A brief biography of Frances Morrell (c. 1771 – 1854) & Thomas Robinson (c. 1771 – 1848)

St Andrew’s Church, Aldborough, 2023. Own photo.

What lovelier question could there be to ask a family historian on her birthday weekend than “What churchyard do you want to visit today?” “Kirkby Hill” I responded promptly, as I’d long wanted to go and find the gravestone of my great, great Uncle Walter, who was killed by a shotgun at the age of seven. “Along the way we could call in and see the Roman mosaics at Aldborough?”. We found the gravestone in question, bumped into my Aunty Sue in the Oxfam in Boroughbridge (which led to a whole new set of discoveries), visited the mosaics and found ourselves unexpectedly enjoying tea and cakes on the village green of Aldborough. I left Mum and Joe chatting with strangers on the next door table and wondered off to mooch around the old church. A perfect day.

Aldborough (“old town”) feels like somewhere time stopped. Trade had long since moved to its upstart neighbour, Boroughbridge (when the Roman’s built a bridge there). By the 1700s, it had become a rotten borough, controlled by the local landowner, with parliamentary seats available for a price, more lucrative than investing in the village itself. St Andrew’s Church, though, remained the centre of a significant parish, including Boroughbridge, as late as 1866. The church was rebuilt around 1330 after being destroyed by Scottish raiders, with a chancel and tower built in the fifteenth century. The stained-glass windows were a much later addition, but it looks, and feels, largely as it would have at the end of the eighteenth century.

Largely as it did, I discovered later that week, when my 5xG Grandparents, Frances (Morell) and Thomas Robinson were married there on 25 August 1796, two hundred and twenty-seven years and four days before I walked through the same heavy oak doors.

Thomas was an agricultural labourer and although this is a potentially iterant profession, the family appear to have settled in Boroughbridge where children arrived at regular intervals to be baptised at St Andrew’s: George (11 June 1797), Thomas (27 October 1799), Mary (my ancestor) (17 December 1802), Sarah (10 February 1805) and finally William (21 March 1812).

Unlike with many other of my lines, this was not to be the start of a generational connection to Boroughbridge, for the children scattered. George moved to Marton cum Grafton where he followed in his father’s footsteps taking up agricultural labouring work, Thomas moved to Colne, Lancashire, although returned to marry Mary Dickinson in 1821 and, potentially, became a soot merchant. Mary moved to Leeds and then, following her marriage to John Howson, to North Rigton. Sarah did marry a local man, George Johnson, in 1829, but he appears to have died before they had any children, as she too, moved to Leeds where she married John Kerton in 1838. Of William there is, as yet, no sign.

THE Shelves for Bread to be distributed to the Poor of Aldborough every Sunday from the Bounty of Mark Smithson Esq

St Andrew’s holds a potential clue, a Georgian bread shelf, indicating the necessity of charity for the parish poor. Work, at least work which paid sufficiently well to support a family, was likely in short supply. The growing towns and cities of the industrial north provided a solution.

1841 census for Boroughbridge showing the Robinson household including their granddaughter, Jane Howson, the national archives via ancestry.

I’ve often wondered how, or even whether, illiterate families from the nineteenth century stayed in touch once children moved. This was too early for the train, so travel would have been expensive and time consuming, and if the parents couldn’t read, and the child couldn’t write, what was the point of a letter? In this case, it seems they must have done, for in the 1841 census, Thomas (68) and “Fanny” (56) had visitors, John Robinson (8) and Jane Howson (14), two grandchildren sent to live with and support their elderly grandparents. I am grateful they were not alone, and even more grateful that it was my 3xG Grandmother, Jane, who was there because it was her presence, together with the birthplace of her mother, Mary, which had led me to identify Frances and Thomas in the first place.

Thomas Robinson’s death certificate. Note age and place of death. General Registry Office.

Not that grandchildren took away the need to work. By his seventies, Thomas would have been struggling to find employment, yet still he laboured. For on the 16 August 1848, he died, of a palsy fit, in Spring Field in Hutton Conyers. In his death certificate, an illiterate co-worker gave Thomas’s age as sixty-six. In his burial record, at Aldborough two days later, his more likely age of seventy-seven was listed. It was harvest time, when any physically able ag lab should be able to find work and yet Thomas was working nearly eight miles from home and, it appears, had felt it necessary to knock a decade off his age in order to secure the position.

Frances struggled on alone in Boroughbridge, which is where we find her in 1851, aged 76, her occupation listed simply as “poor” perhaps struggling to make the weekly service at St Andrew’s in order to claim some bread for the week. Eventually though, she must have moved in with her son George, for it was in his home in Marton cum Grafton where she died, aged 83, of nothing more specific than “old age” on 19 July 1854. I like to hope that she is buried back at St Andrew’s, with Thomas and where her records start, but her burial remains untraced.

Despite records surviving from the 1770s in Aldborough, there are no obvious baptisms. Morrell should have been a traceable family, especially as George also married a Mary Morrell, but I have found nothing that fits. Thomas was an agricultural labourer and, with only the 1841 census to go on, could have been born anywhere in Yorkshire. Illiterate, it is no surprise that the ages given in the various records are not entirely consistent. So, I’ve called it. They are not a brick wall but can be celebrated and written about as an end of the line, being as far back as I am expecting to trace. With much gratitude to my 5xG Grandparents, Frances Morell, Thomas Robinson and their granddaughter Jane Howson for being together on 6 June 1841 and to my Mum’s husband who suggested a spontaneous trip to Aldborough which supported the writing of this story.

End of the line…..or not!

Hermione screamed in pain, and Harry turned his wand on her in time to see a jewelled goblet tumbling from her grip. But as it fell, it split, became a shower of goblets, so that a second later, with a great clatter, the floor was covered in identical cups rolling in every direction, the original impossible to discern amongst them.”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chapter 26.

The Doubling Charm or Gemino Curse is a wonderful analogy for family history. Each ancestor we identify creates two new people to research. Go beyond the basics and each person you add to your tree creates a multiplicity of avenues to follow: parents and children, villages and towns, occupations and religions, local history and world changing events.

Most of the time it’s why I love family history; there’s always a new direction to explore, a new connection to make. But for the completer-finisher part of me it can be a bit of a curse. The stories increase exponentially and I’m barely managing to systematically capture the basics. I am starting to drown in the genealogical gold.

This is why I was weirdly excited to get to know Frances (Morrell) and Thomas Robinson, two of my 5xG Grandparents. I have their marriage (on 25 August 1796 at St Andrews Church in Aldborough), their children’s baptisms, their burials and a story idea linking them back to the present. But neither were baptised in Aldborough, there is no record of a Frances Morrell being baptised anywhere in the locality and there are so many potential options for Thomas that I am never going to be able to identify which one is mine. They are officially the end of the line, and it feels powerful.

I thought Frances and Thomas’s story will be the first of a new blog series entitled “the end of the line,” but then as I started to the ancestors to which this might apply and found that almost every short line offered some plausible hints as to the next generation and, often, the bones of a story. Hence the “…or not,” to recognise that those exploding goblets just don’t want to be contained!

The official end of line stories are listed below.


Wid Swinden (remembered in poetry) – 7xG Grandmother, mother of Ann Swinden, mother of Martha Bottom, mother of Rachel Hall, mother of George Bentley, mother of Annie Bentley, mother of Marion Moody, mother of Nana.


Sarah Dickinson and John Windsor (in a tale of the impact of an Icelandic volcano eruption on a remote village in Yorkshire) – 5xG Grandparents, being parents of Mary Windsor, mother of Thomas Wellock, father of Richard Wellock, father of Mary Wellock, mother of Grandpy. I do have a clue on the Windsor side, as John may have been baptised on 27 October 1745 at Arncliffe, the son of a Thomas Windsor.

Mary and James Sympson (the beginning of our connection with Garnshaw) – 9xG Grandparents, being parents of Agnes Symson, mother of William (3) Wellock, father of William (2) Wellock, father of William Wellock, father of Richard (2) Wellock, father of Thomas Wellock, father of Richard Wellock, father of Mary Wellock, mother of Grandpy.



Frances Morrell and Thomas Robinson – 5xG Grandparents, being parents of Mary Robinson, mother of Jane Howson, mother of Mary Ann Wilkinson, mother of Mary Abigail Clapham, mother of Grandad.

Icelandic volcanoes, snow and poverty in eighteenth century Arncliffe

Snow on Greenhow Hill – March 2023. If this is your photo, please let me know so I can credit you!

We’ve been sharing snowy pictures on the family whatsapp this week – one of my sister’s even shared a picture of some drifts which had formed at Greenhow Hill – a sign that some element of these stories is being absorbed. There was a bit of grumbling about school closures and disrupted travel plans but mostly it was delight in the white wonderland outside the window.

We, however, have solid, insulated, centrally heated homes, warm clothes and, even if tomatoes are scare, a functioning food system. Our 18th century ancestors had none of these things. The poorest amongst them were living in shabbily built huts where the cold wind whistled through both open spaces for light and gaps in the walls, roofs and doors. Clothing was limited and threadbare, food dependent on what a daily wage would provide. Winters, a daily struggle to survive.

It might well have been snowing when Sarah (Dickinson) & John Windsor married at St Oswald’s in Arncliffe on 15 January 1771 but there would have been comfort in hearing the old bell, already 400 years old, pealing out loud and clear down Skirfare valley. In their first few years of married life Sarah & John made regular, happy, trips to the church to see their children christened. Mary (our 4x great grandmother) was the first to arrive, baptised on 23 February 1773. She was followed by Jane (ch. 24 July 1774), Issabella (ch. 7 July 1776), John (ch. 9 November 1777) and Sarah (ch. 7 May 1780). Sadly Sarah survived only a few weeks and was buried on 10 June 1780. Still four children out of five surviving infancy was pretty good odds in the late eighteen century.

St Oswald’s church, Arncliffe, courtesy of an ex-colleague Steve Roecliffe.

In the church baptism records John is listed as John Junior, recognising another, older, John Windsor who was also producing children at this time. However, it also tells us that John Junior did not have another distinguishing factor such as a trade or a farm tenancy. The family’s ability to survive would have depended on both John & Sarah working every day that work was available.

When baby William was baptised on 6 July 1783, news of the violent eruption of the Laki volcano in Iceland may not even have reached Arncliffe. Arncliffe was a bit of a backwater – it was still using the Gregorian calendar to record baptisms and burials thirty years after we officially adopted the Julian one. The sulphur dioxide gas smothered Europe, blocking ports and increasing deaths amongst outdoor workers. It was disastrous for Iceland, some 20 – 25% of the population were to die as a result of both the immediate explosions and the following famine.  But in Arncliffe, far from the sea and protected by hills? The understanding of a volcanic winter is a new one.

Temperatures dropped by an average of 1OC and the winter of 1783 – 1784 was especially severe. In the UK alone it is estimated to have caused an additional 8,000 deaths. Based on Sarah & John’s experience, and that of the parish of Arncliffe as a whole, it seems this number could be significantly understated.

Extract from “The Registers of the Ancient Parish of Arncliffe including those of Halton Gill and Hubberholme 1663 – 1812” transcribed and edited by William Arthur Shuffrey M. A. 1910 for 1783/4.

Burials in Arncliffe for the year 1783 (meaning 25 March 1783 to 24 March 1784) were approximately double those in the preceding five years. Amongst them were John (bu. 10 January 1783/4, aged six), William (bu. 16 January 1783/4, not yet one) and Jane (bu. 21 January 1783/4, aged eight), all children of John Windsor, now described as “a poor man.”

When families faced starvation in the eighteenth century, food for was prioritised for the workers to ensure they could keep earning. John, as the adult male, would have been first, Sarah, as an adult female, second. Mary, the eldest child, would have been eleven and she too, would have been contributing financially, and, presumably, fed. Assuming all three were out looking for any available work that would have left eight year old Sarah in charge of three shivering, starving children. Records don’t show whether it was starvation or sickness which killed the three children in just two weeks, but I am sure it was Laki.

After that long, cold winter life improved for the Windsors, at least as far as the next generation were concerned. Sarah & John had three more children: James (ch. 13 November 1784). Barnabas (ch. 23 July 1786) and finally Betty (ch. 21 October 1792) who was likely younger than her niece Jenny, Mary’s oldest child. Whilst I haven’t yet been able to trace what happened to Isabella & Betty, James & Barnabas both moved to Leeds, learnt trades, had families and lived long lives. Mary married Richard (2) Wellock and became part of my Wellock story. Together they re-established the Wellock family link to High Garnshaw and went on to have around fifty grandchildren including our own great great grandfather Richard Wellock. I am the legacy of the hard choices which Sarah & John faced during that bleak winter of 1783 and I am grateful for them.

The Wellocks of High Garnshaw, Hebden in Craven

The trees tell you all you need to know about the weather, strategically placed to counter the wind, rain and snow blowing off Mire Ridge to the west. The substantial stone walls bordering Tinkers (historically Tinklers) Lane carry their own story, of an ancient thoroughfare now forbidding to all but the most substantial vehicle. This is High Garnshaw, Hebden, home to several generations of our ancestors and Wellock cousins spanning 250 years.

The Wellocks have been linked to Linton in Craven ever since William Walok paid 4d of poll tax in 1379. (Incidentally this reference led me to researching the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and from there to a reference to Linton & Rylestone participants in the 1569 Northern Rebellion….but that will need to be a subject of another blog). Hebden was historically part of Linton-in-Craven parish but sufficiently different to be noted in the records.

Records from here on variously refer to Garnshaw, High Garnshaw, Tinkler’s Lane or even just Hebden. Whilst it’s hard to be certain these all refer to the same place (particularly as there is both a High Garnshaw and a Garnshaw house in close proximity), I take heart from Harry Speight, who in 1900 wrote the following about Linton “There are still resident in the parish several worthy families, descendants of the old yeoman class, who have lived on the land held by their forefathers for generations and even centuries.” Whilst the ever-present Harry neglects to make any mention of the Wallocke or Wellock families in his book “Upper Wharfedale” he was not alone in this characterisation of the people who lived in the parish of Linton for Rev. Thomas Dunham Whitaker wrote thus “the tenantry lived in so much plenty and security, the tenements descended so regularly from father to son” in his book “The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven, in the County of York” published in 1818.

An extract of an ordnance survey map showing High Garnshaw House and its relationship to Grassington. Hebden and Linton-in-Craven are just off the bottom of the map.

Here follows a timeline showing the evidence of our connection to Garnshaw.

1651 – “John & Mary Twins of James Symson of Garneshaw bapt. 11o of May.”

The very first mention of Garnshaw belongs to our 9xG Grandfather, James Symson. James married Isabell Ramell in 1639 and by the time the twins were born had already baptized three children. It is entirely possibly James himself was born and brought up on the same farm. Sadly this baptism was not a happy occaision. Isabell likely died in childbirth (being buried on 4 May 1651 and the twins were to follow on 7 December the same year). Agnes, (b. 31 December 1653) James’s daughter with his second wife, Mary, was to marry George Wellock in 1674 and thus begin the connection between the Wellocks & Garnshaw.

1674“Robert son of George Wallocke [was] borne at Garneshaw bapt. 16to Augusti [1674]” followed swiftly on from “George Wallocke & Agnes Symson both of this Parish were married 28th day of April [1674]” suggesting that the newly married George had moved in with his father-in-law James.  

1685 – “Willm son of George Wallocke Garneshaw bapt. 18th day of October.” George & Agnes were to have three further children including our 7x G Grandfather, William.

1702 – “Robert Wellock of Garnshaw burd ye 18 day of June.” Robert’s untimely death in 1702 (he would have been just 28) brought to an end this first period of connection to Garnshaw. William (our direct ancestor) (1685 – 1758) would have been too young to take over the property and clearly struggled to find a permanent tenancy, moving from Grassington to Threshfield to Coniston Cold all within a few miles of Garnshaw. William’s son William (6x G Grandfather) (1726 – 1813) was to establish a base at Upper Cow House in Winterburn where his son William (5x G Grandfather) (1748 – 1813) was born.

There is then a 50 year and three generation gap before we return to High Garnshaw.

1795 – “Richd. son of Richd. Wellock Tinkler lane Bapd. [June] 28th” – it was William’s son Richard (4 x G Grandfather) (1765 – 1849) who was to re-establish the Wellock connection to High Garnshaw. Richard married Mary Windsor at Arncliffe in 1789. Their first child, Jenny, was also baptized at the church there. By the time their son William arrived in 1792 the couple were described as living “near Hebden” and then in 1795 as “Tinkler Lane.” Whilst there would have been other dwellings on Tinkler Lane, the evidence of subsequent family connection to this specific property causes me to believe that they were now living at High Garnshaw house itself.

1810 – “Thomas son of Richard Wellack Tinkler lane, Farmer, Bapd. [June] 24th” – our 3 x G Grandfather, Thomas, was the eighth of Richard & Mary’s eleven children. Thomas was to establish another multi-generational tenancy at Toft Gate at Greenhow Hill. However, it was Thomas’s youngest sibling, Robert, who was to continue the connection the Wellock to High Garnshaw.

1846 title map showing an outline of the fields occupied by Richard Wellock.

1846 – thanks to a translation of the 1842 tithe assessment we can see the exact fields which made up the farm of High Garnshaw: Old House Field, Little Field, Low Laithe Field, Garth, Cow Garth, Far Field x 2, Strip, Intake, Paddock & Wogan Meadows plus the house itself were all occupied by Richard Wellock. The distinctive curve of Intake field (bottom left) can still be seen on modern photos.

1862 report of the alleged sexual assualt of Mary Wellock at High Garnshaw

1860 – Mary, Robert’s eldest daughter, went to work for a nearby farmer. In 1860, Mary alleged that a Mr Constantine “went into the room of the plaintiff, and committed an assault on her.” Mary moved back in with her family to have the baby and is recorded as living at High Garnshaw, together with her 4 day old daughter Fanny, in the 1861 census. Whilst at the time the case was judged to be nonsuited (meaning dismissed for lack of evidence) it is very hard to imagine a farmer’s daughter in the 1860s choosing to go to court to pursue a false allegation.

1865 – Robert’s youngest son, Jenkinson Wellock, was born. Jenkinson married Ellen Moore in 1888 and they had five children together.

1897John William Wellock, Jenkinson’s middle child, was born in 1897. John served in the West Riding regiment in WW1 and was killed in action on 8 September 1918. Although the family had moved out by the time of the war, John is remembered on the Hebdenhistory website.

The 1901 census is the last census showing Wellocks at High Garnshaw. Jenkinson heads the household, together with his wife, four of their children and his father, Robert.

1903 – John’s sister, Ellen, was the last Wellock child to be born at High Garnshaw on 21 February 1903.

By the time of the 1911 census, the Wellocks had moved out of High Garnshaw. Jenkinson, was boarding separately from his family with a woman he later went on to marry.

Ellen was my great grandmother (Mary Wellock)’s cousin and the 6x great grandchild of James Symson with whom we started our story.

In tracing our Wellock ancestry I owe a deep gratitude to my sister’s friend, Hazel Ratcliffe, whose daughter happened to have a child with a Wellock third cousin of ours and who kindly shared her research into our shared Wellock ancestry. I also am grateful to the Rev. F.A.C. Share M.A., Rector of Linton, who patiently transcribed the parish registers for St Michaels and All Angels Church, Linton in Craven for the Yorkshire Parish Register Society. These were published in 1900 (available on www.archive.org) and are the source for everything I quote in italics above. My final thanks go to the author of www.hebdenhistory.org for making the census and other research so much swifter.

Wid Swinden, remembered

A poem by Natalie Pithers inspired by Wid Swinden’s story

Earlier in the year, I wrote a blog celebrating the lives of three pauper women ancestors including a woman known only as Wid Swinden.

“The evidence of my 7th great grandmother’s existence is slim and mostly circumstantial. Yet exist she must, less I wouldn’t”.

Wid Swinden’s tale remained with me and when I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Tina Konstant on the Waffle Free Stories podcast, her brief story was one I chose to share.

This morning I woke to the most beautiful surprise. Inspired by Wid Swinden’s story in the podcast, Natalie Pithers, a professional family history storyteller, had written me a poem.

From a paragraph in a blog, to a story in a podcast and now immortalised in poem. Wid Swinden is remembered.

Thanks to Natalie & Tina for helping that to be so.