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A brochure put out by the local Tourist Information Centre describes Boroughbridge as an historic town in the heart of Yorkshire, surrounded by attractive villages, within easy reach of the Dales, the North Yorkshire Moors, the Wolds and the coast, and within an 18 mile radius of York, Ripon, Knaresborough, Northallerton, Easingwold and Thirsk.

The site is thought to have been occupied as far as back as the Bronze Age when the rough-hewn millstone grit pillars, known as "The Devil's Arrows", were placed in a row in a field on the western side of the present day township. In about AD72 the Romans built Isurium Brigantium (Aldborough) where they could ford the Ure, and in the late 11th century the Normans moved the crossing to the site of the present bridge, around which a community began to grow. Boroughbridge was developed as one of William the Conqueror's "new towns". It prospered and in 1299 sent two members to Parliament. In 1318 and again in 1319, the town was pillaged by the Scots, and three years later, at the Battle of Boroughbridge, Sir Andrew Harclay defeated the Earl of Lancaster who then sought refuge at the church. But Harclay's men broke sanctuary to take Lancaster prisoner, and he was sent to York, given a mock trial, and later beheaded at Pontefract as a traitor. By Act of Parliament, 1767, the Ure was made navigable to Ripon, and the weir at Boroughbridge is thought to have been built between 1767 and 1769, and the canal in 1770.

With the coming of the stagecoach, the town, which at the peak of the coach era boasted 22 inns, became one of the busiest staging posts on the Great North Road. The Crown alone had stabling for 100 horses.

Fretwells of Boroughbridge

The following, skeletal information, is compiled from references in the Silkstone and Kirby Hill Parish Registers, MIs in the Aldborough Churchyard, the IGI, photocopied material (found in the family papers) relating to the granting of liquor licences, and correspondent Vernon Dunhill.

John Fretwell

According to the Parish Registers, John Fretwell was born in Silkstone on 18th March 1751, the same year as his future wife, Ruth Dunhill. Ruth, the daughter of Richard Dunhill, was born in Pontefract and baptised on 23rd July 1751. And it was here that she and John Fretwell were married on 1st June 1773. As an aside, George Dunhill, Ruth's brother, developed the process for making licquorice a confectionery item, rather than a herbal medicine. The common link to the Tobacco Dunhills was some 3 generations earlier, and another brother, John, was the g-g-g-grandfather of Ernest Hemingway.

The IGI records the baptism of two sons, both in Pontefract. Elder son Richard Fretwell was baptised on 25th July 1774, and John Dunhill Fretwell on 1st June 1776. We know also that daughter, Dorothy, was born to John and Ruth, but at this stage no dates have been confirmed, nor where she was born. From a later reference (Tom Bradley, "The Old Coaching Days In Yorkshire", p120) it seems that she was not the only daughter, but the others' names are not yet known.

The sources differ as to exactly when John took over as the lessee of the Crown Hotel. However, the family papers contain the following :

This is to certify that Mr John Fretwell of Borowbridge in the County of York being an Inhabitant in the said Township is of sober life and conversation and is recommended by us to keep an Ale House or Tipling house in the said Township as witness our hand, this 9th day of Sepr 1777.

John Carter, Minister
W Walker, Overseer
Jn. Rushton, Chapil [sic] Warden
Fras Williams, Constable

John was also included in a list of the Alehouse and Tiplers of Boroughbridge, as certified by the same Fras Williams, Constable, cited above. In a 'cosy' arrangement, to secure his licence, John paid 10, and  10 was also paid as surety by one John Rushton, and in return, John acted as surety for John Rushton, both again paying 10. John's tenure was somewhat short lived, as he died in 1793(?) and was succeed at the Crown by his elder son, Richard.

A notice in the Boroughbridge Times of 28th February 1794 makes it quite clear that, although John had departed, the Inn was to continue trading as before.


MRS. FRETWELL returns thanks to the friends of her late hufband and the Public in general for paft favors, and begs leave to acquaint them that the bufinefs of the said Inn will be carried on as ufual for the benefit of his children, and hopes for the continuance of their patronage and fupport.

Richard Fretwell

As noted above, Richard was born in 1774. From what we know of him, he did not marry. We do have a record of his qualification to run a pub, from a document, dated 2nd September 1803, issued by "seven of his Majesties Justices of the Peace for the West Riding". Here, Richard is included along with 14 other Alehouse Keepers, all of whom paid the regulation 10. The person acting as surety for Richard was one Humphrey Fletcher. Richard repaid the gesture, when he acted as a witness to the marriage (Kirby PR) of Humphrey Fletcher of Alborough, Bachelor and Arabella Smith, Spinster, which was celebrated on 10th May 1810.

Richard died within a year of the wedding of his friend, his passing being marked by the following inscription in the Aldborough Churchyard :

Richard Fretwell, late of Boroughbridge, died on the 9th of April 1811, aged 36 years.

John Fretwell Jnr

The only reference to who was most likely the second son of John and Ruth is a second inscription in the Aldborough Churchyard :

John Fretwell, Lieut R.N. of Borobridge, died April 5th 1843 aged 58 years.

If this is the same John Dunhill Fretwell, there is a date discrepancy in that he was thought to have been born in June 1776, which would give his age at death as 48. But the fact that the inscription is on the same stone as that of Richard Fretwell would seem to confirm that they were brothers.

Dorothy Fretwell Jnr

In 1810 Dorothy Fretwell had married Dr. Hugh Stott who, in 1811, after the the death of her brother Richard, took over the lease of the Crown. Given his many other interests (see account of the Crown, below) it is more than likely that Dorothy had a hands-on role in running the Inn. According to author Tom Bradley, the Crown, Borougbridge, was a bustling establishment, operating in a competitive commercial environment :

"... but the bulk of the horses and all the Mails were worked from the Crown, and in Dr. Stott's time, who enjoyed the longest sojourn at the Crown of any of its occupants, there would be close on a hundred horses stood at the stables of this Inn, whilst the Greyhound Inn (across the road) would have about twenty. The Crown had seven postboys, who were allotted four horses each, so the rest of the horses would be used for working the coaches..."

Tom Bradley records that Hugh Stott relinquished his licence in 1842, and moved out of the Crown premises, but still lived in Boroughbridge, where he continued his medical practice in the town. Pending further research, this is all that is known of Hugh and Dorothy.

The Crown Hotel

Today, the Crown Hotel is a privately owned well-appointed 3 star hotel. In response to an enquiry regarding its past, we were sent a handsome poster, which sets out the history of the Hotel, which spans the period from at least the 13th Century to the present day. An abridged transcription is given below, and confirms some of the information provided above.

Crown Hotel

In the centre of the Medieval town of Boroughbridge stands a building that contains the essential plan and foundations of a house and courtyard dating from before 1300. Bounded by what was the Great North Road on one side and the river Tutt on the other, stands the old Manor House, now the Crown Hotel, which belonged to the ancient family of the Tancreds.

The Crown Hotel holds in its structure much of the ancient stone and same oak trusses and posts that were part of the original Hall.

During reconstruction of the Crown in 1978 there was found a clearly defined stone foundation course in massive masonry, with many arched sections and mullioned windows. There were also oak posts and trusses built around with old brickwork. When the stucco was removed from the external walls, large sections of masonry were revealed, also a magnificent chimney stack which is placed in such a position as to suggest that this may have been a gatehouse.

In 1306 there is a record of an attack being made on the house of John Tancred and it appears that the house remained in the possession of his descendants until 1778. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the Manor House was the meeting place of the leaders of the rebellion known as "The Rising of the North". This rebellion, by Roman Catholic supporters, was an unsuccessful attempt to depose Elizabeth I and put her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, on the throne. The leaders of the Rising heard Mass in Ripon, marched to "Tancreds House" in Boroughbridge and from there to Tadcaster. There they received news that Mary had been moved further South and that Lord Sussex was marching a large army against them This news disheartened the rebels, they disbanded and the Rising ended in disaster for the Northern Earls and their followers. In 1564, William Tancred, who owned the Manor House, and who was Recorder of York and a member of the council of the North, was removed from office for his suspected sympathy with the rebels in the "Rising of the North".

William's son Thomas remained at the Manor House but he was in constant trouble for harbouring priests and having Mass said in his house. At his death in 1596 his property and goods were sequestrated (confiscated) but his son, also Thomas, who was living at Brampton Hall, near Newby, recovered most of the sequestrated property.

It is uncertain whether the Manor House in Boroughbridge was used again by any of the Tancred family but one historian refers to the house in Boroughbridge as a Dower House and there is a record of Thomas Tancred of Boroughbridge being created Baronet in 1662 by Charles II.

In 1672, possibly already established as an Inn, the Old Manor House was let to George Loupe. In 1714, "All that Burgage in Boroughbridge, commonly called the Ancient Manor House" was let to R. Gowland. In 1741 another deed refers to goods lately belonging to R. Gowland which were in "a messuage now used as an Inn and known by the sign of the Crown in Boroughbridge."

In 1778, Henry Duke of Newcastle bought the Crown Inn from the Tancred family and Mr John Fretwell bought the adjoining property north of the Crown where the Midland Bank now stands. Mr John Fretwell is the next recorded landlord of the Crown and he was succeeded by his son, Mr Richard Fretwell. Dr Hugh Stott married one of Mr John Fretwell's daughters, Dorothy, in 1810 and became landlord of the Crown in 1811, where he remained for almost half a century.

Hugh Stott was also a partner in Fletcher, Stubbs, Dew and Stott, Boroughbridge Bank, which amalgamated in 1883 with the York City and County Bank, now the Midland Bank. Dr Stott was a founder member of Boroughbridge Agricultural Society, established in 1825. He was agent to the Duke of Norfolk, a founder of Boroughbridge National School, and he owned at least one of the coaches, the Northern Star. Dr Stott retired from the Crown and was succeeded by Miss Pybus and later by Mr Cooke, who was landlord of the Crown towards the end of the coaching days.

The beginning of this century saw the resurgence of road traffic through Boroughbridge and the Crown Hotel was again a centre for travellers. In 1963 Boroughbridge By-pass was opened and Boroughbridge began to emerge as a tourist centre. The Crown Hotel was bought by its present owner, Mr  J. P. Harrison in 1979 and has been carefully restored and modernised to its present superb standard.

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This page was last updated on 17 November, 2007