THE SMITHSONS GO TO CHURCH
The local parish church bore witness to many Smithson family events over the centuries: baptisms, marriages, burials and, of course, regular worship. The simplicity of these day-to-day activities and personal relationships to God belied the political and social complexities that lay behind worship for the Smithsons from Weardley. On one occasion, a visit to church was a tense affair; another visit was downright brutal. Both occasions illustrate the importance of the church and the power of the relationship between lord and tenant that existed in the Smithsons’ society. Yet, despite the wishes of any lord and regardless of centuries of entrenched attitudes, Smithsons drifted from the Established Church from the mid18th century, the eve of a period of rapid economic, political and social change.
Violence at All Saints
In 1529, Thomas Smithson, ‘yoman’, marched to the Church of All Saints at Harewood, but not to attend Mass or for the usual sacramental occasion. Thomas was one of a party of over forty persons under the leadership of Sir William Gascoigne the elder of Gawthorp. They “riottously, with force and armes, that is to say, with swordes, staves, and knyves, and other wepons defensyve and invasyue, unlaufully and riottously assemblid theym selfes at Harwode”, broke into the church, pulled Thomas Clarke, one of the six resident priests, out of the church and assaulted him to such an extent that ‘he thought he should not escaped with his life’.1
If Thomas Smithson had any scruples about joining in on an attack on a priest, it was offset by the demand made upon him by Sir William Gascoigne. The origins of the Gascoignes of Gawthorp2 are shrouded in mystery and their history has not been satisfactorily traced beyond the mid13th century. It is possible, but not certain, that the Gascoignes’ origins lay in Gascony, France, which was in the possession of the English crown from the 12th to the 15th centuries. It would appear, however, that a William Gascoigne came to Harewood, possibly from Lincolnshire, in the mid14th century after a career as a merchant of the rough-and-ready kind. Possessing an appreciable fortune, he was able to place one son, William, into the Law and purchase marriages with important local families for his sons. He may also have employed the same strategy when he acquired a wife – Agnes – from the landholding Franks family of Alwoodley.3 The Gascoignes carved out an estate in the parish of Harewood with the Smithsons as one of their tenants or dependants. The balance of the parish was held by the closely related families of Redmayne (Redman) and Ryther of Harewood Castle, lords of the manor of Harewood.
In the Skyrack Muster of 1539 during the reign of Henry VIII, both Sir William Gascoigne of Gawthorp the elder and Richard Redman of Harewood Castle claimed to maintain households who ‘shalbe redy at all tymz to do the Kynge’s service”. Thomas Smithson was included in Sir William’s household as an archer, “horsed and harnessed”, that is, mounted with weapons and light armour or protective clothing. Archers were still an important component in English armed forces at this time; only 7% of the English army who fought in France in 1545 were equipped with firearms.4 The fact that Thomas and his fellows were considered ‘household’ did not mean they were servants to the Gascoignes. Indeed, Richard Redman made a distinction between his ‘workfolkes’ and the other men who comprised his ‘household’.5 Men from the towns of Weardley and Harewood were listed separately by both Gascoigne and Redmond. Thomas and several others of the Gascoigne household are known to have been yeoman, almost certainly freeholders. When Sir William gathered men for his assault on All Saints church, he could draw upon the support of men from across the Harewood parish: Weeton, East Keswick, [North] Rigton, Harewood town and Alwoodley, in addition to those from his Gawthorp estate. All this suggests that Thomas and his fellows were tied to the Gascoigne family in an essentially feudal relationship, receiving patronage in return for supporting and advancing Gascoigne interests.
It was certainly advantageous for Thomas to receive Sir William’s patronage rather than his enmity. If Gascoigne’s treatment of wayward priests was not sufficient proof of his ruthlessness, Lord Darcy’s assessment of him in a letter to Cardinal Wolsey in 1517 was telling:
Gascoigne is very malicious and obtained one precept [writ or warrant] to Sir William Percy, then sheriff, and another to John Pulleyn, now escheator, to defeat justice. His brothers-in-law, Sir Ralph Ryder [Ryther], Sir Henry Boynton, Sir William Medilton and Sir Thomas Fairfax, are afraid of him.6
What precipitated the assault on the Harewood priest is not clear. It came at a time of heightened tension between King Henry VIII and Pope Clement VII over the latter’s refusal to agree to Henry’s desire to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon. In 1529, Henry removed his chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, from office over his support for the Pope’s ruling (Wolsey was soon arrested and later executed) and summoned a parliament to annul his marriage. The parliament became known as the Reformation Parliament and it oversaw the passage of laws that ultimately led to England’s break with Rome. One of the members of the parliament was a Gascoigne, a relative of Sir William, and one of its first acts was to limit the power of the separate canonical courts.
Yet Sir William Gascoigne’s action need not be seen as an example of a rising tide of anti-clericalism nor as an example of Reformation zeal. Many Gascoignes maintained a dogged attachment to the Church of Rome throughout the English Reformation that followed. More likely, Sir William’s act was designed to enforce the interests of the Gascoignes in local politics. A possible issue may have been the appointment of Thomas Clarke. Bolton priory had the right of advowson (the right to appoint clergy) at Harewood parish. This attracted a good income in tithes for the priory: ‘rated at over £60 [in 1291], with its real value probably at least double this figure’.7 It would be expected that, where local money and positions were involved, Sir William Gascoigne would wish to be involved – and successfully. Thomas Clarke may have been a player in that game or an unsuspecting pawn. The same motive probably lay behind Sir William’s instigation of another assault on and ejection of a priest in Ripley.8
Gascoigne may have judged the confusion of the times perfect for these assaults on churchmen. Both victims laid their case before the Star Chamber, a court that sat at the royal Palace of Westminster. Perhaps it was an inopportune time to seek justice there, considering that the court sat under the leadership of the disgraced Cardinal Wolsey, and nothing appears to have come out of the churchmen’s complaints. As for Thomas, his only mention in later documents record him paying a ‘subsidy tax’ in 1645 to fund King Henry’s wars.
Witness to a Penance Avoided
In 1582, the Church of All Saints was the scene of another upper class power play into which a Smithson from Weardley was drawn. Much had changed within the church since the events of 1529. Henry VIII’s break with Rome gave rise to the Church of England and was followed by the dissolution of the old religious establishments. Bolton Priory had been dissolved in 1539 and no longer appointed clergy to the Harewood parish. The appearance of churches throughout England had changed: traditional ceremonies, icons and altars were derided and removed; new services were introduced and the religious orders dismissed. It would be expected that All Saints at Harewood would have experienced the same. There were changes on the manor as well. In the late sixteenth century, the Wentworth family married into the Gascoignes and succeeded to their estate. Yet, some things had not changed. The right of advowson remained – Bolton Priory’s right of advowson was sold and passed into the hands of Thomas Fairfax.9 For the Smithsons, their lords had changed and their allegiance followed. And the parish church was still at the centre of the community.
Marmaduke Smithson, probable son of Thomas Smithson and brother of William Smithson of Weardley, found himself involved in a dispute between Thomas Wentworth of Gawthorp and James Ryther of Harewood. Wentworth had brought a case of defamation against Ryther in the York Consistory Court. Ryther had berated Wentworth’s servant William Gascoigne with the words: ‘Thou art a Knave and thy master is another’. Such an insult to honour had to be expunged and Ryther had been instructed by the court to do penance for this defamation. It is testimony to the significance of the parish church in society that this apology was to be given in the church porch of Harewood between 9 and 10 o’clock on the morning of Monday, 13th August 1582.
Wentworth subsequently swore that he attended the church on the morning of the 13th accompanied by six witnesses, including Marmaduke Smithson, to receive Ryther’s apology, but Ryther failed to attend. Wentworth had sent his servant, Brian Denman, to Ryther’s house, but Ryther tried to hide in his ox barn. Denman followed him there and asked him to come to the Church to speak with Wentworth. Ryther refused, saying that he had been there and done his penance before witnesses, and that it was now after ten o’clock so he would not go back.
This precipitated a further case against Ryther for failing to attend the church to do penance. At this hearing, Marmaduke Smithson gave evidence for Wentworth, stating that
the said Mr Rither could not have bene [at the church] but hee must needes have seene him, and did not see him, this iurate [sworn witness] and the rest tarienge [tarrying] all the same time … yet hee saieth further that they did knowe the time of the said day by all dyall [the sundial].10
Marmaduke also said in response to questions on Ryther’s behalf, which must have questioned Marmaduke’s estimation of the time by the sundial, ‘that the sunne did shine bright betwixt the said houres of 9 and 10 and was bothe before and after darkned with clowdes’. He concluded that
he beleuethe that in case those same witnesses [who included James Jackson, clerk – probably the curate of the parish] haue deposed that Mr Rither was presente the said day houres and place: they ar perjured.11
The division of the parish between the Gawthorpe estate and the manor of Harewood, headed by the Ryther family of Harewood Castle, would only end when the Wentworths bought out the Rythers in 1616. The religious turmoil in the kingdom of England, Scotland and Ireland continued into the 17th century. Catholics were still suppressed and were rebellious in Ireland. Non-conformist Protestants, especially in Scotland, reacted vigorously to attempts to bring them into conformity with the Established Church, which they saw as tainted by Catholicism. All this fed into broader issues facing King Charles I who was supported by the Smithson’s lord, Sir Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford.
The Wentworth family suffered a reverse in their fortunes when Sir Thomas was executed for high treason in 1642, an incident in a chain of events that led to the English Civil War (1642–1651) and the execution of King Charles I. Sir Thomas’ son fled abroad and sold the manor of Harewood to Sir John Lewis and Sir John Cutler in 1656. The manor finally come to rest with the Lascelles family in 1738. Not all lands went to the Lascelles and the Smithsons at Weardley found themselves tenants of the Sheffield baronets. They passed as tenants into the Lascelles estate after an exchange of lands at the turn of the 18th century. For much of the 17th century, the documents provide only the barest of details concerning the lives led by the Smithsons of Weardley.
The Church of England, the Established Church, was the Smithsons from Weardley’s church for much of their recorded history. During the English Civil War and after, attending services, baptisms, marriages and burials were the usual religious experiences for generations of Smithsons. The events of 1529 and 1582 had been exceptional. By the 18th century, the Smithsons had spread to three locations in three adjoining parishes: Arthington Bank near Weardley in the parish of Adel, Weardley and Alwoodley in the parish of Harewood and East Rigton in the parish of Bardsey. For several Smithsons, as respected members of their communities, there was important work to be performed in the administration of their parishes. For instance, William Smithson of Alwoodley, grandson of Richard Smithson of Alwoodley Hall, was described as one of the principal inhabitants of the parish of Harewood and signed a terrier (a written survey of the church’s possessions) in 1764.
The registers of the church of All Hallows at Bardsey record that William Smithson, the progenitor of the Bardsey-cum-Rigton branch of the family, held the position of churchwarden at All Hallows church in 1702 and 1734. William’s name appears inscribed, as church warden, on one of three bells cast in 1723 and hung in the church. William Smithson’s grandson, John Smithson of East Rigton, continued the family tradition of service to the community of the Anglican Church of All Hallows. John and William Midgley served as church wardens and built a new pulpit and reading desk in December 1791.12
In 1795, both John Smithson and William Midgley made a surprising declaration, recorded in the Registry Book at York Minster:
We whose names are hereunto subscribed, being Protestant Dissenters, do intend to make use of the house of William Midgley, in the town of Keswick, in the parish of Harewood, in the West Riding of the county and diocese of York, for the public worship of Almighty God.
As witness our hands this 20th day of April, 1795.
This was both a declaration of John Smithson’s adherence to Methodism and an appeal for toleration under the law.
After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, a reaction set in against the religious discord that had characterised the period of the English Civil War and the Commonwealth. In the view of Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, protestant extremists
having crept into, and at last driven all learned and orthodox men from, the pulpits had … infused seditious inclinations into the hearts of men against the present government of the Church, with many libellous invectives against the State too.14
A series of laws were passed in the 1660s (known, perhaps unfairly, as the Clarendon Code) that attempted to uphold the establishment of the Church of England by placing impositions with penalties on dissenting sects (non-conformists) and Catholics. Following the overthrow of the Catholic King James II, these impositions were eased (but not for Catholics) with the passing of the Toleration Act of 1689 designed to attract the support of Protestant dissenters for the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and the accession of William and Mary to the throne. Under the Act of Toleration, dissenting preachers and their meeting places were required to be registered.
Methodism began as a revival movement within the Church of England in the early 1730s, pioneered by a small society of students at Oxford, including John Wesley. After the chaos of the Civil War, the Church of England had, in the words of Professor David Hey, ‘entered a long period of stability and eventually of slumber’.15 Early Methodism was a reaction against perceived apathy in the Church of England, especially in the face of the rapid social and economic change of the early Industrial Revolution. As Dr. Marjie Bloy points out:
Methodism found its most promising environment in semi-industrial communities which had outstripped the capacity of paternalistic land-owners and parish clergy to cater for them. In large northern parishes or in places of rapid urban development, opportunity offered and need dictated the spread of Methodism.16
Methodist preachers travelled widely, establishing local Methodist societies or ‘classes’ and conducting open-air sermons, noted for their emotionalism. Methodism had its strident opponents. Methodist preachers in the Harewood region reported deep mistrust and animosity directed towards them from family, friends and community.17 Some Anglican clergy were deeply antagonistic, despite Wesley’s insistence that Methodism was not a dissenting sect and that its followers should maintain their connection with the Established Church. Opposition could become violent and, in response to the agitation of a local clergyman, rioting broke out at Wednesbury, Staffordshire, when John Wesley was to preach there in 1743. Wesley was nearly murdered.
At Harewood, the attitudes of the local Anglican minister, his patron, Lord Harewood, and agents of the Lascelles family were important for Methodists on the Harewood estate. John Pawson, the Methodist preacher, who recalled that he ‘began to follow his business at Harewood-house, the seat of Edward Lascelles, Esq,’18 around 1756, faced the opposition of the parish vicar, who ‘laboured with all his might, both in public and private, to make [the Methodists] appear detestable’.19 Another Methodist preacher, Richard Burstall, recalled that
after the gospel had been preached in Harewood many years, a great persecution was raised against the Methodists. During this persecution all judged it best to yield, fearing lest they be turned out of their possessions by the Lord of the manor. For all those Methodists, and all those who supported them, who held any possessions under my Lord _______ , having lost his favour, were under a discharge.20
One man, William Pool, stood up under this pressure. He maintained Methodist activity, despite the fact that no one could receive Methodist preachers without Lord Harewood’s consent.21 In this, he had the support of William Kemp and Mrs Kemp who supplied a barn for his use and tea for refreshment.22 Mrs Kemp was, in fact, Mary Smithson, John Smithson’s aunt. In an attempt to avoid persecution of this kind, Methodists could call for protection as dissenters under the Toleration Act of 1689. John Smithson and others were employing this device in 1795, although Wesley maintained that such registrations should not be necessary as Methodists were not dissenters.23
There were other Methodists in John Smithson’s circle, apart from his aunt. His uncle, Peter Smithson, who had relocated from East Rigton to Arthington Bank near Weardley by 1750, was a member of a Methodist study and prayer ‘class’. He was mentioned in a biography of the Methodist William Stables of Stanke, Harewood, who
… had also the care of another class on the other side of his residence, meeting in a cottage occupied by Peter Smithson and his wife, two very old people, on Weardley Moorside, not far from Rawdon Hill; and to that class he attended as he could, and to it he belonged until he finally left the neighbourhood in 1802.24
In 1787, John Smithson married Molly Jackson, the daughter of Miles Jackson, the miller of Hillam Mill near Aberford, about 13 kilometres south-east of Bardsey. Miles had taken land at Bardsey in 1776, an event that probably led to John’s introduction to his future wife.25 During the 1790s, Methodist preachers, such as William Bramwell and William Dawson the Yorkshire farmer, spearheaded a Methodist ‘revival’ throughout Yorkshire and William Dawson was familiar with the Jackson family, preaching at Miles Jackson’s mill.26
Opposition to Methodism did abate.27 By 1814 a Methodist Chapel was established at Harewood, albeit with restrictions imposed by Lord Harewood or his agent to ensure that the Established Church retained its primacy in local society at Harewood.28 By 1850, as Professor John Wolfe has concluded, the ‘overwhelming reality of Yorkshire religion was the ascendancy of Methodism’.29 By the time John Wesley died in 1791, Methodism and the Church of England had grown apart. It developed a system of itinerant ministers who serviced a compact circuit of churches for terms of about three years. One of these was John Smithson’s son, John.
By 1825, John Smithson junior had become a minister of the Methodist Church. John left Bardsey and lived a life of constant movement, attending to his duties across Northern England. Between 1822 and 1834, John was living in Headingley, about three kilometres north-west of the centre of Leeds.30 However, in 1825 at least, John was the minister responsible for Cleckheaton, about twenty kilometres south-west of Leeds, but was spending half his time on the Dewsbury Circuit.31 Dewsbury was about eight kilometres away and 17 kilometres south of Leeds.
The census of 1841 found John and his first wife, Sarah, living a further 75 kilometres away to the south-east, in the Borough of East Retford, in the neighbouring county of Nottinghamshire. By the time of the 1851 census, John had married his second wife, Ann Bates, and was resident in Grassington in North Yorkshire, living in a neighbourhood inhabited by farmers, tradesmen and serving people. The census of 1861 showed him living much further south, in Mill View, Hinkley, Leicestershire, in the midlands of England. Both of John’s marriages seem to have been childless.
John died in 1868, in Hinckley, Leicestershire. In 1888, his wife, Ann, died. John’s affairs were caught up for some years in a Court of Chancery action brought in 1888 by George Robert Brocklehurst and defended by Thomas Archer Chawner, representing the estate’s trustees. In 1890, the Court ordered persons claiming to be next-of-kin to enter claims against John’s estate and, in 1891, specifically directed three people to enter claims: John’s sister, Sarah; Thomas Spenser Cottam, son of John’s sister, Mary, who had emigrated to America; and John’s nephew, Thomas Smithson, in Australia.32 Of the three, only Thomas appears to have responded. Claims were also lodged by John’s nephew, Miles Smithson of Bradford, and Jacob Elias Neuman.
Neuman was a Russian Jewish immigrant and English citizen. He had been converted to Christianity by Reverend Ridley Herschell, a Jewish immigrant from Poland who had become a Christian and an evangelist for Jews in London. Neuman was the treasurer of the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews.33. This charity, the court found in 1892, was the charity referred to as the residual beneficiary in John’s will – its most contentious part. Thus, John Smithson’s estate, valued at almost £5,000, passed out of the hands of his family to be used to convert the Jewish people. At least, all of the parties’ costs were met from the estate.34
Methodism was not the only non-Anglican denomination that attracted followers from among the Smithsons from Weardley. A number of Smithson families belonged to Baptist congregations and several joined the Congregationalists.
In April 1844, Miles Smithson junior, grandson of John Smithson of East Rigton married Martha Hansom at the Catholic Chapel, York. This represented quite a shift in attitudes, if not wholly in beliefs, for a member of a Methodist family who still adhered to the Church of England. Such a move was more easily accomplished in an Industrial Age city where there was no close rural community or lord of the manor to answer to. In addition, the religious landscape in England was slowly changing.
The mistrust and intolerance directed at the early Methodists in the late 18th century paled in comparison to the antagonism and legal measures directed against Catholics. King Henry VIII’s split with Rome and his claim to be the head of the Church in England in the mid16th century, combined with the religious debates of the Reformation, initiated centuries of bitter national and international religious and political conflict. Catholicism was suppressed by the English Crown, at times regarded as treason, and anti-Catholicism became entrenched among the populace. As Colin Hayden has observed:
From the Reformation, the principle political anxiety about the Roman Catholics concerned their allegiance to the Protestant monarchy … for the majority of [the period 1714-1780] anti-Catholicism could be seen as the chief ideological commitment of the nation, a set of generally held attitudes…35
Nevertheless, there were families who held to their Catholic beliefs for centuries despite intermittent repression. These ‘recusants’ were more commonly found in the north of England and included Smithsons (of no known relationship to those of Weardley). The Hansom family were recusants. Although recusantry was more common among the Northern gentry, the Hansoms were tradesmen – builders. The best-known family member was Martha’s uncle, the architect and inventor Joseph Aloysius Hansom, who patented the design of the Hansom cab.
For Martha, the ability to marry openly in a Catholic church confirmed a new freedom. The Hansoms in previous generations were often compelled to marry in Anglican churches. Although a number of repressive measures against Catholics had begun to be abandoned in the late 18th century, the French Revolution injected urgency into the process. English governments allied themselves to Catholic nations against the French yet struggled to come to terms with the fact that they ruled a substantial population of Catholics in Ireland, who had resisted all attempts at conversion and had been driven to revolution – the last occurring in 1798. The Irish needed to be won over to the Crown, regardless of domestic anti-Catholic feeling. In the end, it was political pressure from the Irish themselves that led the government to take a major step in Catholic emancipation with the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829. Another fact that counted against the continuing repression of Catholics was that the Catholic population in England was no longer a scatter of stubborn recusants, it was increasing as a result of Irish immigration.
Soon after their marriage, Miles and Martha moved to Bradford where Miles established a combined tobacco manufactory and retail shop. Tragically, Martha and three of her four children were to die in that city. Miles remarried, to Martha’s sister Anna in 1860, about a year after Martha’s death. Two of his daughters married: one in the Catholic Church and the other in the Church of England. By 1861, Miles had been joined in Bradford by his three sisters. Two of his sisters, Sarah and Harriet, had married husbands in Catholic churches. While the background of Sarah’s husband, James Walsh of Halifax, is a mystery, Harriet’s husband was Major (name, not rank) Charles Duggan from Ireland. Harriet was not the only Smithson to marry an Irishman. Her cousin, Mary Ann Dunwell Smithson, daughter of Thomas Smithson of York, married Terrence Charles Brosnan, of Ireland, possibly Limerick. However, the move towards Catholicism by this part of the Rigton branch of the Smithsons appears to have been unique amongst the Smithsons from Weardley, at least until the 20th century.
For the Smithsons from Weardley, the parish church had stood at the centre of their lives and that of their community. It had witnessed important events in their lives and far-reaching changes in their society. By the turn of the 19th century, when the Smithsons from Weardley went to church, they were going to many churches in many lands.