Historical Background

The first documentary evidence for Malham or Malgun/Malgon  is contained in Domesday, when the land was shared between William Percy and the King.[i] During the twelfth century major landholdings were given to the two monastic houses of Fountains Abbey and Bolton Priory in Malhamdale.  The landscape was ideally suited to the grazing of stock, especially sheep, which generated huge wealth for these monasteries during the medieval period. Fountains controlled the manor of Malham and had at least two granges within the township devoted to sheep farming.  Both these monasteries, and the Abbey of West Dereham, Norfolk, which held the advowson of the parish church in Kirkby Malham, possessed land within the medieval township of Malham.

Much of the land was marginal, for the northern climate and high altitude were not conducive to arable farming. During the medieval and early modern period occupations were primarily related to sheep and cattle rearing, and  textile  production. Documentary sources and place name evidence indicate that staple crops of barley, corn, oats, wheat, and legumes were grown, as well as flax and hemp. In the middle of the sixteenth century the population in the parish was estimated at over a thousand.  Customary intercommoning rights existed between  townships, many tenants and freeholders owning land in more than one township, thus cementing community bonds of kinship and neighbourhood dependency. Surname evidence based on the 1379 Poll Tax, manor court rolls, rentals, wills and Tudor subsidy rolls suggests a well-established community.  The majority of surnames occurring in the sixteenth century  are ones that already appear in the fourteenth century, some even before surnames became stabilised.

A short video by Stuart Gledhill showing the Lynchets in the Malham Cove area.

[i] Domesday Book, Yorkshire, ed. by M.L Faull and M. Stinson (Chichester, 1986).