Sherburn in Elmet - the village with links to the English Civil War

Sherburn in Elmet.

Sherburn in Elmet. - Credit: Joan Russell

A village rich in history is used to going into battle as David Marsh discovers

Sherburn in Elmet.

Sherburn in Elmet. - Credit: Joan Russell

Visit Sherburn in Elmet in North Yorkshire on a quiet and peaceful day and it is hard to imagine the part it has played in some of the most turbulent times in English history. The village stands just a few miles from what has been described as the biggest, longest and bloodiest battle fought on English soil. During the Wars of the Roses the Yorkists defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton. Fought on March 29th – Palm Sunday – in 1461, it has been estimated the brutal battle involved up 75,000 men and left 28,000 dead.

A few hundred years later and Sherburn claimed a battle in its own name – though much, much less bloody than Towton. The Battle of Sherburn in Elmet took place on October 15th 1645 during the English Civil War. Royalist forces commanded by Lord Digby had initially attacked and defeated Parliamentary troops at the village but it proved to be a short-lived victory. Parliamentarians led by Colonel Copley counterattacked and routed the Royalists taking about 400 prisoners.

All this is part of the rich history of Sherburn, which once belonged to the ancient Celtic kingdom of Elmet formed after the end of Roman rule. The kingdom fell in 617AD when King Ceretic was killed defending his lands against the Northumbrians.

Probably Sherburn in Elmet’s most historic connection is with the 10th century king, Athlestan, the first man to have overall control of all the English kingdoms. He spent a good deal of his reign in the North and Sherburn was the site of his manor house. The archaeological remains of this house, sometimes referred to as King Athlestan’s Palace, are designated a scheduled ancient monument and are next to All Saints Church. One of the village’s key features, the church dates from the early 12th century and is built on the site of an earlier Anglo-Saxon place of worship. The base of a Saxon preaching cross can still be seen at All Saints, one of a number of buildings of historical interest that feature on a heritage trail developed by Sherburn in Elemet Local History Society. (For details go to

With its rural setting, good rail links and easy access to major cities like Leeds and York via the A64, A63 and A1, Sherburn is a thriving and growing village in an enviable location, a fact that has not escaped the attention of developers. Last year over 700 new homes were granted planning permission on land between Sherburn and South Milford. These developments are expected to be built in phases over the next few years and could increase the population of the village – given as 6,657 in the last census – by up to one-third.

Stuart Haskell, who chairs Sherburn in Elmet Parish Council, said: ‘New homes are needed, particularly affordable ones so young people can stay in the area, but it is a question of getting the balance right. We want houses that respect the scale and character of the village.’

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It is a bustling place of shops, pubs, businesses, community groups and societies and a popular haunt of motorcyclists out for a Sunday ride. Like many a good village it boasts a selection of independent shops including Jackson’s butchers and greengrocers. Wayne Jackson, who runs the business today, said: ‘It was 1893 when we started in Sherburn. I left school in 1982 and joined the business then. I took over from my Dad about five years ago. It’s difficult as a small shop competing against supermarkets but we manage. We have our regular customers and we do a delivery service to the surrounding villages.’

On Kirkgate is a striking building that is the focus of a modern-day battle being waged by the people of Sherburn. The Old Girls School closed in 1976 and until last year was used by social services. Now empty, The Friends of the Old School – supported by the parish council – are campaigning for it to be preserved for community use. A £70,000 Social Investment Business grant has been awarded for a feasibility study into possible future uses.

There is also much discussion about the future of Sherburn in Elmet Library. With North Yorkshire County Council required to make huge savings, there is a proposal for the library to become a community facility run and maintained by volunteers. Mr Haskell said: ‘The library is very much valued. We recently held a public open forum to discuss its future and over 60 people attended. It’s a great community hub and people are showing a great interest in its future.’

Volunteers already play an important part in the life of the village through groups such as The Lions, Sherburn Community Association, a community mini bus scheme and many more, said Mr Haskell. He added: ‘Their efforts make an enormous contribution and we are lucky to have them.’ It’s a contribution that should help ensure the library story has a happy ending.

Is being part of a strong community more important than ever before? We’d love to hear your views. Email or write to Feedback, Yorkshire Life, PO Box 163, Ripon, HG4 9AG.