Map of Yorkshire, showing some places associated with the story of the Smithsons of Arthington.

The Smithsons from Weardley were not the only Smithsons to live on or around the manor of Harewood in the 17th and 18th centuries. Sometime during the 1670s, Henry Smithson took up residence at ‘The Nunnery’ at Arthington. His sons later took up lands in the manor of Harewood and appear often in manorial documents. This can lead researchers astray and one son, William Smithson, causes confusion, especially when access to a full range of documents – which could easily resolve misidentification – is difficult. It is important, therefore, that the story of the Smithson neighbours is told. Hopefully, their descendants who stray into this web site may also find the story of use.


Modern road signs near Balne. This area of flat, arable land in the parish of Snaith, Yorkshire, was the homeland of Smithsons of Balne and Heck – and later, Arthington.  Author photo.

The Smithsons of Arthington have their known origin in the parish of Snaith, which lies close to the border of the West Riding and East Riding – quite some distance to the east from Weardley. The registers of the parish of Snaith and a series of property records document the appearance of two Smithsons: Robert and James, in the village of Balne, near the town of Snaith in the early decades of the 17th century. Apart from an unknown Smithson who married Elsabeth Cooke of Heck in 1556, they are the first recorded Smithsons in the parish. In December 1610, Henry Skelton of Balne, yeoman, and John Balne, of Balne, gentleman, and Margaret his wife, conveyed to Robert Smythsonne of Snaith, yeoman, ‘10 acres land and meadow in the south field of Snaith, with all other lands there’.1

On 21 April 1611, James Smythson married Mathew [sic – Martha?] Pinder of Bawne (otherwise Balne), and their two children were baptised in 1611 and 1612/13 – the last while James was resident at Heck, four kilometres north of Balne. In 1617, Nicholas, the son of Robert Smythson, was baptised at Snaith. Robert was identified as Robert Smythson, yeoman of Snaith, in the register entry recording his marriage to Mary Wilson at St Peters Church, Leeds, on 6 May 1617.

This sudden appearance in the records of the two Smithsons in Balne, at roughly the same time and place, does suggest a relationship – they were probably brothers (Robert did name one of his sons James). It also suggests that Robert, as a yeoman, came from a family with the means to acquire a farm or farms in the Parish of Snaith. It is very tempting to identify Robert Smythson with a Robert, son of Robert Smithson and Margaret Nalson, baptised on 30 December 1580 at Normanton, an area almost midway between Snaith and Leeds. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to firmly link Robert at Snaith with Robert at Normanton. Indeed, the parish registers at Normanton, which date back to 1537, are very brief and this makes the identification of families difficult.

Church at Thornton Watlas, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, North Riding of Yorkshire. According to George R Smithson (Genealogical Notes & Memoirs of the Smithson Family , 1906, p.5), this area was the ancestral homeland of the Moulton, Newsham and Normanton Smithsons. The church was built in several stages. The first was the lower tower that served as a fortified refuge during Scottish raids.  Author photo.

Even more difficult, if not impossible, is the prospect of tracing the Smithsons at Normanton back further to establish a connection with two prominent Smithsons, the brothers John and Robert Smithson. They are known to have taken up and settled on land at Altofts, Normanton, in the first decades of the 1400s. John and Robert Smithson were descendants of a William le Smythsonne who lived around 1265 in the village of Thornton Watlas, near Bedale in the North Riding of Yorkshire. From William le Smythsonne were descended Smithsons who lived at Moulton and Newsham in North Yorkshire. One of the Newsham Smithsons, Sir Hugh Smithson, Baronet, was created Duke of Northumberland after his marriage to the heiress of the Percy family. Another was Sir Hugh’s illegitimate son, James Smithson (born in secret in Paris as James Lewis Macie), who was the founding donor of the Smithsonian Institution in America. Major George Smithson, a Parliamentary commander during the Civil War, was a member of the Moulton Smithson family.


From the little that is known about Robert Smithson of Snaith and his family, one gets an impression that they possessed a good measure of assertiveness and ambition. His wife may have been Mary Wilson, born at Snaith in 1585, the ‘basebegotten’ daughter of Sicilie Wilson. Robert was prominent enough in parish affairs to be mentioned in the will of Henry Pynder, curate of Snaith, proved on 2 April 1613; although the curate was perhaps related to Robert through the marriage of Robert’s suspected brother, James, to Martha (?) Pinder. Pynder bequeathed each volume of his library to various parishioners and gave Robert a copy of ‘Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven’ an English Calvinist text written by Arthur Dent. It was one of a good selection of Puritan tracts that made up Pynder’s library. Puritans, at this time, were a faction of the Church of England who regarded themselves as ‘the godly’ and were fundamentally opposed to the retention of Catholic elements in the Anglican Church. If Pynder had tailored his bequests to the character of his beneficiaries, the descriptive title of Robert’s book; ‘wherein every man may clearly see whether he shall be saved or damned. Set forth dialogue-wise for the better understanding of the simple’, suggests that Robert was a down-to-earth man who aspired to greater understanding of his spirituality.

The St Laurence Priory Church in the town of Snaith, old parish church of the Arthington Smithsons.   Author photo.

Nevertheless, Robert appears to have understood very well how the temporal world functioned and he steered his children accordingly. Parish registers show that five children were born to the couple and baptised at Snaith. A sixth child, Robert, is known only from legal documents. By contemporary standards, Robert’s daughters married well: Patience married Gegorie Empson, a grocer of York, and Sarah married Martyne Headley, son of Charles Headley of Snaith, mercer and vintner (Sarah died about six years after their marriage and Headley went on to become mayor of Leeds). Of Robert’s sons, nothing is known of James who may have died young, but two were involved in business: Nicholas was a grocer of Pomfrett or Pontefract and William was a draper of Leeds. Robert succeeded his father as Robert Smythson, yeoman of Snaith, and married Edith, daughter of Henry Roundell, a merchant of the southern part of Leeds known as Maine Rideinge. From the evidence provided by a “Return of the number of hearths and stoves” taken in Leeds for the purposes of taxation in 1663, Henry Roundell was quite prosperous and it seems likely that Robert and Henry shared a similar Puritan background.2

Robert Smythson the elder died on 19 April 1642, the first year of the English Civil War. There is good reason to believe that the Smythsons and the Roundells were supporters of Parliament. During the Protectorate, Henry Roundell served as an alderman in the Leeds borough and was the mayor of Leeds in 1655.3 He was also one of two “Justices of the Peace within the Borrough of Leeds” who performed marriages at Whitkirk during 1653-1655 by Act of Parliament, passed on 24 August 1653, which declared lawful only marriages solemnised before a Justice of the Peace.

Yet Henry Roundell’s affairs do not appear to have suffered any setback with the restoration of the monarchy under King Charles II in 1660. The Leeds merchant assisted Robert Smithson in expanding his property interests in the Snaith area, leasing Robert a close called Marshall and Shaw in Balne, containing 4 acres, in 1662; and two closes of land, meadow, or pasture at Balne, called Dynall crofts, containing 9 acres, in 1663. Henry Roundell also gave Robert’s children their start in life in his will of 1672/3. After providing for his wife, Roundell gave to Robert’s son, Henry, property at Hunslet, Leeds and on the manor of ‘Kirkgate cum Holbock’, and ‘the sume of one hundred pounds to be paid unto him when he shall accomplishe the Age of one and twenty yeares’.4 Robert’s other son, Robert, received property; and his daughter, Elizabeth, received property and money. The descendants of this Robert have not been traced by the writer.


Henry Roundell’s will explains Henry Smithson’s move from Snaith to Leeds. Henry appears to have lived on the rents from his inherited property at Leeds. Certainly, there is no evidence that Henry engaged in business in Leeds. This led Henry to take up a country residence close to Leeds. His choice of ‘The Nunnery’ at Arthington brought him close to the Smithsons of Weardley, but much closer to John Hargraves of Weardley, whose daughter, Mariah Hargraves, became Henry’s wife on 21 November 1674 at Harewood. Like Henry, the Hargraves had interests in Leeds: Mariah was born in Leeds, but lived at Weardley before her marriage.

The Nunnery, once the home of the Arthington Smithsons. It is located near the site of a suppressed Cluniac Priory and materials from the priory were used in its construction.   cc-by-sa/2.0  – ©  Derek Parkinson  –

The Nunnery was built close to the site of the Priory of Arthington, established in the mid12th century by Peter de Arthington. It attracted a series of land grants in the district, including some ground at Weardley. Nevertheless, the nunnery was never a rich establishment and its struggles were not assisted by a history of scandal and misbehaviour wrought by the aristocratic daughters who had joined the community. By the eve of its suppression by Henry VIII, the number of nuns had fallen to nine, including the Prioress. At least, affairs at the nunnery had improved: ‘All these persons (including the prioress) be of good religious liffying and not slandered’. The house and convent was surrendered to the Crown in 1540. The buildings, it seems, were slowly demolished and a good deal of the materials used to construct The Nunnery, which bears the date 1585 above a doorway.5

Henry and Mariah’s eldest daughter, Ellenor Smithson, was baptised in the Church of Saint Peter in Leeds and the rest of the children in their parish church of Adel. Of Henry and Mariah’s eight recorded children, the fate of only three sons and a daughter is certain. It is possible that the others died young, and among these appears to have been William Smithson of Arthington. William Smithson of Arthington has been confused with William Smithson of East Rigton who married Jane Easby in 1707, thanks in part to dubious details concerning William of Rigton’s age and station recorded in the marriage licence bond lodged at St. Martin’s or Trinity, Micklegate, York. Matters were clarified after a reading of Peter Smithson of Weardley’s will of 1728/9 that referred to ‘my Beloved Brother William Smithson of East Rigton in the Parish of Bardsey’, and a note contained in the Bardsey parish registers (and not easily located in on-line genealogical sites) that recorded William Smithson of Bardsey parish serving as churchwarden in 1702. This effectively ruled out William of Arthington as Jane Easby’s spouse – he was aged about sixteen in 1702.

All of Henry’s children grew up hardly knowing their father. Henry died in 1687, three months after the baptism of his youngest son, Samuel. Henry’s burial was commemorated with a ledger stone in the parish church of Harewood; nearby, another ledger stone commemorated the burial of his son, Roundell.

Roundell, Henry’s eldest living son, was named in honour of his grandfather, Henry Roundell. In 1705, Roundell Smithson married Mary Midgley of Alwoodley, a member of one of the Harewood parish’s leading yeoman families.6 The Midgley family took over the residence, Alwoodley Hall, probably in the early 18th century. It had previously been leased by one of the Weardley Smithsons, Richard Smithson, with whom the Midgleys had close relations. In 1859, the Midgley’s Hall was described as ‘a commodious farmhouse’ that had been inhabited by the family for four generations.7 Roundell and Mary had four known children: his first and third daughters – both Marys – were baptised in Leeds, but his second daughter, Ann, was baptised in the parish of Harewood. His son, Robert, appears to have died young.

At the time of his marriage, Roundell Smithson was described as a resident of Stubhouse, once a small manorial village named after its 13th century lord, Henry de Stubhus, but it was disappearing by 1705.8 Roundell seems to have been a neighbour of the Smithsons who farmed at Burden Head and assisted in drawing up Peter Smithson of Weardley’s inventory at the time of his death in 1728/9. Roundell’s work, however, was elsewhere. He was a tanner operating out of Chapel Allerton, a village near Leeds. In 1714, Roundell was elected as one of the twenty-four assistants of the Corporation of the Borough of Leeds from whose ranks were elected the aldermen of the city.9 To be eligible for the position of assistant, a candidate had to be a resident burgess (or merchant) whose character was ‘honest and discreet’.10

Roundell’s brother, Samuel, seems also to have resided in the parish of Harewood. Apart from appearing regularly in Harewood manorial records with Roundell, little is known of him. Of Roundell’s two other surviving brothers, John was a salter – a person who traded in salt and other chemicals – operating in Leeds. His son, Henry Smithson of Newton, Leeds, founded a firm that was among the largest export houses in Leeds in the late 18th century.11 He was counted among the leading men of the city in the 1760s.12   Roundell’s other brother, Robert, lived at Milnfield in the parish of Harewood and was described as a merchant.


Roundell’s sister, Ellenor Smithson, married into the Denison family. The connection with the Denison family transformed the fortunes of this branch of the Smithsons. The Denisons were an extended family known for their involvement in the woollen industry, the mainstay of the Leeds economy. Ellenor’s marriage to Joseph Denison, a Leeds clothier, in 1696 produced two sons: Joseph and Thomas. Joseph Denison went on to become one of England’s richest bankers.13

Satirical cartoon showing Lady Elizabeth Conyngham, Ellenor Smithson’s granddaughter, surrounded by her daughters with King George IV on her lap, kissing her. Her son, Lord Francis, pockets coins while Lady Elizabeth’s cuckolded husband, Henry Conyngham, sits blissfully atop a chamber pot filled with coins. US Library of Congress digital ID cph.3c39062 . public domain.

Joseph’s daughter (by his second wife), Elizabeth Denison – Ellenor Smithson’s granddaughter – married Viscount Henry Conyngham, an Irish peer, in 1794. Described as ‘beautiful, shrewd, greedy, voluptuous’, Elizabeth was a perfect model of the loose morality and excess of the English Regency aristocracy.14 Although well supplied with admirers and lovers, among whom was the Tsarevitch, the future Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, Elizabeth set her heart on capturing the affections of the Prince Regent, later King George IV. She was his mistress until his death in 1830. The relationship was notoriously profitable for she secured various titles and offices for her family and, it is said, £80,000 worth of jewellery from the King for herself.15

Ellenor Smithson and Joseph Denison’s second son, Thomas, became Sir Thomas Denison, a respected judge in the Court of King’s Bench. Thomas married his cousin, Anne Smithson (1712-1784), Roundell Smithson’s daughter. Anne celebrated her husband’s life after his death in 1765 with a substantial monument in the church of All Saints, Harewood.

So potent was the Denison surname within the extended family that it was assumed by the children of Elizabeth Conyngham’s youngest son, Lord Albert Denison Conyngham. One of his great grandchildren, Lady Irene Francis Adza Denison, married the son of Princess Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a member of the British royal family in 1917. Edmund Beckett Denison, the husband of Roundell Smithson’s great great granddaughter and Dame Anne Denison’s heir, Maria Beverley, also assumed the Denison surname. Edmund reverted to his original surname when he succeeded to the family title, becoming Sir Edmund Beckett, 4th Baronet, in 1872. His son, the 5th Baronet, also named Edmund, followed the pattern by adopting the Denison name, then dropping it upon being created 1st Baron Grimthorpe in 1886. The 4th Baronet’s great granddaughter, Beatrice Helen Beckett, married British Prime-Minister Sir Anthony Eden in 1923. Another of Roundell Smithson’s descendants, his great granddaughter Anna Margaretta Midgley, also attached herself to the aristocracy by marrying Lord William Norton, 2nd Baron Grantley, in 1791.

The aristocratic marriages forged by the descendants of Ellenor and Roundell Smithson were not unremarkable when the backgrounds of two key families are considered. The Denisons, as already mentioned, were engaged in the woollen trade in Leeds. Thomas Denison received his knighthood in consequence of his support for King George II when Northern England was invaded in 1745 by the largely Scottish Jacobite forces led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) in his attempt to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne.16 The first member of the Beckett family to rise to prominence was John Beckett, a grocer of Barnsley, Yorkshire. His sons engaged in linen manufactory, bleach-making and banking. One son, John Beckett, was created a baronet in 1813, reputedly for his support in putting down Luddites – workers who had rebelled when their livelihoods were threatened by the increasing use of machinery during the early years of the Industrial Revolution.17 Members of the Denison and the Beckett families also entered the professions, especially the law. These two families were good examples of 17th and 18th century ‘new wealth’ penetrating the ranks of the traditional English land-holding aristocracy on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. They were also families with backgrounds similar to that of the Arthington Smithsons. The daughters of all three families were particularly attractive to aristocrats as marriage partners. Such upward mobility had its critics among the upper classes; Elizabeth Conyngham was scorned as much for her ‘vulgar’ background and her unseemly attachment to wealth as for her scandalous private life.18 Nevertheless, once connected, subsequent unions with older aristocratic families, such as the Nortons, were more likely.

Although the the Smithsons of Snaith and Arthington were one-time neighbours of the Smithsons from Weardley, they were not relatives. The histories of each family proceeded in quite different directions.

  1. Bargain and sale, with feoffment,  YM/D/SN/64,  20 December 1610, Borthwick Institute for Historical Research, York, UK.
  2. James Wardell, The Municipal History of the Borough of Leeds: In the County of York, Longman, Brown and Co., London, 1846, p.xcviii.
  3. ibid, p.cliv. See also D H. Atkinson, Ralph Thoresby, the Topographer, Walker and Laycock, 1885, p.820.
  4. Will of Henry Roundell of Leeds Mainerideinge, 22 Feb 1672, Crewe Muniments, Sheffield Archives and Local Studies Library (England), CM/135.
  5. ‘Houses of Cluniac nuns: Priory of Arthington’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp.187-190. British History Online <> (accessed 1 May 2018). John Jones, The History and Antiquities of Harewood, in the County of York, with topographical notices of its parish and neighbourhood, London, 1859, p.237. The Nunnery, A Grade II Listed Building in Arthington, Leeds, <>, accessed 2018.
  6. ‘A useful guide to the Midgely family and its genealogy’ in Tim Midgley, Midgley: The Manors of: Headley, Thornton, Scholesmoor, Breary, Alwoodley & Clayton, <>, 2000, revised February 2008.
  7. John Jones, The History and Antiquities of Harewood, p.205.
  8.  ibid, p.198.
  9. James Wardell, The Municipal History of the Borough of Leeds, p.clxix.
  10.  ibid, pp.xxxiii; 5. Roundell Smithson is listed as an assistant on p.clxix.
  11. R. G. Wilson, Gentlemen merchants: the merchant community in Leeds, 1700-1830, Manchester University Press ND, 1976, p.32.
  12. Thomas Baines, Yorkshire: Past and Present, Vol.2, William Mackenzie, London, p.147.
  13. Henry Schroder, The Annals of Yorkshire from the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Crosby, Leeds, 1852, p.385.
  14. Grosvenor Prints, <>, London, accessed 10 May 2008. This description of Elizabeth Denison Conyngham has been widely quoted, but the original source has not been located.
  15. Marjorie Bloy, ‘Lord and Lady Conyngham (1766-1832; 1769–1861)’, <>, 2011.  Walford Dakin Selby (ed.), The Genealogist, Vol.5, George Bell & Sons, London, 1889, pp.351-352.
  16. Abel Parker, Upshur. A Brief Enquiry into the True Nature & Character of Our Federal Government, Edmund and Julian C. Ruffin, Petersburg Virginia USA, 1840, p.216.
  17. Adam, Eyre, et al., Yorkshire Diaries and Autobiographies in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Vol.1, 1877-86, Andrews & Co., Durham, 1877, p.310.
  18. Ernest Anthony Smith, George the 4th, Yale University Press, 2001, p.184.