IT was to the lords of the manor of Bedale that the town's market charter was granted 750 years ago. Probably the most distinguished was one of the earliest - Brian Fitzalan, still visible today in his effigy and the nameplate on Fitzalan Road which leads to Bedale high school.

Fitzalan, a firm favourite of King Edward I, had a career full of colour and dash. After campaigns in the Welsh Marches, he was appointed warden of the castles of Forfar, Dundee, Roxburgh and Jedburgh.

He later became custodian of Scotland and fought alongside Edward at Falkirk in 1298. He died in 1306, two years after the Scots were vanquished at Stirling.

Fitzalan's home at Bedale was a castle, of which no trace remains, near Bedale Hall. His second wife, Matilda, instructed that the three lower stages of the present tower be built about 1330 as a refuge from Scottish invaders.

When Brian Fitzalan died, the manors of Bedale and Aiskew were split between his two daughters. One married a Stapylton and they held their half until the end of the 19th century.

The other half had a more turbulent history. In the next 300 or so years, the title passed to the Greys, Lord Lovel, the Digbys, the Jacksons and the Theakstons and three lords of the manor ended up on the losing side.

Francis, Lord Lovel, lost all his lands after supporting his near neighbour, Richard III (defeated at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485) and leading an ill-prepared rebellion which ended in his defeat.

It was thought he had fled to France but about 200 years later, a secret room was discovered at Lovel Minster and in it the body of a man, richly dressed. Everything crumbled to dust but few doubted these were the remains of Francis, Lord Lovel.

Another lord of the manor, Simon Digby, was hanged for his part in an abortive rising in support of Mary, Queen of Scots; and the Theakstons had property sequestrated after Sir Richard Theakston sided with Charles I during the Civil War.

It was at this point that the Peirse family appeared on the scene, John Peirse buying out the Theakston share of the estate in 1657.

Henry Peirse became lord of the manor in 1708 and it was he who enlarged the existing manor house in the Palladian style in 1738. Henry served as MP for Northallerton for 44 years, and his son, Henry, was also the member for Northallerton for 45 years, latterly as Father of the House.

It was this Henry Peirse Esq (1755-1824) who travelled widely and had his portrait painted in Italy by the celebrated Pompeo Batoni.

He also took a keen interest in racing and his horses won the St Leger in 1817 and 1818. If he had won the following year, the race would have become the "Peirse Stakes". But although his horse came first, the race had to be re-run owing to a false start.

His marriage to Charlotte Grace, daughter of Lord Monson, produced three daughters, the second of whom, Marianne, inherited a life interest in the estate and was lady of the manor from 1824 to 1850.

Her elder nephew, Henry William Beresford, took the additional surname of Peirse when he succeeded her at Bedale Hall. He married the daughter of Thomas Monson, a rector of Bedale.

Henry Monson Beresford-Peirse succeeded his father in 1859 and died in 1926.

Since then the line has been continued by his son, Henry Bernard, his grandson Henry Campbell, and his great grandson, Henry Grant, the present baronet.

It is a family which for more than three centuries has maintained a tradition of public service, in the House of Commons, the county council and as magistrates