The first recorded instance of the Earle surname appearing in Yorkshire occurs in the year 1268 when Henry Erle of Fenton is named in the Inquisitions Post Mortem issued out of the Court of Chancery at a time when Henry III was king of England.
The inquisitions were surveys carried out by an officer of the Crown, usually the Escheator, of the estates held by tenants in chief at the time of their death. The object of the survey being to establish the annual value of the deceased estate so as to enable the Exchequer to calculate the amount payable by the heir upon succeeding to his ancestors estate, or as it was called, his relief. The age of the heir was another subject of inquiry, as if a minor, the King would be entitled to retain the property and receive the rents until such time as the heir came of age. Fenton, known today as Church Fenton, is located approximately 18 miles north and east of Wakefield and was first mentioned in 963AD when King Edgar made a grant of twenty Hides to Aeslac of Sherburn-in-Elmet. Little evidence remains of the earlier origins of the village, although in 800AD an archive source records:
"East of the high ground at Sherburn the land was wooded with huge oaks and tiny British settlements. Houses were made of poles covered by skins or leaves. The land was low lying, often below sea level. Tracks that existed were limited to ridges of high ground."
The name, Church Fenton has evolved over the years, starting as Fentune in 963 to Fentun in the Doomsday book of 1086. Kirk Fenton is first mentioned 1338 signifying the establishment of a church in the village. 'ton' or 'tun' suggests a community within an enclosure, reclaimed from the 'fen' which is an old English word for a marsh. It is likely that the origins of the village were agricultural, although fifteenth century records show that many villagers were employed at the Huddleston stone quarry at a time when the stone was being used to build York Cathedral. In 1458 the village had a population of 42 married couples, 26 single adults and 1 tradesman (blacksmith).
52 Henry III [16th January 1268]
INQUISITION made at York, concerning the lands and tenements which John de Kauwode held of the King in cheif - whether Robert, his son took his father's lands, whether he of malice detained his nephew, named David, the son of his eldest brother, whether the custody of the lands and tenements belongs to the King by reason of the said David's minority, and whether David is the next heir of John de Kauwode - by William Freman of Wikestowe, Gilbert de Hodelstone, Richard Freman of the same, Henry Erle of Fenton, Robert de Wodehouse, Master William de Kirkeby and Thomas of the Grene of Breton.
A cursory look at some of the individuals named in the above inquisition highlights the difficulty in identifying individuals when at the time so many surnames of 'ordinary people' related them to their place of residence or occupation. The following record for Robert, son of Henry of Fenton could well be the Henry Erle of Fenton named above. Fortunately as taxation became more important to the Crown for financing wars at home and abroad so surnames became more developed in order to keep track of payments helping in locating ancestors living in medieval times.
17 Edward I [5th March 1288]
INQUISITION made before Thomas de Normanville, escheator of beyond Trent, on Saturday before the feast of St Gregory, concerning the presentation to the church of Birkin, whether or not it appertains at present to the king; if so, how and in what manner: by Sir Robert Chamberlain, Sir Peter de Hathelsey - knights, Thomas de Barkestone, John Forester of Wistowe, William son of the Master (fil' mag'ri) of Tadcastre, Robert le Tayllur of Hathelsey, Thomas de Roceholme, Richard Gillian of Sutton, Robert, son of Henry of Fenton, Roger son of Hugh of Hathelsey, John Balcoke of the same, and Thomas, son of Robert of Breton, who say that the presentation to the said church does not belong to the king at present because Lady Isabel de Everingham gave the manor of Birkin with all manner of its appurtenances, and with the advowson of the church to Sir John de Everingham, her son who last presented Robert de Everingham, his brother to the church; upon whose presentation Sir Walter le Gray [sic], then Archbishop of York, admitted and instituted him and he had it for his whole life
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Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to contact me in the two years since this website was created and for all the interesting and wonderful information you have provided. I regulary receive messages from all corners of the world showing just how far the family have spread over the years and I really look forward being able to assist with your queries where I can.
Do you have any old photographs of Earle and Welford ancestors tucked away in your albums? If so I would really love to hear from you. Perhaps you would allow them to be added to this website as its so much better when you have a face to go with a name.
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