This article is not to be taken as a gospel, as “everything-there-is-to-know” about the subject. It’s simply all that we have come across in relation to the 1,000-year lease. There may be more to discover, there may not. If anyone knows more please tell us.
Alston Moor is unusual but not unique in having a 1,000-year lease attached to many of its house deeds. This can throw solicitors from other parts of the country into a panic, but it doesn’t fluster locals.
During the middle ages a large area of the Manor of Alston Moor was divided into a total of sixty-eight ‘tenements’, or agricultural holdings; thirty-three around Garrigill, thirteen at Amoteshalth (Aimshaugh), and twenty-two at Nent and Corbriggate (Corbygates). The tenements contained the best land in the valley bottoms adjoining the Rivers South Tyne and Nent.
During the fifteenth century the Hilton family of Hylton Castle near Sunderland became by marriage Lords of the Manor of Alston Moor. In 1600 the Hiltons lost control of their estates when William Hilton died and left as his heir his thirteen year old grandson Henry Hilton. Henry’s father, Thomas, had died during the lifetime of his father. Henry was then in effect sold, as was usual with heirs in their minority, by Queen Elizabeth into the wardship of the Bishop of Carlisle. Poor Henry, who became known as “Henry the Melancholy”, was married off to Mary Worthley of Yorkshire, with whom he never lived, but instead he settled in Billinghurst in Sussex and lived with a certain Lady Shelly. By 1611 Henry was a young man recently entered into his inheritance after a long minority, during which time his estates had been managed by the Bishop and could well have been ‘asset stripped’ by him during Henry’s wardship. Henry could well have wanted to raise cash to invest in or repair his estates and so he leased out the tenements of Alston Moor. He finally sold the Manor of Alston Moor in 1629 to Sir Edward Radcliffe for £2,500.
In 1611 when the leases were drawn up the original sixty-eight tenements had been sub-divided so that there were 113 holdings. Fifty-five men leased the 113 tenements and the leases were issued over the period of a few days in late summer 1611. Eleven leases were made on 31st August, twelve on 3rd September, thirty-one on the 4th and one straggler on the 5th. The rents varied between 1s.7d., paid by Michael Walton for part of Gilderdale, to £2.6s.0d for Bayles, off the Hartside road, leased by John Walton. The leases were to take effect at different times. Two were backdated to February 1608, the others one in August 1611, five in May and July 1615, and one in May 1631. The vast majority however, forty-six, were to start on 9th September 1621. Also the tenants had to pay a ‘fine’ of twenty years’ rent every twenty-one years.
(Note that the tenants of Gilderdale have a clause in their leases that applies to them as existing leaseholders, before the main text of the model lease begins. See Lucy Jessop’s transcription for Michael Walton.)
The old lord’s demesne of Randleholme does not appear in the list of leases, nor do Clargill, Newshield, Coatleyhill or Spenceycroft, which could well have been included in the demesne with Randleholme. Near Garrigill, Redwing and Skydes are not listed; perhaps they formed parts of Turnings and Dryburn in those days. Priorsdale at the head of the South Tyne was not included in the lease, it was a separate manor comprising about a third of the area of present-day Alston Moor. The names of the tenements are all places that still exist today and the names of twenty-eight of the lessees are also known that are well-known local surnames, even though some are by now extinct; Archer, Dickinson, Hutchinson, Lee, Nixon, Renwick, Richardson, Simmons, Stephenson, Teasdale, Vazey, Vipond, Wallas, Walton and Whitfield.
The lessees continued to sub-divide and sub-lease their tenements, eventually into very small parts, so that now almost every house on Alston Moor has a deed that refers to the 1,000 year lease. Outside the town of Alston farmhouses sometimes have earlier date stones than the time of the 1,000-year lease, while in the town of Alston itself dates such as 1687 and later are probably authentic as the date of construction, because that was the time when the ‘Great Rebuilding in Stone’, as it is called, reached the north of England. Datestones such as 1611 on a building refer to the date on the deeds of the 1,000 year lease of the whole tenement, for example ‘The Raise’ or ‘Jollybeard’ in Alston, of which the site of the house was a very small part, with the buildings themselves constructed at a much later date. Houses built in the 19th century still refer to the old tenement and lease of 1611, although the tenements had long since ceased to exist.
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