In the foundation charter of Newburgh Priory, granted by Roger de Mowbray in 1145, it states that there was a chapel dedicated to St. James on the Green but there is now no trace of the chapel that gave this spot its name.
In times gone by this area was the centre of the craft industry – leather-working, fellmongery, carpentry, plumbing and joinery. The cattle market was on the Green and in 1859 the rates for cattle were as follows:
Beasts - 2d. Per. head
A further record calls attention to the fact that inhabitants of the Green, "suffered considerably through cattle and sheep straying thereon on market days." Probably because of this a number of houses on the Green used to have protective shutters fitted to ground floor windows for use when markets were in progress.
John Wesley introduced Methodism into Thirsk when he visited the town in 1747. He visited Thirsk on thirteen occasions between 1747 and 1788 and on the occasion of Easter Monday, 21st April 1747, he found the town full of holiday folk drinking, cursing, swearing, and engaging in cockfights. He said, "I did not stop at all but rode on to Boroughbridge."
The first Methodist Chapel was octagonal and built between 1764 and 1766. This was pulled down and another erected in 1816. This in turn was demolished in the 1960s and the present chapel is in a building formerly used as a schoolroom which was added to the original Methodist Chapel in 1908.
In more recent times, Nurse Bell’s Nursing Home was situated on the Green and the children of Alf Wight (who is better known as James Herriot) were born there.
Board 9 - The Little GreenUntil 1818 a large elm tree stood on this site but on November 5th of that year, a group of mischievous boys set fire "to this piece of vegetable antiquity". However, sufficient wood was left of the tree to make two substantial chairs for John Bell, Esquire – the lord of the manor.
The Great Elm was the place in years gone by where election results were declared and where the town stocks were located.
A quote from 1655: - "Richard Barton, otherwise Chapman, was ordered to sitt in the stocks three houres, for that he was convict of prophane swearing at Thirske and did undergoe that punishment at Thirske this session."
In 1489, Henry VII demanded heavy taxes to finance a war in France. The northern counties fiercely objected and Henry Percy, the 4th Earl of Northumberland and Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire, was despatched to collect the money, but there is a local legend that he was dragged from his home in Topcliffe and put to death by a mob near the Great Elm.
In the 19th century human bones were found near the old elm tree which points to there having been a burial place attached to the ancient chapel. (see board 8)
In the south-east corner of the Little Green there used to be the town’s Pinfold (a pound for stray cattle). The animals were collected from around the town and a fine was charged to have animals released.
There used to be old cottages to the east of the Little Green but these were pulled down and replaced by the modern houses (some of which were for workers at Austin Reed when that company moved to Thirsk in the 1970s).
The photograph above, taken about 1906, shows the ‘Dolphin and Anchor’ on the Little Green not long before it closed down. The thatched roof was an unusual survival at a time when buildings were roofed with tiles or slates, but it gives an idea of what most houses on the Green would have looked like in the first half of the nineteenth century. There were at one time six public houses round the Green, serving the needs of drovers and dealers in the days when cattle markets were held here. Only The Lord Nelson survives today.