Land Seizures in Calderdale

Between 1461 and 1478, a number of Calderdale land owners had their property unlawfully entered and seized on the orders of Sir John Pilkington.

The Pilkingtons were a Lancashire family. They owned Elphabrough Hall and manor, which was situated on the south side of the Calder River about mid way between Hebden and Midgley. In 1451, Sir John de Pilkington, Lord of Pilkington and Bury, Lancashire, died without issue, and Elphabrough passed to his younger brother, Robert. Robert died 1459, leaving Elphabrough to his son Sir John Pilkington.

The Saviles were the leading family in Calderdale, with their landholdings and main interests centred around Elland. The leading family in the western part of the valley were the Stansfelds.

The Saviles and Stansfelds were linked by marriage.

In 1460, John Stansfeld of Stansfeld Hall and Hartshead Hall, died. He was a man of local influence and standing. His son and heir, Thomas, died just 5 years later, having lived his life in the shadow of his father. Thomas's son and heir, Geoffrey, was then only in his 20s.

A local account of what happened in Calderdale in the period leading up to and during 1478 is that of John Crosseley in his submission to the King's council in 1478 – see copy in his entry.

In September 1478, John Crosseley, king's tenant of Stansfeld, travelled to Nottingham to submit to the king a bill of complaint against Robert Pilkington that on the orders of his father, Sir John Pilkington, he unlawfully seized 6 messuages, 300 acres of land, wood, meadow with appurtenances in Stansfeld, with the yearly value of 16 marks. No record has been found of other submissions made at Nottingham, but it seems safe to conclude that there were many, as a commission was issued to inquire into all treasons, felonies etc. in York :

1478. Sept. 5. Nottingham.

Commission of oyer & terminer to the king's brother Richard, duke of Gloucester, the king's kinsmen Thomas, marquess of Dorset, and Henry, earl of Northumberland, Thomas Stanley of Stanley, knight, William Hastynges of Hastynges, knight, John Audeley of Audeley, knight, John le Scrope, Walter Devereux of Ferrers, knight, Ralph Graystok of Graystok, knight, John Dynham of Dynham, knight, John Nedeham, knight, Guy Fairefax, knight, and Richard Nele, knight, in the country of York. By K.

[Calendar of Patent Rolls 18 Edward IV, part 2, membrane 10d p.145] :


It is probable that the main reason the king issued this commission was to halt an escalating feud between the Pilkingtons and the Saviles – see Savile-Pilkington Dispute. Research into documents of local Calderdale families suggests the reason for the development of this feud was that the Pilkingtons, from their manor at Elphabrough and their estate in Rochdale, had made a number of raids on Calderdale landowners, in particular those living in the western part of the valley. These raids, on the orders of Sir John Pilkington, were lead either by his son, Robert, or by one of his brothers, but often included local men who were either directly employed by, or were followers of, the Pilkingtons, and who are also named in the indictments of the commission.

The commission was held at Pontefract on 21-25 September, 1478. The records of this commission are held at the National Archives, Court of King's Bench: Crown side: Indictments Files, Oyer & Terminer Files. KB 9/349.

John Crosseley travelled to Pontefract and delivered his bill of complaint. There were 60 indictments against the Pilkingtons. The crimes listed as being on the orders of Sir John Pilkington include land seizures, assaults, extortion, kidnapping, stealing of cattle and goods, arson. The king was present at Pontefract and John Crosseley tells us that he ordered that lands seized be returned to their lawful owners. A Justice of the peace travelled to Stansfeld and returned John Crosseley's lands, but they were quickly again seized on the orders of Sir John Pilkington.

In his submission to the King's council John Crosseley reports that there were 44 men in the party that took back his lands, 21 of whom he names and the rest he describes as servants of Sir John Pilkington. He further states that these 44 men gathered

upon the mesbrooke at Heptonstall and swore to each other that what part that one or any of them took that each of them shall take the same, whether it be right nor wrong, to the utter undoing of your (the king's) tenants and inhabitants of the same country and in that behalf many of the said tenants dare not abide in that country

Sir John Pilkington died on 29th December 1478.

Research to date suggests that some lands which had been unlawfully seized by the Pilkingtons and then returned by the Sheriff or the Justices of the Peace, were left in the hands of their lawful owners, but others appeared in the Inquisitions post mortem of Sir John Pilkington's descendants, and further research is needed to ascertain what ultimately happened to them.

Men involved in the above

Many of the Oyer & terminer indictments only name the persons chiefly responsible, saying and other evildoers.

The following are some of the men named as participating in attacks/raids in Calderdale led by the Pilkingtons:

Later there were counter raids and assaults lead by the Stansfelds – Thomas, Peter, Richard, and Nicholas. More investigation into the relationships within families of Calderdale needs to be done for any definitive conclusion to be reached, but from research so far it appears that these were defensive /retaliatory actions against local men, who had taken part in Pilkington raids. There are indications that the other landowners at the western end of the valley looked to the Stansfelds for protection and support, and joined them in these responses. The attacks and raids by the Pilkingtons started in 1461 but the first counter attack by the Stansfelds was not until 1469. This was an assault against James Grenewood, who had taken part in the abduction of Richard Stansfeld in 1466.

The names of men who joined the Stansfelds are not given, the indictments stating and others. In one case with many other unknown evildoers numbering 30 – this was an assault on Thomas Lawe. An assault on Laurence Bentley states with others unnamed. The only man who is named is Edward Whalley, gentleman. He joined in a raid on the property of Richard Brigge.

See the map showing Elphabrough Hall

This & associated entries use material which was kindly contributed by Joanne Backhouse

© Malcolm Bull 2024
Revised 16:12 / 2nd April 2024 / 11732

Page Ref: MML897

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