The History of Beverley
What became the East Riding town of Beverley only began it seems during the 8th century, when a settlement arose in that part of the Kingdom of Northumbria around a monastery and church which had been constructed by the river Hull, though legend has it that a very early Christian church existed on the same spot in the 2nd century.
The settlement eventually took the name Beverley, derived from the stream or river running by it being populated with numerous beavers; but the original name of the place was Inderawuda, meaning ‘in the wood of Deira,’ Deira being the district.
The monastery that formed the nucleus of the future Beverley was founded in about 705. Archbishop John of York retired there in 718, dying three years later. His saintly reputation, and supposed miracles there during and after his time, led in 1037 to John of Beverley as he became known being canonised. But more importantly for the town its holy status drew pilgrims, boosting the local economy. Sadly its wealth probably also drew the Vikings during their Great Raid in the mid-9th century, when the monastery and town were sacked it is believed.
A further source of wealth from Beverley’s early days was the cloth trade: it was in a wool producing region; had it appears expertise in dyeing as well as weaving; and had traditional rights to trade in textiles.. Athelstan in about 938 prayed to John of Beverley for aid in his martial projects, and enjoying victory Athelstan in return granted Beverley exemption from certain tolls and dues, doubtless again to the advantage of its cloth industry. Athelstan also made the church there collegiate, a further enhancement in its status.
Beverley benefited from being a holy place when the Normans spared it during the devastating Harrying of the North. A century later, however, disaster did strike the Minster when a fire destroyed it in 1188. The current building to replace it was only begun in 1220, but Beverley’s aura of saintliness it appears didn’t need the Minster to draw pilgrims, the Knights Hospitaller setting up there in 1201 to assist such travellers.
Economically Beverley had its heyday in the medieval period. A short canal dug in the 12th century to ease navigation to the river Hull improved the infrastructure; in the same period weavers and cloth merchants from Flanders settled there, bringing technology and trade contacts (there is still a Flemingate in the town). By 1377 Beverley was estimated to be the 10th largest town in England. In that period control was wrested from its Lord of the Manor – the Archbishop of York – and put in the hands of a council selected by its merchants. Various structures still standing in Beverley bear witness to its prosperity then: St Mary’s Church and the North Bar among them; and the common pastures on three sides of the town that were of value agriculturally to the medieval population today provide a green lung to the town – and have hosted horse racing since the 16th century.
Brick and tile making were added to the town’s sources of wealth in the 15th century, but by then it was losing economic ground. In 1299 nearby Hull had gained its great charter that secured for that town, not Beverley, a future as a great port, perhaps the point at which the decline began. When Henry VIII began to dissolve the great religious houses in England Beverley suffered further: in 1540 the Knights Hospitaller operation in Beverley was closed; in 1544 the collegiate church met the same fate; and between those two events, in 1542, the town itself passed from its nominal Lord, the Archbishop of York, to the crown. Pilgrimages were frowned on so numbers reduced hugely.
After Henry VIII the town remained a very small weaving centre, but was more a market town for its district, though eventually shipbuilding and rope-making provided some new work. During the Civil War it provided Charles I with his HQ during the siege of Hull at the beginning of hostilities, somehow symbolising its existence in the shadow of its larger neighbour: communications likewise depended on Hull – in 1744 the road there was turnpiked; and in 1846 the railways arrived in Beverley, the line of course running from Hull. Today Beverley has perhaps got the last laugh in that relationship: with many structures unchanged by economic development Beverley is a great tourist draw as it once was for pilgrims; and as a rather elegant dormitory town for many professionals working in Hull it perhaps has the better part of the bargain.