The first Smithsons who appear in the surviving church registers of the Harewood parish are the brothers Richard and Michael Smithson, who died in the 1620s. Following them, a further four or five generations of Smithsons are recorded in the registers of All Saints Church at Harewood and the neighbouring churches of All Hallows at Bardsey and St John the Baptist at Adel before Smithson descendants began to disperse across the West Riding of Yorkshire and beyond in the 19th century. The Smithsons from Weardley can be positively traced another generation further back thanks to the will of Richard and Michael’s father, William Smithson, made in 1597. William’s will also provides the basis for conjecture that would trace the family line back to the first decades of the 16th century.

When William Smithson, yeoman of Weardley and sometimes York, made his will on 15 November 15971, he named his sons, Michael and Richard, and Richard’s daughter, Ann, as beneficiaries. His sons were also named as executors, but William requested that John Smithson and Marmaduke Smithson supervise the execution of the will. John and Marmaduke were brothers and they were also probably William’s brothers. Certainly, they were his contemporaries: John died around 1602, Marmaduke disappeared from the scene in the first decade of the 17th century and they were the only Smithson men appearing in records produced at or about Weardley in the late 1500s. Both William and John were involved in business in York in the late 16th century. William alluded to this in his will and John had property dealings there in 1589. Of the three, Marmaduke was the one who stayed close to home – he was the only Smithson at Weardley listed as paying the Lay Subsidy Tax levied on the wapentake of Skyrack in 1588.2 What business drew the Smithsons to York has not been ascertained. Neither William nor John appear in the lists of persons admitted as freemen of York in the second half of the 16th century.

View from High Weardley towards Burden Head. John and Marmaduke Smithson, yeomen, had their residences in this area in the 16th century and Thomas Smithson of Weardley farmed land beyond the ridge in the 19th century.  Author photo.

A reading of John Smithson’s will of 1602 reveals the names of some of the female members of the Smithson family.3 John’s wife was Alice and his siblings were Joan (alias Jenet) Smithson, wife of Thomas Parker, and Margaret Smithson, wife of Richard Dighton.  Margaret and Richard were co-owners with John and Alice in a messuage, garden and orchard sold in Micklegate, York, in 1589.4 In his will, John Smithson bequeathed an annual income to his brother-in-law, George Kent, but did not reveal the name of his sister, George’s wife, who would seem to have died by 1602. John Smithson had dealings with other members of the Kent family. In 1598, John and Alice sold property near Weardley that they co-owned with Thomas Kent, a clerk, and his wife Mary.5

We can draw upon several sources of evidence to estimate the birth years of two of the probable Smithson brothers. In 1582, Marmaduke Smithson of Burden Head, near Weardley, was called as a witness in a case of character defamation brought against James Ryther of Harewood manor by Thomas Wentworth of the Gawthorp estate.6 Marmaduke was born around 1540 – he swore that he was 42 years of age. He definitely had been resident at Weardley at least since 1562, having known Thomas Wentworth for twelve years (Thomas Wentworth had come onto the scene after he married Margaret Gascoigne in the 1560s) and James Ryther for twenty years. Marmaduke probably lived in the district well before that as Ryther had been born in Kent and was brought up in Northamptonshire before moving to Yorkshire and gaining Marmaduke’s attention. For his part, Marmaduke’s brother William Smithson had acted as a witness for the drawing up of two wills: one at Weardley in 1552 and another at Hedrick, Harewood, in 1557.7 William had to be at least fourteen years of age (ie. born around 1538) to act as a witness in 1552 but was more likely to be in his twenties (ie. born around 1530) and be well-known in the parish of Harewood.

Given these dates, the extent of the Smithson properties and their status as yeomen, we can cast about for a likely parent: a Smithson yeoman, resident at Weardley and capable of fathering children in the period 1530 to 1540. The only name that figures is Thomas Smithson, yeoman of the Gawthorp estate, parish of Harewood. He was the only Smithson of his status recorded in the Harewood-Weardley area and he was in his prime around the time of William and Marmaduke Smithson’s births. Thomas Smithson was listed in the Skyrack muster as an archer in the household of Sir William Gascoigne of Gawthorp the elder in 1539.8 It would also appear that Thomas was listed in the Lay Subsidy Roll of 1545 as being taxed in Weardley, although his surname is incomplete due to damage suffered by the document.9 Another legal document places Thomas in Harewood in 152910 – the events outlined in this document are explored in Smithson Story: The Smithsons go to Church. So, Thomas Smithson would appear to be our earliest known ancestor, born probably around 1500.

Tracing the Smithsons further back in time has not been possible. No Smithson appears in the few Harewood manorial records located to date that survive from the 15th century. No Smithson was listed at Weardley in the 1379 Subsidy (Poll Tax) Rolls for the parish of Harewood.11 This does not mean that there were no Smithsons living at Weardley at the time. One possibility is that the Smithson surname had not emerged in the area. Surnames were still evolving in Weardley in 1379. On the roll for Weardley, for example, while Willelmus Carter possessed a surname, Ricardus was only recorded as the son of Thorne (filius Thorne) and Sibilla as the servant (seruiens) of Willelmi. Across the River Wharfe, on Harewood manor lands at Weeton, there was recorded a ‘Thomas Wasen & uxor ejus [and his wife]’. He was a ‘Smyth’ and perhaps he would later bring forth a ‘Smythson’.

Church of St Michael and St Lawrence at Fewston. It is possible than Francis Smithson and his family relocated to this parish in 1608. (cc-by-sa/2.0 – © SMJ –

Another possibility is that the Smithsons had not moved into the parish of Harewood by 1379. There were Smithsons in surrounding areas: a ‘Johannes Smythson’ lived 8 kilometres away at Shadwell in the parish of Thorner and a ‘Ricardus Smythson’ lived about 20 kilometres north-west of Harewood in the parish of Fewston.

The Smithsons from Weardley may have had some contact with the Fewston area. Marmaduke Smithson and his son Francis Smythson sold up a substantial amount of property in the Weardley area in 1607. Nothing is known for certain of the fate of Francis Smythson and his wife Katherine or whether they left any descendants. However, he might have been the Francis Smithson who had three children baptised in the parish of Fewston in the West Riding (now in North Yorkshire) beginning a year after the sale of the land: Alice, baptised 4 January 1608; Thomas, baptised 29 June 1611; and Isabel, baptised 17 September 1612 (died 1620). Francis possibly had a fourth child as he was cited as the father of an unnamed child buried 15 March 1613. This Francis died 3 April 1613 and, five years later, a Katherine Smithson married William Holme in Fewston (she died 16 April 1629).12 Fewston was already the home of several Smithson families and a connection between them and the Smithsons at Weardley cannot be ruled out. Unfortunately, 16th century parish records from Fewston appear not to have survived.

Of particular interest in the 1379 Subsidy (Poll Tax) Rolls is a ‘Johannes Smythman’ who lived in the parish of Adel. It would not be the only time that the Smithson surname has been corrupted by a clerk. The parish of Adel adjoined the parish of Harewood and it is very likely that Smithson lands were located in both parishes. They were in the time of John Smithson of Burden Head and in the early 1800s. So, Johannes Smythman must be a prime suspect in our search for early ancestors of the Smithsons from Weardley.

  1. Will of William Smithson of Weardley, 1597, Borthwick Institute for Archives, York, England.
  2. William Brigg, Lay Subsidy of the Wapentake of Skyrack, 1588, Publications of the Thoresby Society, XV. Miscellanea (iii). 1909, p.45.
  3. Will of John Smithson of Weste Burden, 1602, Borthwick Institute for Archives: catalogued in 2018 as John Smithson of Burythorpe, December 1802.
  4. W. Paley Baildon, The Maudes of Ikley, Hollinghall, Brandon, Helthwaite Hill, Publications of the Thoresby Society, Miscellanea, Vol.XXIV, Leeds, 1919, p.156 (Feet of Fines, Cities and Towns, Mich., 31-2 Eliz.).
  5. William Brigg (ed.), Yorkshire Fines for the Stuart Period, Vol. I, 1-11 Jas. I, 1603-1614, The Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Record Series, Vol. LIII, 1914, p.68.
  6. CP.G.2099, Consistory Court: Defamation (character), 24/1/1582 — 31/7/1582, Borthwick Institute GB 193, ‘The Cause Papers’, The Borthwick Institute for Archives at The University of York, 2010.
  7. George Denison Lumb (ed.), Testamenta Leodiensia: Wills of Leeds, Pontefract, Wakefield, Otley, and district, 1539 to 1553, Vol.19, Thoresby Society, Leeds, 1913, p.302; Testamenta Leodiensia: Wills of Leeds, Pontefract, Wakefield, Otley, and district, 1553-1561, Vol.27, Thoresby Society, Leeds, 1930, p.102.
  8. W. P. Baildon, Musters in Skyrack Wapentake, 1539, Thoresby Society Publications, IX. Miscellanea (iii), 1899, p.302.
  9. Lay subsidy, wapentake of Skyrack, 30 June and 20 October 1545, Thoresby Society Publications, IX, Miscellanea (iii), 1899, p.137. Unfortunately, we cannot establish if Thomas was in the area in 1524, when the Subsidy Roll for that year was compiled, thanks to the lord of the “Villa de Harwod”. It was recorded that “Syr Wylliam Gascoynge the elder knyght wold not putt in his substans accordyng to the kyngs Comyssion butt sayd he wold be sessyd by the Kyngs Counsell in the Excheker.” ( J. J. Cartwright (ed.)), ‘A Subsidy Roll for the Wapentake of Skyrack of the 15th Henry VIII’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, Vol. II, 1873, p.291).
  10. William Brown (ed.), Yorkshire Star Chamber Proceedings, Record Series XLI, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, 1909, pp.73-75.
  11. ‘Rolls of the Collectors in the West-Riding of the Lay Subsidy (Poll Tax) 2 Richard II, Wapentake of Skyrak’, Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journal, Vol.VI, London, 1881, pp.306-324.
  12. George R. Smithson, Genealogical Notes & Memoirs of the Smithson Family, Seeley and Co. Ltd., London, 1906, pp.74-76.