Ermenie 1086 (Domesday Book). "Mouth of the River Aire". River-name + Old Scandinavian mynni. The river-name Aire is possibly from Old Scandinavian eyjar "islands", but may be of Celtic or pre-Celtic origin with a meaning "strongly flowing".
A Dictionary of English Place-Names, Oxford University Press
Airmyn is really too large to be a proper village. Its most dominating feature is a clock tower which stands on a bend in the road. This was built in 1866 to celebrate the second Earl of Beverley who paid for the village school to be built.
There are excellent views of the River Aire which has a high bank parallel to the main road. The river is very fast flowing and you can see the village of Little Airmyn, on the other side which is many miles away by road via Carlton. In the Middle Ages, Airmyn was a small port and up to the 18th Century, its dead were taken by boat upstream to be buried at Snaith. It was quicker to go by river than by horse and cart.
There is a pretty church in the village, originally built in 1318 and extended in 1676. It has a well-kept graveyard which is guarded by a loud dog who lives next door. Each year the village has a gala, based around the modern village hall, with many sporting events.
The Abbey of St. Mary's, York and the first Airmyn
Airmyn was part of the generous endowment - "from Usfleet to Airmine" - that Henry I (1100-1135) gave to the monks of St. Mary's Abbey at York. Substantial ruins of this famous house can still be seen - but perhaps its greatest claim to fame was that it was from this house that a group of monks, who had come to feel that their lifestyle had become too easy-going, left to follow the rule of St. Benedict more strictly and so become the founders of the Cistercian movement in England. At the time of the King's gift, it would seem that Airmyn was without any population. Airmyn (Ermenie) gets its mention in Domesday but the context makes it clear that this is Little Airmyn which is across the river from Airmyn itself.
Mynne is Old Norse for a river mouth, and so with pleasing appropriateness Airmyn simply means "The mouth of the Aire". The actual "meeting of the waters" of Aire and Ouse has - especially at low tide - a look of desolation that may not have been that different when the King gave this uninhabited waste to the Monks of St. Mary's. All mediaeval place names have a great variety of spelling but few can equal Airmyn, Harmyn, Armin, Eyreminne and many, many others. But they all sound much the same.
It was the wealth of St. Mary's that upset the refugees who fled to the wilderness that was to become Fountains Abbey. And though some may well have come from that grasping usury that gives the Abbot of St. Mary's a villainous role in the earliest ballads of Robin Hood, the main source was the skilful exploitation of their possessions. For just as Selby Abbey developed William the Conqueror's gift of Rawcliffe to found a port on the still-navigable Aire, so St. Mary's, York developed Henry I's gift of Airmyn to found a port nearer the mouth of the river with somewhat deeper water than Rawcliffe. As they were only two miles apart and served the same hinterland they must have been in cut-throat competition from the beginning.
The exact date of the founding of Airmyn is unknown. That we do know it within a few years is the result of a dispute between the inhabitants of Airmyn and their landlord in 1253. The "men of Ermine" complained at their alleged exploitation by St. Mary's, York. They wanted to return to the "ancient customs". Very robustly the Abbot told the Court that was dealing with this that there were no ancient customs for "King Henry the King's (Henry III) grandfather gave to his Church of St. Mary, Usefleet and Ermine and that there was no town there until the Abbot's predecessors, after the said gift founded the town there". The "men of Ermine" stubbornly maintained "that at the time of the said gift there was a town there" but the Court did not believe them.
With the foundation of the Port went the foundation of a Ferry too. This could have been "private enterprise" by a group of inhabitants, for later we discover that "Richard, son of William de Newsom, Clerk, gave to the priory of Drax a sixth part of the ferry of Armin which was given to him by Adam, son of Adam de Armin". (On a mediaeval "Monopoly" board, "ferries" would take the place of railway stations as a reliable but modest source of income). This Ferry has the unique distinction of still being in use, though alas, no longer available to the general public.
This "new town" Airmin seems to have had only a modest success. For the Poll Tax of 1379 "Harmyn" paid £1/14/-. compared to "Rawcliffe's" £2/8/8. And the ferry was already established by then for both John Hayll (with Margaret his wife) and John Muram (his wife was called Cecilia) were described as "Ferryman" and taxed at 6d instead of the basic 4d. In 1318 there had been a new clamour from the "men of Ermine". They complained strongly to the Archbishop of York that their spiritual welfare was being neglected because they had no Chapel and "many died without confession". The Archbishop, clearly sympathetic to their grievances, failed to point out that there were Chapels at both Rawcliffe and Hook (not to mention Snaith), and instead "wrote to the Abbot and Convent of Selby, letters exhortatory for dedicating the Chapel of Armin". We don't know what the Abbot's response was but we do know that eventually a Chapel was built and the careful account given of it in 1546 by the King's investigators into Chantry Chapels hints at what the Abbot said two hundred years earlier! "The Chapell of Armyn ys erected by the towneship of Armyn". The incumbent is Thomas Ben but he has only 11 shillings "assigned for his levinge… and the rest of his levinge he hath of the devotion of the inhabitants of the same towne for sainge masse in the said chapel". Clearly the Abbot of Selby must have said "Yes, you can have a Chapel and a Chaplain - so long as you pay for them yourselves". In this Chapel "all sacraments" were "mynystred, save bureinge". The need for it was that it was "distant from their paroch church (Snaith) 11 miles and in winter and wete seasons ther can no man passe betwixt". That one of the bells in Airmyn Chapel today is dated 1375 means that this first Chapel must have been built by then.
What happened next isn't clear. St. Mary's, York was dissolved in 1539 and its estates went to the Crown. In 1540 the "Manor of Armin" was purchased from the Crown by Sir G. Clifton and the deed of sale listing the buildings of the Manor doesn't mention the Chapel. Was this the whole of Airmyn in 1540? Probably. But what of the Chapel? Hook, Carlton and Rawcliffe were specifically excluded from the provisions of the Chantry Acts that should have closed them. But nothing is said of Airmyn. Yet it survived. And the years after 1600 were not without incident! In 1600 poor William Myers fell foul of the Snaith Peculiar Court for crying "Yowle in Airmyn Church". The following year the Churchwardens of Airmyn were in trouble and ordered "to repair the roof of the Chapel, provide a bible and Common prayer boke, repaire the stalls and get a cover for the font". By 1635 troubles at Airmin reached a National Court for "the Commissioners of Causes Ecclesiastical" (Archbishop Laud's hated instrument for bringing order to the Church) fined Thos. Brown of the parish of Armin "for laying violent hands on Wm. Tuck, clerk, Minister of God's word and saying that he would get him in the stocks". The most likely explanation is that in the years after 1550 the Chapel had become disused and neglected. In 1601, as part of the "Church" revival that marked the end of Elizabeth's reign (and led to the re-endowment of the Vicarage of Snaith), an attempt was made to bring it back into use. But this seems to have failed for when, later on in the century in 1674, the new growing port of Airmyn needed a church, we are told that the old building is "quite out of repaire".
The Smithsons and the second Airmyn
In 1656 Hugh Smithson of Hull bought Airmyn and a new age began. It would seem likely that he did so with the intention of developing it as a port. Certainly, under this new leadership, and with some co-operation with the merchants responsible for the Aire & Calder Navigation, Airmyn had a century of commercial prosperity. In 1744 land was acquired by the Aire & Calder Navigation who built warehouses, wharves and cranes. A regular coasting service began to London in 1758. By 1765 ships up to 100 tons were being built at Airmyn. Airmyn was also the place for moving cargoes from sea-going vessels into craft more suitable for working up river. From 1758 to 1786 one of the principal undertakers of the Aire & Calder Navigation lived in Airmyn Hall.
But two new canals proved fatal to Airmyn. First in 1778 the opening of the Leeds-Selby canal made the Ouse, instead of the Aire, the best way of trading with the West Riding manufacturing towns. Then in 1824 the building of the Goole-Knottingley canal, with its development of the Port of Goole, ended the ambitions of all the more inland ports.
The Church we have today is a surviving witness to Airmyn's 18th Century prosperity. It was built in 1676 and that this was an initiative of Anthony Smithson (son of the first Sir Hugh) is still shown by the fact that his Arms adorn the West End. There is a mystery here. For Airmyn Church as we have it is not what we expect a 1676 church to be like. The bell turret and the porch were added in 1858 and the new chancel built in 1884. My guess is that in 1858 changes were made to the ceiling and the windows to make it look more like what - by then - everybody thought a proper church should look like!
Airmyn Hall stands close to the river and as it is now in multiple ownership it is not instantly recognizable as the "big house". But it seems likely that it was built by the first Smithson and so is the house of a great merchant built near to his wharves. Its grounds stretch (or rather stretched) with its 19 acres of Park a long way towards Goole. Now it is the back that faces the river and from the front it looks very much the traditional great house.
So astonishing is the Smithson story - and so closely linked to the history of Airmyn - that it needs to be briefly related. The Smithsons of Airmyn flourished and soon there were two prosperous families - that of the elder son living in London and owning Airmyn, and that of the younger son "of Hull and London". It was Sir Hugh Smithson, the 4th Baronet, who fell in love with Elizabeth Seymour, the young, beautiful and rich daughter of the Earl of Somerset. Surprisingly this "mesalliance" between the bluest of blue blood and the "noveau riche" Baronet had the approval of both the lady in question and the King himself (George II), and so in 1740 they were married. The newly wedded couple went to visit their aged relative (confusingly also called Hugh Smithson) who, having inherited the Airmyn estate, was described as being of "Tottenham and Armin". He was so charmed by the newly married couple that, being childless himself, he made his young cousin his heir and very shortly after (he was over 80) died. The newly married couple were able to spend part of their honeymoon on their newly acquired estates at Airmyn. The 4th Baronet was now a very wealthy man - but his fairy-tale good fortune had not yet ended. For only four years later his wife's brother George, who was heir to the Percy lands titles and fortune died of smallpox. The inheritance proved a complex legal affair. But in the end, though Lady Elizabeth Smithson could inherit the Barony of Percy, it was her father, the Earl of Somerset, who was created Earl of Northumberland with it specified that the title was to go to Sir Hugh Smithson and his children. The old Earl died and Sir Hugh and the Lady Elizabeth became Earl and Countess of Northumberland. The story was completed in 1766 when the fortunate couple - and from all accounts their marriage was one of great happiness - became the first Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.
Airmyn has now become part of the Percy Yorkshire estates. At some point the decision was taken to separate these from the Northumbrian estates for the benefit of a younger son of the 1st Duke who in 1790 was created Earl of Beverley. After his death in 1830 his title and estates (including Airmyn) were inherited by his son George, the 2nd Earl of Beverley (and cousin to the 3rd and 4th Dukes of Northumberland).
The Percys and the third Airmyn: an Estate Village
This piece of family history has taken us into the 19 th Century. The days of the Port of Airmyn have become a memory. But, as for a number of Yorkshire villages, they were in many ways good years in which benevolent Landlordism flourished. Airmyn school is one sign of this, for it was built in 1834 and remains in use today. The Clock Tower is another. For in 1865 George Percy, Earl of Beverley and Lord of the Manor of Airmyn, inherited the Duchy of Northumberland from his cousin and left Yorkshire for Alnwick. Perhaps not inappropriately - for he was aged 85 - his tenants clearly thought this the equivalent of death and resolved upon the erection of a suitable but useful cenotaph.
A bridge that linked "Little" and "Great" Airmyn would have been useful, but the cost was prohibitive. They settled on a Clock! The cost was £700, the designer H.J. Lockwood, and all was complete by 1868 (but alas the Duke had died in 1867, two years after his accession, and so he never saw it). Legend has it that it was the people of Little Airmyn who were (for obvious reasons) keenest on the bridge and when their proposals were turned down they refused to support the venture. In revenge it is said, the Clock was carefully designed with only three faces so that those who lived at Little Airmyn didn"t benefit from that for which they hadn"t paid! It is a very "Yorkshire" story but, sadly, appears not to be true: a bridge would have cost ten times as much as the Tower, the Clock faces can be seen from Little Airmyn, and anyhow Towers were fashionable in 1865. Of the same date is the great tower on the Yorkshire Wolds, near Sledmere, built by his tenants in gratitude for the life and work of their landlord Sir Tatton Sykes.
So the Airmyn Clock Tower - still standing well over a century later - commemorates George Percy, 2nd Earl of Beverley, 5th Duke of Northumberland and descendant of that Sir Hugh Smithson who purchased the Airmyn estate in 1656. But yet again Airmyn was not swallowed up into the Percy's Northumbrian estates. This time it was given to the Earl of Beverley's daughter who had married a son of that Bishop Heber of Calcutta who is today chiefly famous for the hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty". The couple took the name of Heber-Percy, and though they took an interest in their Airmyn estates they continued to live in the Heber ancestral home at Hodnet in Shropshire. They were visitors to Airmyn only. A further family arrangement worked to the advantage of Airmyn. For in 1874, the Hoods came to live in Airmyn Hall as the Agents of the Heber-Percys and remained there until 1911. This was certainly the Hall's Golden Age. Mrs Hood was a Heber-Percy daughter (and so a grand-daughter of the "Clock" Earl of Beverley). Her husband was a descendant of Lord Hood, Nelson's Admiral. For the only time in its history Airmyn had a "resident squire". With "squire", Church and School working together, and a number of strong personalities involved, its likely to be a matter of opinion whether we see this as a "golden age" or a time of tyranny.
It certainly improved the water supply. Since Airmyn began the river had been the only source of water. At some point two pumps had been placed on the river's edge and this must have made the fetching of water slightly less perilous. But towards the end of the 19 th Century, as the river became increasingly polluted (there had been a cholera epidemic in Goole and Hook in 1832), Mr Heber-Percy saw to it that there was a piped water supply of spring water into the village. Of course it didn't go into the houses but there were four stand-pipes and Airmyn became the first village in the area to have piped water.
Church life was strong and Airmyn was famous for its Church Choir. Though not all of Airmyn's Vicars have been popular: Mr Millner in his 70s was a recluse and Mr Stratton is said to have emptied the church with his high-church ways.
In the 1880s this rural idyll began to be threatened by the onward march of Goole. In 1891 a daughter church of Airmyn was built in Goole for the new houses, and then Airmyn had a succession of Curates.
A change of parish boundaries in 1905 ended this experiment and St. Paul's, Goole replaced St. Mary's, Airmyn. The 1914 War, as so often elsewhere, came to represent the end of an age. The Hoods left in 1911 and the Heber-Percys put the Airmyn estate up for sale in 1920 and since then many different people have owned houses and farms in the village. So little interest had the family in the village with which their ancestors had been so closely linked for nearly three hundred years, that on being asked to help with the repair of the Clock Tower in 1947, they advocated its demolition. The advowson of the living was sold to the Church Society, the most fervent of the Evangelical Patronage Trusts.
Airmyn 1920 onwards
Airmyn today faces two threats: steadily the River rises higher (or it may be that with the rest of the east coast Airmyn itself is getting lower) and the threat from high tides demands steadily higher defences. Even without the "greenhouse effect" this causes problems and those who remember Airmyn in the old days regret the formidable wall that now separates the village from the river. The second problem comes from the steady advance of Goole! Again, as in 1890, there is a considerable population that lives within the parish boundaries and yet is really part of Goole. But if each time this happens the parish boundaries are altered what eventually will be left for Airmyn?
Despite this double threat Airmyn must have a strong claim to be one of the most attractive villages in the Diocese of Sheffield. It is well worth a visit if only to see the Clock Tower which survived the crisis of 1947, and having been given to Goole Rural District Council (may it rest in peace) was restored in 1952 and is now surrounded by an attractive garden. And then, as you walk along the river bank, you see a village that is still a village: with Shop, Post Office, Pub, School, Church and half a vicar: and a Ferry. Long may it flourish!
Rivers, Rectors and Abbots, David Lunn - Bishop of Sheffield, 1990