The very first Lord of Yearsley is recorded in the Domesday Book back in 1086. The ancient, dusty leaves of this huge survey of the land state that Hugh, son of Baldric was lord back
in that time. In fact it is down to legend to tell us how the Title was first
bestowed and the story of how such a high honour was created has been handed down for generation upon generation.
Hugh was an apothecary and in the days when people died at a far younger age and even a mild illness
was itself serious, his concoctions which he mixed to help people get better were in high demand. People would travel from all over Yorkshire to come and see this miraculous man who could make better most maladies. His true secret was that he would mix a potion of fine herbs and flowers int a sweet
drink. Upon partaking of this, most would fall fast asleep and little would be
heard from them for the next few days, as they slept off their illnesses and restored their strength.
Perhaps Hugh would have continued in this manner, had it not been for a freak event, whereafter he
was raised to the high status of Lord and went down in history thereafter. William
King of England was at one point in the
1070s on a tour of the North of England. He was a lively man, and often missed
the fine weather of Normandy from whence he came. But one of his few joys was to go out on the Yorkshire moors and hunt
with his magnificent pet falcon. He traveled to all places with this bird, which
when not hunting with the Kind would remain in its cage and peer out at the world. Some
of his courtiers thought his slightly crazy, for he would actually go and talk to the bird, who he insisted knew what he was
talking about (and didn’t answer him back, unlike his wife!) But sadly
as he traveled on one occasion, the carriage which carried the bird and its cage collapsed.
It had hit a rock and the poor bird was thrown to the ground in its cage. Not
surprisingly, it was in a very sorry state, bleeding and with a broken leg. William
was devastated-he had found no men that he could trust, yet this bird was he felt somehow his soulmate. It looked like the bird was going to die. No one had any idea
how to help the poor creature, and it would let no one near it. As chance would
have it, Hugh the apothecary was passing. News had spread all over Yorkshire of his great healing powers and he was summoned before the King. The King asked him to do what he could, but added that he understood the hopelessness of the situation. Hugh immediately sent men forth all over the Country to gather a whole variety of
herbs and soon brewed his magical broth. The bird refused to touch it at first,
but Hugh soaked bread in it. The bird took a few bites, then fell fast asleep. Thereafter, Hugh made a fine little splint and set its leg. During the following months, he spent his time pushing little bits of food into its beak and making sure
that it remained full of his sleeping medicine. Remarkably, the bird made a full
recovery. William nine months later took the bird hunting with him and was so
delighted that he decided to make Hugh the Lord of Yearsley, the village from whence he first came, for he felt that giving
gold was not enough and such a Title would itself grant Hugh immortality in history.
Hugh went back to live in Yearsley and as Lord, lived in tremendous style. He built a fine house where all the ill people in the region could come and visit him, so that he could
continue his healing tradition.
The next record of a Lord is that Lord Roger Mowbray who held the Title in 1105. He was a great aristocrat, and a man of huge wealth. He had
vast numbers of gowns for every occasion, and was particularly keen on a bright scarlet cape that he wore frequently-he actually became known as “The Scarlet Lord”
as a result! On a more serious note, he was renowned for his charity. Whenever he went, him minions handed out money before his carriage to the poor and needy, for he hated
to see poverty around him.
Before his death, as he had no heirs to whom he wished to leave the Title, he conveyed
it to Thomas Colville in about 1150. Thomas was a fine, upstanding gentleman
who had little time for chit-chat. In fact he almost never said a word. One tale tells of how a very beautiful Lady came up to the Lord in a village feast
on one occasion-she was the daughter of another nobleman and was delighted when she found this handsome bachelor holding the
local festivities. She went up to him and said, “I have wagered my father
two pieces of silver that I can make you say more than two words.” He responded,
“You lose” and walked away! Actually the happy outcome of the story
was that he felt terribly remorseful, sent her a carriage full of the finest flowers available and eventually the two did
get married-fortunately for her, “I do” is only two words!
Their son and grandson succeeded them to the Title but in 1217, George Colville their great
grandson inherited the Title. He was a fine farmer and grew some wonderful fruits. His apples were a deep rich red, large and succulent and when Henry III was crowned,
at the feast tables were large numbers of the apples from Yearsley. George as
the Lord actually attended the Coronation and there he met his wife to be Elizabeth. She was the daughter of another nobleman and it is said that there marriage was fixed
at the Coronation and two weeks later, the two married. There were great celebrations
in Yearsley and the Lord proclaimed the day to be a holiday for the people throughout his lifetime.
The records show that in 1310, Robert Colville held the Title. He was a walker and walked over almost all of England. He had a charming personality
and would often pretend to be just a poor peasant, making his way to the market. But
wherever he went, he found people who put him up to stay and he entertained them with great stories of his travels. In those days, few traveled out of the confines of their village and travelers such as him were few and
far between. On one occasion, he arrived in a small village in Cornwall. He turned up to Church and the local
people found this man so fascinating that they invited him to come
And talked to the school. Very soon, the whole village
crowded into the schoolroom to hear his tales. They were so engrossed that they
built him his own hut and every year, on his ambles around the country (he covered thousands of miles by foot), he stopped
off and told his latest adventures. The people themselves were fascinated to
hear about the strange foods that they ate in Scotland
know as haggis and black pudding and in awe at the thought of the great wealth of the rulers of the country (for as a Lord,
he had access to all levels of society. Of course, as he traveled incognito,
they were never aware of his standing).
By 1361, Hugh Colville had inherited the Title. He farmed
the lands well and brought prosperity to the area. The peasants in his time were
able to build great reserves of grain to prepare for any hard times. He diverted
waters around the farmlands and worked a system of irrigation a long time before such techniques were well-known. The people of Yearsley celebrated “Hugh” day, which was also the one day when all in the village
would wash, as Hugh proclaimed that all his subjects should wash at least once a year, “whether they need it or not!”
His heir Thomas Colville was not quite as popular with everyone.
The King Henry IV thought he was just a bit too smart and a bit too wealthy and the Public Records Offices not that
in 1405, Henry confiscated all his lands and Title and bestowed them on Thomas Yearsley.
Thomas was a local gentleman of great education whose family had taken their surname from the area. He was a very open-minded character and had actually studied under Roger Bacon for a few years (the inventor
of experimental science). His house was full of strange apparatus and he was
constantly experimenting in his attempt to discover the philosopher’s stone. He
discovered no such device, but he did invent some fertilizer, which turned a barren patch of land into terrain which sprouted
enormous bountiful crops of wheat.
By the 1520s, the Yearsley family ran out of direct heirs and they passed the Title to their friends,
the Wildons. Little event passed in their lifetimes and the Title was eventually
passed further to William Bellasis. He was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth’s-of
course, she never married and she always liked to have him around, for in truth she fancied him terribly. He would often be summoned to Court and asked for advice on subjects on which he had not a clue. His big mistake was to fall in love with and then marry a local village girl, and this put paid to any
chance he had of Royal advancement (and certainly any chance of becoming King!) His
grandson became and ardent Royalist and actually went to the House of Lords to argue the case for King Charles I in 1643,
where he also held the rank of Viscount.
Times changed and his grandson married none other than Oliver Cromwell’s daughter, Mary Cromwell. During the Commonwealth period, when there was no King and Oliver was ruler of England, this meant that the grandson of Lord of Yearsley
held great prominence. He held a Court every three weeks and as a sign of his
democratic nature, he allowed the peasants to become jurors and decide the fate of those on trial. Whatever Mary thought, he certainly was not about to allow any women on the jury, as he felt quite enough
progress had been made socially and a woman’s place was strictly at home.
After the restoration of the Monarchy, perhaps not surprisingly for a few years, the Lords of Yearsley
kept rather quiet, but were soon embraced again by the monarchs. In the 1730s,
the Title passed to Charlotte Bellassis and she finally passed the Title on to her nephew, George Wombwell. He was a fascinating character who made his initial fortune by buying tow boa constrictors for £75. Within three weeks, he had covered his costs by showing these animals in public and
shortly thereafter, formed the finest traveling menagerie in the country. In
the days before television, the average person simply could not believe that such extraordinary beasts existed and there was
amazement all around at the lizards, crocodiles, bags full of snakes and multi coloured birds that he would produce before
simple folks who had never seen anything more than a blackbird in their life. He
was in fact unusual in those days, for the genuinely cared for his animals. He
became very upset on one occasion when he saw two boys taunting a dog and set one of his rotwellers upon them to chase them
off-for the rest of their lives, they were always most respectful towards animals.
Since that time, the Title has been passed down through the years and remained in the same family. The family were at one point very large landholders and even today, do hold substantial
lands. Now it has passed on into the hands of Dr. Tracy Sapp from Indiana, who
is the last in the chain of illustrious holders.