Honour of Knaresborough

The totality of the Manor was known as the Honour of Knaresborough and comprised three parts – the Forest, the Borough or Town, and the Forest Liberty. In medieval times a Forest was not simply an extensive expanse of wooded area but included clearings and settlements and was associated with hunting. The Forest of Knaresborough was located west and south-west of the town and covered about 100,000 acres, stretching twenty miles from east to west. The inhabitants of its settlements were occupied in farming, fishing, charcoal burning, and iron smelting. The Forest Liberty was an area of farmland to the north of the town where its dozen villages occupied a fairly flat and easily cultivated landscape.

We now begin to see the town developing. The earliest recording for the parish church is in 1114 in the Coucher Book of Nostell Priory as “the Church of Cnaresburgh” and we can today see remains from this time, particularly in St John’s which has outlines of Norman windows and a typical chevron patterned string course. The first documentary evidence for the castle occurs in 1130 in an account of works carried out by Henry I, when Knaresborough is again described as “Chenardesburg”.

When the direct line of descent of the Stuteville lords of the manor was interrupted, King John contrived to take over the Honour for himself (1204/1205) by the levy of a fine. The king was then able to collect various revenues associated with rents, harvests, court proceedings etc. In 1211 the revenue came to £318, 19s 3d (Early Yorkshire Charters). In the same year his outgoings included “work on the castle of “Cnarreburc” and on the ditch and houses thereof for 2 years £119, 18s. 8d.”; also “in work on a new mill, improvement of fulling mills and repair of the mill-pools of Knaresborough and Boroughbridge £15, 8s. 2d” (Early Yorkshire Charters). He was one of several royal visitors who enjoyed hunting in the forest.