At the time of the Conquest, and in the period immediately after, it was a custom amongst Norman individuals for the principal families, having lands in any locality, to be known by the name of the district. Examples of this at the time were the Rawdons of Rawdon, the Burleys of Burley, the Arthingtons of Arthington and, of course, the Beestons of Beeston.
The Beestons were a most notable and eminent family. Its members were to hold sway in the whole district for an amazing unbroken period of some 600 years!
Sadly, forensic and detailed information about the earlier members of the family has been obscured by the passage of time but, thankfully, many interesting glimpses of these individuals can still be obtained.
There are indications that the real patriarch of this remarkable family was Herbert de Bestone. The name has been spelt in various ways ranging from Bestone, Beiston to the present Beeston, which will be used for simplicity’s sake.
In the years between 1121 and 1127, King Henry I gave to the Priory at Nostell, a Charter in which is recorded a gift to the Priory of 12 acres of land at Morley which had been given by Robert son of Herbert de Beeston.
Some 40 years later Ralph de Beeston, no doubt the son of Robert, inherited the Manor of Beeston in 1166. (Incidentally, the Christian name Ralph was a favourite in the family and one frequently given to the make issue in various forms, Raff, Radulpho, Ralph).
The next representative was Adam de Beeston who married the daughter and heiress of the [illegible] family. Adam was a witness to the [illegible] Charter of Leeds in 1207. He was also involved in a heated and long-standing dispute with the Lord of the Manor of Middleton, one William Grammary. The reason for their animosity was the disputed boundary between their respective lands which ran through the Middleton Wood.
At the time of the dispute, Grammary caught a Beeston forester in the disputed area of woodland. Having taken the forester’s cap, mantle, sword and staff, and removed his gold ring, the poor fellow was placed in the stocks.
The ill feeling between Adam and Grammary resulted in Adam taking court action and Grammary made a gift to the king of 100 marks and a palfrey (a horse) no doubt hoping to colour opinion to further his cause. Eventually the court authorised that the two litigants should settle their differences by fighting a duel. Unfortunately, the outcome of this encounter cannot now be ascertained. What we do know is that the agreed boundary between the two estates was marked by constructing a man-made ditch through the woods which was still in existence hundreds of years later.
Adam’s son, another Adam de Beeston, married a lady named Plompton [check – spelling indistinct]. In 1265, he was witness to a deed in which Adam de Bramley granted timber from the common woods of Bramley to the monks of Kirkstall for lighting and heating the abbey buildings. Adam de Beeston also made a gift to the monks of four acres of meadowland at Beeston known as Palizings.
Ralph, son of Adam, followed and he, in turn, was superseded by his son, John de Beeston, who confirmed to the monks of Kirkstall the gift of four acres made by Adam, his grandfather.
Next came William de Beeston, another son of Ralph and brother of John. In 1257, he made an arrangement with the Prior of the Holy Trinity at York that the cell or reclusary at Beeston Church should be discontinued. It was agreed at that time that no anchorite or anchoress was to establish there in the future except with the consent of the Prior and the monks of Holy Trinity.
In 1303, a son of John, also called William, who held land in Beeston and Morley was granted free warren in Beeston, Churwell and Cottingley. He married Margaret [spelling indistinct].
In 1319, William was ordered by the King to raise troops in the area to meet the marauding Scots who were ransacking the district.
He was wounded at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and was knighted in 1324. In 1351, he was directed by Royal Commission to convey to York the fellows who had murdered Sir John de Eland in a notorious family feud.
Sir William died in 1369 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Bryan de Beeston.
At about this time, one of the more notable characters of the Beeston family appeared upon the scene. This was Ralph de Beeston who is believed to have been a brother of Sir William. He was a trusted servant of the Lords of Pontefract for, when Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, died in 1311 the Castle at Denbigh was in the charge of Ralph de Beeston. On being ordered by the King to give up the castle, Ralph transferred his allegiance to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, the new Lord of Pontefract and Ralph was appointed Constable of Pontefract Castle.
He was an outstanding and undoubtedly a wayward character.
In 1313, he was granted a royal pardon for his adherence to the Earl of Lancaster in the troubles which resulted in the death of the King’s favourite, Peter de Gaveston. In 1318, he was again pardoned for his part in the rebellion which brought about the death of the Earl of Lancaster.
In 1316, Ralph was the subject of a complaint made by John de Goldsburgh that he had assaulted him at [illegible]. It was alleged that in addition Ralph had killed his horses and carried off his goods. In the same year, Alice, widow of John [illegible] of Goldsburgh, impeached [? spelling indistinct] Ralph, with others, for causing the death of her husband.
The following details shed some light on the life and times of Ralph and his contemporaries. In [illegible] at Conisborough [? spelling indistinct] there used to be on display a list setting out the expenses incurred by Sir Ralph de Beeston and Sir Simon de Baldwinston [? spelling indistinct] at Conisbrough on 15th and 16th September 1327:-
12 gallons of ale at Doncaster 1s 6d
16 gallons of ale at Conisborough 1s 4d
To woman who fetched it 1s
8 fowls 1s
2 geese 8s
10 pigeons 4s
2 lbs candles 3½s
The two knights aided by the retinue had also consumed an additional five gallons of wine and four gallons of ale so they appear to have disposed of 32 gallons of drink between Monday morning and Tuesday evening which was the occasion of the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross.
Ralph was shown in the Poll Tax of 1379 as Radolphus of Beeston was married to Isabel de Burlay, sister of Robert de Burlay, who were members of another notable local family. There were three sons of the union:-
(1) Anthony who died without progeny. He is recorded as having lands at Beeston, Snaith, Cottingley, Morley and Ardsley.
(2) Thomas who is referred to as brother of and heir to Anthony, son of Ralph when he [illegible] to the monks of Kirkstall Abbey in 1422 those meadows at Beeston which they held as a gift from Sir William de Beeston. He apparently made over his lands previously referred to to his brother, Bryan.
In 1453, Bryan witnessed the deed in which William Scot of Scot Hall gave the vicar’s croft for a manse for the Leeds Parish Church.
Bryan was a defendant, with his son also called Bryan together with others, in an action brought by Gilbert to Legh of Middleton in 1454. He married Joan [? spelling indistinct] daughter of Sir Hanlith Mauleverer [unsure of spelling] and died in 1466 when administration of effects was granted to William de Beeston.
In the case against Legh in 1454 there was also a Ralph de Beeston involved with Bryan as a co-defendant. Sir Ralph could have been a further son of Bryan. In any case, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Langton, and he died in 1496 leaving as issue:-
Ralph who died without progeny
William succeeded and married Elizabeth, daughter of John Bosville of Chevet and had issue. William it was who declined [spelling indistinct] to accept a knighthood in 1499.
Ralph succeeded in 1496(?) and married Jane, the daughter of Richard Green of Newlay. Ralph was a leader at Flodden Field in 1513. He died on 19 March 1549 and was succeeded by his son, also called Ralph who was 40 years of age. Both father and son died in 1549. Ralph junior’s will was proved in September and in it he refers to his wife Margery, daughter of Robert Nevile of Liversedge, his son and heir, Robert de Beeston, his younger sons Bryan [spelling indistinct] and Leonard, and to his daughter Ellen.
This will is in the language of the time and it gives an invaluable insight into the piety of the inhabitants of that time. There is also a reference to his “Coyle mine” at Beeston.
Ralph was succeeded by his eldest son, Robert, who was then 5 years of age and already contracted to enter into marriage with Margaret, daughter of Sir William Calverley, knight, of Calverley. This marriage took place in 1550 and their issue was:-
Ralph, son and heir who became known locally as “Captain Beeston”
Robert, who died without progeny in 1604
Frances, a daughter who also died without progeny
Anne, a daughter who also died without progeny
Dorothy, who married Sheffield Savile, the uncle of the first Earl of Sussex. Dorothy died on 11 February 1588.
Robert, who died on 31 March 1566, and in accordance with his will was buried in Leeds Old Church near his father. His wife, Margaret, nee Calverley, remarried to Christopher Danby.
His son and heir, Ralph (later to be known as Captain Beeston) was a mere 9 years 8 months 5 days of age when he succeeded Robert. Because of his tender years, he was made a ward of Queen Elizabeth. This was most fortunate as, in 1569, the Northern Rebellion occurred and his step-father Christopher Danby was a prominent adherent of the leaders of the Rebellion, the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland and could quite easily have been swayed into being implicated.
On 6th January 1570, Danby is known to have had the lease of a “coyle” mine together with lands in Beeston during young Beeston’s minority. Sir Thomas Danby, brother of Christopher, laid claim to Christopher’s leases and goods.
Ralph Beeston was eventually married twice. First he married Ann, daughter of William Swift [unsure of spelling?] , and Ann died without progeny. He then married Susan, daughter of Henry Hall, and there was one child of this union, a daughter Dorothy who married Thomas Roche of Collier Row, Essex on 5 January 1619.
Ralph “Captain” Beeston was the last of the noble line of the Beestons to hold the Manor. In 1608 he conveyed his holdings to Sir Henry Hobart, Attorney General, who then conveyed the Manor, in the same year, to Sir John Wood.
In 1715 the Lord of the Manor was a Nathaniel Bland and he disposed of it to Thomas Kitchingman, a Leeds notable. Upon his death, his son inherited.