There has been a settlement in this location since prehistoric times, with burial sites and artefacts found dating back to Neolithic, Stone Age, and Bronze Age times; items from the latter are now held in the British Museum in London. In ancient times Driffield was the centre from which a large portion of England – known as Deira – was ruled. North End Park was reputedly the site of an Anglo-Saxon palace, and in the 1970s archaeological excavations of the grassy mound at the north end of the town uncovered a medieval motte castle (now known as Moot Hill).
In more recent times the town’s economy boomed when local businessman Thomas Porter orchestrated the extension of the region’s canal system to Driffield in 1770. The now tranquil and beautiful River Head area of the town became a hive of activity back then, with flour and bone meal mills, warehouses and granaries, malt houses and breweries, coal yards and manufacturing industries. The last commercial traffic departed in 1951 and the Driffield Navigation Trust was later formed with the aim of restoring the waterway to a navigable condition – a lengthy process which was completed in 2009.
The railway has been instrumental in the prosperity of the town since it arrived here in October 1846. The original line was extended to Malton in 1853 and to Selby in 1890, a development which brought large numbers of holidaymakers through Driffield heading to the coast from the West Riding.
The town is filled with interesting historical landmarks, including the 12th century All Saints Church whose tower can be seen for miles around, the imposing Bell Hotel, the former market site at Cross Hill where hundreds of farm workers used to gather for the annual hirings (and where the town’s work house was built in 1842), the 200 year old Spread Eagle Inn which was reputedly built by the town’s witch Susannah Goor, and the Masonic Hall which was built in 1878 by renowned archaeologist John Mortimer.
Hailed as a genius by one of his counterparts, Benjamin Fawcett is arguably the most famous of Driffield’s forefathers. A printer by trade, he set up his own business in 1831 in Middle Street, and went on to become a pioneer of colour printing. The site of his East Lodge Printworks is now known as Fawcett Gardens.
Driffield Town Trail is a great way to explore the town on foot – it is a short walk taking in some of the many landmarks including Fawcett Gardens, Cross Hill, Bridge House (one of the oldest surviving 18th century houses), Laundry Lane and River Head.