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A History of Hessay

The lake where the Hazel Grew

hessay history 3a - Circa 1998* .jpg

From Doomsday to Present Day

A History of Hessay

The quiet rural village of Hessay enjoys a peaceful open setting within the vale of York, a glacial plane created in the last ice age. As a result of this openness a number of recognisable landmarks can be seen. To the East, York Minster is visible from New Road. To the West RAF Menwith Hill is visible and to the North both the Kilburn White Horse and during darkness Bilsdale Television mast was visible be seen some 40km away before its demolition in 2021.


Distant History

The route of Roman Road Dere Street passes through the parish of Hessay, the road forming the link between York (Eborocum) and Aldborough

Quite when the village established is a mystery of time, though the first known documenting of Hessay is in the doomsday book of 1086 where Hessay is described as Hesdesai, the lake where the hazels grew. 

According to Wikipedia Hessay was given to St Marys Abbey, York by Osbern de Archis and continued in their possession until The Dissolution. 

Evidence of jousting butts can still be recognised on land off Shirbutt Lane where jousting tournaments once took place. The name Shirbutt Lane is derived from Shire Butts.

The defeated Royalist Army travelled through Hessay, crossing ‘Hessay Moor’ when retreating to York after suffering defeat at the battle of Marston Moor in 1644.


Post 1800

Hessay railway station was opened in 1849 by the East and West Yorkshire Junction Railway and served the local community through to its final closure in 1958; the station house on New Road, and Shirbutt lane Crossing keeper’s houses survive today as private residences. The line remains open and presently there are 40 passenger trains per day between York Harrogate and Leeds, with occasional rail tours and steam train workings. 

Maps from 1892 detail St John the Baptist Church on New Road, a Methodist Chapel and a smithy to the Westen end of Main Street, and a School at the Eastern end, a brickyard, various sandpits, and even a smallpox hospital in an isolated location to the North of the Roman Road, it is understood that a searchlight battery was  located on the former smallpox hospital during the Second World War, 

During the Second World War Hessay also became host to a Prisoner of war camp, accommodating Italian Prisoners of war; it is believed their labour was deployed on the surrounding farms anecdotally it was a fairly relaxed situation the prisoners being somewhat free to explore the local area. The site remined under the custody of the Ministry of Defence, who maintained a transport storage depot which was serviced by the adjoining railway and a private siding. A mixture of Military and Civilian personnel were employed. Military Vehicles of all types could be seen on site but the important stuff was probably kept out of view. The depot was operational until 1991 with closure of the unit effected by March 1996. The shunting locomotive Army 202 which was used on the depot site has been preserved at the Historic Dockyard Railway, Chatham. The depot has has since become an industrial estate which is home to light industry.

Just To the north of the village is a Roman Road Dere Street, it has been a long held belief that the A59 Highway had been built on top of the Roman Road though in 2010 York Archaeological society located the Roman Road about 50m south of the A59 in Archaeological dig. The route of the Roman road diverges from the A59 at the junction of New Road, Hessay continuing eastwards across farmland to the south of the A59, the route is presumed extending through Burlands farm Poppleton being discernible on most ordnance survey maps.

In February 2012 the Ordnance Survey deduced Hessay as being at the geographical centre of Yorkshire, previously Cattal further to the west was believed to hold the claim.


Hessay Today 

Today Hessay is a diverse mixture of old and new, with a population of over 300 living in around 100 residences. Whilst home to traditional and modern farming enterprises many of the family small farms that were once the hub of daily life of this rural idle have been developed in to Housing, with many residents now commuting to local towns and cities for their employment.

The village is served by two churches: St John The Baptist Church, off New Road (Anglican), and Hessay Methodist Chapel on Main Street. 


The Churchyard of St Johns the Baptist, has a valuable wildlife habitat, with an exceptionally rich wild flower meadow of rare and valuable flora and fauna which canals be seen in the adjoining field to the North. Barn Owl pellets can be found under a roosting spot. Swallows & House martins nest under the eaves. The Grasses and wildflowers in the churchyard include Spotted Orchids and Bee Orchids and others of scarcity, the habitat is a snapshot of what the surrounding fields would have looked like when the churchyard was enclosed and the church built as a daughter Church to All Saints Moor Monkton in the late 1800’s. The Trust for conservation volunteers organise an annual cut of the wildflowers and grasses in the Churchyard, distributing them throughout the City of York as wildflower Hay.

Hessay boasts an abundance of wildlife; Notable bird species include Barn Owls, Tawny Owls, Little Owls, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylarks, Green Plover (Lapwing,) Oyster Catchers & Curlews in summer months, Jays, Rooks, Magpies, and Carrion Crow. Fieldfares, Redwings & Waxwings are regular winter visitors. The population of small mammals which includes Field, Wood and Harvest Mice, Voles and Shrews, supports the upper end of the food chain of Merlin’s, Kestrels, Red Kites, Buzzards, Hobby, Sparrow Hawks, Goshawks, Peregrine falcons have been seen to take prey from the surrounding farmland. There is a small but increasing mumuration of Starlings which are believed to roost at the west end of Hessay Industrial Estate. Curlew Field Farm takes it name from the Curlews which nest in the Vicinity. Kingfishers and Grey Herons visit the many small ponds in the Parish, which are home to newts and salamanders. There are many garden birds, blue tits, long tailed tits, great tits, Blackbirds, Song and Mistle Thrush, Robin’s Wrens Tree and House Sparrows. The Cuckoo can be heard calling in April and May. Insect life is varied with numerous species of butterflies and moths, Dragonflies, Hoverflies. Otters have been seen in local watercourses. Bats Roost throughout buildings and trees in the village. A number of bat and owl boxes have been erected by Hessay Parish Council to encourage these populations.

The 2014 Tour De France passed through the Parish from its start in York, residents marked the occasion with a Village Party.

Mark Barratt


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