This document told of a crime but was it “our” George Houseman?

The full record from Ancestry, Yorkshire, England, Quarter Session Records, 1637-1914

The year was 1707. Queen Anne was on the throne: Queen in her own right, her husband merely a consort. Britain was now just about a “thing” as the negotiations over The Scottish Union were to conclude the following year. We had survived the Glorious Revolution, the Nine Years War and were now fighting the War of Spanish Succession “to preserve the balance of power in Europe”. Despite the heavy land taxes (four shillings a pound) government borrowing increased leading to the formation of the Bank of England in 1694. England was polarising and, in the countryside, successful (tenant) farmers were beginning to dominate the rural economy leaving the less successful to drift downwards into the life of the landless labourer. Closer to home the medicinal powers of the Harrogate springs were starting to draw increasingly large numbers of people to test the purported curative powers.

1707 was also the year that Jeremiah Wilkinson “of Wooten” [likely Weeton] was recorded as being buried at Harewood on 8 December. Jeremiah could be our 9x great grandparent through his son, John, a product of his first marriage to a woman called Ellen rather than Grace Moore who our Jeremiah may have married at Harewood on 4 July 1671. Jeremiah is a rather typical example of the nearly 100 ancestors I can name who were alive in the year 1707. I know nothing more than can be gleaned from church records. This brief paragraph is the sum total of everything I know.

Imagine my excitement then when ancestry offered the hint of a record from the Yorkshire Quarter Sessions of a George Houseman of Winsley indicted on 7 October 1707 with a copy of the original document.

Houseman is not like Smith or Cooper. www.freebmd.org.uk currently shows records for just 2,639 births in England & Wales between 1837 and 1997(*) of which just under half were born in Yorkshire. The Housemans of Nidderdale database records 674 that are proven to directly connect to us and Hartwith cum Winsley was a township right in the centre of it all.

I opened it and realised eighteenth century handwriting was the least of my worries as the record was in Latin…….More tantalising still when I searched the database there was a second indictment for Georgius Houseman, also of Winsley, in 1717. Was it worth investing in translation? What did I know of my Houseman ancestors at that time? Who could have been of an age to commit crimes in 1707 and 1717? Was it, in fact, my 6x great grandfather George Houseman, the father of the George Houseman who married Margaret Grange and was the founder of our local dynasty?

Which George Housemans were in contention? Own miro board.

I spent the evening on two trusted (but secondary) genealogical websites. It seems there are two potential contenders. A father’s cousin or a cousin’s nephew, in modern parlance a first cousin once removed

A. My ancestor, baptised on 14 May 1689 at Kirkby Malzeard, son of Thomas Houseman and Elin Carrick. This George married twice, first to Mary Jackson on 11 June 1710 at Kirkby Malzeard who was buried on 1 February 1722 at Ripley and second to Margaret Wilks in 1723 at Pateley Bridge. George’s only recorded children come from his second marriage. Three of his children were recorded as being on Winsley in 1685, 1687 and 1701 in their baptisms.

B. My ancestor’s father’s cousin baptised on 27 April 1661 at Hampsthwaite, married Anna Leuty on 21 January 1686 at Kirkby Malzeard. Two known children: Grace (baptised 1 May 1697 at Ripley) and Ann (baptised 29 November 1689 also at Ripley). One of his daughters, Grace, was recorded as being from Winsley when she was baptised in 1687 and this George was also recorded as being from Winsley when he was buried in Ripley in 1729.

(And as an aside for future the original John Houseman was apparently “slain in Mr. Wythes barn of Eastkeswick with thunder” – how hard was that not to drop into a rabbit hole).

I had no choice, I had to get the Latin translated and here we are:

The full record from Ancestry, Yorkshire, England, Quarter Session Records, 1637-1914

Knaresborough October 7th 1707

George Houseman: And that George Houseman, late of Winsley in the aforesaid county, labourer, on the first day of June in the 6th year of the reign of lady Anne, by the grace of God now queen of Great Britain, etc, at Burton Leonard in the West Riding of the aforesaid county, extortionately, injuriously and unjustly exacted, received and had from a certain John Dickinson four shillings and six pence in ready cash, under colour and pretext of a fee due to a certain Robert Stephenson and John Hardcastle, special bailiffs for executing a certain execution upon the body of the aforesaid Dickinson, where in truth no such fee was due to them, to the serious damage of the aforesaid John Dickinson and against the peace of the said now lady queen, her crown and dignity, etc.

Witnesses: Thomas Fox, gentleman, John Dickinson.

Acknowledged: fine 6d.

The full record from Ancestry, Yorkshire, England, Quarter Session Records, 1637-1914

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Knaresborough 5th October 1714

George Houseman: And that George Housman, late of Winsley in the aforesaid county, husbandman, on the first day of October in the first year of our lord George, by the grace of God now king of Great Britain, etc, at Winsley, aforesaid, in the West Riding of the aforesaid county, unlawfully and unjustly permitted and still permits his hedges and fences in a certain close of the same George called Fleak Bank to be in ruin and decay, to the serious damage of his neighbours, and against the peace of the said now lord king, his crown and dignity, etc.

Witness: Lawr[ence] Danson, gentleman.

Acknowledged: fine 1s.

So we have a labourer in 1707 who extorted money and a husbandman in 1714 who didn’t keep his hedges cut….

George A (my ancestor, the younger) was married for much of this period. George B (the older) had two daughters. Both have links to Winsley. Was it youthful exuberance (George A would have been aged 18 & 25 when the crimes happened) or an older man not knowing how to stay solvent in a changing world with only daughters to see him through (George B would have been 46 & 53)? My gut feel knowing George A left a legacy is that it was the other but who knows? And either way they are both part of my history and understanding of the world in 1707.

*On 28 April 2022, the Houseman count on www.freebmd.org.uk stands at 2,639, the Wellock count at just 1,239 – if I ever do a one name study, I will do two. These two family surnames are heavily concentrated around specific locations in Yorkshire. If you are a descendant of anyone bearing either of these surnames, there is a high chance we are related and a good chance I can prove how – please do get in touch!

Jane Howson (1826 – 1833) & Isaac Wilkinson (1826 – 1905)

This is part of a series of biographies of early ancestors.

Dressed in her mother’s “for best, dear” muslin, Jane stepped cautiously through the church gate. The baby was fast asleep in her arms. Her father, John, was just a couple of steps behind. The pair paused and looked at the congregation milling about in front of the church. It appeared to be mainly the smarter folks from Kirkby Overblow village. It was the last day of August and Jane was pretty certain that their Rigton neighbours would be hard at work harvesting, not able to spare the time to walk the three miles to church. “Come on” John urged, doffing his cap as he stepped forward. The pair crossed the threshold into the cool interior and nervously approached the vicar. “We are John & Jane Howson from Rigton and we’ve come t’ get the babe baptised.” Not a lie of course, but hiding a truth, that John was the grandfather, not father, of the boy his daughter held. “Welcome” said the vicar, “John, you say” not quite recognising the man “we’ll call you to the font during the service.” Jane & John took a seat in a pew to the furthest side of the church. The baby slept soundly in her arms through hymn, prayer, hymn, prayer, hymn, sermon, prayer… right up until the point where the vicar poured cold water from the font on his forehead when he woke with a loud scream. “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost we baptise you John Thomas and welcome you into the church community.” And just like that it was done, the bastard baby was baptised and recorded in the parish record as John Thomas, son of John & Jane Howson, Rigton.

Two documents made Jane’s life much harder to research than some. The first was the baptism record referred to above. The second was an 1891 census listing one Jane Wilkinson, wife of Isaac, living in North Rigton somewhat at odds with a gravestone showing her as having died in 1883. I had a lot of fun trying to put this story together….

The first accurate survey of Leeds was published by Netlam and Giles in 1815. It clearly shows the different types of development at each end of the Headrow…[including] the narrow streets, and crowded terraces of back-to–back houses of the east end. https://secretlibraryleeds.net/2015/09/25/the-headrow-coffee-change-loss/

Jane was born in Leeds around 1826, the only child of Mary Robinson & John Howson. Whilst Mary had been born in Boroughbridge & John in North Rigton, both were living in Leeds at the time of their marriage in 1826. Given that the 1841 census lists John & Mary as living on Lowerhead Row (the eastern part of The Headrow and close to Kirkgate Market) and John’s occupation as “butter dealer” it is reasonably safe to assume this is the general area where Jane was born & brought up. Jane herself was staying with her maternal grandparents in Boroughbridge in 1841.

Birth certificate of John Thomas Howson.

Everything changed for Jane on 6 August 1845 when her son, John Thomas, was born at Rigton, apparently fatherless. Had the whole family returned to Rigton before Jane became pregnant? Had they returned from Leeds knowing she was? Or had Jane returned from Boroughbridge in disgrace to join her parents or grandparents just before the baby was born? Then there is the baptism record for one John Howson at All Saints, Kirkby Overblow on 31 August 1845 listing two parents as John & Jane Howson from Rigton. This record has led a lot of people to assume there was a brother, John, married to another Jane, also having a son called John in 1845. I can find no other evidence that such a brother, wife or child existed which led me to imagining the above sleight of hand.

Isaac’s earlier years are much more straightforward. Born in Rigton the only son of Ann Thomas & Matthew Wilkinson. Isaac was baptised at Kirkby Overblow on 23 October 1826 and in 1841 was living with his paternal grandfather and uncle, still in North Rigton.

The couple were married on 24 September 1847 at Otley registry office, the existence of John Thomas potentially the reason for not getting married at Kirkby Overblow. (Either that, or the church had discovered Jane’s earlier deception!). A son, James, was born in 1849, and a daughter, Mary Ann (our great, great grandmother), was born in 1850. The couple lived with or next door to Jane’s parents in the centre of North Rigton village for the remainder of their lives.

Rigton Hill, 1906, from www.northrigton.org. The Wilkinson family likely lived in one of the houses on the left.

Meanwhile the railways were coming. The Leeds and Thirsk Railway Act received Royal Assent on 21 July 1845 with construction starting on 20 October 1845.  The section from Weeton to Wormald Green opened on 1 September 1848 and from Weeton onto Leeds on 9 July 1849.

Weeton station is just over a mile from North Rigton and Isaac started working on the railways, as a repairer (1851), platelayer (1861 & 1871) or labourer (1881) leaving only to become a full-time farmer after the death of his father-in-law in 1883. In due course John Thomas became an “engine tenter” (overseeing an engine’s operations) and James an engine driver leaving just Mary Ann to marry a local farmer.

Jane Howson’s gravestone at Kirkby Overblow. Photo from www.gravestonephotos.com

Jane died at the age of 56 or 57 on 12 April 1883 from bronchitis and pneumonia not long after her father and only a couple of years after her mother. Having lived so close to their grandparents, the children must have been devastated and, unusually for a woman, Jane has her own beautiful headstone “in affectionate remembrance” at Kirkby Overblow complete with a poem:

“My wearied limbs are at rest.

Suffering and pain with me are o’er

I meet my friends whom God hath blest

In heaven where we shall part no more”

But if Jane died in 1883, why does the census list one Isaac & Jane Wilkinson as living in North Rigton in 1891? If there’s one complication in family history research that trips me up more than any other it’s forgetting that my male ancestors seemed to like marrying two women with the same first name. Maybe it’s so they don’t get mixed up. Isaac was one such culprit marrying Jane Woodhead (previously Lancaster) at Wetherby registry office on 26 April 1890. Sadly the marriage didn’t last long. Jane died just four years later. Unlike our Jane, she doesn’t appear to have merited her own headstone.

Rose Cottages, Rigton Hill. Isaac likely lived in the closest one. Own photo.

By 1901 the 75-year-old Isaac will still living on Rigton Hill, now with his granddaughter Mary Abigail (Mary Ann’s daughter & Grandad’s mother). He died four years later on 6 July 1905 from “syncope [fainting] caused by the shock of an accidental fall on the thirtieth day of June last.” An inquest was held, but I’ve been unable to locate any records.

Estate notice published in The Yorkshire Post on 29 July 1905

There’s one final part to the story. Whilst Isaac seems to have ignored both his daughter, Mary Ann, and Mary Ann’s daughter, Mary Abigail, when he wrote his will, he did chose to recognise both his son, James, and his wife’s illegitimate child, John Thomas, equally. One half of £164 – 4 – 0 may not have been a particularly large sum (it’s worth less than £13,000 in today’s money) but clearly demonstrates that Isaac thought of John Thomas as his own.

Extract from Isaac Wilkinson’s will, written in 1901, proven in 1905.

With much gratitude to Jane Howson & Isaac Wilkinson, my great, great, great grandparents for helping me hone my research skills. Jane and Isaac are the parents of Mary Ann Wilkinson who is the mother of Mary Abigail Clapham who is the mother of my Grandad.