep of roads and bridges, maintaining law and order and dealing with poverty, as well as matters relating to the church itself. Decisions on these affairs were made at so-called vestry meetings, in which only the more prominent parishioners usually took part.

All this – and, of course, the running costs of the parish church and the priest’s income – was financed in two main ways. Firstly, there was the income from land which the church owned, known as glebe land, and which it either cultivated itself or leased out to others. Secondly, there was the ancient system of tithes, by which each villager was compelled to hand over to the church a tenth of the produce of his or her landholding. As with the business of tilling the village fields, each community had its own specific rules and customs on the payment of tithes which had evolved over the centuries. Details of land and property held by the church and the rules on tithes were set out in a document known as the glebe terrier. Several of the Castleford glebe terriers for the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries have survived: what follows is taken from the most detailed of these, thought to date from 1801, although much of the information in it was evidently copied directly from its 1716 predecessor, since it names the parish rector as William Bridges, who held the post from 1696 to 1729. For some of the land the description gives clues as to its location, although most of it was scattered throughout the village fields in small strips and enclosed plots. Although their location is impossible to define, nevertheless many of them possessed evocative names typical of those applied to field divisions in medieval times and which survived right to the end of Castleford as an agricultural community.

Glebe land

The parish possessed a little over 58 acres of land in Castleford township and slightly less than half that acreage in Houghton. Given that the area of Houghton township – 1,079 acres – was almost twice that of Castleford, then proportionally the church owned four times more land in Castleford than in Houghton. Why this should have been the case is not clear but it probably dated from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when the land was originally granted to the church by the De Lacys of Pontefract Castle: perhaps they were deliberately favouring the ecclesiastical authorities by donating more land on the richer soils near the river than on the sandy soils up the hill in Houghton. Whatever the reason for the uneven distribution of glebe land in the parish, it was listed as follows.

  • A three-acre coney garth (an enclosed plot where rabbits were bred for food and their pelts) described as “adjoining orchards on the west and the church yard on the south”. Much of the north-west corner of the township – the area now bounded roughly by the river, the church grounds, Albion Street and the line followed by Perseverance Street and Bradley Avenue – was orchards and market gardens until the second half of the nineteenth century.
  • Two acres in Near West Croft and another two acres in Far West Croft – again, these were probably gardens or orchards in the north-west part of the township – and a quarter of an acre in Calf Garth: this latter plot was actually part of the rectory grounds (see later for more details).
  • Six-and-a-half “cow gates” – which equated to 6½ acres of land – in “a common cow pasture called the New Close”. This would have been a recently-enclosed field (this being the definition of a close) within the extensive area of pasture which lay, in present-day terms, between Wheldon Road in the north, Healdfield Road in the south, the end of Eastfield lane in the west and the parish boundary in the east. This was still marked as “New Closes” on the 1852 Ordnance Survey map.
  • A little under eight acres in Castleford Ings – “a meadow belonging to the town” – which extended from present day Wheldon Road to the banks of the River Aire.
  • Just short of 30 acres of arable land which, as with individual landholders’ allocations, was scattered in strips throughout the village fields: 14 acres in East Field; 5 acres in Beancroft Field; 4 acres in Roundhill Field; 1½ acres in Heald Field and 5 acres in West Field (aka Jane Ridge Field).

The terrier also listed an acre in Whitwood Field (actually within Featherstone parish) and then a further 27½ acres split between Castleford and Houghton townships. Three acres were in Cutsyke Close, 2½ acres in Smawthorne Close and half an acre in Gill Croft (these three within Castleford township); and then there were 21½ further acres for which the wider field name was not given but the divisions, or furlongs, within the field(s) were listed. Those furlongs named, a later document confirms, were situated in Castleford Ings but, for some reason, were listed separately to the previously-cited land (old documents often contains such inconsistencies and contradictions). The field divisions were named Head Acre, Carr Acre, Two Acre Piece, Bent Acre, Bent Rood Carr, Half Acre Carr, Pitt Rood, two Tethering Roods (lying together), Farr Half Acre, Syke Roods and the wonderfully-titled “Shuffle a Board Rood”. The repeated appearance of “carr” within the furlong names implies semi-marsh land, which probably lay close to the river and may have been subject to regular winter flooding.


By the time the rules and customs relating to who gave what in tithes were written down in the eighteenth and nineteenth century glebe terriers, they were probably hundreds of years old. Again, as with the regulations relating to agriculture and the tilling of Castleford’s village fields (see Fields, Furlongs and Furrows), it is quite likely that the following rules were little changed from the ones laid down in the medieval period.

The simplest rule was that relating to corn (by which it presumably referred to all cereal crops), a tenth of which had, in time-honoured fashion, to be handed over. With regard to hay, the terrier stated “there are several instances (and some but late ones) of it being paid in kind, tho’ most usually the same is paid in moneys as follows … Castleford Ings 16d/acre (but 20d/acre in part called the Ten Acre). 12d/acre elsewhere, but 6d in an enclosure called Halliwell Ground or Closes”. The differing rates for different parts probably reflect varying ground and soil conditions – and, consequently, grass growing conditions – across the field/s which made up the ings. Next came herbage or cattle – this most likely meaning land in the village pasture on which villagers had the right to graze their livestock – for which the requirement was to pay the church 1s 6d for every pound in rent paid to the landowner each year. With rapes – most probably meaning the various types of brassica crops, ranging from mustard to cabbage – the tithe was in the style of a tax at the rate of 1s 6d or 1s 8d per pound “of what they are sold for”, this being somewhat less than the typical one-tenth. Orchard fruits were paid in kind (that is, the crop itself was handed over rather than a cash or other type of payment) “according to the quantity of fruits and that as soon as gather’d from the trees” – probably to ensure they were received in the best possible condition!

When it came to livestock, some of the customs were very complicated: perhaps they began as simple rules but had been modified time and again over the centuries. For wool, things were relatively straightforward: it was “constantly paid in kind according to weight” (presumably a tenth of the total), while in the case of lambs it was noted that they “have several times (and even within 5 years past) been taken in kind and that on Midsummer Day” although more often there was a payment of 3d made in lieu. The rules relating to pigs (or piggs, as the writer of the terrier spelled the word) were more complex: from each litter of eight or more piglets, one had to be given to the rector, while for smaller litters this was replaced by a cash payment – but “if but 5 he allows 6d and takes a pigg which is always the third best. If under 5 piggs, the owner pays the rector 1d for every pigg.” Turkeys, geese and ducks were paid in kind at Michaelmas according to a scale of charges much too involved to reproduce here, whereas “every family pay the Parson a Hen on every St Stephen’s Day if they keep Hens and if they do not, the 6d instead of a Hen is paid by them”. Michaelmas fell on 29 September and was traditionally taken as marking the end of the harvest; St Stephen’s Day is now better known as Boxing Day.

Many tithes were paid at Easter – the so-called Easter Dues. Part of these comprised ‘house duties’ which, by the time the surviving terriers were written, were mainly cash payments made in lieu of long-abandoned obligations to carry out labouring or other services for the church. In Castleford, an initial 1½d was levied on each house, followed by a varying scale of additional charges: 2d – or ten eggs – for a messuage house (one with an adjoining plot of land), 1d or five eggs for a cottage house (without its own plot of land). On top of these charges on the property, each person over the age of sixteen living in the house had to pay 2d, with the householder paying a further 2d. Easter Dues were also paid on cattle, bees and horses.

The customs pertaining to payment of tithes on cattle were complicated to say the least. For each ‘milch cow’ (one kept for milking) there was a payment of ½d “for the summer preceding” and 1d for each calf “calv’d betwixt the two Easters” (i.e. since the last dues were paid). For any landholder whose herd produced seven calves in a year, the rector would take one of them “and of the rest allowing the owner 3d for the three that are short of ten. If 8 calves he allows 2d, if nine but one penny, tho’ this instance but very rarely happens, there having been but 2 calves after that manner within the compass of 40 years past”. This seems to suggest a payment of an additional 3d where seven calves had been born (on top of the 1d per animal charge and the payment of one calf in kind), 2d if there were eight and, in the rare event of a landholder’s herd producing nine calves, a payment of a penny.

Bees and foals were charged for “after the same manner … viz 1d for a swarm and 1d for a foal for all under seven” beyond which the church would be entitled to claim one animal or swarm. However, no doubt reflecting the fact that few householders needed a horse and that those who kept bees would be adequately provided with honey and beeswax from just one hive, the terrier noted that “such things have not happened within the memory of man that any parishioner hath reckoned for so many foals or bees in one year”. Most of the villagers of Castleford were, it seems, still tilling their land, cultivating their gardens and managing their livestock simply to meet their own requirements for food, with little or no desire to produce a surplus or increase their yields, just as had their ancestors for hundreds of years before them.

However, before too many more years had elapsed, this seemingly timeless way of life would become a thing of the past as people turned to the newly-arriving industries for their livelihoods. The old open fields were enclosed from 1822 onwards and agricultural production became a commercial operation undertaken by a small number of specialist farmers, while in 1839 Castleford’s tithes were substituted by cash payments and church rates. These eighteenth and nineteenth glebe terriers, together with the documents examined in Fields, Furlongs and Furrows, capture something of the last years of village Castleford and its ancient traditions, shortly before they were swept away for good.

The rectory – and the tithe barn?

It might be wondered where all the produce handed over to the church was taken and subsequently stored. However, the 1801 terrier shows that the rectory – which stood to the north of the church where the buildings of the former Rectory Street WMC/Maestro Club are now situated – possessed three substantial barns: one measuring 26 x 8½ yards and another 22 x 6 yards, named as the Great Barn and Little Barn respectively, and a third one, listed as the “Hay Barn aka Cowhouses” of dimensions 27 x 5 yards. It also had a granary, a building described as a “Swine House” with a “Hen Roost” above it, a block of two stables with haylofts on the first floor, and a dovecote standing on wooden posts above the gates to the rectory yard: to all intents, a fully-equipped farm.

The rectory itself was rebuilt in 1703 and was a square three-storey brick building with a stone flag roof, described as having four ground-floor rooms, five closets and a cellar divided into three sections. Furthermore, “all the rooms have chambers over them and all of them save one also have garrets over them”. These second-floor rooms would have been the servants’ bedrooms, for at this time the typical Church of England priest would have employed several household staff regardless of whether or not he had a family. It stood in substantial grounds which, according to the terrier, included the Old Orchard measuring 46 x 29 yards and, to the south, a 60 x 32 yard plot “dig’d and levelled and planted with Fruit Trees about 5 years since by the present Rector” (Rev William Bridges). If these words were, indeed, written in 1801, then those trees would by that time have been mature specimens. There was a garden to the west of the house measuring 29 x 27 yards; another to the west of the Little Barn  measuring 22 x 12 yards; a further garden to the east of the house of 18 x 16 yards dimension and “a Court Garden” the same length as the house by 7 yards wide. Other land belonging to the rectory included a  “Foldstead” of approximately one rood (a quarter of an acre) “for the most part enclosed with the edifices above” – that is, the house and various farm buildings – plus walls and fences: this was probably the rectory yard in front of the house, entered through the gates with the dovecote above them mentioned earlier. Finally, the terrier listed a “meethstead” where a house had been demolished “that not one stone thereof hath been seen since the memory of man”. Quite where this mysterious former building had stood is now impossible to define but it has been speculated that it might refer to some of the Roman remains which were supposedly still visible near the church in medieval times.

Although the rectory possessed several barns, there is no reference in the surviving glebe terriers to a tithe barn of the type found in many villages, to which the villagers took their produce on the appointed days – so was there ever such a building in Castleford? On the edge of the churchyard to the south of the church, currently used as a taxi office but originally a printer’s shop, is a building known by the highly-suggestive name of the Old Tithe Barn. It is of mainly late nineteenth century construction (this being when it was built for the printing business) and was given its name at that time. However, the west end of the building, out of sight from the road, is much older and is built from rough, hand-cut bricks, much flatter than more modern ones and typical of those used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It has a number of small slit windows and outlines of other doors and windows, now bricked up, and judging by the position of some of these windows and the pitch of the roof, looks as though it was once longer and formed part of a barn aligned on a north-south axis as opposed to the east-west of the present structure of which it forms part. This possibility is supported by the plan of the village drawn in 1850, in connection with the inquiry into the 1849 cholera outbreak, which shows just such a building (with an east-west aligned wing attached). It also appears to have been built when the ground level was lower than at present.

While it has to be repeated that there are no written records of a tithe barn in Castleford, it is nevertheless tempting to think that the name given to this sadly derelict and fire-damaged structure was, at the end of the nineteenth century, maintaining a folk memory of what those old walls had themselves once been part of or, alternatively, what stood on that site prior to the seventeenth or eighteenth century barn being built.

Church and barn All Saints Church and the west wall of the building known as the Old Tithe Barn.


A series of eighteenth and nineteenth Castleford glebe terriers are preserved in West Yorkshire Archives, Wakefield, in file WDP147/7/1/4.