Ossett’s place in the history of the North of England.

Roman artefacts, such as Roman coins, were found at Streetside, which was on the Roman Road, the Via Vicinalis on its way from Manchester to Tadcaster and York, via Castleshaw, Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Wakefield. Streetside is thought to have been a hamlet on the Via Vicinalis.

 Aside: the author now lives in Saddleworth and, in certain lights at certain times of the year, the outline of this same Roman Road from Manchester to York can be seen in Castleshaw valley in Saddleworth, approaching the remains of the Castleshaw Roman Fort.

The name Ossett is older than Roman, however, and is probably derived from the Saxon language, meaning either “the fold of a man named Osla” or ” a fold frequented by blackbirds” or possibly from the Viking language, meaning “ridge camp”. In Saxon times, Ossett was on the edge of the large Saxon settlement of Dewsbury, which then encompassed Huddersfield, Mirfield and Bradford.

Domesday Book

After the Norman Invasion, the north took part in a revolt against the Normans, with Viking help, but the revolt was put down and King William took retribution on the North by laying waste the northern shires and killing the inhabitants. This “Harrying of the North” (see Brief notes on the History of Yorkshire) left many villages empty for a generation and large areas of Yorkshire and other northern counties were still laying waste in 1086, ‘wasta est’, as Domesday says. In that great Domesday survey of 1086, Ossett is named “Osleset” and was recorded as having three and a half carucates of land (420 acres), which is the amount that would need three teams of eight oxen to plough it. This was about 10-20% of the settlement that was set aside as arable land. Woodland pasture measured “half a league long as much broad” (roughly six furlongs by six furlongs). There were other areas of trees with paling to prevent animal entry. Only about 10% of the land was wooded, showing that much of it had been cleared before 1086 and the remainder was being managed. Animals grazed on “woodland pasture” and the trees were pollarded above animal height, allowing the sunlight to slip through and giving rise to the name “the Lights”. Ossett Lights, with 254 acres, was typical of common land at the time.

In 1086, Ossett had only seven families, headed by four villeins and three bordars. A villein was a tenant farmer in Feudal terms, who was tied to the Lord of the Manor. He was somewhere between a free man and a slave. The word is from a Roman word meaning “a man employed at a villa”. A bordar was a man ranking below a villein but above a serf. A bordar might hold enough land to feed a family and would be required to also provide labour for his Lord on certain days each week.

Many of the areas around Ossett were still laid waste. Even the Manor of Wakefield only had 9 villagers, 22 smallholders, 11 freemen and three priests. The value of Wakefield to the Lord of the manor in 1066 had been £60, but in 1086 was only £15.

By 1087, Ossett was one of 57 townships in the Manor of Wakefield. The Manorial system, which began in Roman times, was well established but the area but was still depleted of men, having not recovered from the slaughter of 1069-70. The villagers were allowed the rights of pasture for pigs and they could forage for wood, for kindling and to build houses and fences. Mineral rights remained with the Lord of the Manor. The rights and obligations of the villagers lasted for hundreds of years until the “Enclosures Act” of 1807.

Feudal laws remained in force under the Normans and, between the end of the 11th century and the middle of the 14th Century, the population of Yorkshire and of course, Ossett, only slightly increased. In the earlier part of this period, Britain was experiencing a climatic warm period which enabled good harvests and grapes could be grown even as far north as Yorkshire. From the beginning of the 14th Century, the country experienced the beginning of a period called “the Little Ice Age”, when the average temperature dropped by one and a half degrees Celsius and crop failure and starvation and disease became more common.

Ossett’s population rose only slowly at first from only about 30 in 1086; 55 in 1300 then more rapidly to about 1,200 inhabitants in 1700.

Poll Tax

The poll tax was a tax per head, rather than on goods. It was levied just three times, in 1377, 1379 and 1381. Each time the basis was slightly different. In 1377, everyone over the age of 14 and not exempt had to pay a groat (2p) to the Crown. By 1379 that had been graded by social class, with the lower limit raised to 16, (and 15 two years later). Exemption of the poor means that about 40% of inhabitants of any village or town were not counted. Because they were poor, they would not be recorded as making wills either. Perhaps Manor Court records might pick up a few errant poor people, but on the whole, unless a family had a certain level of means, they do not appear in records from this period.

I looked for some of my family surnames in the Poll Tax Rolls for Yorkshire. In Ossett, I did not find any Archer or Ellis. But I did find Wilson, Scott and Maunsfield, which are names of some of the Ossett families from whom I am descended, possibly establishing for me a family link with the town as far back as the fourteenth century.

Subsidy Rolls (Poll Tax) for the year 1379
Agbrigg wapentake, Dewsbury parish:

Thomas Wodhowse  iiij.d.
Willelmus filius Ricardi   iiij.d.
Thomas de Westerton, Marchant  xij.d.
Robertus Hyruyng’ & uxor ejus   iiij.d.
Alicia filia ejus    iiij.d.
Johannes de ffernley  iiij.d.
Matilda de ffernley   iiij.d.
Willelmus de Hill’ & uxor ejus    iiij.d.
Thomas Hogg’ & uxor ejus    iiij.d.
Willelmus filius Hugoni & uxor ejus, Taillour   vj.d.
Adam Schephird’ & uxor ejus  iiij.d.
Thomas de Hyll’ & uxor ejus    iiij.d.
Johannes Norwod & uxor ejus  iiij.d.
Magota Wilborne   iiij.d.
Hugo Ranald’  iiij.d.
Matilda Swansoñ    iiij.d.
Adam filius Thome & uxor ejus    iiij.d.
Johannes Bull’ & uxor ejus, Soutter iiij.d.
Alicia Margery  iiij.d.
Ancilla Willelmi Richard  iiij.d.
Johannes Wod’ & uxor ejus, Wrigh’ vj.d.
Johannes Hardgat & uxor ejus   iiij.d.
Willelmus filius Johannis & uxor ejus  iiij.d.
Katerina ancilla ejus    iiij.d.
Ricardus filius Johannis, Smyth’ xv.d.
Alicia ancilla ejus    iiij.d.
Johannes Jodsoñ & uxor ejus    iiij.d.
Isabella filia ejus    iiij.d.
Thomas filius Willelmi & uxor ejus     iiij.d.
Willelmus Butt & uxor ejus, Taillour   vj.d.
Ricardus Mawnfill’ & uxor ejus  iiij.d.
Hugu Malsoñ & uxor ejus  iiij.d.
Henricus Hawkisue   iiij.d.
Elizabetha de Balne  iiij.d.
Alicia Hardgat  iiij.d.
Thomas Hyruyng & uxor ejus   iiij.d.
Alicia Swaynsoñ    iiij.d.
Ricardus atte ye Thounhende   iiij.d.
Johannes de Clatoñ iiij.d.
Willelmus ffoster & uxor ejus    iiij.d.
Magota de Hetoñ  iiij.d.
Alicia filia ejus    iiij.d.
Johannes Wylbor junior   iiij.d.
Magota Scott’ iiij.d.
Johannes Mawsell’ & uxor ejus    iiij.d.
Hugo Scot & uxor ejus        iiij.d.
Thomas Grene & uxor ejus, Walker vj.d.
Alicia uxor Hugonis    iiij.d.
Ricardus filius Hugonis, Smyth’ vj.d.
Alicia de Morlay iiij.d.
Agnes Cowper   iiij.d.
Ricardus Hyrueryng’ (sic) & uxor ejus, Souter   xij.d.
Willelmus filius ejus    iiij.d.
Ricardus Malynsoñ & uxor ejus   iiij.d.
Adam filius Johannis   iiij.d.
Johannes de Grene & uxor ejus, Wrygh’   vj.d.
Johannes Wilbore & uxor ejus    iiij.d.
Willelmus Discheforth & uxor ejus   iiij.d.
Johannes filius Thome & uxor ejus, Couper    vj .d.
Robertus Somañ & uxor ejus    iiij.d.
Matilda de Lokytoñ    iiij.d.
Thomas filius ejus    iiij.d.
Hugo filius ejus    iiij.d.
Johanna filia ejus    iiij.d.
Thomas Dyschforth’ & uxor ejus, Walker  vj.d.
Ricardus Willesoñ  iiij.d.
Alicia de Merlay iiij.d.
Johannes del Wodde & uxor ejus    iiij.d.
Johannes Hardgate & uxor ejus   iiij.d
Willelmus Jonesoñ et uxor ejus  iiij.d
Katerina ancilla uxor ejus (sic)   iiij.d

Summa- xxvij.s. x.d. (Sum 27 shillings and 10 pence)


The Woollen Industry in Ossett – Broadcloth, Shoddy and Mungo

To be continued…

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