The Rectory of Arncliffe, Yorkshire


Arncliffe is a village in North Yorkshire, situated about fifteen miles north of Skipton, in the remote area of Littondale. The ecclesiastical parish of Arncliffe comprised several villages in Littondale in addition to Arncliffe itself, namely Halton Gill, Hawkswick, Litton as well as some others in neighbouring Wharfedale, namely Buckden, Hubberholme and Yockenthwaite. High hills separate the two dales, and access was not always easy in winter. In addition to the main church at Arncliffe, there were also chapels at Halton Gill and Hubberholme, although the former was of little consequence before a major rebuilding in 1848.

The advowson of Arncliffe was in the gift of the Percy family, the Earls of Northumberland, until Henry Percy, second Earl of Northumberland (1394–1455), gave it to University College in 1443. He also arranged for the appropriation of the rectory (and with it the right to collect the rector’s tithes) to pass to University College, in return for their appointing a vicar to the parish. The reason for Percy’s generosity is not known: Antony Wood suggested that the university had suggested he benefit a College which, as well as being the oldest in Oxford, also had strong north-eastern links (see Robin Darwall-Smith, A History of University College  (Oxford, 2008), pp. 60-2), but that may be mere guesswork. Percy certainly expected the north-east to benefit from his gift: as set out in UC:E4/2D/1 below, the money from the tithes was to finance three Bachelors or Masters planning to read theology from the dioceses of Durham, Carlisle or York, with special preference to be given to candidates from Northumberland.

Percy’s son, Henry the third Earl (1421–1461), left University College in enjoyment of its privilege, but his grandson, Henry the fourth earl (1446–1489), gave the College some trouble in the 1470s, forcing them to give an annuity to his chaplain Halton in return for his not imposing Halton as vicar of Arncliffe (see UC:E4/2L below). After this date, the College’s right to the advowson and the rectorial tithes was not disputed again.

Although the advowson and rectory of Arncliffe was given to the College in 1443, the College did not receive anything until the death of the existing Rector, Thomas Newton, in 1451, after which the College was able to appoint a vicar of its choice and start to collect the rectorial tithes. Rather than collect the tithes directly, the College chose to lease this right out to farmers, in return for a fixed annual rent. Usually in the fifteenth century at least, the College rented the tithes to syndicate of farmers, which usually included the vicar. In the following centuries, however, the farmer of the tithes was separate from the vicar, which sometimes led to difficulties. From 1766 until 1821 the right to collect tithes was again leased to the vicar of the parish; after the lease of 1821 fell in, the College employed a land agent to collect their tithes, and no further leases were issued.


A list, with brief biographies, of the vicars of Arncliffe from 1394 to 1893, is given here. It is striking that no Fellows of University College were appointed here until John Lethum in 1506. Even after that date, vicars were not always former Fellows—or indeed former students—of University College. It is possible that the remoteness of the parish did not make it so attractive a prospect; certainly several vicars were non-resident, leaving curates to administer the parish for them.

In 1888, University College sold the advowson rights of Arncliffe to the curate of Halton Gill, William Shuffrey, who duly succeeded to Arncliffe in 1893. The College, however, retained its rights as rector, and also ceased to top up the vicar’s stipend with money from its Linton-on-Ouse estate, as it been accustomed to do (College Register, meeting of 20 Mar 1888). This was unfortunate for Shuffrey: on the other hand the College could argue that it no longer owned the advowson, and in any case it was experiencing considerable financial difficulties in the 1880s because of the agricultural depression.

As stated above, the village of Hubberholme, in the neighbouring dale to Arncliffe, had a chapel of ease of its own. Sometimes this was administered by a separate curate; at other times (as, for example, the late 17th and early 18th centuries, under the tenure of Miles Tennant) the vicar attempted to perform services at both churches. In the later 19th century, Hubberholme increasingly became more independent from Arncliffe, and was turned, to all intents and purposes, into a separate parish. University College had fewer links with Hubberholme, but did sometimes give money from its tithes towards the support of a curate, and, in 1862, gave the church its old communion table, which is still in a side chapel there.

The papers relating to Arncliffe (and also to Hubberholme) include deeds relating to the gift of the property, leases, legal papers (mainly relating to disputes over tithes), and correspondence and accounts. They were all found in the archives during the stocktaking of July 1993.

All letters are written on one sheet of paper unless otherwise indicated.


W. Boyd and W.A. Shuffrey, Littondale: past and present (Leeds, 1893)
William Boyd Carpenter, Some Pages of my Life (London, 1911), pp.212ff on William Boyd, vicar 1835–1893.
Robin Darwall-Smith, ‘Henry Percy’s Gift: Univ. and the Parish of Arncliffe’, in University College Record, Vol. XIV No. 2, pp. 83–97.
W.A. Shuffrey, Some Craven Worthies (London, 1903). pp.154–179 are a portrait of George Croft (vicar 1779–1809), and pp.247–285 a portrait of William Boyd.
W.A. Shuffrey, (ed.) The registers of the ancient parish of Arncliffe, including those of Halton Gill and Hubbenholme, 1663-1812 (Bradford 1910)
W.A. Shuffrey, The Churches of the Deanery of North Craven (Leeds 1914)
Janet Taylor, Littondale Life 1870–1990 (Litton 1997)

The catalogue is divided into the following sections:

UC:E4/1D: Documents relating to the Rectory before 1443

UC:E4/2D: Documents relating to the grant of the Rectory, 1443–1453

UC:E4/3D: Leases of the Rectory, and related papers,1452–1895

UC:E4/1L: Papers relating to the Will of Thomas Newton, 1451–1455

UC:E4/2L: Papers relating to a dispute between University College and Henry Percy, Fourth Earl of Northumberland, 1473–1495

UC:E4/3L: Other legal documents, 16th century

UC:E4/4L: Papers relating to the Enclosure of parts of Arncliffe, 1766–1768

UC:E4/1C: 17th century correspondence relating to Arncliffe, 1613–1703/4

UC:E4/2C: The College’s correspondence with George Croft (Vicar 1779–1809), and related papers

UC:E4/3C: The College’s correspondence with Eardley Norton (Vicar 1809–1835), and related papers

UC:E4/4C: Eardley Norton’s correspondence with the College

UC:E4/5C: The College’s correspondence with William Boyd (Vicar 1835–1893)

UC:E4/6C: Miscellaneous 19th century correspondence, 1835–1882

UC:E4/7C: Correspondence on the sale of the advowson of Arncliffe, 1893–1895

UC:E4/8C: Later correspondence on Arncliffe and Hubberholme, 1891–1934

UC:E4/9C: 18th–century letter given by Rev. W. A. Shuffrey

UC:E4/1M: Map, c.1800

UC:E4/1F: Books of Tithe Accounts, 1832–1838

UC:E4/2F: 19th century accounts from Arncliffe, 1836–1891

In the early eighteenth century, William Smith, a Fellow of University College, transcribed and calendared all the documents then in the College’s archives into eleven manuscript volumes. As will be seen, they form an important supplement to the surviving papers. Smith begins his notes on the Arncliffe papers with extracts from other related documents in other repositories (UC:AR2/MS1/2 pp. 170–171). These comprise:

(1) An extract from the manuscript of Roger Dodesworth in the Bodleian Library called Monasticon Boreale (page no. not given), containing a declaration from Reyner of Knol, Kt., that  John, Prior of Boulton he has in his possession certain documents, by which he enfeoffed Henry de Percy of the Advowson of Arncliffe and of the lordship of the town in return for a payment of 40 marks. Percy has now paid that money, and Reyner now agrees that the prior can hand over the title deeds. Dated Wednesday after the Purification of the BVM 1 Edw II (7 Feb 1307/8).

(2) A note that two early rectors are named as William de Newport (fl. 1352) and John Newport (d. 1451).

(3) A note that under Edward I the church was assessed for taxation of 50 marks; under Edward II in1318, it was assessed for 40 marks.

(4) Smith notes presentations made to the living by members of the Percy family on 25 Mar 1345, 11 Jun 1349, 1353 and 16 Jan 1394.

Smith opens his list of the Arncliffe deeds with a note that his transcript was completed on 29 March 1705, although done in some haste. He also notes that some documents were transcribed by Hugh Todd, but not very well.


Because of the length of the complete catalogue, it has not been placed online. Instead, a pdf version of it may be consulted here.