Copmanthorpe is the largest of the villages in the South Ainsty area, and the closest to York. Its proximity to York, just 3 miles away, and its easy access to the A64 has made it a popular place to live, with some large housing developments. However, its history goes back before Domesday, when it was called Copeman Torp – the settlement of the merchant. Topographically it sits beside the glacial moraine which forms the ridge of higher ground along which the Roman road (Tadcaster Road/A64) runs. A further relic of the Ice Age is Askham Bog, a valley mire that formed in between the ridges of the glacial moraine. At one time a raised bog, it was reduced to a fen by peat cutting in the Middle Ages and now supports an unusual range of flora and fauna. It was the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s first nature reserve.
Prehistoric remains are scant in this area, and while there are no definite Roman remains from the township, the proximity to the road and the huge demand from the legionary fortress would have meant there was a ready market for produce from the area.
It is in the medieval period that Copmanthorpe develops into a major settlement, following the establishment of the Viking city of Jorvik; by the 10th century a pattern of nucleated villages had developed across Yorkshire and it is likely that Copmanthorpe and Acaster Malbis date from this time, with Domesday showing a complex pattern of pre-Norman land owners in the South Ainsty area.
Domesday shows two major landowners at that time: Erneis de Burun and Count W, who may have been William Rufus, the son of William the Conqueror. Certainly the village didn’t suffer during the Harrying of the North in 1069, since its value doubled from 20s pre-Conquest to 40s; many other villages were laid waste at that time.
In the early 13th century, part of the land originally held by Erneis was granted to the Knights Templar, who established a preceptory on the outskirts of the village and became Lords of the Manor. After the preceptory was dissolved in 1308, William Malbis seems to have acquired the manorial rights and the title.
The preceptory was a small farm with a hall, kitchen and chapel occupied by the Knights and their servants. Excavations by SAAS in 2006 at what is thought to be the site failed to locate any firm evidence, but there are enough other sources, including a reference to the chapel still being in use in 1411 and an inventory when the site was dissolved in 1308, to be confident about its history.
The medieval village was centred around the church of St Giles, which was built in the late 12th century as a chapel of ease to St Mary Bishophill Junior, just off Micklegate in the centre of York. Services would have been infrequent, which may be why some villagers continued to worship at the Templar church. The settlement was surrounded by four open fields, with the houses and farms were located on Main Street and Low Green. There was a manor house, although the exact identification of this property is difficult. A medieval building that stood where the shops now are is often referred to as the manor house – photos taken during its demolition show a large timber-framed building and it is from here that the carved stone head which forms the SAAS logo was retrieved.
The village clearly prospered and several farmhouses can be dated to the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1750, St Giles acquired its own burial ground and in 1866 Copmanthorpe became a parish in its own right. In 1787, Methodism was established in the village and in 1821 the first Methodist chapel was established on Church Street; the building is now part of the Co-op. In 1958 Main Street Chapel was opened and it has undergone several extensions.
During the First World War a Royal Flying Corps aerodrome was established on the outskirts of the village; it was operational from 1916 to 1918. It was a grass field, with a wooden hangar for aircraft and a canvas one for vehicles. Like the WWII airfield at Acaster, it was too low-lying. A fine war memorial on the green by St Giles records the names of those who died in both world wars.
Copmanthorpe’s location meant it was a busy place in the 19th and 20th centuries – the railway station opened in the 1850s, although there were only three trains a day in each direction at that time. The service gradually improved and in 1903 a new station was built; sadly it closed to passenger traffic in 1959. However, the lines were busier than ever with high-speed trains on the East Coast Mainline and the Leeds line. With York just 3 miles away, the village had frequent bus and carrier services into the city from the early 1900s.
The first official village school was established in the early 1800s and by 1851 it was housed in the building on the corner of Horseman Lane and School Lane (now the doctors’ surgery). Eventually, in 1968 the school moved to its present site on Low Green.
The steady development of the village meant it was able to support numerous social and sports clubs, as well as the Royal Oak and Fox and Hounds pubs.