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Historical Evidence


In the centuries preceding 1850, the Nine Standards are mentioned by name in over 30 documents, either perambulations of  manorial boundaries or in other quasi-legal manuscripts. These record the prominent landmarks, known as waypoints, around the periphery of the Eden Valley or Swaledale river basins or catchments, as agreed by representatives from the manors or parishes, usually twelve or in earlier times 24 people from each side of the boundary.

In a largely pre-literate age, 'beating the bounds' was the only practical way to pass down these crucial limits to the next generation of villagers. Based on the highest ridge between the rivers, the watershed or catchment was a permanent and easily recognised physical limit "as Heaven water deals", that is, the line at which rainwater separates and runs into the rivers on opposite sides of a ridge. As these documents are usually dated in the actual text (and others can be dated from their context), they can be used to establish that the Nine Standards were in existence at that time. Three examples of the earliest ones are given here; full details of others are given in the recent book Nine Standards, Hayloft Publishing Ltd, Kirkby Stephen, 2008
The oldest manuscript on the Westmorland side is a record of Court Proceedings at Brough, dated 1617 which traces the watershed "from the north end of Greensyde to the standers at Blackhill, then to the nine standers, then to the Benty batt....". In the margin of the manuscript, there is a brief annotation that this is a copy of an earlier perambulation in 1507. It can therefore be assumed that the 1507 version also listed the Nine Standards.
On the Swaledale side, Joshua Fryer's Book of Cures which can be dated to the period between 1534 and 1538 contains "The boundrey of ye North Side of Swaledale from Hollow Mill Cross to ye Lorship of Marrick" "from ye Gray yaud [=stone] in Cowbrege [= Cowdber edge]  as Heaven watter parts to ye Nine Standers, from ye Nine Standers ...." and so on right around the upper valley of the Swale, and back to Stallerstone Stile near Reeth.
The oldest manuscript reference is contained in a "Metts and Bounder of the South Side of Swaledale 1743 from a Copp of Cornelius Fryer. Meets and Bounders given by Gilbert Gant Lord of Swaledale starting at Stollerstone Style" which states that the boundary of the north side of Swaledale runs "from Hollowell Cros .... as Heaven Water Deals to the 9 Standers, as Heaven Water Deals to Harthorn Cragg ...." From this we learn that the boundary was defined by Gilbert de Gant, whose ancestor Walter de Gant, nephew to William the First [ie the Conqueror] received Swaledale as part of the dowry of his wife Maud. There were five men called Gilbert de Gant between 1042 and 1298; the texts of the Charter Rolls for 1251/2 and the Patent Rolls for 1332/3 record royal confirmation of Gilbert's grant of pasture rights to the monks of Rievaulx Abbey, and the wording indicates that the donor was Gilbert III, between 1206 and 1217. It is also likely that the boundaries had already been defined by Gilbert II who inherited Swaledale in 1138 or 1139, and had to define the Swaledale boundary to impose Forest Law. Other documents of the period confirm this interpretation (see Nine Standards, 2008 for details).   
Documentary evidence therefore implies that the Nine Standards even in the 12th or very early 13th centuries existed and were a recognised and well-known boundary marker between Yorkshire and Westmorland.

For first report of work completed in the summer see: August 2012

For the second report of work completed in the autumn see: December 2012

For the final report of work completed see: December 2014


We already have quite a few friends who are helping with the project but more needed - please see the friends page for more information about becoming a friend or helping with the project.

To see copies of the original documents mentioned on the History page, see the documents page.

To read an exploration of the linguistic background of Nine Standards, see the what's in a name page.

There are quite a few old maps which mention Nine Standards and these can be found on the mapspage.

Nine Standards is a wonderfully photogenic place from any angle and we have added photographs to many of the pages of this website.


    Copyright © Friends of Nine Standards, 2011