Peel Hill Motte

History of Thorne


Thorne became a permanent settlement in the Anglo-Saxon period about thirteen centuries ago, but we know from the finds of flint tools and weapons that Neolithic people used this land; as also did the people from the Bronze and Iron ages from finds still been found in the peat diggings on the moors, that people from the bronze and iron age also used the land. Ever since then the population has grown, changing and evolving from year to year into the environment that we recognise today.

Our Anglo-Saxon forbears were originally pagans but around the seventh and eighth centuries Christianity became the commonly accepted religion of the local people and a wooden church was built in Hatfield. The Viking age of the ninth and tenth centuries brought a temporary return of paganism to parts of this area. Thorne, being in the area of the Danelaw, would see the merging of the Anglo-Saxon and Viking cultures in a melting pot lasting for over two hundred years. At the end of this time Christianity had triumphed and such settlements as Thorne had made good progress in opening up the land for agricultural purposes along the ridge on which Thorne stands.


With the Norman Conquest came real organisation and the lord of the manor of Thorne was William de Warren, who was the builder of Conisborough Castle, his local headquarters. It was at this time in the late 11th century that the Normans built the Motte and Bailey castle known now as Peel Hill. This was followed a few years later by a stone church built next to the castle. The stone used for both these buildings was magnesian limestone which was quarried from nearby Sprotborough and was transported to Thorne by boat on the River Don. The castle was later demolished around the 17th century but the same stone used can be found around Thorne in its walls, such as Fieldside House.

It is important to keep in mind that the first cultivated land is now occupied by the town centre and that the houses were clustered around what is now Church Street and the Market Place; and so it remained for the rest of Medieval period. The whole area, especially to the east, was swamped land and marshes, totally unsuitable for a stable community to live on. This land was like this as far as the Ouse and the Trent. This fact probably contributed to the abnormal farming system in Thorne. At this time it seems that most places used a three field agricultural system, whereas the farmers in Thorne used a two field system; the North field and the South field.

The Local People

In 1263 the Manor of Thorne was seized into the King’s hands, and early in the 14th century William Gumbald held the land. During the first years of Edward III’s reign, John de Mowbray was in temporary possession, but the manor reverted back to the Warrenns. In 1335 John de Warrenn granted 30 acres of cornland at Thorne to Robert Browne at 10 shillings a year rent.

In the reign of Richard II the Poll Tax gives us an idea of the population. We can tell that there were 172 people above the age of 16, of whom one mercer and one chapman both paid twelve pence, one taylor six pence and all the rest, both men and women at four pence. This figure would put the total at about 200 people which is not small when considering the extreme isolation of the place at that time.

This isolation was to serve Thorne well during the time of the Black Death and numerous periods of famine which struck the kingdom, for no severe check to a steady growth of population is observable during the later period of the middle ages.

The fact that Thorne was part of the royal hunting Chace of Hatfield must have influenced the lives of the inhabitants quite a lot. There were Keepers situated all around the village, of which one station was occupied by a Chief Regarder of the Chace. Quite a number of local men would be employed by the officers of the royal hunting ground, and the families of these employees were to emerge in the later part of the seventeenth century as important and influential members of the community. Their names would appear on the various market charters, the commissions and as trustees to charities.

The Parish and Peel Hill Castle

About a mile to the south-east of the church was a large expanse of water called the Bradmere, and the same distance to the west was another stretch of water separating Thorne and Hatfield. It was while crossing this latter water in boats that a funeral party was lost in 1326. The corpse and several mourners were cast into the water, and the bodies of about twelve people were recovered some days later. As a result of the tragedy the Abbot of St. Mary’s in York was petitioned and granted that Thorne church be rebuilt and made a parish church so that the dead could be buried at Thorne instead of Hatfield.

During the sixteenth century the castle at Thorne was used as a prison for offenders of the law against poaching the royal game. Prisoners were then taken to York for trial. The area must have contained quite vast numbers of deer, for as late 1609 several hundred were rounded up near Tudworth for the pleasure of Prince Henry, eldest son of James I; who had been urged to see the game by Sir Robin Portington, Chief Regarder of Thorne who lived at Tudworth Hall.

Drainage of the Wetlands and Agriculture

The way of life of the people of this area was to suffer a drastic change during the 1600’s. Agriculture had been of secondary importance and few could imagine any difference because of the thousands of acres of wetlands. However, Cornelius Vermuyden, a dutch drainage engineer, persuaded the king that he could drain the land and make valuable farm land out of it. Between 1626 and the Civil War period the engineer and his foreign workers performed prodigious feats of drainage using what we would recognise today as primitive tools. They were also under constant harassment by the inhabitants of Thorne who did not want the job doing in the first place. Vermuyden lived in Thorne in the Old Hall on Queen Street while constructing the Ashfield Bank. The Dutchman’s financial backers abroad encouraged the settlement on the reclaimed lands, and hundreds came over from Holland, Belgium and some from France to live here.

Although many serious floodings happened after the drainage and a series of writs against the Participants were fought out in court, the value of the land had increased and brought new hope for agriculture, so that today the value of the vast farmland far outstrips any other industrial or natural asset in the local area.

Farming really came into its own during the next two centuries, with constant attention to drainage dikes and the construction of more and more waterways and sluices. More farm houses were built and also town houses as prosperity increased.

Transport and Modern Life

The River Don shipping trade was expanding and Thorne Quay or Waterside had its own ship building yards and the population grew. Ships sailed to York, Hull, London and even the continent. There were warehouses and inns, rope and sailmaking businesses and many more. With the construction of the canal in the 1790’s trade increased even more and shipyards started to be constructed on the canal and not just the rivers.

As late as 1800 most traffic between the towns and villages was waterborne, but new Turnpike roads were being built between Bawtry, Selby and Doncaster. During the enclosure of the common lands at this time, the appearance of the town and surrounding country changed. The several huge gates which kept the animals from straying into the town and precincts were taken down, and the commons were split up for more farming; also more dwellings and businesses were built in the town, in places which we now know as South Common etc.

In the middle of the nineteenth century the railways came to Thorne, making travel and the transport of goods quicker than ever. The mail coaches became obsolete and stage coaches no longer carried people from Doncaster. The river trade also began to die with the new railways.

Schools were built and the town council began running the affairs of the town instead of the Churchwardens and the Overseers of the Poor; there was still an active Poor house or Workhouse well into the 20th century, standing on the site of the first one built in 1763.

The opening of Thorne Colliery brought an influx of people from several parts of Britain and Moorends village was built to house them. Between the wars parts of the old town fields were taken up by the building of council estates, such as that of the Willow Estate and the estates adjacent to North Eastern Road.


For further information check out the following books, available at Doncaster Central Library, Waterdale, Doncaster:
Thorne Mere & The Old River Don: Taylor M. ISBN 1 85072 012 6.
Thorne In Old Picture Postcards: Hobson M. ISBN 90 288 2828 1.
Thorne In Times Past: Middleton et al ISBN 0 86 157 11 8.
Thorne Moor Birds & Man: Limbert M. ISBN 0 900950 05 6.
Thorne Moors Papers: Limbert M. ISBN 0 9512252 0 0.
No Sugar In The Tea: Darfield A. ISBN 0 906976 31.