Late 16th century property records show that, while the Smithsons claimed Weardley (which includes Burden Head) as their principal residence, their interests extended beyond this small village in the parish of Harewood. Map 1 shows the localities that comprise what may be called the Smithson heartland – the region where the earliest known generations of Weardley Smithsons lived or had economic interests.

Map 1. The Smithson heartland for the first seven known generations of the Smithsons from Weardley – from the 16th century to the mid18th century.

Thomas Smithson, yeoman of Weardley, recorded in documents between 1529 and 1545, is classed here as Generation 1. William Smithson (d.c.1597) is the first Smithson from Weardley whose familial connections are well established. He is classed as Generation 2 in this Smithson Story, along with his probable brothers, John and Marmaduke Smithson. York appears to have represented the furthest extent of the Weardley Smithsons’ economic interests beyond the parish of Harewood. William described himself as ‘of wardley in the parish of harwood and sometime of yorke yeoman’. William Smithson’s presumed brother, John Smithson of Burden Head had property in York. He also possessed several properties stretching from Adel through Eccup to Breary and Weardley and down to Arthington. He was involved in the purchase of woods around Kirkstall, Adel and Leeds in 1596. He had financial contact with John Thomlingson of Roundhay.

John Smithson’s death in c.1602 saw property inherited by his wife, Alice, and some sold by Marmaduke Smithson and his son, Francis, in 1607  (see Smithson Story: The Smithson Farms). This may have led to Francis Smithson of Generation 3 moving to Fewston, north-west of Weardley (see Smithson Story: The Earliest Smithsons from Weardley). William Smithson’s descendants – two Richards, then two Peters – continued farming at Weardley. The exception was a probable unrecorded son, Richard Smithson in Generation 4, a husbandman of some substance who established himself at Alwoodley Hall in the late 17th century (see Smithson Story: The Smithson Farms). He died in 1704/5, but the family he established at Alwoodley endured in that locality for almost a century.

The next important movement of the Smithson name occurred around 1700 when William Smithson (1674-1746) moved to the parish of Bardsey. He married Jane Easby there in 1707 and his branch of the family endured at East Rigton into the 19th century. The Smithson family property at Weardley had been left in the hands of William’s brother, Peter Smithson (1666/7-1728/9). Peter bequeathed his estate to William of East Rigton in 1728/9. This shifted the family’s centre from Weardley to Rigton – but not for long. William’s eldest son, Richard, was set up at Weardley and re-established the family in its heartland. Another son, Peter, established a further branch of the family on land he held near Weardley, at Arthington Bank in the parish of Adel. William’s youngest surviving son, James, was left as the new head of the Bardsey-cum-Rigton branch of the Smithsons.


Map 2. Movement of the Smithsons during the 8th generation (mid to late 18th century).

The eighth generation of the Smithsons from Weardley saw some movement from the Weardley area towards the town of Otley and the village of Bramley in the borough and parish of Leeds. Most Smithson families, however, remained in rural Rigton and Weardley, with one at nearby Eccup. The same was the case for the Smithsons of Alwoodley, despite Richard Smithson’s desire expressed in his will of 1704 that several of his sons take up trades that probably would have taken them further afield.

For one of those who did migrate, Michael Smithson (1754-1811) of Weardley, there may have been factors pushing him from Weardley as well as drawing him to Otley. Certainly, the market town of Otley offered more opportunities than Weardley, but relations also seemed strained with his mother, Frances (Bradley) Smithson. Her 1791 will, which dealt with many of her children harshly, if at all, bequeathed Michael ‘the bed whereon I commonly lay with the Bedstead, Bedding, and every thing belonging to the same…’. Michael only received this bequest after Frances amended her will with a codicil witnessed by Michael’s cousins, Peter and Richard Smithson of Arthington Bank. Peter (1750/51-1831) was to marry Michael’s widow, Isabel, in 1818.

Peter and Richard Smithson (b.1743) inherited their father Peter’s farm at Arthington Bank in 1800. Richard appears to have lived in several locations around the Arthington Bank area in the late 1700s before taking up his father’s farm. However, he seems to have left Arthington Bank by 1811 (coincidentally, the year in which his cousin, Michael, died at Otley) and at some point made the move to Otley where he died in 1820. Peter, on the other hand, left Arthington Bank quite early. He established himself at Bramley as a cordwainer (fine leather shoemaker) and size manufacturer. Peter founded a sizeable branch of the Smithsons there and his descendants entered the woollen cloth trade and invested in property around Bramley.


Map 3. Movement of the Smithsons during the 9th generation (first half of the 19th century).

Our understanding of the progress of the Weardley Smithson name across Yorkshire and beyond is enhanced by the evidence provided in the comprehensive censuses taken in the United Kingdom from 1841.  Even taking into account the limitations of evidence for the movement of Smithson individuals prior to 1841, it is apparent that there was greater movement of Smithson families from the Smithson heartland in the ninth and subsequent generations.

Not all branches of the family participated in this regional migration. The branch of the family at Alwoodley appears to have died out with the possible exception of William Smithson (b.1786), the illegitimate son of Juliana Smithson (b.1766), who may have moved with his mother to Leeds. The Smithsons at Bramley, preoccupied with the cloth business, were not inclined to move. The exception was John Smithson (b.1776) who moved to Leeds to work as a bricklayer. Smithsons at Weardley and especially at Rigton were more mobile. Indeed, this generation saw the effective disappearance of the Smithson family from Bardsey-cum-Rigton.

The opportunities offered by the nearby town of Otley continued to entice Smithsons away from Weardley. John Smithson (b.1799), who possibly spent time at Eccup, moved to Otley and worked as a joiner. He ended his days in Newall cum Clifton as an inmate of the Wharfedale Union workhouse. Thomas Smithson (b.1793), the last Smithson farmer of any substance at Weardley, may have spent some time at Otley before returning to Weardley. Other ninth generation Smithsons, sons of Michael Smithson who had moved his family to Otley around 1781, established themselves around Newall cum Clifton, across the River Wharfe from Otley. One Smithson from Weardley, Zachariah Smithson (b.1790), left Yorkshire entirely and relocated to Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire.

The Smithsons of Bardsey-cum-Rigton experienced the greatest change during this generation. It appears that John Smithson of Rigton (1762-1839) possessed the means to establish his sons on farms: James (bp.1795) at Collingham and Miles (1788-1864) at Chapel Allerton, while Thomas Smithson (1897-1870) was provided with a farm on the manor of Sherburn. Thomas resided at Seacroft where, following the lead of his brother Miles, he operated a malting. However, Miles’ farm/malting business failed and, by 1822, this seems to have affected that of his brother, Thomas. Both men, now landless, spent time in Leeds before Thomas established a tobacco manufactory in York around 1830. This shifted the focus of the family’s activities towards York.

John Smithson doubtless was badly affected by his sons’ difficulties and appears to have given up his farmland at East Rigton around 1826. John, his wife Mary, and his sons, Henry (1800-1874) and William (b.1796) also moved towards York, settling near the village of Dunnington. Miles Smithson and his sons all became involved in the tobacconist trade in Leeds, some at least spending time at York. Unfortunately, Thomas’ business failed in 1842. His subsequent attempts to maintain the manufactory, with the assistance of his brother Henry who had also relocated to York, became embroiled in scandal and wound up in 1852. William Smithson returned to Bardsey to work as an agricultural labourer, the last of the family to make his home in the old parish. Thomas spent some time in London before returning to York to live out the rest of his life.

In contrast to his Bardsey Smithson siblings, another brother, John Smithson (1793-1868), eschewed business and became a Methodist minister. He served on several Yorkshire circuits before leaving the county for Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. He died in Hinckley, Leicestershire.


Map 4. Movement of the Smithsons during the 10th generation (mid19th century). The descendant line of the East Rigton Smithsons are shown blue; and the Bramley Smithsons in orange; descendants of Michael Smithson of Weardley-Otley (b.1745) in green; and Thomas Smithson of Weardley (b.1759) in pink.

The number of Smithson households in Weardley had dwindled by the tenth generation. William H. Smithson (1837-1903) remained, but another four Smithson men of the tenth generation left, including William’s brother George Smithson (1846-1910) who took the well-worn path to Otley.

Much of the Smithson movement in this generation was towards the valley of the Aire. Almost all of the tenth generation of Smithsons in Otley and Newall cum Clifton moved south to the industrial towns west of Leeds bounded roughly by Shipley, Bradford, Yeadon and Leeds. This area experienced rapid industrialisation during the 19th century and was well known for its woollen textile manufacture. Yet, the majority of Smithson men migrating to the area did not obtain employment in the mills, most of those few that did soon took up occupations more popular amongst Smithsons of this generation: farm labouring and carting. Some of the Smithsons leaving Weardley were very mobile: Zachariah Smithson (1844-1927) and John Smithson (1831-1884) traversed the region, each making homes in five separate towns during their lifetimes. During his travels, Zachariah worked his way up from a ploughman to a commercial traveller for a brewery, finally making his home in middle-class Potternewton.  After his death in 1884, John Smithson’s family moved to Rawdon, another industrial town favoured by Smithsons, from where they would later emigrate.

The Smithsons of Bramley had been involved in the cloth trade since the ninth generation, and the most extensive clothier family was that of James Smithson (1775-1819). Unfortunately, business appears to have faltered in his sons’ hands during the 1850-60s. Of the tenth generation, Thomas Smithson (b.1807) held his ground as a wool merchant and only left Bramley to retire at Shipley by 1881. Less fortunate it seems were Joshua Smithson (1816-1861), who remained in Bramley although apparently no longer working as a clothier, and James Smithson (b.1805), who moved to Wortley as an out-of-work clothier.

Once again, the most extensive migrations were those undertaken by the Bardsey-cum-Rigton branch of the Smithsons – if they can be so identified, having abandoned Rigton and relocated to Leeds, York and Leicestershire in the ninth generation. Having followed Thomas Smithson’s (b.1897) lead by embracing the tobacconist trade and engaging in business at York and Leeds, almost the entire branch was affected to some degree by Thomas Smithson of York’s bankruptcy in 1842 and his subsequent scandalous business and personal affairs.

Thomas’ brother, Miles Smithson, remained in Leeds, but abandoned tobacco for woad manufacturing. Miles’ son, Miles Smithson (1820-1895), left York and moved to Bradford accompanied by nearly all his siblings of the tenth generation. There, together with their spouses, they set up tobacco manufactories and retail outlets, forming a virtual consortium. The odd one out was their brother Thomas Smithson (1816-1908) who had established a tobacco manufactory in Leeds by 1841 before immigrating to Sydney, Australia, in 1852. As for Thomas Smithson of York’s descendants, his son, Charles Thomas Smithson (1825-1896) had set up his own tobacco wholesale business in Leicester, Leicestershire, in the late 1840s, but had shared in his father’s notoriety. Maintaining some involvement with the tobacconist trade, he moved to Wakefield, Yorkshire, then to the new Smithson centre at Bradford. By 1881, the by-now twice-widowed Charles Thomas Smithson had left Yorkshire for London.


Map 5. Movement of the Smithsons during the 11th generation (mid to late 19th century).

When James Smithson (c.1873-1908), an eleventh generation Weardley Smithson, left Weardley for Wortley in the mid1890s, he was bringing three and a half centuries of Smithson residence in Weardley to its conclusion. His father, William H. Smithson, remained and was recorded in the 1901 census. William died in 1903 and no Smithson was recorded at Weardley in the 1911 census. Indeed, most Smithson families had moved away from the Wharfe valley, although a stable presence was maintained at Burley-in-Wharfedale and especially at Newall and Otley. Nevertheless, even at Newall and Otley there was some movement: John Smithson (1837-1907) relocated to nearby Leathley while his brother, Thomas (1842-1899) lived at Farnley, Otley, for a time.

Most Smithson families of the eleventh generation favoured the industrialised towns around the Aire valley. Families who had become established at Bowling and Bradford during the tenth generation remained in the eleventh, although Tom Smithson (1868-1940), tobacconist of Bradford and a Bardsey-cum-Rigton Smithson descendant, did relocate to Leeds sometime after 1911. Other Smithsons living in the Aire valley, undertook short moves. The shortest migrations were undetaken by the sons of Zachariah Smithson (1844-1927): Arthur Reginald (b.c.1874) and Albert John Smithson (1885-1960) who moved from Armley to Leeds; while William Smithson (b.c.1855), son of Peter Smithson (b.1828), confined his movements to the Holbeck-Leeds area. A little more mobile was the family of Thomas Smithson (1822-c.1895), a tenth generation Smithson who had settled in Shipley. These Smithsons were often employed as mill workers and Thomas’ son, John (b.1851), moved to Idle, Eccleshill and Farsley before finally settling at Greengates, while his brother, Richard (b.1862) relocated to Idle. Thomas was himself a mill worker employed for a time at Idle, as was another son, Moses Jowett (b.1853).

William Smithson (1819-1909) of the tenth Smithson generation had settled finally in Rawdon. However, his four sons had left his household when it was located at Headingley. They led quite mobile lives. Robert Smithson (1846-1923), a mill worker, moved as far west as Idle and as far north as Pool-in-Wharfedale before moving south to settle in Pudsey. He had company there in the person of his brother Joseph (b.1857), a weaver who spent a time in Rawdon. Their brothers, John (1844-1892) and William (1855-1913) were not mill workers. John spent time at Rawdon and Yeadon before returning to Headingley, while William also spent time at Rawdon before settling at Shipley.

The clothiers of Bramley appear to have suffered a reversal in their fortunes in the tenth generation. They were forced out of cloth manufacturing, although one, Thomas Smithson (b.1807), was able to maintain a position in Bramley as a cloth merchant. Thomas’ brother James Smithson (b.1805) had moved to Wortley but, after his death, his family moved to Leeds where they found work in the woollen mills and iron works. Thomas’ sons, however, sought to maintain a foothold in the cloth manufacturing industry. Their attempts – and failures – to do so set them on lengthy journeys that invariably led back to Leeds. The failure of James Peter Smithson’s (1832-1903) cloth manufactory at Bramley led him to move to Selby, where he failed as a spirit trader. Nevertheless, James Peter perservered in the wine trade and moved to Potternewton, Horsforth and Chapel Allerton. Thomas’ other sons, Alfred (1836-1886) and Thomas Henry Smithson (1841-1883), both left Bramley for spells in the north before relocating to Leeds where the company Thomas Henry and Co., woollen manufacturers and merchants, was established. Both brothers moved to Newcastle on Tyne, Northumberland, around 1875. If this was an attempt to pursue the cloth trade at Newcastle, it came to nothing. By 1880, Alfred had returned to Leeds while Thomas Henry found different employment in Nottingham and Lincolnshire before returning to Leeds where died in 1883.

Some Smithson migrations took them beyond Yorkshire, never to return.  One of James Smithson’s (b.1805) sons, John Edwin (b.1834), moved to Oldham, Lancashire, then to Whitehaven, Cumberland. Joseph Smithson of Wortley (c.1863-c.1900) moved to Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. John Smithson (b.1831) had moved to Horsforth in the tenth generation where he died in 1884. After John’s death, his family had moved to Rawdon to work in the mills. However, his son by his first marriage, Thomas (1857-1932), immigrated to the United States in 1890, followed by his step-mother and siblings in 1891.


MAP 6. Movement of Smithsons from Yorkshire to areas within Britain (19th – early 20th centuries)

From the ninth generation onwards, a trickle of Weardley Smithsons left the Smithson heartland in Yorkshire’s West Riding. For some the move was temporary; for others the relocation was permanent.

Some of those Smithsons who left permanently did not found new branches of the family. Zachariah Smithson (1790-1869) left Weardley after the death of his first wife and at least one, perhaps two children. He remarried and relocated to Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, were he worked as a brick moulder. There is no evidence of any children there. There were no children in the marriage of John Edwin Smithson (b.1834) and Agnes Nicholson, the daughter of a general dealer of Egremont, Cumberland. The couple made their home in Oldham, Lancashire before separating – Agnes returned to her home town and John moved to Whitehaven, Cumberland. John Smithson (1793-1868), methodist minister of Rigton, served in several Yorkshire circuits before moving on to the counties of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. He married twice, but left no children. There is as yet no evidence of marriage or children for John Thomas Smithson (b.1860), who left Leathley, Yorkshire, for Manchester, Lancashire, where his uncle and aunt, William and Mary Chesunth lived. He worked there as a joiner. Little else is known of him.

Other Smithsons did establish branches of the family throughout Britain. Joseph Smithson of Wortley (c.1863-c.1900), an eleventh generation Smithson of the Weardley branch of the family, established his own branch of the Smithson family at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. William Arthur Smithson was a twelfth generation Smithson and a descendant of the Bramley Smithsons and lived for a while in Bramley. He married and moved to Walton on the Hill, Liverpool, Lancashire. His son, Harold Frederick Smithson (1909-1963), was born at Leeds, Yorkshire, married in Manchester and died in Cheshire.

The sons of James Peter Smithson (1832-1903) of Bramley established a branch of the Smithson family in Wales. His eldest son, Albert Edward Smithson (c.1863-1953), was a marine engineer and had been to sea for several years before marrying and establishing a family at Cardiff, Wales. He was followed in this career by his brother Percy (c.1867-1910) who also settled in Wales before his family dispersed after his death in the port of Gulfport, Mississippi, USA. Albert and Percy were followed to Wales by their brothers: Joseph Harold (1878-1899) and, via London, James Bernard (c.1869-1946). Albert Edwards’ cousin, Thomas Smithson (b.1875), son of Alfred Smithson of Bramley (1836-1886), also went to sea becoming a ship’s master. He sailed out of several port cities throughout Britain before settling in London. His son, Thomas Lonsdale Smithson (1903-1989) married in London, but died in Devon.

Another family also established itself in London. Charles Thomas Smithson (1825-1896) a tenth generation Smithson and a descendant of the Bardsey-cum-Rigton Smithsons, had moved to London by 1881. One of his sons, Charles Hopton Smithson (1857-1919) established his family in London, residing in several suburbs. His only son, Frank Stewart Smithson (b.1894), was killed on the Somme battlefield in 1916.


MAP 7. Movement of Smithsons from Weardley within the United States.

In 1884, John Smithson (b.1831) died at Horsforth, Yorkshire. His second wife, Jane Ann Robson, moved to Rawdon where John had worked for a time and where her stepson, Thomas Smithson (1857-1932), was living. Thomas was a eleventh generation Smithson. He was the son of John and his first wife, Margaret Pickard, and had married Frances Milner in 1879. Thomas worked in the Rawdon woollen mills and he was joined in this occupation by three of Jane’s four children.

In April 1890, Thomas immigrated to Boston, Massachusetts, USA, aboard the ‘Scythia’. His family followed and arrived in Boston aboard the ‘Samaria’ in August 1890. In the following year, Jane and her children immigrated to the USA aboard the ‘Pavonia’, arriving in Boston in June 1891. The extended family moved from Massachusetts to Ohio and then settled in Lacon, Marshall, Illinois, in 1897. Along the way, two of Jane’s children, Alfred and Jane, had died.

Of Thomas’ three sons, two remained in Midwestern United States. John Milner Smithson (b.1886) moved around the Midwest before settling in Peoria, Illinois. He is not known to have had any children. Albert Thornton Smithson (1888-1965) remained in Illinois and had two sons, one of whom died in Wisconsin and the other in California. Both had children.

Thomas’ eldest son, Harold Smithson (1882-1970), left Illinois for North-Western United States: the states of Oregon and Washington. Harold’s son,  Thomas Smithson (1910-1956), spent some time in California, but returned to the states of  Oregon and Washington. He died at Portland, Oregon.


MAP 8. Movement of Smithsons to, and within Australia.

Three groups of Smithsons are known to have undertaken the long, often expensive migration to Australia. All three arrived during peak periods of migration: the gold rushes of the 1850s and the pre-World War One and the post-World War One immigration surges of 1911-13 and 1922-27.

The first family to arrive was that of Thomas Smithson, a member of the tenth Smithson generation and a descendant of the Bardsey-cum-Rigton branch of the Smithsons. This Smithson line was to come to an end in England with the deaths of  Frank Stewart Smithson on the Somme battlefield in 1916 and Tom Smithson of Bradford in 1940 at Leeds. In contrast, this Smithson family flourished in Australia.

Thomas Smithson was a tobacco manufacturer from Leeds. His family arrived in Sydney, in the colony of New South Wales, in 1852, a year after gold had been discovered west of Sydney at Bathurst.  Thomas was not in search of gold. Instead, he was intent on setting up as a tobacco manufacturer in the rapidly growing colony. After a short period of business in Sydney, Thomas relocated a short distance south to the underdeveloped St George district. There, Thomas set up the Cooks River Tobacco Manufactory at a locality called Gannons Forest, later renamed Kingsgrove. Thomas and his wife, Mary Gawthorpe, had eleven children: nine of which survived childhood and six of whom were sons.

Thomas’ sons, the eleventh Smithson generation, proved to be more sedentary than their father and confined themselves to forays into the western districts of the colony and into Queensland. For this and the following generation, there was little incentive to forego the opportunities offered by the growing city of Sydney and its surrounding districts. Nevertheless, some of Thomas’ grandsons of the twelfth generation were quite mobile with Queensland, now a state rather than a colony, proving attractive. Harold Aubrey Smithson (1880-1939) was the most adventurous,  spending almost two decades in South Africa in the aftermath of the Boer War. One noteable internal migrant of the fourteenth generation was Norman Leslie Smithson (1926-1989) who moved to Western Australia from Sydney around the 1960s and became involved in that state’s emergence as a mineral exporter of global significance.

The next Smithson immigrants to Australia were descendants of the Bramley branch of the Smithsons. In 1913, Elizabeth Colbeck Smithson (nee Hall, widow of Frank Smithson [c.1869-1910]), and her son, Clarence Hall Smithson (c.1893-1976) sailed to Albany, Western Australia. Elizabeth remarried at Katanning, north of Albany, in 1914. Clarence, now joined by his wife, Maude, moved on to Sydney. Clarence’s business dealings ran foul of the law on several occasions causing the family to move between the states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. Twice, Maude and the children returned to England. Their last visit coincided with the outbreak of World War Two during which Clarence’s son, Peter Graeme Smithson (b.1922), enlisted and was killed in Crete in 1941. Maude and her daughter, Betty, returned to Australia after the war. Clarence remarried and finally settled in Victoria.

In the period after the First World War, Ernest Smithson (1892-1956) immigrated to Victoria, Australia, in 1924. Ernest was a descendant of the Weardley Smithsons who had made their way to the mill towns of the Aire valley via Otley. Ernest came to Australia at a time when the Australian government was vigorously promoting British immigration and offering financial assistance to some migrants. Ernest, his wife, Mary Ellen, and daughter, Olive, settled in Geelong, near Melbourne.