Deceivers spell it out

The graveyard of St Cuthbert’s Church, Crayke, where many of the Severs’ family ancestors lie

My columns about the graves at St Cuthbert’s Church in Crayke continue to bear fruit. If you remember, John Severs from Middlesborough solved the mystery of a set of initials on one of the headstones I mentioned. This week I was contacted by David Severs from Northallerton, who shares a common ancestry with John through the shoemaking Severs and Sivers of Crayke. John’s ancestors moved to Teesside while David’s settled in and around Settrington, near Malton.

David wrote: “John told you about the earliest record of his Severs ancestors at Crayke, the marriage of Richard Siver [sic] to Ann Dunning in 1771. The first Severs entry in the registers is actually even earlier: ‘Thomas, a Bastard-child of Jane Leckonby (charg’d by her on Thomas Siver) was Baptised on ye 28th day of January 1700’. The very next entry reads ‘Thomas Siver & Jane Leckonby were Marryed on ye 10th day of February 1700’. It seems Thomas waited to see if the child survived before he was prepared to marry Jane. Despite this inauspicious start, the couple’s marriage seems to have thrived for they had four more children.” Although this is yet another variation on the spelling of ‘Severs’ (others were Siver, Seaver and Seiver, with and without an ‘s’ at the end), David believes that Thomas Siver must also be an ancestor.

He explains how names came to be spelled differently. “All the Crayke entries from 1700 to 1734 are Siver. After the burial of the vicar in 1735, all the entries but two were Seiver, so the change of vicar brought about the change in spelling. From 1767 to 1784 it was always Siver and then became Seiver again. The first ‘s’ on the end is to be found in 1789. Only two Severs appear in the registers and they include the signature of a witness at a wedding in 1808.”

He adds: “William and Mary Severs of Settrington had a daughter in 1803, but they were recorded as Siver when a son was born in 1805, Sivers when a daughter was born in 1807, Siver again when children were born in 1809 and 1810 and Sivers again when four children were born between 1813 and 1818. The spelling depended on who made the entries. This is confirmed by the censuses: in the 1841 census the brothers Joseph and Benjamin  were recorded as Sivers, in 1851 Joseph was Sivers and Benjamin was Severs – different villages and different enumerators – and in 1861 both men were Severs.” So it looks like whoever was writing the name down decided how it should be spelled, rather than families themselves.

David goes on: “Even within families, spelling varied and I found a flagrant example of this at an Aysgarth wedding in 1779 when the vicar wrote Spensley, the groom signed Spenceley and the witnesses signed Spencely, Spensly and Spencley respectively!”

David then recalls a tale of teasing his son. Upon discovering that his ancestors’ name was recorded as ‘Seiver’, David announced he was going to change his name back to that of his forbears. His 10-year-old son protested that he should not do it when his employers, their schools and the government all knew them as Severs.

“Continuing to pull his leg,” says David, “I said he knew how important family history was to me and it could be done. It clearly bothered him, for at breakfast the next morning he told me he had been thinking about it and it would be most unwise because changing my name to Seiver would make me ‘deceiver’ (D.Seiver)! I purported to change my mind about my intentions immediately.”

David finishes his letter with two other fascinating stories to one day follow up. “One of the Crayke Severs collected the tolls on the Helmsley to York road and went to the debtors prison in York after he failed to pay the sum he had agreed to pay for the right to collect them. More recently a distant Severs relation murdered his parents.” That relative is a man called Roger Severs, from Leicestershire, who was jailed for life in 1993 for murdering his father Derek and mother Eileen after they refused to support him financially.

Many thanks to David for all of this fascinating stuff. I wonder if you have found any shady characters lurking in your own ancestors’ past?

Contact me, and read more, at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug


This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 6th and the Gazette & Herald on 4th August 2021

A grand old village

The beautiful village of Crayke is steeped in history
One of the gravestones in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard, Crayke, with just initials identifying the lost loved ones
Another headstone in Crayke church yard with initials only. Why is this?

The end of April saw a spell of dry, sunny weather, and I made the most of it by playing lots of tennis and going out for plenty of walks. One of my routes takes me through the gorgeous village of Crayke, which lies on a hill almost 20 miles north of York.

The main thoroughfare is Church Hill, so-called because St Cuthbert’s Church sits at the top. The hill was covered in late-blooming daffodils and looked absolutely beautiful, so I decided on the spur of the moment to stop and have a wander around.

It is a place steeped in history, and someone once told me that the hill was the one that the Grand Old Duke of York marched his 10,000 men up and down, although a brief search on the internet doesn’t suggest there is a connection with the famous rhyme. Nevertheless, strategically it is the perfect place to spot enemies coming from any direction as the summit of the hill commands spectacular views all around. Some say that there was a Roman watchtower on the hill, but it has never been proven, although Roman roads did pass close by and Roman artefacts have been found in the village.

According to my dad in one of his books (Folk Tales from the North York Moors), there was a timber castle in Saxon times, and this was replaced by a Norman motte-and-bailey castle in the 12th century, some of which still exists as part of the current Crayke Castle building, located at the highest point in the village. However, we know it was almost totally rebuilt and extended in the 15th century, thanks to accounts from 1441 which list the changes made. In the 17th century it was repaired and restored again, and this is more or less what stands to this day.

I took a walk around the beautiful church yard, and you can really get a feel for the age and history associated with that place. The original church was founded by St Cuthbert, who lived from around AD634 until 20th March AD687. He spent much of his time in the ancient kingdom of Northumbria, particularly at the monastery in Lindisfarne, and he was so admired for his spiritual devotion that King Ecgfrith gifted him the village of Crayke (then known as Crec) and lands for three miles around so that he had his own place to rest on his regular journeys between Lindisfarne and York. After Cuthbert died, he was initially interred at Lindisfarne, but there were fears that his grave might be destroyed by invading Vikings, and so his body was moved. It was carried to a number of different places over the centuries due to continuing unrest, one of which is believed to be Crayke, although his final shrine is in Durham Cathedral. Because of its connections to Cuthbert, Crayke was officially considered part of Durham right up to 1844 when it was returned to Yorkshire. The local pub is called The Durham Ox.

As I was walking around the graveyard, I noticed that a few of the headstones were inscribed with only initials, rather than the full name of the deceased, and very few further details, not even the date they died. I wondered why, as I have not come across this before. I asked my mum and brother if they had any any idea, and they didn’t. One theory we had was that they came from families that couldn’t afford a full inscription (if the stonemason charged by the letter). Another was that they were possibly criminals, or died in some kind of shame, and another suggestion was that they were in fact footstones, but I did not see a corresponding headstone at the other end of the graves.

No-one I spoke to had come across them before, but it was quite common in days gone by for people who could not afford a headstone to be buried with no marker at all. I wonder whether the stonemason used by the folk of Crayke was a kindly soul who offered to place markers on the graves of his fellow villagers who could not afford to pay him?

I’d be very interested to get to the bottom of this little mystery, so do get in touch either through this paper or via my webpage below if you know the answer.

Contact me, and read more, at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 7th and the Gazette & Herald on 5th May 2021