This section deals with the Croft Family in East Witton, from the earliest records of the 16th century to the family existing today.
The following maps show the location of East Witton in North Yorkshire, and it's relation to surrounding villages, all of which became inhabited by the Croft family during the 16th -19th centuries. The second map is a more detailed map of East Witton itself, dated 1856.
Documentary evidence of the Croft family in East Witton is rather fragmented at first. Parish records of baptisms, marriages and burials have only survived going back to 1664, but evidence of Crofts in and around East Witton exists via several other sources.
In the publication A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 1, ed. William Page (London, 1914), pp. 214-225 the following references to Crofts in the Cotescue/Coverham area are made: (Cotescue is about 3 miles west of East Witton)
COTESCUE PARK seems to have been formed in the middle of the 15th century. In 1465–7 payments were made for 72 roods of hedge to be newly made between Coverham Close and Cotescue, from the plantation ('spring') to the fish-pond, repair of the hedge between Cotescue and the moor, making of a ditch and hedge from 'le Halhede,' and repair of the wall. The king's tenants of Middleham granted the vaccary at Slape Gill 'called Coverhead,' within boundaries stated, to Coverham Abbey in 1484 in exchange for 63 acres of arable land and about 8 acres of waste land which the king had inclosed in his park of Cotescue. The office of keeper was committed to Henry Pudsey in 1486 and to Ambrose his son with the forestership of half Coverdale Forest in 1520. Ambrose Pudsey was succeeded in 1522 by Sir John Nevill, whose offices were granted in 1526 to George Lawson for the maintenance of the garrison at Berwick, and assigned in 1536-7 to Ralph Croft.
COVERHAM ABBEY received in 1271 a grant of free warren in its demesne lands of Coverham, Caldbergh and (West) Scrafton. The abbey held 1½ carucates of land in Coverham of Stephen de Coverham in 1286–7, and at the close of the 15th century held the same of the Earl of Westmorland, lord of Middleham. In 1557 the reversion, on the expiration of a lease (see the excerpt from Bulmers, below) of the site and precincts including the mill, was granted in fee to Humphrey Orme and Cecily his wife, who in 1563 granted tenements and the mill to Ralph Croft and Anne his wife. Ralph Croft, Francis Bainbridge and 'others' were said in 1575 to be the 'owners of Coverham.' Ralph Croft was succeeded by a son Christopher, who had a son Thomas, owner of the mill in 1610. Another Christopher died seised of the 'site, precincts and mill' in January 1630–1, leaving a son and heir Thomas, but Thomas had livery of only one-third of the site.
In the publication Bulmer's History and Directory of North Yorkshire (1890), is the following, regarding Coverham Abbey:
When the fiat of dissolution went forth, the lands, tenements, tithes, &c., belonging to the abbey were valued by the Commissioners at £207 14s. 8d. per annum, but after deducting pensions and other expenses, the net income was reduced to £160 18s. 3d.; Coverham was consequently included among the lesser monasteries, and surrendered into the king's hands in 1536. In 1547, the demesne lands, amounting to 1901 acres, were leased to Ralph Croft, at a yearly rental of £13 19s. 10d., and ten years later they were sold by the Royal Commissioners to Humphrey Orme for £419 15s.
A further reference to Ralph Croft is found, again in A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 1, this time with regard to land in the West Witton area:
On higher ground lie Witton Moor and Penhill Park, both enclosed in 1779, when the former contained 1,300, the latter 300 acres. Penhill Park is first mentioned in 1465. A moiety of this park was leased by the Crown to Ralph Croft in 1539.
So here we have quite a few references to the same Ralph Croft, firstly being granted the office of "Keeper of Cotescue Park" in 1536, and subsequently acquiring land and property in the Coverham area the 1540's to 1570's. He was evidently a man some importance and wealth to be doing this, but perhaps is not that surprising if he was a relative of the Crofts over in Lancashire who were huge landowners at this time. (see Claughton) and of course it was Ralph's grandson, Christopher, who went on to become Lord Mayor of York in 1629, and was knighted by Charles I in 1641. This line subsequently went on to build the mansion near York, Stillington Hall and, among other achievements, began the Croft Port company in Portugal! Further information on this interesting branch of the family can be found on the Croft Port website and also the Stillington Community website.
In her PhD thesis "The History of Carlton in Coverdale" 2006, N.E.Joynes says of the Crofts of Cotescue:
The Coverdale gentry families were committed Royalists, and provided officers in the King's army. Christopher Croft of Cotescue was a captain in Lord
Darcy's regiment of foot, a regiment which was based on the Hang West militia. Trainband soldiers were notoriously reluctant to serve outside their own county, but
Lord Darcy's regiment was an exception. The militiamen fought at Wakefield in May 1643, formed part of the Queen's escort to Oxford, and later fought at Newbury
By the early seventeenth century the Croft family at Cotescue had risen to become small gentry, and like the Bainbriggs, who lived for a time at Coverham,
and the Tophams of Agglethorpe, they had Catholic leanings. It was often the case in North Riding gentry families that the head of the family and the heir
would practise occasional conformity (which Aveling calls 'Church-papistry'), in order to preserve the family estates from heavy financial penalties, while the women
kept firmly to their Catholic faith even if it meant being labelled as 'obstinate recusants'. In 1624 Mistress Croft and Mistress Bainbrigg were presented by the
churchwardens of Coverham as non-communicants.
Ralph died in 1579, and although he left a will, (where he is described as "Ralph Croft - Gentleman"), unfortunately only the administration bond survives. I have tried to decipher this with little success! I can make out the name "Radulphi Crofte" and very little else - my Tudor handwriting skills are not up to it! Perhaps I will find someone else who can make more sense of it...
From the evidence of the various references to Ralph Croft, (above), the earliest being his appointment as Keeper of Cotescue Park in 1536, and his acquisitions during the following decades, we can surmise that he was probably born sometime during the first two decades of the 16th century. I have seen his birth quoted as 1518, but I can find no document which supports this accuracy, and this birth year would make him only 18 years old, and therefore still a minor, when becoming Keeper of Cotescue Park. I think this is unlikely, and I would place his birth nearer 1510 (making him 26 at his appointment). This would make him about 69/70 years old when he died.
There are no records that I can find which mention Crofts in this area earlier than this Ralph, but there are other Crofts in and around East (and West) Witton at the same time, presumably all related as the distances between East Witton, Cotescue and West Witton are only a few miles (easy walking distance).
While the parish registers of East Witton have only survived from 1664 onward, the registers of West Witton survive back to 1572. Many of the very early entries are illegible, but Crofts are evident in the register from at least 1576. The following entries are present:
Issabel Croft marrying Charles Morland 1576
John Croft buried 1578
Baptisms and burials of children of John Croft 1582 - 1609 (John's burial in 1639)
Baptisms of children of Leonard Croft 1605 - 1608
Baptisms of children of George Croft 1637 - 1646 (plus George's burial in 1652)
Baptisms of children of Francis Croft 1639 - 1641
Baptisms of children of Thomas Croft 1674 - 1680
There are no more baptisms of Crofts after 1680, but some burials up to 1706. The name Croft then disappears from the West Witton registers. From the numbers of entries and the names, it looks very much like this is one single family in West Witton. From the list of register entries above, Thomas (having children 1674 -1680) was the son of George (above), Francis (having children 1639 - 1641) was the son of John (above), George (having children 1637 - 1646) was the son of Leonard (above). As John and Leonard were both having children baptised during the same period, it is likely that these two were brothers, perhaps sons of the earlier John who died in 1578. They would have been born around 1550 -1570, but as the records don't extend back this far, it is impossible to prove. Likewise the origin of the elder John (died 1578) cannot be proven, but as there are no other baptisms or burials apart from those which can be attributed to the individuals discussed, we can be fairly certain that this West Witton family started with him. It is my feeling that he was born around 1500, probably in East Witton.
There is also a will which has survived of Edmund Croft of West Witton, 1575. He asks for his body to be buried in the Church Yard of Trinity Church at Wensley (not in West Witton, which is odd). This does not appear to have happened, however, as the burial records for Wensley are intact and quite clear, and there is no burial record for Thomas. He was most probably buried at West Witton, but I can't verify this as most of the page covering the burials in 1575 is illegible!
In his will, Edmund goes on to name his sister Isabell his executor, and leaves her "all my farmeholde that is in my tenorre & occupation at the houre and day of my death and all my goods moveable & unmoveable". He also names sisters Anne and Gennet to whom he leaves the sums of £10 and £8 respectively. (this would be an approximate equivalent of leaving £3000 and £2400. So by no means a fortune!
The inventory of Edmunds goods shows he was a typical smallholder - 2 oxen, 2 horses, 8 sheep, and farming 5 acres of land. The total value of his goods was £17, 17 shillings and 4 pence. (around £5300 in today's terms).
It's notable that Edmund makes no mention of either a wife or children, which would imply he was unmarried. His death in 1575 is only three years before the death of the John Croft previously mentioned. I initially thought that perhaps Edmund and John were brothers, but due to Edmund's lack of wife and children, and also the fact that he makes no mention of a brother in the will, I think it more likely that he was the son of John, and died young. Also, there is a marriage of an Isabell Croft in West Witton the following year, and I think this is Edmund's sister.
As none of the children mentioned in the baptism records above appear later in the records having children of their own baptised, it would appear that the Croft family did not stay in West Witton, but dispersed to the surrounding area.
As previously mentioned, the parish registers of East Witton have only survived back as far as 1664, so it is extremely difficult to draw clear family lines before this time. We know for certain that the Crofts were present in East Witton at least 100 years earlier, as there are wills of several individuals dating from the 1560's and 1570's.
The earliest will which has survived is of William Crofte, 1563. The will is quite damaged, but is still legible, and in it he refers to his son, also named William. He refers to his wife in the will, but no other sons or daughters. The total value of his goods in the inventory is around £13, which would be the equivalent of around £4000 in today's terms, so he was by no means a wealthy man. In the list of debts owed by William, there are several other Crofts mentioned, including another William Croft, Thomas Croft, and two others whose names cannot be made out clearly.
The next will is of Thomas Croft, 1579. (this is possibly the Thomas mentioned in the previous will, and may be William's brother). He asks that his body "be buried within my parish church yard of East Witton as near unto my father my mother & my children as might". This is important, as this clearly indicates that he is not the first generation of Crofts to be buried there.
He goes on to divide all his property between his wife Elizabeth, 2 sons Ralph (eldest) and Henry (youngest), his daughter Elizabeth and his sister Agnes.
From the inventory of his goods, we can see that while is not of the same order of wealth as Ralph Croft of Cotescue, he is comfortably off. He has 8 oxen (for ploughing), 4 cows, 8 bullocks/heifers, 3 mares and 2 foals, 70 sheep, 6 pigs, as well as all the usual farming gear. The sum total of his goods is £133 7 shillings and 4 pence (today's equivalent £40,000). He also leaves 12 pence to each of his two servants (about £25).
In the list of debts owed to Thomas there is a mention of "James Croft of the vicarage". I have no idea of this individuals identity, but again, obviously a cousin of some sort.
The will of William Croft, 1590, is most likely that of William, son of William, mentioned in the above will of 1563.
He refers to his wife, Elizabeth, his 2 sons Ralph (eldest) and Henry (youngest) and his 2 daughters Ellen and Elizabeth, to whom he leaves all his property (but mainly to his wife and eldest son Ralph.
His inventory shows William to be considerably less well off than Thomas, mentioned previously. He has only 1 oxen, 3 cows, 3 bullocks/heifers, and 2 horses, along with household goods, work tools and ploughing gear. The sum total of his wealth is £24 (equivalent to £7000 in today's terms).
The next will I have is of Henry Croft, 1613. (described as "Yeoman" - yeomen were farmers who owned land (either freehold or leasehold). Their wealth and the size of their landholding varied, and in social status were one step down from the landed gentry, but above a husbandman).
As both Thomas (d.1579) and William (d.1590) mentioned above had sons named Henry, this Henry could the son of either. However, since Henry has become a Yeoman farmer, and therefore quite wealthy (relatively speaking) it seems much more likely that he is the eldest son of Thomas Croft, who was himself reasonably well off. Also, in Henry's will he requests that his body "be buryed in the church yard of East Witton aforesaid as neare the place of myne ancestors their buryall as convenientlie maie be". This is extremely similar to the wording on Thomas's will.
He refers to his 5 sons, Thomas, Ralph, Christopher, Marmaduke and Henry, and also 2 daughters Frances and Ann. While leaving his eldest son Thomas his farm, land and animals, he bequeaths sums of money to all his children amounting to a total of £113 (equivalent to £22000 in today's terms). His Inventory is the typical mixture of animals and farming equipment, but the list of household items is substantial, drawing a picture of a person who lived comfortably. The total worth of his goods was put at £84, which would be around £17000.
From these wills we can begin to get a picture of the Crofts of East Witton during the late 16th and early 17th century. It is a picture of farmers of varying wealth, but all what we would now think of as Smallholders. A far cry from the obvious wealth of Ralph Croft and his family, a few miles away in Cotescue, but perhaps not surprising, since if Ralph was the first son of a first son etc., then of course the lions share of any wealth would end up with him, while second and third sons got very little...
Still writing the rest of this section..............