​A Great Success.

 de Brus Lectures in  2019, held at Prior Pursglove College.

[DE BRUS FAMILY IN NORTH EAST ENGLAND - Before 1350


       The de Brus Group were pleased to welcome three experts in medieval history to give an insight into our unique local history - the real story of our North Yorkshire heritage , with particular reference to the links between Guisborough, Skelton and the de Brus dynasty.


Peter Appleton

Local author and historian, secretary of the Skelton History Group.

      "Before the foundation of Gisborough Priory who was Robert de Brus?. How did he get into this story?. During the Priory's existence what else did he get up to? After the Dissolution of the Monastries, what happened to all the stonework?" (Full text of lecture will follow in a few days.)


Alison Dale

Expert on the monasteries of Yorkshire.

       Concentrated on why the de Brus family chose to found a Priory for the Augustinian Order and the consequences of that for the town of Guisborough, for the Priory and also for the remaining canons at the Reformation,


Dr Alan Young.

Successful author and specialist on Robert the Bruce .

      He concluded proceedings with a talk entitled "The last Bruce burial in Guisborough - 1295. -The end of an era". Robert de Bruce V went to the Crusades, had a long and colourful political career in both Scotland and England plus a fifty year obsession with gaining the throne of Scotland for the de Brus family. He chose to be buried in Gisborough Priory. An era of change in the politics of medieval times.  


David Welsh.

An ex headmaster from Newcastle-on-Tyne recently moved to Teesside.

     He did a magnificent job of introducing the speakers and chairing proceedings which included a plenary session with the three experts answering some very interesting well judged questions from a lively audience.


Mike Mackin.

Director of the Adventure Faculty at Prior Pursglove College.

       He gave a brief talk on the importance of the de Brus project to the college. The winners of the de Brus trophy for Community Involvement, which is presented annually to two deserving students named by their tutors, was also introduced.


Proceedings were brought to a close by the Chair of the de Brus Group, Sheila Atherton, with a vote of thanks to all those who had taken part and to the countless people who had spread the word to make the afternoon a resounding success. 


Summary of Talk by Peter Appleton (Secretary of Skelton History Group).


Before. During and After

This talk addresses the following questions.

  •      Before the foundation of Gisborough Priory.

​         Who was Robert de Brus?

         How did he get into this story?


  •     During the priory's existence

​       What else did he get up to?


  •      ​After the dissolution of the monasteries.

​        What happened to all that stonework?


Who was Robert de Brus?

He was a Norman Baron from the Cotentin peninsular of Northern France. He came to England, not with William the Conqueror,but with William's brother Henry when he came to claim the crown following the death of William Rufus. In thanks for his support of Henty's claim, Robert was given numerous manors in the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire and elsewhere. He originally chose Castleton, in the Esk valley,as his base but quite soon after relocated to Skelton-in-Cleveland, where he had a castle built.


Why did he relocate?

There is, so far as I know, no documentary evidence that answers this question. We have to use some logical analysis. Skelton was an ancient community on the main east west trade route across the northern slopes of the North York Moors plateau. This route linked Whitby, Lythe, Hinderwell, Easington, Loftus, Skelton Guisborough, Stokesley and all points in between. Skelton also sat on a regular North - South route, linking the beach at Marske to the moorland ridge overlooking the communities of the Esk valley

Ships could safely approach "take the ground" on the beach while they were unloaded and loaded. Once the cargo was transferred on to the pack horses or carts pulled by draught animals, the route would take them up the present-day Marske High Street, on up Spitals to the four lane ends. These would have been, at best, a three lane ends. Let's face it, golf hadn't been invented yet, so there was no need to turn left as there was no golf course to go to. The right turn past Upleatham might have been in doubt too. There was a more direct route from Marske to Upleatham, straight up Quarry Lane. So, having reduced the four lane ends to no lane ends, the route now descends into Apple Orchard Bottoms, where it would be necessary to ford the Skelton Beck. This would normally be no problem, but at times of spate would be a dangerous crossing.

Now came a climb up to the village green at Skelton. Past those dark, towering, brooding walls of the castle. Men at arms on the ramparts  looking down. Watching your every move. Assessing your cargo. Finally, the village green. Water for the animals. Ale for yourself.

Rested, you set off on the stiffest climb of all, from the village green up on to the higher ground now occupied by Skelton Green and onwards along modern-day Boosbeck High Street, then Jenny Frisk Lane and on to the moorland at Birk Brow. (Jenny Frisk - the lively pack horse). Up ahead, on the skyline, there is a prominent cluster of tumuli. Head for these and at last you are on the ridge overlooking the Esk valley.

​Skelton sat at a crossroads of trade routes. The castle commanded the ford over the river. It was a natural place for a tax-gathering toll booth. Undoubtedly, Robert would be gathering taxes for his King, and dropping the odd coin or two into his own back pocket.


How does he come into this story?

Like everybody back then, he would be a God-fearing citizen. Well, perhaps Hell-fearing might be a more accurate description. He would want to do everything he could to ensure that, when his ticket was handed to him for his final journey, it was a first-class "Up" ticket and not a third-class "Down" ticket. Like other landed gentry, he would indulge in acts of piety to try and secure the right ticket. Robert did this, in part, by endowing some of the churches in his manors with fonts. One such survives in Old All Saints Church at Skelton. It was, probably, originally given to Upleatham church and relocated to Skelton Old All Saints when the Upleatham church was sold and converted to a residence.

But would this be enough? Robert couldn't be sure. Then, he had a lightbulb moment. Looking heavenward he made his momentous declaration: "How about I build a monastery?. God will that do the trick?"

Our other speakers may shed more light on the answer.


What else did he get up to?

For this we have to go back to that period of English history called The Anarchy. This followed the death of Henry. He had previously declared, and his barons had agreed to it, that his daughter, Matilda, should succeed him. However, when he died, his nephew Stephen dashed off and got himself crowned King. This led to civil war when those barons loyal to Henry's expressed wish rose in rebellion. Stephen mustered his army and set off to quell this rebellion.

With the English army thus occupied in the south, King David of Scotland chose this moment to invade. He had two motives: land - grabbing and supporting Matilda who was his niece. Unable to be in two places at once, Stephen delegated the defence of the North to loyal northern barons. The scene was set for the Battle of the Standard on Cowton Moor to the north of Northallerton.  

The de Brus family were now put in an awkward position. Years previously, Robert had undertaken diplomatic missions to Scotland on behalf of Henry. His efforts had been rewarded not only by Henry, but by the Scottish King who had given him the lordship of Annandale, near Dumfries. Robert had made it clear that on his death he wanted his first son, Adam, to have his English lands and titles while his second son, Robert, was to have his Scottish lands and titles.

Faced now with having to choose between supporting the English king or the Scottish king, Robert demonstrated just what a shrewd political operator he was. He and Adam fought on the side of the English King, whilst young Robert fought on the side of the Scottish King. Whichever side now came out on top, there would be a member of the de Brus family on the winning side who would be able to plead clemency and leniency for the family members on the losing side.


What happened to all the stonework?

It is accepted that stone from the Priory has found its way into many buildings in Guisborough. This opinion is supported by dates of construction, visible remains in these buildings and the presence on those remains of mason's marks also found on stone still in the Priory grounds. What is missing is any contemporaneous documentary evidence.

There is, however, documentary evidence associated with a building that, itself, no longer exists. In a Book of Accounts from the year 1612-13 we can read that Daniel Atkinson was paid 2 shillings "for getting stones in the old Abbey for new building the furnaces" and Marmaduke Bee and William Askew were paid three shillings "for the like". Also, John Jowcy was paid fifteen shillings "for leading the stones gotten at the Abbey from thence to this workhouse", Now, this is long before the Poor Law Union workhouse on Northgate. So, what was this workhouse and where was it? 

The Book of Accounts was compiled by Richard Willis, pay-master to His Majesty's Alum Works in Yorkshire. The workhouse, nowadays called an alun house, was one of two associated with the Belman Bank alum works. The furnaces would be those under the evaporating pans in which the alum liquor was boiled to drive off excess water content. The quarry of these works is currently well exposed, following the clear felling of a couple of years ago. 


Having, thus, managed to bring my talk round to my favourite subject, I'll now shut up and sit down!


​Peter Appleton.