John Handsome Snr
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John Handsome Snr (abt. 1636 - abt. 1713)

John Handsome Snr
Born about in Durham, Englandmap [uncertain]
Son of [father unknown] and [mother unknown]
[sibling(s) unknown]
[spouse(s) unknown]
Descendants descendants
Died about in Evenwood, Durham, Englandmap [uncertain]
Profile last modified | Created 19 Mar 2020 | Last significant change: 18 Feb 2021
07:10: M Wright edited the Biography and Birth Date for John Handsome Snr (abt.1636-abt.1713). [Thank M for this]
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The Setting In the late 17th century John Hansom, his wife Jane, and their family lived at Evenwood in the parish of Auckland St Helen, County Durham in north-east England. The following notes provide some backdrop for their story.

At the time the parish was roughly an oval 6 by 4 miles, with its long axis running NW to SE. (It is smaller nowadays). A stream bisects the rather flat countryside. Although it creates beautiful valleys and countryside, it rises in Cockfield Fell as a mean trickle and doesn't wax to a massive flow. On its gradual journey it meanders widely - east then north to join the River Wear below Bishop Auckland. The 9th century Vikings found it inadequate for supporting fish, powering mills, and lacking much in the way of floodplains which would double as rich fertile meadows. Hence, they gave it the unflattering name 'gaghenles', meaning 'useless'. It became anglicised as the River Gaunless.

Writing in 1610 William Camden describes Co. Durham as a triangle with the point to the north (unflatteringly sketched), and the base at the River Tees. But on the last part or Base of the Triangle, as also on both sides, the ground, being well manured, is very fruitfull, and the increase yeeldeth good recompense for the husbandmans toile; it is also well garnished with meddowes, pastures, and corn-fields, beset every where with townes and yeelding plenty of Sea coale, which in many places we use for fewell. Some will have this coale to be an earthy blacke Bitumen... or a clammy kind of cley hardned with heat under the earth, and so throughly concocted. For it yeeldeth the smell of Bitumen, and if water be sprinkled upon it, it burneth more vehemently and the cleerer...[1]

Settlements in the original parish included West Auckland, Evenwood, Morely, Toft Hill and Bildershaw. West Auckland became the largest, separated from the church of St Helen by the Gaunless. The township, 3 & 1/2 miles (5km) to the south-west of Bishop Auckland was second only to the latter in population.

The creation of a church dedicated to St. Helen in the 12th century 3/4 mile east of West Auckland may have been the incorporation of a place sacred to pagans. Early St. Helen dedications are thought by some to be connected with the Celtic water-goddess Elin - witness to many springs and wells at St. Helen's. Joan Blaeu's 1646 map of Co. Durham names the village as St. Ellins. The most notorious of the curates was John Vaux. In the 1630s he was deprived of his living for selling horoscopes at the altar, and allegedly using astrological means to recover stolen property. Hence if John Handsom was born in Auckland St Helen parish it was during this period of Vaux's curacy. Records for the period are incomplete as proclaimed by Vaux on resumption of his duties. Years later when the next generation worshipped there John Vaux had passed away. The church was already 500 years old. It was a prime meeting place for local people, and Sunday offered a welcome pause from hard toil. Some 800 people were taking communion at that time. People relied mainly on agriculture. Crops included corne (oats, wheat and barley), hay, hemp, and flax.

Bishop Auckland The Handsoms probably joined countless others for the Thursday market in Bishop Auckland, less than an hour distant. It was also a social occasion, meeting friends and for catching up on news and gossip. The town crier would announce market day, and the arrival of bullocks, fat swine, and sheep; oats and barley, both rye and wheat; pigs, goats, and fat capons; butter, cheese, nuts, crabapples, and eggs; green leeks and cherries; farming tools—all for sale at the ringing of the corn-bell. From Silver Street, colliers shout “Buy coals, buy!”, anticipating the great mining industry of the North East. Scavage, or scavell, was a very ancient toll taken from merchants and others for wares exposed for sale within the liberty. The local custom was to exact it in the name of the bailiff or other officer at the ringing of what was called the corn-bell. The seller of corn or other grain, of oatmeal, and of salt, had to pay a measure from every bushel of twelve gallons. The measure was a reputed pint but in practice was frequently heaped up by the officer. After a dispute over this unfairness in the 17th century the measure became a uniform pint and the corn-bell was henceforth to be rung at noon. If it was not rung, the sellers were at liberty to begin the sale.

Around 1020 AD King Canute gave the borough to the Bishop of Durham following his pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Cuthbert. William Camden wrote, The Were after a few miles taketh into him from the South Gaunlesse a riveret, where, at the very meeting of them both together, there standeth upon a high hill Aukland... which sheweth an house of the Bishops stately built with turrets by Anthonie Bec, and withall a beautifull bridge…’'

Much of the town's early history surrounds the establishment of a hunting lodge. This later became the main residence of the bishops of Durham, as reflected in the first part of the name. Modern interpretation indicates the second part derives from the Old Norse word aukland, meaning 'augmented land'.

Few Handsoms are recorded in the Durham Protestations of 1641. However, twenty years later they are found at Evenwood.

Evenwood (often spelt Eavenwood in old records) is a small village six miles south-west of Bishop Auckland. Located at 250 metres altitude in the Pennine Spurs or Foothills it has a cool, wet climate. Summer highs average 18 degrees centigrade while winter lows hover around zero, regularly bringing snow. It is cloudy half of the time, and has high humidity. Rain falls around 15 days each month throughout the year. In short, the inhabitants of Evenwood have to be hardy. The village stands on an eminence, or steep bank, on the south side of the river Gaunless. Flint tools and arrowheads from the Mezolithic and Bronze ages have been found there. There was certainly a village by the end of the Anglo-Saxon period when it was Efenwuda, an Anglo-Saxon name meaning “the wood on flat ground”. There are historic records of the village being given by King Cnut/Canute to the church of Durham whilst on his pilgrimage in 1020 to the shrine of St Cuthbert at Durham. Some time afterwards it became the estate of the Hansard family. Clustered around a green the buildings of the medieval village were in the eastern part of the modern village. (At the grassy traffic island on Newholme Crescent, 200m north-west of Stones End). It had no parish church, however a chapel dedicated to St Hugh once stood 1/4 mile to the south-west of the site of the manor. (Along with its quarter acre garden the chapel was ruined and derelict by 1600).

By 1195 out of the vast forests in the area the Prince Bishops of Durham had developed ten parks including one at Evenwood. The area was known as the Barony of Evenwood, situated about a quarter of a mile west of the road from Durham to Barnard Castle. This was one of the early baronies of the Bishopric, held by the family of Hansard. Evenwood was bought from John Hansard by Bishop Anthony Bek (1245-1311) in 1294. Bek came from a family of knights and had close ties to the crown. He was such a powerful man that in 1302 William de St Botolph said, “There are two kings in England, namely, the lord king of England wearing a crown and the lord bishop of Durham wearing a mitre in place of a crown.” As a symbol of his status he built himself a private chapel at Auckland Castle. It had an internal length of 130 feet (40m) and walls five feet (1.5m) thick. The chapel remained in use for the next 300 years. Bek and his successors maintained a manor-house at Evenwood along with the park.[2]

The manor or castle, with a tower and moat stood to the west of the medieval village on the other side of the village green. It had crenellated walls. The moat was 450 ft long, 35 ft wide, and 3 ft deep on the north-east side. Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England, and only a few of these lie in County Durham. They consist of wide ditches, often or seasonally water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was between about 1250 and 1350.

There was a bitter dispute between the Bishop of Durham, Anthony Bek, and the Prior of Durham, Richard Hoton, over who had the greatest power. King Edward I, on his way to attack the Scots, stopped in Durham on June 18 (1300) and made a speech outside the cathedral demanding peace, and summoning the two men to attend him the next day when he was staying in Evenwood. Edward told them how torn he was: the bishop was a long-standing friend and advisor; the prior represented St Cuthbert, who had helped the king in battle on many occasions. This caused the two to reach an agreement – the Evenwood Agreement – and everyone left the village happily. It may even be that this historic conciliation took place in a large stone tower surrounded by a moat that was in Edward I’s day the main building in Evenwood. A section of the moat still visibly remains – the road to Cockfield past St Paul’s Church goes over the top of it – but the tower itself is completely lost. [3]

Stone castles are well-known to be drafty and cold, and Evenwood's was likely small as well. Auckland Castle was larger as was the park. Hence Evenwood's appears not to have been favoured by the bishops. Bek is said to have given the manor to the convent and in 1331 Bishop Lewis de Beaumont (1270-1333) granted the manor to Ralph (Neville) de Neville (abt.1291-1367) for life.

The 300 acre deer-hunting park was about one mile long by half a mile wide. The River Gaunless ran through the middle, and the eastern end was close to the current bridge. It could be ridden through easily in less than an hour hence hunting expeditions would have roamed far beyond it. In short, the park was little more than a larder. The offices of parker and forester had little appeal to the Durham gentry. Appointed men had to perform the duties in person rather than by deputy, and later recognisances were used to ensure they served faithfully. In 1458 one hundred fallow deer were said to be held within its confines. The sport of hawking was carried out on the lands west of Evenwood.

The Bishop began allowing people to scrape and mine for coal and iron ore in the park. In 1368 Evenwood became identified with the iron trade when a bloomery (iron furnace) operated by John De Merley operated. He paid 16 shillings a week rent which included a supply of oak wood from Cragg Wood to keep the furnaces roaring. A forge was also at Evenwood during this period. Twenty years later De Merely was paying the Bishop £22 a year to mine coal there.

A geological accident, known as the Butterknowle Fault, throws several good seams of coal to the surface in the Gaunless valley, so it was easily mined. Generally two techniques were employed. Miners cut a trench sideways into the fell to form a drift mine and followed the seam with their spades. The second method involved digging a hole downwards until they found the seam about 30ft or 40ft underground. As they scrabbled around collecting the coal, the hole widened out into the shape of a bell. These bell pits were usually worked by a single man who lowered himself down on a rope. Once he had burrowed outwards as far as he dared before the roof fell in, he hauled himself out and began again, tossing the soil from his new pit down the neck of the old one.

By the late 14th century a fulling mill was established at Evenwood, probably located near the water corn mill, a quarter mile below the bridge. The corn mill operated for more than 500 years and would have been very important for villagers such as the Handsoms. (See George Vicars).

By the 15th century the Bishop no longer maintained a residence at Evenwood. The village consisted of 30 separate homesteads with associated lands. In addition were numerous crofts, tofts and cottages, the two mills, plus the Bishop's park. Although the Bishop did not use the term, Evenwood was called a barony. A Court Baron was regularly held by the Bishop's steward, and a reeve (bailiff) was in charge. There are detailed accounts from this period written in Latin and held at Durham University. The accounting year began and ended at Michelmas (September 29), with years counted according to the pontificate of the bishop at the time. Herbage in the park was used by the Bishop or let out. A grindstone quarry, dye house, a moor pit for coal, and rented moorland were also mentioned. Timber was sold, hay brought in, and licence fees of three shillings paid for brewing ale. The bailiff paid for labour to make hay in the park as there were no labour services done there by that time.

From the mid 17th Century the Handsom family appear in Evenwood records. It was a time of turmoil in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland. Violence and warfare typified the period as Catholic and Protestant, Church of England and Presbyterian; King and Parliament all sought control over the institutions of the state.   Open warfare started with the attempt by Charles I to impose the structure and teachings of the Church of England on Scotland. The Scots created a ‘Covenant’ to fight this and a Covenanter Army confronted Charles I’s Army in 1639. Each part of the country, each village and each family contained different loyalties and the Tees Valley was no different. Each part of the country also saw various amounts of conflict and the North East was fortunate in not witnessing major battles, however it did provide large numbers of troops for the Royalist army. There were a number of skirmishes and the Scottish Army occupied the counties of Durham and Northumberland for a considerable amount of time bringing hardship to the area. The outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642 rocked the British Isles and led to the dethroning of the bishops. Bek’s chapel, in use for 300 years, was destroyed and lost. Only recently has it been unearthed.

During that war of 1642-51 Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads are said to have built a hill near Evenwood and placed a cannon on top of it so that they could pour cannonballs down on the castle/manor, causing its destruction. Buck Head Farm lies on a hill less than a mile south-west of the manor site. Cannon balls have been found suggesting that may the site of the bombardment.

Villagers suffered depredation from parliamentary troops marching northwards to Scotland. By 1646 Evenwood manor was in a bad state. Following the confiscation of episcopal estates the Parliamentary survey that year reported There hath been a goodly house, called the Barony, but.. was then utterly decayed, and has so been for many years. A park, containing three hundred acres... That there is belonging to the aforesaid barony a great common or waste called Raley-fell, on which cattle are put without stint; but there is no wood on the same, nor any in the barony. There is a great colliery within the manor, called Thorne… [4] (Stinting was a flexible system of common pasturing of animals on fell land.)

Halmote Court records for the Barony of Evenwood survive from the 16th century (see Research notes). Three types are of interest: the actual court records; the Call books with references to transactions; and volumes showing rents paid. Not all are complete, not all references dated, and not all available are online, hence some deduction has been necessary for this story. 'Admittance' to a tenancy, which gave the right to hold a copyhold lease, appears only to have been granted to villagers or those marrying into a resident family. 'Surrender' was the transfer of a lease back to the Lord Bishop and generally straight to another person.

Land parcels were described in terms of owners or tenants, and physical locations including fields. Fields and woods between Ramshaw and Evenwood included Knight Field, Northwood, Lady Field, Parkmeadowes, the Cragghill, New Grounds, Gawncleze (Gaunless), and Old Walls (aka Eavenwood Walls) in Evenwood Park. Years were described in terms of the reign of the current monarch.

The 1659 baptism of John Snr’s eldest son at Auckland St Helen is the earliest reference found to the family. From Court rental returns in an undated record around 1665 at Evenwood two entries show - that of John Hansum and ‘Cho’ (Thomas) Hansum. The latter was probably John’s father or brother. No other information has been found about him. As did nine others they each paid one penny, the lowest rent possible. Total rental income collected by the reeve that year at Evenwood was £23 10s 11p. Hence it can be said that John Handsom rented land around and perhaps prior to 1665. He would have been in his late twenties at the time.

The family were probably agricultural workers, and as such, earned little. The value of the land they leased is confirmed in the Hearth tax records for Evenwood taken on Lady Day (25th March) 1666. [5] John was noted as having one fire hearth or stove, and being 'insolvent'. This meant he was excused from payment of the two shilling tax. Exemption in the hearth tax was not a straightforward poverty line. Certificates of exemption were issued by parish officials both on grounds of poverty as paupers in receipt of poor relief, and for those who were not ‘paupers’ but were not of sufficient means to pay the poor rate. These people were in relative poverty, able to fend for themselves without direct support from their parish and far from destitute, but not so prosperous as to qualify as local rate payers into the parish funds.

The 1666 Hearth Tax records 121 hearths in Evenwood and Barony, 25 of them being in 'Evenwood Towne' (probably the area immediately around the village green. Most of the 92 individuals named had one hearth, a few of them two, and John Stephenson in the town had three. Three in the rural area had between four and eight hearths, indicating a very large messuage, or perhaps a main house plus cottages on an estate. Notably, the list that year includes only one other person of similar name in Co. Durham - John Hanson of Haughton-le-Skerne - who doesn't appear to be a relative.

John Snr. then appears in April 1668 court records in a plea along with Richard Hird and an amount of two shillings and three pence (no details given). In late 1669 there is an addition to his lease for land.

Evenwood To this court came John Handson and Jane his wife, and here in the full court before Samuel Davison esquire, steward, and by special order of the Lord Bishop, they took from the waste of the lord one parcel of land containing by estimation eight virgates in length and four virgates in width, with a house recently built upon it, now in the possession of the aforesaid John Handson; to have for the same John Handson and Jane his wife and their descendants by right, according to the custom of the court, as a new accession, paying thenceforth to the Lord Bishop and his successors one penny of good and lawful money of England on the feasts of St Martin the Bishop in Hyeme [11 Nov] and of Pentecost in equal portions, as a new payment; and he made a pledge to the lord and the neighbours etc, and he gave to the lord as an entry fine 20 pence. [in the margin] Hand-over - 1 penny.

The length of a virgate was around 20 feet (see Research notes below), hence the parcel specially granted was approximately 0.2 to 0.3 acres. It was an unused part of the Bishop's land and had relatively new house upon it. From subsequent records it was at Stones End on the northern outskirts of Evenwood village.

In late 1675 John entered a plea possibly of trespass against local landholder John Hodshon with damages amounting to 39s. 11d. Hodshon failed to pay up. Costs of 8s. 10d were awarded to Handsom. Any plea for damages of 40 shillings or more would need to be heard in a higher court, hence the odd-looking amount. Six months later John was appointed constable for that Halmote Court Baron session. His lease payments show until 1679 when surviving records break until 1702.

His wife Jane was buried at Auckland St Helen on 21 December 1708.[6]

In the “11th Year of Queen Anne” (1712) John was a neighbour of the Taylor family. To this court came John Taylor, son and heir of Elizabeth Taylor, deceased, and took from the lord one house, with another small house adjoining the same house at the back, abutting onto the house lately of John Hodshon on the north side and onto the house lately of William Key on the south side, now in the occupation of John Hansom, which the aforesaid Elizabeth his late mother held by right whilst she lived; to have to the same John Taylor and his heirs by right, according to the custom of the court, paying thenceforth per year at the usual terms the previously accustomed rent; and he made a pledge to the lord and the neighbours etc., and thereupon he was thenceforth admitted tenant.

Sometime during the next six months he passed away. In the April 1713 Court Baron at Evenwood an announcement was made for his successors to claim their rights, to which his sons subsequently responded.

Descendants From Evenwood family spread nearby to Aycliffe, then northwards to Wolsingham, Witton-le-Wear, and Middridge. Thomas (Handsome) Hanson Snr (1719-1801) was a thatcher based in West Auckland in the 18th century. One branch settled in Carlisle. From Sunderland some descendants moved to Chatham in Kent, and others to Australia. In the mid 19th century the family of William Hanson (1825-1924) from Sunderland emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand. The European name links back to the Eden family from West Auckland and their principal seat until the 1830s. William Eden (1744 - 1814), British diplomat and politician, was born there. When raised to the peerage he became Baron Auckland, and later his son George, the Earl of Auckland. When Tamaki Makaurau was established by Governor Hobson as (briefly) the capital of New Zealand in 1840 he re-named it in gratitude for George having given him his first commission to sail to the East Indies.

Research Notes

1/ St Helen's parish records begin in 1593. No Handsome (or similar) records are found in them prior to 1659. The last entry at Auckland St Helen for a descendant bearing the family surname was the death of Thomas Handsome/Hanson in 1801. To avoid confusion successive Johns have been designated senior, junior, etc.

2/ The family surname has had many variants over time with Hansom and Handsom(e) being early ones. From the 18th century it became commonly spelt Hanson. The latter seems to have been readily confused with handsome in the following sense: it is a "nickname from Middle English hansom, originally 'tractable, clever, courteous, magnanimous'. The sense of 'good-looking' only in the late 16th century. (The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland edited by Patrick Hanks, Richard Coates, Peter McClure (2016))

The surname Handsome may be derived from the name of the first bearer's father or mother. As a patronymic, it derives from "Han(n)", a Flemish form of John. "Hann(e)" was a very popular christian name in 13th century Yorkshire, The surname is first recorded in Yorkshire in the early 14th century. As a metronymic, the surname derives from the medieval female given name "Hann", a short form of Hannah. ( In the earlier centuries spelling was not standardised. Generally this family's surname was spelt Handsom while they lived at Evenwood. Later it became 'Handsome' until the late 18th century when the spelling changed to 'Hanson'.

3/ A Hearth Tax was levied in England and Wales from 1662 to 1689. It was a tax of two shillings each year on each fireplace, hearth or stove. Some people, such as paupers, were exempt from paying the tax. The law also exempted householders for whom the local incumbent or parish officers provided a certificate that their houses were worth less than a rent of twenty shillings (one pound) per year, and who owned goods or chattels worth less than ten pounds. Most charitable institutions, such as hospitals and almshouses, were also exempt as were industrial hearths (except smiths’ forges and bakers’ ovens). Each year’s tax was payable in two equal instalments, on Lady Day (25 March) and Michaelmas (29 September). Tax was payable by the occupier of a property or, if a building was empty, by the owner. After May 1664 landlords had to pay the tax for tenanted property if the occupier was exempt. Furthermore, anyone with more than two hearths became liable to pay the tax even if they otherwise have been exempt. The tax was unpopular and widespread evasion resulted in many names being omitted from the records. Although paupers and some other people were not chargeable, the law required them to be listed from 1663. The hearth tax assessments are arranged by county, then by hundred, and (within each hundred) by parish. Monkwearmouth Hearth Tax Returns by Ken Coleman

4/ Durham Bishopric Halmote Court records [7] These are records of the manorial courts held by the Bishops of Durham, and specifically of property transactions managed by those courts. The bishop's manors were spread across County Durham and in Bedlingtonshire (Northumberland), but were administered centrally from the Halmote Court office in Durham city. Property that was managed by a manorial court was known as 'copyhold' (because the title deeds were a copy of the manorial court roll).

The bishop of Durham's Halmote Courts were manorial courts which dealt chiefly with the customary or copyhold land and tenants on his estates. By the 17th century their business was largely confined to dealing with the surrender and admission of manorial tenants, according to the custom of the manor. When a tenant died, or a holding was transferred for some other reason, the holding had to be surrendered to the manorial lord, the bishop, and the claimant had to prove his or her title. A copyholder's title to his holding was a copy of the court roll entry on which his or her admission to the holding was recorded. Also by the 17th century, courts were held twice a year, in May and October.

The court books include the full text of copyhold transactions within the manorial courts. For the period up to 1720, a separate series of Alphabet Books lists tenants of those being Admitted to properties (the equivalent of the buyer for a freehold), and those Surrendering a copyhold (equivalent to the seller of a freehold). From 1720, each court book includes indexes to Admissions and Surrenders within it. All the Court and Alphabet books have been microfilmed, and digital images derived from the microfilms are available online at [8]

5/ Durham Bishopric Estate Records [9] The bailiwicks were areas where the Bishop nearly always put a separate person in charge. There might be a residence or demesne land to be managed or some special asset. The Bishop's man in charge may be termed bailiff or reeve. A bailiff might administer escheated or sequestered land or a minor's estate if inappropriate for the escheator. In Evenwood barony there are accounts from more than one official. Here the Bishop had a reeve, a park, a baron court, and once had a residence.

Originally the Master Forester was responsible for the preservation of the vert and venison and the other assets in those parts of Durham Bishopric estates which were under Forest Law and where he held Forest Courts. These forests had been granted by Henry I to the Bishops of Durham in charters of 1107 and 1109. As hunting declined, the importance of the grazing, timber and minerals in the forest and park areas increased and their administration fell to other officials. The herbage of Evenwood park was sometimes let out for a year or more (£14p.a. in 1485), or kept in hand for the Bishop's own stock in the care of his Instaurer or stockman. The park contained the Bishop's fallow deer also. Those employed included a keeper of the park and a pallicer (paid 1d per day). The bailiff accounted for timber from the park and kept the walls in repair.

The Bishop had residences in different locations but not one at Evenwood during the 15th century when accounts survive. Evenwood was sometimes termed a barony, but the distinction from other bailiwicks shows up mainly in the form of the court rolls. The tenures, rents, etc, are much the same as in the other bailiwicks.

Among the free rents due in Evenwood were certain ones called "redd assis" which were paid four times per year. They were fixed and ancient and their origin is uncertain. One holder of premises with a free rent cited a charter. Four sheaves of arrows (or their value) were also due. All measurements of free land were given in acres. The husband-land which was the tenants' arable (non-demesne) was farmed out as one unit or several to the tenants. It was measured in bovates and several seemed always to be in decay. This may relate to fallowing. The cottages were let out singly or in groups. Some were derelict and let out just for the herbage round them.

Accounts mention the "morepitte" (moor pit) sometimes in the care of the Bishop's Clerk of Mines and sometimes let out to the Eure family among others. Other assets at Evenwood included a quarry for grindstones, a dye house, and a water mill, subject to lengthy repairs, when it was out of use.

There was some exchequer land on the north bank of the Gaunless river. The court baron was held about twice a year by the Bishop's Steward. Among the penalties and entry fines paid into the court was brasinage, payment for brewing for sale. The bailiff was allowed in his account for such things as paying for labour to make hay in the parks as there were no labour services done there by the fifteenth century. The bailiff also paid the keeper of Evenwood's pinfold or pound. Other records frequently mention brewfarms, ie where beer is made and sold from ingredients grown on the farm.

6/ Original surrenders and admittances These survive as loose sheets of paper containing the text of transactions (usually) enrolled in the Halmote Court Books. Surrender refers to the transaction whereby a copyhold tenant gave up his holding to the landlord, after which another tenant was admitted to it. These documents are to copyhold land what counterpart leases are to leasehold land - the landlord's evidence of the tenant's signed obligation.

In addition, they include the marks or signatures of the surrenderer of, or admittee to, the property in question or of both, plus the signature of the Steward of the Halmote Court or his deputy, with a note as to whether the business was enrolled, calculations as to the fees to be paid, whether the transaction is one of a group, or is for mortgage purposes and other details. These signed "surrenders" (misnamed, since most are actually admittances) establish dates before and after which copyholders were or were not responsible for rent. There are licences to demise, granted for a fee by the Steward to copyholders who wished, upon conditions, to sublet their copyholdings. There are also grants of the tuition and copyholdings of minor copyholders to guardians during minority and the odd bond to safeguard the arrangement.

7/ Virgate Is a rod's measurement (of land). Durham Bishopric records pre 18th century describe linear dimensions in terms of virgates, and area in terms of oxgangs. The value of these has not been definitively decided however there was probably no difference between urban and rural areas. By the 18th century, the virgate as a linear measurement was probably more settled at a pole/rod (16.5 feet). Note that 'virgate' was also used as an English unit of land (See image). From around 1733 records change from being written in Latin to English. ‘Yard’ is substituted on records where ‘virgate’ was previously used. This term is equally slippery, as it often can also mean a pole or 16.5 feet, as well as the more common three feet. Within a building it appears to mean the latter.

8/ Halmote Court lease records in Latin were obtained from Durham University Archives and from My heartfelt appreciation goes to 'Bookbox' and 'Horselydown' from Rootschat for their many excellent translations.

9/ Evenwood Manor The ruins of the manor were said to have been demolished in 1826, however, perhaps that just referred to the building itself. A local man reported the following in 2014: “I was born in Evenwood in 1931 and lived here all my life, and the castle was always where Church Farm is,” says Arnold Smith in 2014. “An old lady once told me that her mother said that they called it ‘fairy castle’ because it had a crenellated wall which overlooked the old school.” The National School (now the Randolph Centre) north-east of Church farm was built in 1865. If the old story is true it means in 1865 the NE manor wall still existed. Perhaps it the wall was incorporated into the early farm buildings. (See accompanying image of 1859 & 1888 OS maps which show a 125 foot outer wall facing north-east). The site of Church Farm, and hence the old manor, is west across the road from the current St Paul's church. There is no trace of the tower to be seen in the modern farm buildings. With respect to the moat, the whole of the northeast arm and small portions of the northwest and southeast arms remain. The northeast arm is 11.0m wide and from 1.0m to 1.3m deep and dry. The northwest arm has been filled in but part of the inner bank remains and the portion of the southeast arm is situated at the top of a natural slope. The rest of the moat is not traceable.

10/ The Yorkshireman who lived to be 169 years old. John Handsom was born during the final years of Henry Jenkins from North Yorkshire. Henry claimed to be born around 1501 at Ellerton-on-Swale near Richmond, about 30 km south of Evenwood. Although illiterate he had an excellent memory and was regularly summoned to court to help settle land ownership disputes. His longevity claims were investigated and found to be supported by evidence. Henry attibuted his long life to, among other things, a diet containing nettle soup and tar water. (

11/ The writer dedicates this research to the swift and complete end of the Covid-19 coronavirus currently plaguing the world, and for the wellbeing of all affected by it. Also to the wellbeing of his 96 year old mother (maiden name Hanson), a 9th generation descendant of John Handsom. MW (2020)


  1. William Camden - Britain, or a Chorographical Description of the most flourishing Kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland. (London: George Bishop and John Norton, 1610)
  3. Power play at Evenwood, by Chris Lloyd. The Northern Echo 29/4/2014
  4. History & Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham. Vol III (1823) by William Hutchinson
  6. "England Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991", database, FamilySearch ( : 15 March 2020), Jaen Handsome, 1708.

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