Drax village

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Drax Village, Yorkshire c1910

The History of Drax, by John Hunter, states that the ancient Manor of Drax, Yorkshire, is of Roman or possibly even pre-Roman origin. There was a Romano-British farmstead at Drax in AD270-400. The earliest written evidence, of the `Drax' name, is in a Charter of 959 AD that refers to 'Ealdedrege' (Old Drax), and there was a Saxon or Danish Chapel there at that time. Merlesuain, the Saxon Earl who held vast areas of land, also held the Manor of Drax from 1040-1069, when there was a pre-conquest Burgh or Fortress here. There are the remains of an extremely scarce Saxon square moat at Castle Hill Farm, which originally contained wooden buildings with a wooden stockade in one corner, and later was the site of a stone castle. In medieval documents, distinction was made between Kirk Drax (Drax Village, where there was apparently a church in Scandinavian times) and Drax Burgh (where there had been a fortress prior to the Conquest). A Charter of 1154, which was witnessed at Drax, mentioned the siege by King Stephen: 'apud Dracas in obsidione'; it is very interesting to note that the 12th century Latin spelling of 'Drax' was 'Dracas' (a known variant of the surnames Drax, Drakes & Dracass). An old chronicler says, "and thus it was that Kynge Stephen in the Year of Grace 1154 Brent the Castell of Draches doune to the grounds wythoute leavynge anie porcyn thereof habytable".

                            photo by Chris Drakes 13.4.2011

The Parish Church of St. Peter & St. Paul, Drax, Yorks.

                                                                                                      photo by Chris Drakes 13.4.2011

The Parish Church of St. Peter & St. Paul, Drax, Yorks.

                                         photo by Chris Drakes 13.4.2011

The 'Holy Spirit' Rose Window at St. Peter & St. Paul Parish Church, Drax, Yorks.

The name of this Manor was possibly the origin of the 'Drax' surname in England. Henry II (Plantagenet) gave Geoffrey Drax (Drakes) lands in Kent with the 'confyrmacyon of the captenshype of Faloys' [Falaise] in Normandy. He was 'of Conmora, Cenomana, Normandy' (the Le Mans region), and is the earliest 'Drakes/Drax' whom we know of. He may not have been active in the post of 'Captain of Falaise', and may have only held the title in an honorary capacity. This is even more likely to be the case with his grandson, who was also known as 'Captain of Falaise' after King John had lost Normandy to the King of France; so, as an English landowner, he couldn't have actively held that position. It would account for other people being shown as the actual and active 'Captain of Falaise', during the period when Drax/Drakes were supposed to be such. This would probably also apply to the Drax family title of ‘Serjeant’.

One of Geoffrey Drax's descendants, John Drakes, was born about 1247 in Yorks. About 1276, he married Mary Pannell in Yorks. She was born about 1251 in Yorks., and was the daughter of William Pannell, who may be a descendant of the William Paynell who founded Drax Priory? If so, since formal surnames did not exist then, except to denote the ownership of a Manor, this might well be when the family assumed the 'Drax' name, taking it from the Manor of Drax, Yorks., rather than it being their original Norman-French name. However, it is also possible that the 'Drax' surname came from France, as there is still a village there named 'Draix'. A further possible origin of the surname is that priests from Drax Priory were apparently referred to as 'de Drax' (of Drax). At this time, many priests married and had families, who may well have continued to use the 'de Drax' name.

                                                                                                      photos by Chris Drakes 13.4.2011

Two carved pew ends at St. Peter & St. Paul Church, Drax, Yorks., showing The Prince of Wales and his emblem - 'three feathers'. Other pews appear to show elements of various heraldic designs. The Parish records indicate that they were carved about 1540, which is in-keeping with the period costume of the man shown above. There is no known evidence to link the Drax family with Drax village in Yorkshire.

William Paynel, Ralph's eldest son, founded Drax Priory, as a House of Augustinians or Black Canons, between 1130 and 1139. Drax Priory was closed in 1535-6. William Paynel was Lord of Drax and West Rasen in Lincs. He also gave Drax Priory the mill at Drax and several churches in Lincolnshire. Until recent times, part of West Rasen was known as West Rasen Drax (or Drakes), and this may be the origin of the surname in the Lincolnshire Wolds at Stainton-le-Vale and Tealby. If some of the early Drax (Drakes) were peasants working on land held by Drax Priory, they may have taken their surname from the Priory lands about the 1400s, when surnames came into existence in England.

The Parish Church of St. Peter & St. Paul, Drax, Yorks. c1910.

Drax village c1910

                                                                                                       photo by Chris Drakes 9.10.2001

Read's School (Private), Drax, Yorks.

                                                                                                       photo by Chris Drakes 9.10.2001

Read's Charity School, Drax, Yorks.

                                                                                                       photo by Chris Drakes 9.10.2001

Pagnel Hall, Drax, Yorks., with the church spire behind.

Drax Castle, Yorkshire

“In 1154 King Stephen besieged many castles and won them and cast down many of them, among which the castle of Drax was almost the last, and soon after died and was buried in the abbey of Feversham. This account is in Roger of Howden; and in like manner Walter of Coventry mentions King Stephen as having destroyed the castle of Drax near York. William of Neuborough is yet more explicit, who writes as follows; “but King Stephen coming into the province of York found a certain Philip de Colevill, who it was supposed had burnt his fortress at Drax or had delivered it up to be burnt, in rebellion, relying, to wit, on the strength of the same fortress and on the mighty prowess of his comrades in arms and on a copious supply of food and arms. Nevertheless the king having assembled an army from the nearest provinces, laid siege to the fortress, though almost inaccessible from the intervening “rivers, forests and marshes, and having bravely stormed it, in a short time won it.” Philip de Coleville was the mesne-tenant of Robert de Gaunt, and this conduct of the vassal was avenged upon his lord by the forfeiture of the demesne of Drax; and not only it, but also the manors of Castlethorpe, Burton-on-Stather, and West-Rasen, in Lincolnshire, Garthorp in Leicestershire, and Bingham in Nottinghamshire were belonging to Fulk Paynell, a descendant of one branch of this family in Normandy, and second son of William Paynell, lord of Moutiers-Hubert and Hambie in that province, in the following reign. The whole barony of William Paynell had in fact been in the hands of the crown by reason of this rebellion at the time of the accession of Henry the Second to the throne of England, as we learn from this important charter of Robert de Gaunt in favour of the abbey of Kirkstall.” (Source: Memoirs Illustrative of the History and Antiquities of the County and City of York, Communicated to the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Held at York, July, 1846: Holy Trinity Priory, York, published by Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland)

                                                                                                       photo by Chris Drakes 9.10.2001

Castle Hill Farm, Drax, Yorks., built in the centre of the site of the 12th century Drax Castle, which is believed to be a very rare early Saxon square moat, though this point is disputed.

                                                                                                       photo by Chris Drakes 9.10.2001

Two, apparently original, 'key stone' steps that were found on the site of the 12th century Drax Castle, Yorks.
Whether they were actually from Drax Castle has been disputed due to that castle's believed structure.
I have yet to find evidence for, or against, the castle having a stone stairway.

Drax Abbey, near Selby, Yorkshire

Drax Abbey near Selby, Yorkshire was demolished about 1953. All that now remains is a farm bearing the name 'Drax Abbey Farm', which is a short distance southeast of the 12th century Drax Priory site.

Drax Abbey, near Selby, Yorks., c1950; this photo has the following hand-written notes on the reverse:
'The Abbey is a considerable distance from the village & has cottages of its own. It is in a hopeless state & the gentleman who owns it has a foreman who lives in part of the house & farms the land.'

Distant view of Drax Abbey, near Selby, Yorks., c.1930, with a small lake and landing stage for small boats.

Read School, Drax Grammar School, Drax, Yorks.