I mentioned the lovely village of Thixendale in my recent column about the Yorkshire Wolds. I had already decided that I would do another piece focussing on that specific village because it has such a rich history.

As I was researching, I also came across the mention of the ancient ridge and furrow method of farming, which was also the subject of an earlier column. I’ll have to get back on to those rolling Wolds to see if I can spot the signs for myself!

There has been evidence of activity around the village since the Mesolithic and the Neolithic periods (Middle Stone Age, 7,000-10,000 years ago and New Stone Age, 5,000-7,000 years ago) as shown by the discovery of man-made prehistoric tools such as flints (a sharp stone blade) and scrapers for animal skins.

Much of the Stone Age coincided with the Pleistocene Epoch (the last era of the various Ice Ages), and as a result of the frozen ground, early humans lived a nomadic lifestyle, only staying in Thixendale for part of the year until they were driven on by the continuous search for food. The hunter-gatherer diet would have been mainly meat and foraged berries and seeds.

It is the two-million-year-long Pleistocene Epoch that is responsible for the topography of the landscape we see today. The valley in which Thixendale sits would have been created by the run-off from glaciers creating channels though the chalky surface at the end of the Ice Age. The dramatic fluctuations in climate, from greenhouse-hot to freezer-cold, led to the extinction of many large mammals such as mammoths, sabre-toothed cats and giant ground-sloths. This mass-extinction event marked the end of the Pleistocene Epoch and the beginning of the Holocene Epoch which is where we are today.

The advent of the Bronze Age (about 2,500-800BC) led humans to becoming more settled, when the development of stronger and more sophisticated metal tools enabled people to cultivate the land. There have been a number of Bronze Age barrows (burial mounds) found around Thixendale and nearby dales containing bones and ashes of long-dead inhabitants, alongside food vessels, arrowheads and tools.

As time went on, these settled areas became more civilised, and a thriving community established itself in and around Thixendale. We know, from excavations at the nearby deserted mediaeval village of Wharram Percy, that there were formal houses built from around 100BC onwards.

Many of the routes and tracks linking the various settlements were forged during the Roman period (from AD43 to 410AD) and more established townships evolved from the 10th Century onwards. From the air, evidence of the medieval ridge and furrow agriculture can still be seen, which is where individuals owned several strips of land which they would cultivate to grow vegetable and cereals.

The Enclosure Acts (a series of Acts of Parliament starting in the early 17th Century that chopped up and enclosed vast swathes of land that used to be common) put an end to much of that, and most of the land was grabbed by the nearby abbeys of St Mary’s in York, and Kirkham Priory a few miles away. They turned much of the land over to sheep grazing, leaving the residents with very little to live on, and it ultimately led to the desertion of some villages, including Wharram Percy.

Thixendale would likely have met the same fate had it not been for good old Henry VIII destroying the Catholic monasteries, nabbing the land and then selling it off to the local aristocracy. The Sykes family of the Sledmere Estate bought the village and the surrounding land and established several thriving farms. In the 19th Century, Sir Tatton Sykes did much to improve the lot of Thixendale residents, including providing jobs on the various farms, building a school and also a church, which saved the villagers a strenuous four-mile trek to the one at Wharram Percy.

For obvious reasons, settlements establish themselves around a natural source of water for the simple reason that humans cannot survive without it. However, what intrigues me is the fact I’m not aware of a natural water source in Thixendale. As I mentioned in my last column about the Wolds, the valleys in the area are dry due to the well-draining chalky soil.

How did the people of Thixendale get their water in the very beginning I wonder? I’m sure there is someone out there who will enlighten me.

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