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A Brief Review of Loftus Civil Parish History

The town name Loftus is derived from the historic name Lofthouse  which is recorded in Domesday as Loctvsv (from Lacht-hus or low houses) and is described by the historian Ord as a settlement  of  great antiquity (1).The origin of the name is believed to be Norse - there is a village bearing a similar name near Stavanger, Norway. The town is located north of the Cleveland Dyke and approx.1 mile south of the Cleveland Way National Trail at Hummersea Point. The largest single group of prehistoric monuments in our area are the bronze age burial mounds (2).  A very recent discovery in 2016 has revealed evidence of the oldest house in Cleveland, an early Neolithic structure which has been radiocarbon dated to around 3800BC. Due to the importance of these finds further work is planned on-site in 2017.     Within the town centre, remains  from an iron age burial site were found during the construction of the Odd Fellows Hall  in 1873. There are  remnants of  mounds or barrows within the surrounding Civil Parish and a number have been investigated by the archaeologist  Crawford (3). 


During the Roman period, the nearby coastal path had two known signal stations and the current archaeological investigation by Dr.Stephen Sherlock, in the parish of Loftus, is showing evidence of the existence of a Roman villa and equipment used for industrial  salt extraction by evaporation. This work follows on from the highly acclaimed  discovery in the Civil Parish of an Anglo-Saxon royal burial site  by Dr.Sherlock and members of the Teesside Archaeological Society.(4) During the 12th century ,a Priory  and Church named  St.Mary’s were  built  at nearby Handale , south of Loftus town centre, in 1133. The Priory was modelled to follow the principles of the Cistercian order  which had established Fountains Abbey one year earlier. The Priory was linked to Rosedale Abbey and by the time of the Reformation there were ten Nuns in residence. (5). Later the property became the home of the Beckwith  family for several generations.

The early beginnings of the Chemical processing Industry in the  United Kingdom  started in Loftus in 1656  with the extraction, recovery and purification of Alum at Hummersea. Over 100 workers were employed directly and many more were engaged in the transportation of materials and finished product. Production continued up until 1863 and during the 1830’s the Company was owned by  Sir Robert Dundas.  The Hummersea Alum agents son, Lewis Hunton,  produced a scientific paper in 1836   introducing biostratigraphy  - a method of relating varying types of ammonites found in the local rocks including Alum shale - to determine the age of the rock. (6) His pioneering work  has become a cornerstone of the science of Geology. Members of the Hunton family are interred at St. Leonards church in Loftus Town Centre.  Up until the early 1800’s pack horses were used to transport goods e.g. fish  from Skinningrove to the inland  markets  at York ,Leeds and Manchester. They returned to Loftus  Market Place  with coal from the nearby drift at Poverty Hill near Danby. Evidence of these long distance pannierways connecting Loftus Town Centre to the Abbeys and southern moors still exist today.(7) The discovery of commercial quantities of ironstone at Skinningrove in 1847 resulted in a substantial increase in the local population. Immigrants came from Sth.Wales, Staffordshire, Cornwall ,Durham , Norfolk and from other locations. Ironstone mining closed in 1964  followed by the termination of steel production in 1972 although steel mills still operate at the Skinningrove Plant.

Sir Laurence  Dundas  purchased the Loftus estate in 1764 , the same year as Capability Brown took up residence as head gardener at Hampton Court Palace, which began the development of Loftus as we see it today.  According to the historian  Ord (8) he immediately brought comforts where there had been none and then set out  a programme of reform to convert  the ruinous huts into pleasant and picturesque cottages .Roads and bridges  were improved and  much landscaping was undertaken. Following this work he built Loftus Hall and out buildings followed by a  new road leading through the woods to Gaskell Lane. The substantial improvements to Loftus Town Centre , infrastructure and general well being brought about increased trade and a weekly market was established in  or around 1808, which was a convenience to the Alum workers  who were often paid  with food  during periods of depression. In addition, an  annual wool fair was held in the Town Centre each June. By 1811, the population of Loftus was 1145.

Since Norman times The Parish Church has been dedicated to St.Leonard  who is venerated as the Patron Saint of prisoners, captives and pregnant women. The earliest written evidence of a church here is 1190 when the church was given to the priory and convent of Guisborough by William de Sauchay, then Lord of the manor of Loftus. The next reference occurs in 1275 when Walter de Loftus was instituted as Rector.After the dissolution the patronage reverted to the Crown .

Thomas Franke, Rector from 1521 was deeply involved in the rising of the northern Barons which led to the Pilgrimage of Grace      in 1536   but  he escaped  any  penalty.  A former vicar,  Robert Norham,   bequeathed   property  in   1571  to  members   of                 Grosmont Priory  the only Grandimontine Priory in Northern England (9).   The church register begins in 1697 .(10,11) Sir Robert Dundas funded the building of the 1811 church by architect Ignatius Bonomi (12) of which the distinctive Church tower remains We trust that this rich heritage , briefly expressed, will form a historic backdrop and enable visitors to explore and discover more of the heritage in our area.

References 1-Ord J.W. ,The History and Antiquities of Cleveland , 275, Simkin & Marshall ,Edinburgh ,1848                           2-3,Crawfod G.M. , Bronze Age Burial Mounds in Cleveland , 1,52, Cleveland County Council , Archaeology Section 1980 3667278/17.1.2013                                                                        5-Cross,C & Vickers,N, Monks , Friars and Nuns in Sixteenth Century Yorkshire ,The Yorkshire Archaeological Society ,Huddersfield 1995.                                                                                                                                                                                                    6-Andrews,B, A short but Illustrious Life Lewis Hunton’s Contribution to Science  , 16, Tees Valley Wildlife Trust.                        7-Evans P.J. Trods of the North York Moors , Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Soc. , Research report 13 ,                          8-Ord J.W. ,The History and Antiquities of Cleveland , 278, Simkin & Marshall ,Edinburgh ,1848                                                     9-Cross,C & Vickers,N, Monks , Friars and Nuns in Sixteenth Century Yorkshire  ,236,The Yorkshire Archaeological Society ,Huddersfield 1995 10-Richardson,M.The Parish Church of St.Leonard, Loftus in Cleveland, 2004 11-Loftus Parish Church Webside: www.loftuspa                                            
12-                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               15.12.2016    m.b.

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