The History of Northallerton
Northallerton, the capital of the North riding of Yorkshire, has through its history suffered and profited from its position on the route north from York to Scotland.
The Romans seem to have had a signal station on Castle Hills in the town, and a path between Hadrian’s Wall and York ran through the place, making it likely they established a military encampment there, but the town itself developed during the Saxon era: we know for example that St Paulinus of York set up a church there in the 7th century; and the Allerton part of the town’s name is Saxon in origin, probably meaning ‘the farmstead of Aelfere’ though an alternative suggestion is that is means ‘the farm by the alder trees’.
In the 10th century the Vikings gained control of the area for a time: their presence recollected in hogback sculptures found locally, and in place-names like Romanby just to the south – meaning the town of Hromund. For the Vikings as for subsequent rulers it became an administrative and meeting centre.
William the Conqueror camped with his army at Northallerton (or more accurately Allerton – the north prefix was added in the 12th century) in 1068; the following year his forces devastated it during the Harrying of the North, and it remained a waste in 1086 when the Domesday Book was collated. The town fared better under the Conqueror’s son William Rufus , who granted it to the Bishopric of Durham, which in 1130 built a castle there. Expanded over the next three decades it was razed to the ground on the orders of Henry II in 1177, and replaced by a stronger structure that served too as a palace for the Bishop of Durham , by 1201 welcoming King John as a guest.
Relative proximity to Scotland meant Northallerton saw regular raids by the Scots. In 1138 the Battle of the Standard was fought a couple of miles away, King David of Scotland defeated by English archers and losing some 12000 of his army of 16000. In 1319 and 1322 further incursions brought ruin to the area.
Northallerton’s accessibility had its positive side: it became a centre for trade, recognized with a charter granted in 1200: that trade was local, at the markets, and from further afield at four fairs, such frequency a sign of the town’s significance. Some manufacture did grow up there, but was still linked to the town’s agricultural hinterland: in the 15th century wool weaving was noted; and leather working, particularly saddlery, provided employment.
As with King John in 1201, other monarchs often stopped there on the way north or south: Henry III at least twice; Edward I no fewer than eight times; Edward II and Edward III rather less often.
In the Tudor period Henry VIII ’s Dissolution meant the closure of the Carmelite Priory founded in 1354; and in Elizabeth I ’s reign Northallerton was chosen as one of the places where captured rebels who took part in the 1569 Rising of the Earls were executed, the site selected because of local involvement in the rebellion.
During the Civil War Northallerton as so often in its past welcomed the monarch, Charles I staying in 1642 and 1649. Later in the century the place as under Viking rule became a regional administrative centre; it remains the county town for North Yorkshire to this day.
In its later history the town remained a favoured stopping place for travellers: those in the coaches who brought business to its inns in the great days of the coaching trade rather more welcome than the Duke of Cumberland, perhaps, as he marched north to put down the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion with cruel force; Charles Dickens in the following century, who stayed at the Fleece Inn , someone the town is doubtless more proud of entertaining.
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