The North York Moors have been continuously inhabited by humans for at least 10,000 years, when Stone Age people began settling the area after trudging across the land bridge that joined England to Europe. Of course they weren’t moors back then but were instead, part of the huge, virgin forest that covered most of the country. As different waves of Mesolithic, Neolithic and finally Bronze Age people settled and used the land, the forests slowly vanished, giving way to the moors that we know and love today.
During Celtic times the land was ruled by the fierce Brigantes, who were a long source of trouble for the Romans when they ‘conquered’ England and built a fort just down the road in Malton. From here a number of roads radiated out across the country, including the Wades Causeway, which led north-eastwards over the Vale of Pickering and across the moors to the North Sea coast.
After the Romans left and Romano Celtic resistance to invasion was eroded, the area was settled by Angles, Saxons and Jutes who gave many of the villages on the moors their names.
No rose AND no abbey?
In the ninth century, Viking raiders began to attack the Yorkshire coast eventually establishing the Danelaw, which made much of the East of England a Danish kingdom with its political centre based at York. They introduced their language to the region, elements of which still remain in the local dialect, and renamed a number of settlements. It seems probable that Rosedale’s name has Viking origins, being a derivation of "Rossi", which could be a personal name or the word for horse. Another possible root is the word "rhos", which meant moor. So no roses anywhere.
The Abbey part is actually a bit of a misnomer too, as the "abbey" ruins that the name refers to are actually the remains of a Cistercian Priory, the difference being that nuns lived in a priory and monks lived in an abbey. The small group of nuns who inhabited the priory from 1158 to 1535, were probably the first people to farm sheep commercially in the region. Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1535 brought an end nearly four hundred years of history.
The old priory building was eventually dismantled during the iron mining boom of the nineteenth century, when the stone was reclaimed for building including a new church on the site of the original priory. One tower of the old priory can still be seen however, just outside the west door of the current church.
Iron in them, there hills!
Locally sourced iron ore has been processed on the North York Moors since medieval times but the discovery of high-grade magnetic ironstone in Rosedale during the 1850s saw the village’s population explode, growing from around five hundred to three thousand in just two decades.
The railway soon followed carrying iron ore from Rosedale down onto the Cleveland plains, and for seventy years Rosedale was a noisy, dusty and active part of industrial Britain. The mines shut in the 1920s but many impressive industrial ruins still line the valley today and the spectacularly scenic route of the railway can now be followed on foot all of the way round Rosedale, across the top of Farndale and up to the plains on the dramatic Greenhow incline.
The 150th anniversary of the first train journey on the Rosedale railway in March 2011 will see a variety of celebrations and activities in the area and in mid-August, another part of the valley’s industrial past manifests itself in Rosedale Show. The show dates back to 1871 and is one of the oldest in North Yorkshire, attracting around five thousand visitors each year.
For more information on the area’s rich heritage, visit The Rosedale History Society, which was formed in 2008 to create an archive of historical material of the communities of Rosedale, Thorgill and Hartoft.