Scottish raids on Calverley and Horsforth, May 1318

This article was first published in The Squeaker Magazine (click here to read the latest edition).

In 1314, Robert the Bruce’s Scots crushed the English army at the Battle of Bannockburn. As the English army fled, they were pursued south across the border by the Scots, raiding and plundering as they went, before returning home with the spoils. This set a pattern that would be repeated, with increasing organisation and regularity, for more than a decade.

Typically, the armed raiders would come on hobbies, which were small agile horses capable of covering 60 to 70 miles a day, ahead of camp followers whose job it was to sort the booty and transport it home. Each raid lasted approximately 40 days and followed a u-shaped route: they would invade down the eastern side of England, cross the Pennines along a river valley and head home via Lancashire and Cumbria. It was guerrilla warfare and its political objective was the recognition by England of Scottish independence.

Such was the ferocity of the invaders that it is said that “from the faces of two or three Scots, one hundred English would flee” and there is evidence that refugees fled south in terror leaving whole villages deserted. As well as being brutal, however, the Scots were also enterprising and disciplined: they would spare entire communities if an acceptable bribe was paid.

The early raids were concentrated on Northumbria and Durham but penetrated further south each year until, in 1318, they reached the West Riding of Yorkshire. In May of that year, the marauding Scots crossed the River Wharfe west of Wetherby and pressed on into the Aire Valley. They came upon Calverley and ransacked the Church of St Wilfrid. Based on first-hand accounts of raids elsewhere, they would almost certainly have destroyed other properties in the village, setting light to wooden houses, before stealing cattle and grain and anything else of value. They may also have taken prisoners and ransomed them. Objects made of iron were particularly sought after; there was little natural iron in Scotland and it was needed for the manufacture of weapons and armour. What they could not carry with them they destroyed to further sap the will of the English to resist.

Having plundered all they could in Calverley, they swept back across the river and entered Horsforth where they attacked Den (or Dean) Grange, an ancient fortified manor house. Legend has it that they met with fierce resistance here and at Moseley Wood. It is assumed by many that modern-day Scotland Lane takes its name from this encounter but there may be a more prosaic explanation: the land may once have belonged to a Roger le Scot (“Scot’s Land”). Den Grange is now remembered in the names of several streets and dwellings in the Dean Lane/Scotland Lane area of Horsforth.

The Scots continued to lay a trail of destruction as they headed up the Aire Valley, including at Guiseley and Bingley, but they spared the churches at Keighley and Kildwick which were dedicated to St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland. They departed the Aire Valley via Skipton and joined up with another raiding party in the Wharfe Valley before heading north again.

Although the Scots returned to the region the following year, the raids were mainly concentrated on the Wharfe Valley at places such as Weeton, Stainburn and Leathley. There was probably nothing of value left to plunder in Calverley and its surrounds.

Year upon year, the raids continued unabated. The English King, Edward II, was both too weak to defeat the Scots and too stubborn to agree terms. He was seemingly willing to sacrifice the North in his struggle with the Scots. It would not be until 1328, after Edward’s death, that a peace treaty was signed between England and Scotland which recognised Scottish independence. The treaty brought only a temporary pause in hostilities, however, before a more lasting peace was finally achieved in 1357.

The effects of the Scottish raids on Calverley were devastating. A subsequent valuation of St Wilfrid’s Church estate recorded that it was worth “nichil” (nothing) and that there was “hardly a goat’s grass”, suggesting the ruin of its farmland. There were also insufficient funds to pay the chaplain for some time afterwards. St Oswald’s Church in Guiseley saw its value reduced by 75% and the church estates at Adel, Harewood and Bingley also suffered huge losses.

It would take another four years before restoration work could begin on St Wilfrid’s, thanks in large part to the generosity of local landowner, John Cnollan, who donated land called Cnollangarth which appears to have escaped the ravages of the Scots (roughly where Upper Carr Lane now stands). A generation later, however, the Black Death swept the country and claimed the lives of two Calverley vicars in one year, as well as an unknowable number of their parishioners.

So, as we commemorate the 700th anniversary of the terrible events of May 1318 let’s spare a thought for our Airedale antecedents: the North of England in the fourteenth century was an unimaginably tough place to live.

For more stories on local history click here.

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