One of the most historically important documents for North Craven, which improves our understanding of how both the landscapes and social fabric of society evolved over the centuries, is a survey of George Clifford’s holdings, carried out when he became the Third Earl of Cumberland in 1579.

The survey, which is owned by Skipton Castle, but on long-term loan to the Yorkshire Archaeological Society in Leeds, includes holdings in Settle, Giggleswick, Long Preston and Rathmell in the Ribble Valley, together with Langstrothdale and Littondale.

The estate had been in the hands of the Percies, the Earls of Northumberland, as far back as the 13th century and had come into the hands of the Cliffords in the 16th century through marriage to a Percy heiress.

George Clifford was one of the most colourful owners of Skipton Castle, but was also perhaps the most disastrous from the point of view of the custody of the family estates. He was Queen Elizabeth’s champion on the Whitehall tiltyard, was licensed by her to be a privateer (pirate) against the Spanish in the West Indies, but never captured the hoped-for rich galleon which would have made him a wealthy man.

His income as a minor northern lord did not match a lavish lifestyle at court, which brought him close to bankruptcy. His final undoing was lavish expenditure at the coronation of James I in 1603, which forced him to turn to his tenants for substantial loans in return for long-term leases on their properties.

Elsewhere in England, many tenants who survived the black death of 1349 had been able to acquire more land and improve their economic circumstances, but this was not the case in North Craven.

Most North Craven tenants still held an oxgang of land in 1579, as had their forebears in the late medieval period – an amount of land which enabled a farmer to provide his family with a subsistence living, based on the growing oats and barley.

It was the near bankruptcy of George Clifford in 1603 that brought this feudal way of life to an abrupt end, enabling his tenants, for the first time, to buy and sell their properties.

The fire screen in Settle’s Victoria Hall is a reproduction of a picture of Settle market place in 1822, showing a Toll Booth and adjacent shops which were demolished around 1830 to make way for the present town hall.

The Toll Booth (otherwise Toolebowthe), which controlled the activities of the market, is mentioned in the survey of 1579, as are the two adjoining shops which were described as recently erected.

The picture on the Victoria Hall fire screen is therefore much more important than a mere depiction of life in Settle in the 19th century – it provides our only glimpse of a 16th century North Craven townscape.

One insight from the Clifford survey which might surprise modern-day residents of Langstroth-dale, is that their 16th century predecessors were much more wealthy than residents in the north Ribble Valley, paying substantially higher rents for their holdings.

Unlike Ribble Valley residents who were subsistence arable farmers, Langstrothdale residents were cattle farmers with a surprisingly large number of animals – an estimated 2,500 in the valley above Buckden in 1579. There does not appear to have been sufficient meadow to overwinter all the animals that were pastured on the Langstrothdale hilltops in summer, and it is likely that they will have been taken out of the valley in autumn. Two of those involved in the annual movement of cattle are likely to have been Henry and Jeffray Slinger, of Beckermonds, who are described in deeds of 1584 and 1588 as cattle drovers.

Although sheep folds show that sheep have been farmed in Langstrothdale in other centuries, there appear to have been none in the valley in 1579.

A substantial number of the Clifford tenants in North Craven in 1579 held land which had been in the hands of the monasteries until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when all the former monastic tenants appear to have been confirmed in their former tenancies, albeit with a new overlord. These include the Sawley Abbey holdings of Stockdale in Settle and Swainstead in Rathmell, the Bolton Priory holdings in Long Preston and the Fountains Abbey holdings in Littondale.

Descendants of the Bolton Priory monastic tenants held their land in Long Preston until the 18th century, later deeds enabling us to identify the priory land as a block of around 80 modern acres lying immediately to the west of the village.

One family which profited greatly from the Dissolution of the Monasteries was the Fawcett family of Over Hesleden, in Littondale, first recorded in 1457, when Richard Fawcy was paid 10s as custodian of the abbey’s cattle and sheep on Fountains Fell. A lease signed in the chapter house at Fountains in 1508 confirmed Alice Fawcett and her son Richard in their tenement, with a requirement that they keep the roof flags (tegule lapide) in repair, and an agreement which allowed them to put 100 ewes, two cattle and two horses on Fountains Fell “emonge the cattal of the said abbot”.

By 1579, Marmaduke Fawcett was paying £11 per annum to George Clifford for his tenancy, one of the largest rents recorded in the survey of that year, and Miles Fawcett was one of those who rescued George Clifford from bankruptcy in 1603, paying the Earl £1,500 for Over Hesleden and nearly 2000 acres of former Fountains land.

l What documentary sources enable us to say about the development of North Craven is discussed in a new book by Tony Stephens, Landscapes and Townscapes of North Craven; insights from the archives. Sponsored by Long Preston Heritage Group, the book will be on sale in Skipton Castle and on the Long Preston Heritage Group website.