Origins of Ackroyd

Home              1833 plan of Ackroyd (Courtesy of Peter Thornbrow Esq)

Please note that are various spellings of Ackroyd in this article & that other spellings are not in the modern style.

Origins of Ackroyd

Henry Ecroyd 

 Please visit this excellent  site- Halifax, West Yorkshire

In 1867 John Richard Walbran published a 37-page history The Case of Edward Akroyd Ridgway Esq claiming an Inhibition founded by the Rev. William Aikerode, Rector of Marston ,C.o. York, in the year 1518. Dr William Fairer, born William Ecroyd in 1861, was best known as Joint editor of the Victoria County History of Lancashire. He  assumed the surname Farrer in 1896 and commissioned W.K. Boyd to carry out further research. In 1903 Boyd reported that he had exhausted all material available to him for an Aikeroide history. He had extracted all the Aikroide references he could find in the Wakefield Court Rolls for more than a century from 1484 and handed William Farrer 70 pages of transcripts.

These, with copies of Aikeroide references from other sources, are now in two bound volumes. Our author is indebted to his grandson, Mr. Trevor Farrer, for permitting access to them. These volumes, together with Walbran's "Case" are the chief sources for the present history. We are most grateful to our 85 year old reader 1 Henry Ecroyd for this important essay.      

Ackroyd in Wadsworth: Peathouse in Foreground

Text Box: Arms of Ackroyd
An Aykcrode - Ecroyd pedigree has appeared in all editions of Burke'.s Landed Gentry since 1886. The early genealogy there set out is at some points conjectural with anArms of Ackroyd appearance of certainty imposed upon it by the necessity of compression within the space available. The family historian can afford a more expansive treatment and if he is to remain faithful to his sources he must disclose uncertainties when close scrutiny of the fragmentary evidence reveal them.

Above - Akroyd in Wadsworth: Peathouse in Foreground

(Reproduced from The Little Hill Farm, W.B. Cramp, 1951,
and courtesy of Peter Thornbrow Esq.)

Until, in the fourteenth century surnames began to come into use, most proprietors of our ancestral bones remain unidentifiable. Yet Aykerode as a place-name, in one of its many variant spellings, appears a century earlier. A charter, undated but from internal evidence written before the end of the thirteenth century, reads as follows:-

"Know, the present and future, that I, John, son of William of the Stones of S(tansfield), give, concede and by this my present charter concede to William Soothil, senior, all that place of land in the town of Wadsworth, which is called Aycrode, situate between Crimesworth and the Old Town of Waddcsworth, and the messuages and edifices on the above said land erected, and places of land adjacent. ......"'

Rod is a word of Old English origin, the medieval name given to an assort -a piece of land cleared of trees-was distinguished by its being enclosed from the open land held in common adjacent to a village. Very few enclosures named "rod" appear after the Black Death (1349), perhaps because that upheaval put an end to large scale asserting.

 The clearance of oak trees and the enclosure of the cleared land which became known as "Aycrode" is thus of very early date. About the fourteenth century the sound change characteristic of Yorkshire dialect converted 'rod' into 'royd', and the royds now to be found in West Yorkshire are almost too many to count. A. H. Smith in his study of Yorkshire place-names estimated 1300 fields and 200 inhabited places named 'royd'. It is almost exclusively a West Yorkshire term, and it is surprising to find that in central Germany, notably in the area between Kassel and the Harz mountains, countless villages have names ending in the di-syllabic 'rode', with the same meaning as the Yorkshire 'royd'.

Heptonstall Church, where all the early Ackroyds are buried

Acrode- which means "the clearing among the oaks" -bore this name for at least a century before the family who lived there adopted it as their surname. Known later as Akroyd, it remained the home of the family for 300 years and a well-preserved dwelling bearing the name stands on the site today.


Heptonstall Church, where all the early Ackroyds are buried

By medieval times the forest which had covered most of the Pennines since the Bronze Age had been cleared from the upper slopes, leaving an expanse of wild moor land. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries farmsteads composed of timber-framed buildings began to appear in scattered locations on the hillsides. Aycrode, later Akroyd, was one of these. Local communities grew up in West Yorkshire, grouped in "townships" under the management of manorial lords. In the lower regions the township consisted of a nucleated village and the common land around it. On the upper Pennine slopes townships included large expanses of uninhabited land. Wadsworth township covered a moor land area of more than 11,000 acres. It was one of the largest and least populated of the 13 townships in the parish of Halifax.

 Akroyd stood near its eastern end, a mile from Old Town, the one nucleated village in the township. The population of Wadsworth in the 1379/80 Poll Tax returns consisted of 20 married couples, 17 single adults, 60 children under 16 and 1 mendicants or cleric, making a total of 118 persons. The name Aykerode is not included in the families listed, but it is likely that the John who is so named here was the JOHN DE AYKERODE who was elected constable of the township in the following year, he being identified by his place of residence to distinguish him from other Johns in Wadsworth. By the middle of the fifteenth century, "Aykerode" had become a heritable surname, the "de" having fallen into disuse generally.

Halifax Gibbet

Halifax Gibet

This device was in used in the Tudor period to perform executions and has given its name to Gibbet Street where this replica now stands. Although called a 'gibbet' the machine is really an early form of guillotine. The heavy wooden block with the blade attached is held in place by a peg which was pulled out at the appropriate signal allowing the block to fall and sever the neck of the unfortunate victim.

The photograph shows the gibbet as it appeared until recently. The base is that of the original device, but the wooden superstructure is a modern copy to show how the gibbet would have functioned. Unfortunately, the wooden superstructure has had to be dismantled following a severe outbreak of vandalism.

Photograph P. Thornborrow © WYAS

 It remained the surname for many generations in such a bewildering variety of spellings as to make consistency of spelling impossible in this history. John's first recorded appearance as Constable of Wadsworth is in the records of the Sheriff's Turn at Halifax on 4th June 1381 and since township officers were elected annually in October it is clear that he was already living at Aykerode in the previous year. His son named as JOHN DE EAKROIDE  Junior in the court rolls was elected constable of Wadsworth in 1398 implying that his father was still alive, and again, no longer "junior", in 1404,1407,1418 and 1433.


The constable was probably the most important of the township officers. The duties of the others - the churchwarden, the surveyor of highways, the overseer of the poor - were clearly defined by their titles. The constable, whose principal task was to present malefactors at the manorial court, had assigned to him also miscellaneous duties which could not properly be required of the other officers-for example, regulations for the marketing of ale, flesh, bread and leather and the requirement that all plague-affected persons should go into quarantine.

Since the officers were unpaid, the holders had to be drawn from the better-off members of the community. In the case of Wadsworth, the paucity of eligible men may account for the frequency with which the office fell to an Aykerode during the early period. All male members of the several townships were required to attend the manorial court, at the October meeting of which the officers were elected. Halifax Parish ChurchThe first Norman kings had awarded vast tracts of land to their principal barons, with authority to set up private courts to administer local justice and regulate the affairs of their tenants. Two such large estates - the Honour of Pontefract and the Manor or Lordship of Wakefield, covered the greater part of West Yorkshire. Together they included the whole Calder valley from the river's source above Todmorden to its confluence with the Aire at Castleford. The Honour, the larger of the two estates, surrounded the Lordship on all sides except the west, where, along the ridge of the Pennines the Lordship bordered the Honour of Clitheroe A narrow strip of Honour land divided the Lordship into two, the western part cantered on Halifax, the eastern on Wakefield.

Halifax Parish Church

The manor of Wakefield, the last portion of the Anglo Saxon royal demesne, was granted by William Rufus to William, second earl Warenne. It remained in the hands of the Earls Warenne until the death of the 8th and last earl in 1347. It then passed to the crown remaining Royal property (from 1558 part of the Duchy of  Lancaster) until it was sold by Charles 1.The court rolls of the Lordship of Wakefield, preserved mainly intact over a long period, are a principal source for the social history of West Yorkshire,  as well as, through Boyd's extracts, providing much of the material for this history.


The Lordship included 53 townships, 1\ of which were held "in demesne", the demesne lands being retained under the lord's direct control and worked for his own profit. The demesne lands were administered in 12 graveships. At the October meeting of the manorial court the copyhold tenants of each graveship elected their grave for the ensuing year; free tenants were exempt from this service. The grave acted as deputy to the lord's steward in the management of the demesne lands. Outlying townships such as Wadsworth and Heptonstall were   not held in demesne but in subordinate manors, each with its hereditary lord. Such outlying districts were known as berewicksThe Assembly Rooms and Trinity Church in Halifax from A Complete History of the County of York by Thomas Allen (1828-30)

.The Aykerodes were free tenants, holding their lands by charter; in J.R. Walbran's words "held of the lord of the manor by fealty, suit of court and of the lord's mill and the yearly rent of fourpence." Walbran writes of a messuage with about 60 acres of land, but I have found no other evidence that this was the acreage in that early period. Free tenants were the lord's vassals but enjoyed rights denied to unfree tenants.

They were free to sell, divide or lease their land. Unfree or servile tenants formed the feudal class known as "villeins". They wore required to perform annual services for the lord and none was free to leave the land which the lord had allowed him to work for himself. The feudal structure binding lord, villein and land in a cohesive village community began to show signs of weakening in the thirteenth century.

The payment of a fixed rent replaced the performance of manual services for the lord. In the next century the Black Death (1349) carried  off a large proportion of the villein population. The resulting shortage of labour gave the villein bargaining power and mobility. He had gained the freedom to leave his holding. But although the social status of the villein rose, the basis of villein land tenure remained unchanged. The lord of the manor still held the freehold; security of tenure granted to the tenant and his family y was simply by "the custom of the manor". These local customs and the tenancies arising from them were recorded in the manorial rolls, binding alike on landlord and tenant, but were not recognised in the national courts. The villein tenant had no legal protection until legislation was introduced in the fourteenth century recognising the rights of this growing class of new tenants, who became known as "copyholders".

The Piece Hall Halifax

The Piece Hall, located in the centre of Halifax, between the main shopping centre and Eureka! The Museum for Children, is a Grade 1 Listed Building.

View of the Piece Hall courtyard with the spire of the former Square Chapel in the backgroundIt consists of a large courtyard, surrounded by galleries in the classical style on three levels.

As a town square it compares well with any other in Europe and is a monument to both the woollen textile and stone masonry industries. See History of the Piece Hall.

It has been seen in many documentaries and feature films and TV productions, including the much praised ‘Brassed Off’.

Piers Gough and Adam Hart-Davis have both focused TV documentaries on the architectural and heritage importance of the Piece Hall.

The term copyhold was derived from the practice of recording these tenancies in the Court Roll of the manor in which the land was situated.
the court roll of the manor in which the land was situated. The tenant was given a copy of the record as evidence of his ti tie. A procedure was devised to preserve the theoretical freehold which the lord still enjoyed. When a tenant sold his holding or transferred it to trustees to hold for him and his heirs, he was required to appear at the manorial court and surrender the land to the lord who then granted it afresh to the purchaser or the appointed trustees.

 The court rolls thus provide a continuous record of copyholds and the history of copyhold lands is often better documented than that of lands held by free tenure which were not recorded in the rolls. The cumbrous copyhold procedure continued, with some modifications, until the present century, still subject to the system of surrender and re grant until the Law of Property (Amendment) Act of 1924 converted all remaining copyholds cither to freeholds or leaseholds from 1st January 1925.

The above gives a brief description of were the Ackroyds originated from & I am grateful for the findings of :-

 John Richard Walbran who  published a 37-page history The Case of Edward
Akroyd Ridgway Esq
 in 1837.


The author has not yet found any direct relationship to any of the early Ackroyds, but research continues & any information that may help, the author would appreciate being contacted  at Contact Us or at MSN (


My thanks to Calderdale Council Leisure Services for providing the author with  information in this article.


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