Robin Longbottom examines the historic practice of riding and marking boundaries which pre-dated Ordnance Survey

IN 1581 William Cavendish, the second son of Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick, married Ann Keighley.

Ann was the daughter of Henry Keighley, whose family had held the manor of Keighley for several generations. With Henry’s death it passed through his daughter into the hands of the Cavendish family.

Within the old parish there were three ancient manors – Keighley, Thwaites and Oakworth. Thwaites was held by the Fairfax family and Oakworth by the Copleys of Batley until it was sold to freeholders in the early 1600s. Within Keighley manor there were several sub-manors such as Newsholme, Exley Head and Utley but all were subordinate to the greater manor of Keighley.

In 1612 William Cavendish, by this time Baron Cavendish of Hardwick, had his lands in Keighley surveyed by a cartographer called William Senior. He would have undertaken a riding of the boundary to establish the extent of the manor. In the north of England boundaries were so long that they were ridden on horseback, sometimes over two days or more. The Keighley boundary extended for over 16 miles and was ridden clockwise from the town. On the boundary with Oakworth a surviving stone near Tewitt Hall Farm is shown on Senior’s map, where it is named the 10 Mile Stone and suggests that there were another ten miles (at least) before the circuit was completed. It is probable that at this riding three prominent boundary stones, the Wolf Stones, the Maw Stones and the Hitchingstone, were marked with the lord’s initials, WC. They were certainly cut into the stones prior to 1618 when Cavendish was created the first Earl of Devonshire by King James I (dukes from 1694).

After the creation of the earldom, boundary stones were subsequently marked WD for William Devonshire. Today there remain a total of 12 stones that are marked with these initials, although one is now built over by a wall. The style of the letters indicates that they were not all cut at the same event but at separate ridings that took place over a period of 150 years. Unlike the southern English parishes, riding a boundary in the north was not an annual event and only took place every seven years or more. The fact that the Devonshires were all named William makes it impossible to identify the marked stones with a particular duke.

In 1764 William Cavendish, the fourth duke, died, leaving three sons. His third son, George Augustus Henry Cavendish, inherited the manor of Keighley and subsequently styled himself Lord George Cavendish of Keighley. Four stones remain today with his initials, GC, cut into them. Three are along the Oakworth Moor boundary, one of which is named Old Bess, and the fourth lies out on the open moor having been removed from its original position on the northern boundary with Cowling.

One other important boundary stone, once known as the Harley Stone, is at a small outcrop called Earl Crag to the west of Long Lee. It is on the boundary between Keighley, Hainworth and Harden and it deviates from the other stones as the mark on it is not that of a lord of the manor but is a large letter K for Keighley. Whilst there is a remote possibility that it could have been cut by the last of the Keighley family, this is unlikely as the style of the letter would suggest a much later date.

George Cavendish was the last lord of Keighley to have his initials cut into stones. Within 15 years of his death in 1834 Ordnance Survey had surveyed an accurate six inch to the mile map showing the boundaries and relegating the importance of boundary stones and boundary riding to history.