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Thirsk in 1843

Thirsk is a parish, market-town, and parliamentary borough, situated partly in the liberty of St. Peter of York, but chiefly in the wapentake of Birdforth, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, about 214 miles from London, 23 miles north-north-west of York, and 10 miles south-south-east of Northallerton. The parish comprises the borough of Thirsk, the township of Castle-Islebeck or Miniot, and the chapelry of Sowerby, and had an aggregate population of 3,829 to 1831, and 4,599 in 1841.

The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry of Cleveland and diocese of York, with a gross income of £143. The church, which is dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, is a large and handsome Gothic building, supposed to have been formed out of the ruins of the ancient castle. Thirsk contains likewise places of worship for the Society of Friends, Independents, and Wesleyan Methodists. One of the schools of the town is conducted in a school-house under the chancel of the church, and another is a school of industry for clothing and educating poor girls.

The town is pleasantly situated on both sides of the stream called Codbeck, a feeder of the Swale, in the fertile vale of Mowbray ; that portion which lies east of the beck being called Old Thirsk, and that on the opposite side New Thirsk. At the south-western extremity of the town is the site of the castle, which is said to have been erected by the Mowbray family in the year 959, and to have been a noble pile of building, but scarcely any vestiges of it now remain except the mount on which the keep formerly stood Old Thirsk consists of a long range of cottages on the road to Yarm and Stockton, and of a square, called St. James's Green, surrounded by buildings of a similar character, and which marks the supposed site of an ancient chantry, founded by William de Mowbray, in the time of Henry I.

Upon another green at Old Thirsk formerly stood a venerable elm-tree, under which, from time immemorial, the election of members of parliament took place, and where also it is said that Henry Percy, the fourth earl of Northumberland, was put to death during a popular tumult in the reign of Henry VII. This curious tree was destroyed by fire in 1818, having been ignited by some mischievous boys. A substantial stone bridge, with arches of sufficient size to allow the free passage of the Codbeck when swollen by heavy rains and the melting of snows, connects the old with the new town, which has an extensive market-place. The present church is near the northern extremity of the new town, and it is supposed that there was formerly a church in the old town, of which no vestiges remain.

Thirsk possesses no manufactures of importance, though coarse linens and saddlery are made in the town ; but it has a well-supplied market on Monday, where great quantities of provisions are bought for Leeds and other places ; and there are fairs on Shrove-Monday, April 4 and 5, Easter-Monday, Whit-Monday, August 4 and 5, October 28 and 29, and the first Tuesday after December 11. The Great North of England Railway passes a little west of the town, which is not a corporate borough but a burgage tenure borough by prescription. Old Thirsk sent two members to parliament in the reign of Edward III, but did not elect representatives again until the last parliament of Edward VI. At the time of passing the Reform Bill, the number of electors was 50, only 6 of whom resided in the borough ; but by that Act the town was reduced to one member, and the electoral district was made to comprise several adjacent townships, of which the principal is Sowerby, an extremely neat village south of the new town principally inhabited by retired tradesmen. The number of electors on the register in 1839-40 was 327.

The surrounding country is very beautiful and salubrious, and near the town is a chalybeate spring resembling those of Scarborough and Cheltenham. Thirsk is a polling-place for the election of county members for the North Riding. The population of the borough and town was 2,835 in 1831, and 3,020 in 1841, including 61 persons in Thirsk Union workhouse and 12 in a tent.