Ancestors: Bottom, Backhouse, Barker, Blakeley, Dinnis, Firth, Foxe, Gaunt, Goodere, Gibson, Haton, Hepworth, Jessop, Lee, Messenger, Mitchell, Oldroyd, Rhodes, Sheard, Sykes, Wilcocke, Wilson
A village in the Wapentake of Agbrigg and honour of Pontefract, Mirfield was in the parish of Dewsbury until 1261.
Following the Norman Conquest, Mirfield and Hopton were among 214 manors, mainly in Yorkshire, that were given to Ilbert de Lacy who had been responsible for much destruction and the subjugation of those who resisted the Norman occupation in the north. Ilbert fortified his manor at Mirfield with a motte and bailey, using the mound and moat already in existence from earlier fortifications.
This translates as:-
- In Mirefelt 3 manors (held by) Arnbjorn, Halfdan and Gamel had 6 carucates for tax where three ploughs are possible (in 1066).
- Now (in 1086) three English men have the manors from Ilbert. They have 2 ploughs.
- 6 villagers and three smallholders have 2 ploughs.
- Woodland pasture half league wide and 1 league long.
- Value in the time of King Edward (i.e. before 1066), £3.
- Now worth 10 shillings (1086).
The three men who had held the manor before 1066 had Danish names, but one “Halfdan” meant “half-danish”. Arnbjorn was son of Arne and Gamel meant “the elder”. All three had other lands and manors in Yorkshire; Gamel had 20 manors before the conquest. The Domesday entry indicates that the lands had been re-distributed by Ilbert De Lacy, the area’s overlord. Extrapolating from the Domesday figures, to include families and servants, it has been estimated that the population of Mirfield at 1086 was no more than 70 persons, possibly fewer (cf Joan Thornes and Hilary Brook in “Mirfield Landscape and People to 1500 AD”).
Mirfield church and castle
On Christmas Day 1261, the Lady of Sir John Heton of Mirfield was waylaid and robbed when going to mass at the parish church of Dewsbury and her attendant was murdered, at Ravensbrook. Sir John was in Rome at the time of this event and, when he heard of it, he petitioned the Pope to sanction the creation of a chapel at Mire-field, which, in time, became the parish church of St Mary. A 13th century chapel replaced the original building. The church was re-built in 1826, and its old tower was retained when the present church was built in 1871. The church is adjacent to where the motte and bailey castle stood.
The motte of the castle is still to be seen behind the church, but it was very overgrown with trees and could be seen clearly except from very close up when I photographed it in 2008 (below). I have read recently that the vegetation has been cleared away, so I look forward to having another visit there in 2018.
The old tower was preserved and left standing beside the new church.
Unfortunately, the old graveyard is in a very poor state of preservation, with graves overgrown with foliage and scattered between trees. There are many stories of Robin Hood and he is said to be buried at Kirklees Priory, the gatehouse of which still exists. The grave still exists too, situated behind the Three Nuns Pub on the Leeds Road, but it has been vandalised.
Mirfield stands to the north of the river Calder, with Hopton to the south, the river making a natural boundary. The land around the town must have been forested in the past, as coal was to be found there. The mining industry flourished in and around Mirfield through the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries.
Baines’ and Pigott’s directories of the early 19th century describe a thriving town with a miscellany of trades, including maltsters, woollen manufacturers, shopkeepers and traders in addition to professional persons, clergy, attorneys surgeons etc and gentry. Wide flat bottomed barges were also built in the town.