Smithsons had lived in Weardley, a village in Yorkshire, from at least the early 16th century until the first years of the 20th century.
Yorkshire is situated in the north of England and is the country’s largest historic county. The Smithson’s village of Weardley was located in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Yorkshire’s size resulted in it being divided in earlier times into three Ridings: East Riding, North Riding and West Riding, and the Ainsty, an area adjacent to the county city, York. The Ridings were abolished in 1974 and are now replaced by four administrative divisions: North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and East Riding of Yorkshire.
The place name ‘Weardley’ is Anglo-Saxon: weard meaning watchman or guardian and ley meaning clearing. Weardley sits on a rise close to Rawden Hill that overlooks the valley of the River Wharfe.
Weardley is in the parish of Harewood and the old 14th century parish church, All Saints, lies less than two kilometres to the east, near the town of Harewood. Harewood today is dominated by Harewood House, built between 1759 and 1771 by the Lascelles family, whose estate encompasses Weardley. In the grounds of Harewood House are the remains of Gawthorp Hall, the seat of the Gascoigne family and, later, the Wentworth family. Nearby are the ruins of Harewood Castle, built in the 14th century by the de Aldeburgh family and known to the Smithsons as the seat of the Ryther and Redmayne (Redman) families. The Smithsons were long-time tenants of the Gascoignes and Wentworths but most only became tenants of the Lascelles family at the very end of the 18th century.
Traditional Smithson lands appear to have been situated to the south-west of Weardley, near the boundary of the parish of Harewood and at times spilling over into the parish of Adel. Burden Head, which lay close to the boundary of the parishes of Harewood and Adel, emerges as the focus of Smithson activity. In the 16th century, Smithsons held lands at Eccup, Brearey (Brerehagh), Arthington and Burden Head. In the 17th century, a branch of the Smithson family from Weardley was established nearby at Alwoodley, in the parish of Harewood. In the early 18th century, a major branch of the family relocated about nine kilometres to the east, to East Rigton, near the village of Bardsey. East Rigton and Bardsey are so close to each other that they are known as Bardsey-cum-Rigton (‘cum’ meaning combined with). For a short time in the mid18th century, there were no Smithsons at Weardley. However, two members of the Rigton Smithson family soon returned to Weardley.
The Smithsons’ property interests also extended to the urban centres of York and Leeds in the 16th century. Leeds dominated the Weardley, Harewood, Rigton and Adel area. It lay about 13 kilometres to the south on the River Aire. Leeds and the Smithson lands belonged to the wapentake of Skyrack, a military and judicial division. York was situated further away – about 30 kilometres to the north-east. York was Yorkshire’s traditional county town, but it was eclipsed to some degree by Leeds in the 19th century.
At the dawning of the Industrial Age, the homeland of the Smithsons from Weardley widened. Important staging posts in this expansion were Otley, on the River Wharfe to the north-west of Weardley, and Bramley, in the River Aire valley to the south-west. By the mid19th century, a whole world opened up before the Smithsons and the old homeland around Weardley was left behind.
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