Reeth History - A historical guide & Links to Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.















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'Reeth History -  Swaledale History - Arkengarthdale History - Two Dales History'

Local History | The River Swale | Bartle Fair Archaeology | Mining History | Ancient History | Links

 Links to more local history can be found at the  bottom of the page.


Photo of Reeth, the Green c1960, ref. R238049
Reproduced courtesy of Francis Frith.  

Situated in the Yorkshire Dales National Park at the junction of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale, Reeth is a picturesque market town with a history stretching back to Saxon times. In Saxon times Reeth was only a settlement on the forest edge, but by the time of the Norman Conquest it had grown sufficiently in importance to be noted in the Doomsday Book following the Norman Conquest, Reeth went on to become a local centre of the Lead industry and the traditional craft of hand knitting. With its name originating from old English and meaning "the place by the stream", Reeth has served the needs of its surrounding farming communities over many centuries.

REETH, a market-town, in the parish of Grinton, union of Richmond, wapentake of Gilling-West, N. riding of York, 9 miles (W. by S.) from Richmond; containing around 1500 inhabitants. The town is situated on elevated ground, at a short distance from the confluence of the rivers Arkle and Swale, and commands a beautiful view of the adjacent country; it is nearly quadrangular, and is irregularly built. The township comprises 5659 acres, of which 2783 are common or waste land: lead mines are in extensive operation, upwards of 6000 tons being annually produced. The market, granted by charter in the 6th of William and Mary, is on Friday; and fairs are held on the Friday before Good Friday, on Old May-day, Old Midsummer-day, the festival of St. Bartholomew, Old Martinmas-day, and St. Thomas' day. There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyans. The Friends' school here was erected at the expense of George and John Raw, and is endowed with 66 per annum; there is also a school endowed in 1643 by Alderman Hutchinson, and at Fremington a national school has been established. Opposite to Healaugh, in the township, on Harker Hill, are the remains of an entrenchment 100 feet square, called Maiden's Castle; and on the east side of the hill and in the dale are other entrenchments, in one of which some pieces of armour have been found. They are supposed to be Roman.
The River Swale, the first great tributary of the Ouse, is formed by the union of numerous becks, or brooks,
rising in the high crescent of moorland described in the last Geological Survey of Yorkshire as Birkdale Common, Angram Common, and Ravenseat Moor, and sweeping from Water Crag, by Nine Standards, Fell End, High Seat, Lady Pillar, and Shunnor Fell. These flow down from the western mountains through deep gills or ravines, and unite at the head of Swaledale. Most of the mountains from which the waters of this river flow, are of the height of more than 2000 feet. Amongst them are Stoneybank,
at the head of Long gill, 2224 feet high ; High Seat, at the head of Brockholes gill, 2327 feet; and Lodge Hags, at the head of Uldale gill, 2100 feet.

  Photo of Reeth, the Village c1960, ref. R238050
Reproduced courtesy of Francis Frith.

The range of mountains, of which these are amongst the highest points, separates the waters which flow into
the rivers Eden and Tees, from those that flow down Swaledale, into the river Ouse. The summits of the mountains at the head of Swaledale belong to the millstone-grit formation, and display the wild and barren moors which form its usual scenery, whilst in the valley the Yoredale rocks and upper limestone shales present grassy pastures on the surface, and numerous veins of lead beneath. The lead-mines of this district form its principal natural wealth, and are worked to a considerable elevation amongst the mountains and hills, as they have been for many hundred years. The river Swale is formed chiefly by the two large streams named Sleddale beck and Birkdale beck, which join their waters at Stonehouse, near Lane End lead-mines. Flowing east, it receives the Whitestundale beck from the north, near the Little Moor Foot mines, and rather lower, the Stonesdale beck. Each of these streams rushes down a deep ravine, and after heavy rains they pour great floods of water into the river Swale. Below the junction of Stonesdale beck the valley begins to widen, and at Muker, Swaledale assumes the form of a winding valley, watered by a bright and lively river. Muker is a market town, small in size, but much frequented by the mining population at its markets and fairs. In the descent of these streams from the mountain tops and sides, numerous rapids and several small waterfalls are formed, some of which are very beautiful, especially after the heavy rains which turn every brook into a mountain torrent. From Muker the river Swale flows by Gunnerside to Reeth, which is the principal town in this neighbourhood, and the chief place of the mining district. Reeth stands near the point where Arkle beck pours into the Swale, a stream which, after heavy rains, is not much less abundant than its own. The town is situated about half a mile above the conflux of the Arkle with the Swale, upon an eminence sloping to the south-east, and presenting many beautiful and highly picturesque views. It is the capital of the mining districts of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale, and has also a manufacture of knitted stockings, for which these dales have always been famous. To the west of Healaugh are the remains of a mansion, which is said to have belonged to John o' Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, who, as earl of Richmond, was lord of all this valley. Below Reeth the valley opens, though still bounded both to the north and the south by rugged hills and cliffs, rising to the height of 1000 to 1500 feet. At Grinton, which is the most ancient parish of Swaledale, the river winds round the parish church and an ancient camp, probably of British or Roman origin, and soon after passes the monastic ruin of Marrick Priory, on the north side of the river, and Ellerton Abbey or Priory, on the south side of the stream. Some Roman remains have been found at Fremington, near Reeth, although
the great line of Roman communication, from Eboracum to the western end of the Roman wall, was through the valley of the Tees, and not through that of the Swale. Flowing past Marske, the ancient seat of the Huttons, with its deer park and its extensive woods, it is there joined by Marske Brook. Below Marske the river Swale flows through woods and enclosures to Whitcliffe paper mills, and thence to Richmond, with its ruined castle, built in 1071.
In 1837, Reeth became part of the new Richmond Poor law Union. However, its remoteness caused travelling problems for paupers, Guardians, and the Relieving Officer, particularly in winter. On occasions, the Guardians for Reeth, Arkengarthdale, Grinton, Marrick and Ellerton Abbey met in Reeth so that relief claimants could avoid the journey to Richmond to have their applications heard. On 27th April 1840, Reeth became a separate Poor Law Union. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 11 in number, representing its 7 constituent parishes as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one): North Riding of Yorkshire: Arkengarthdale (2), Ellerton Abbey, Grinton, Marrick, Melbecks (2), Muker (2), Reeth (2). The population falling within the Union at the 1831 census had been 7,020 with parishes ranging in size from Ellerton Abbey (population 61) to Reeth itself (1,456). An old mansion, just to the east of the old parish workhouse, was purchased for 700 and converted for use as the Reeth Union workhouse to accommodate up to sixty inmates. Its location is shown on the 1912 map above.

Photo of Reeth, Village 1923, ref. 74363
Reproduced courtesy of Francis Frith.

Reeth's Bartle Fair was traditionally held on St. Bartholomew's Day.
It was revived in Reeth to celebrate the new millennium. At the height of its prosperity, Reeth had up to six fairs a year as well as a weekly market. These events offered the isolated locals the chance to experience some of the pleasures of the outside world. Reeth's fairs and markets became somewhat notorious however: "On some market days, drunken men came reeling shouting and quarrelling out of the inns, and even at mid-day some awful fighting took place but especially so when night came on. "The Fairs no longer take place in Reeth - perhaps they should return? The traditional Market still takes in the Marketplace every Friday and on some Bank Holidays in the summer.

Swaledale & Arkengarthdale Archaeology Society:

SWAAG is a group of enthusiasts in the northernmost of the Yorkshire Dales, who plan to contribute to the historical knowledge base of our dales through the full range of archaeological and associated activity.

Copyright: Swaledale & Arkengarthdale Archaeology Society.

SWAAG is affiliated with the Swaledale Museum, and began work in July 2009 under the guidance and supervision of Tim Laurie, the leading expert on prehistoric landscapes in the area with many landscape surveys, excavations and publications to his credit.
Our work programme will provide something to interest everyone: desk-top research on documents, Google Earth, aerial and site photographs; site surveying, mapping and drawing; linking geology to historic land use; recording ancient hedgerows and vintage trees; field-walking; excavation; recording and analysis of finds; and producing published reports.
Our first survey is focussing on previously unrecorded Iron Age/Romano-British settlements in Swaledale. We plan over time to study a wide range of sites from prehistoric through Romano-British to medieval and lead mining.

Copyright: Swaledale & Arkengarthdale Archaeology Society.

So, if you are interested in research, surveying, mapping and drawing, excavation, finds analysis, botany, geology or just walking beautiful countryside year-round or muddy ploughed fields in autumn, then please visit our website at

Historical Links for Reeth and the Two Dales area

An evacuee's account of his stay in Grinton during World War II
All about the history of the buses and coaches serving the two Dales.
Fremington Hagg - a Roman Cavalry hoard
The Battle of Reeth - An iron age battle, possibly with Roman involvement. The object of the siege was Maiden Castle.
Maiden Castle - originally thought to be an iron age fort with an unusual stone entrance corridor. Now thought to possibly be a ceremonial or meeting place.
 Swaledale and Arkengarthdale 1841-1901 - The home page for a series of essays originally based on Swaledale/Arkengarthdale census data from 1841 to 1901
 Swaledale Geology - Swaledale has not always been the idyllic farming country...
 Swaledale's Mining Heritage - Today the old lead mining industry has become somewhat romanticised....
 Swaledale's Last Lead Miner - Fremont Hutchinson, Fremie to his friends, is now 88 years old
 Houses of Cistercians Nuns - Ellerton Abbey in Swaledale.
 Swaledale and Arkengarthdale 1841-1901 - a series of essays  based on the census data from 1841 to 1901
 Richmond and Swaledale History - It is at at Reeth that the Swale is joined from the north by the Arkle Beck....
 Swaledale's Quakers - When George Fox began preaching in the north of England in 1652....
 SWAAG - Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Society
 Timeline results for reeth history - Search results from Google.
 Swaledale Museum - an independent Museum run by volunteers with the aims of collecting, displaying and making  publically accessible the local heritage of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.
 Maiden Castle - Iron Age Fort on the hills outside Reeth
 Reeth Hydro-Electricity power station - article by Mr Robert B. Matkin published by The Dalesman.
 Out of Oblivion - A landscape through time.
 Reeth, a description edited by GENUKI with descriptions edited from various 19th century sources.

Are you a local historian with information that we could include on this page? e-mail us with details.



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