Rednesse c.1170. "Reedy headland". Old English hreod + næss
A Dictionary of English Place-Names, Oxford University Press
Reedness stretches over a couple of miles and contains many buildings, including a windmill, pub, post office, old folks home, red telephone box and a bus stop. The whole village is under sea-level and all the riverbanks were recently raised to provide long-term protection to the houses.
Like most of the riverside villages, it has a Wesleyan Chapel. John Wesley lived only thirteen miles away in Epworth, so the Ouse borderland formed his early preaching ground.
The local pub was once famous for its one-eyed cat and a landlord who would only serve you during the adverts. However, it was compensated for by the real ales. If you walk along the riverbank, you can just glimpse the Humber Bridge in the distance, and the night skies here are glorious, especially if you're lucky enough to see a shooting star or the Northern Lights.
Reedness and Ousefleet are indeed distinct townships with their own history. But their circumstances are so similar and their history so alike it seems right to deal with them together. The stranger to Marshland reading this needs to remember that Swinefleet, Reedness, Whitgift and Ousefleet all lie along the southern shore of the Ouse and - moving from west to east, from Goole to the Trent - in that order.
A "ness" is another Old Norse word and it means "a headland, a point of land, in the bend of a river". A "fleet" as we have seen can be an "inlet" but also can simply mean "a stretch of river". But as through the centuries the Ouse has meandered across these lands that are barely, if at all, above sea level, its course must have changed so often that it is now hardly possible to decide what it was about a particular "ness" or "fleet" that led people to use them for the naming and distinguishing of one small community from another.
The history of all these Marshland riverside communities is the history of the building - and sometimes alas the failure - of the defences that keep water and land separate. The earliest of these walls and banks takes us back before the beginnings of written records and when the records begin there is the constant complaint of "banks much broken and in decay" and comments about "grete inundations". The Economic Historian would tell us that one of the reasons that lay behind the generous gifts of Kings and Earls to the Abbeys of Selby, Thornton, Drax and St. Mary"s, York, were that these lands were uninhabitable and almost worthless until there had been this investment in drainage and defences. The early history of Reedness and Ousefleet is the story of that investment.
So we begin to find people living in these places - and sometimes people of sufficient importance and wealth to get into the history books and sometimes leave some trace of where they had lived for us to see. For a time the Usfleets of Ousefleet were very important people indeed. They were closely related to the Furnivals, Lords of Sheffield and Hallamshire. Their fortified Manor House, "Hall Garths", still shows the moats that surrounded it and some traces of the once-great house in which Sir John de Usfleet was licenced to have a Chaplain for his Chapel. The last of the line fought at the Battle of Agincourt, supported by nine lancers and thirty six archers.
Similarly the "de Redenesse" family flourished at Reedness. In 1287 a licence was given for the building of a Chapel in the Manor of Reedness. In 1346 "Sir William de Redenesse" was granted "pardon for his good service in the War of France for homicides, felonies, robberies and trespasses committed before September 4th last". (They must have been a wild lot at Reedness for in 1386 John Elmsall, a servant of Thomas de Redenesse, is pardoned for the murder of John Mundson of Swynflete). Traces of a mediaeval house can be seen at Mawgre, inland from Reedness, but this is first mentioned in the 15th Century and I would think that the villainous Sir William lived more at the centre of the village nearer to the river. Surprisingly, Redenesse pays more in the 1379 Poll Tax £2/13/6 than anywhere else in the neighbourhood except Snaith. Ousefleet escaped with 19/10.
Ousefleet was involved in the struggle between Adlingfleet and Selby for ecclesiastical control of the area. Sometime after 1164, Walter, Rector of Adlingfleet, had built a Chapel for those he claimed to be his parishioners at Ousefleet, and around 1200 it was ordered that it be "thrown down to the foundations".
There are some references to "The Church of Reedness" but it seems likely that this actually means "The Church at Whitgift". To this day the sign saying "Reedness" is within inches of Whitgift"s churchyard wall.
Reedness seems in later centuries to have had a continuing life as a small port. There was a price to be paid for this. In 1633 Lord Wentworth (who was to become Earl of Strafford and beheaded by Parliament"s command in 1641) wrote to tell London that "Pestilence has come into divers parts of Co. York. Redness and Airmin are furiously infected and 100 persons dead, this being brought out of Lincolnshire… it was brought into the suburbs of York by a lewd woman from Airmin… the passages from Lincolnshire have been stopped as much as possible."
The Civil Wars, despite the comings and goings of great persons and the importance of Hull in the struggle, have left few marks on the history of the neighbourhood. Parliament built a fort in 1643 at Whitgift to guard the river but that, I suspect, was a "nine days wonder". But tragedy came to Ousefleet. For Whitgift"s Registers tell us that John Hobson, who had been christened on 30 July, 1614, "was slaine in ye warre being taken prisoner for ye King, a boy came behind him and shot him with a pistoll". The Puritanism of the clergy suggest general support for Parliament. But the Empsons were in trouble with Parliament for their support of the Royal cause.
The Admiralty Court"s fining of Reedness in 1693 for not removing "the piles and stumps of an old staithe called King's Staithe in the Constablery of Rednesse" suggests that sometime between 1633 and 1693 the port had closed down. Perhaps it never recovered from the plague.
Through the centuries, fashions in generosity change. In the 12th Century there were many small gifts to the Abbeys. By the 15th Century it was the gifts of tenements and lands in "Rednez" and a "messuage" in "Uslytte" that endowed the "Guylde Preyst" in Whitgyfte Church. But by the 17th Century the major concern was for schools. In 1705 John Wressel bequeathed 70 acres of land to a minister at Whitgift and directed that £15 a year should go to a schoolmaster for the education of poor children at Reedness. In 1727, not to be outdone, Emmanuel Empson had set about the founding of a School at Ousefleet. And of course at much the same time the Grammar School at Fockerby had come into existence.
The 18th Century and early 19th Century too had seen the building of Methodist Chapels in the villages of Marshland. The nearness to Epworth encouraged the growth of Weslyan Methodists and the Trent was the road down which Primitive Methodists travelled north.
Rivers, Rectors and Abbots, David Lunn - Bishop of Sheffield, 1990