Sunday, October 28, 2012

Could we be related to Jane Austen?

The question is fairly tongue in cheek, but it's vaguely possible. While I was updating my notes on the children of Thomas Ward and Frances, I came across an interesting story about Peter Warburton Lowe, the husband of their daughter Margaret.

Peter generally seemed to be a fairly respectable character. He had his own contracting business and in 1861 applied for a patent for "improvements in the construction of steam boilers". In later life he was elected a Guardian of the Poor for Salford (1871). So I was surprised to find that he'd been in prison for 3 months in 1844.

What seemed even stranger was that he was tried in Warwickshire. After a bit of digging I found that Peter had been one of 32 people who were arrested for storming Stoneleigh Abbey, near Coventry, in support of a John Leigh who claimed to be the rightful owner.

The full story can be read on this Rootsweb archive. Briefly, Stoneleigh was originally the property of Thomas Leigh, the first Lord Mayor of London, whose family came from Cheshire. He became 'Sir' Thomas Leigh when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I. One of Thomas' descendants, also Thomas, was made Baron Leigh after he provided shelter to King Charles I during the civil war with Oliver Cromwell.

Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire
(photo courtesy of barnyz)
The title and property were passed down through the Leigh family until 1786, when the last Baron died without an heir. The Abbey was left to his sister, who died in 1806. It then passed to a more distant relative.

Inevitably a number of people later claimed to be descended from the original Thomas Leigh, including a George Leigh from Wigan in Lancashire. George claimed descent through Roger Leigh of Haigh, supposedly a grandson of Thomas Leigh by a younger son Christopher.

The case went to court in 1826, and included allegations by George's supporters that the Leigh family currently living at Stoneleigh had deliberately removed or tampered with evidence (such as parish records) which would have supported George's claim. It then went to the Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords, where it was defeated. The clinching argument against George was that although he might  indeed be related to Roger Leigh of Haigh, Roger had a daughter born when Christopher, her supposed grandfather, was only 32 years old.

John Leigh obviously decided to use more forceful means to press his claim in 1844. As a result he went to prison with hard labour for two years and most of those who accompanied him (including Peter Lowe) were sentenced to three months in prison. I haven't yet discovered how Peter was related to the Leigh's (if at all), but he must have felt strongly about the affair. He and Margaret's next child, born in 1847, was named Roger Leigh Lowe.

Where does Jane Austen fit in? Well, Jane's mother was a descendant of the original Thomas Leigh. The Austen family sometimes visited Stoneleigh and it's thought that Sotherton Court in "Mansfield Park" was based on Jane's memories of the Abbey. So IF Peter Lowe was related to the Leighs, and IF the Leigh's of Lancashire were really descendants of Sir Thomas Leigh, then we'd be distantly related by marriage to Jane Austen. But it seems unlikely.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Frances Dickinson

We've recently returned from Italy, where we caught up with Zoe. It was lovely seeing her. We also had a great time exploring Italy. As far as I know, we don't have any Italian ancestors, but who knows...the Romans surely left some descendants in Britain. There were certainly Romans soldiers stationed in Lancashire, and they can't have spent all their time building roads. Walton le Dale was apparently a major Romano-British settlement.

Which brings me to the subject of this post, Frances Dickinson, who lived in Walton Le Dale with her first husband, Thomas Ward. Frances, the daughter of John and Margaret Dickinson (nee Ainsworth) was baptised at St Laurence church in Chorley in January 1780. A number of Dickinson and Dicconson families lived in the Chorley area (which includes Standish, Wrightington and Charnock Richard) at this time.

Interior of St Wilfrid's Parish Church, Standish
(courtesy of Alexander P Kapp)
Thomas and Frances were married on November 9, 1802 at St Wilfrid's parish church in Standish, the same church where John and Margaret were married. The church, built betweeen 1582 and 1584,  is noted for it's ornate Tudor ceiling (visible on the picture.)

On the parish register, Thomas was described as being "of the Parish of Bolton", but this doesn't necessarily mean that he was born there. It's interesting to note that Margaret Ainsworth was also said to be "of the Parish of Bolton when she married John Dickinson. Frances was "of this Parish", ie Chorley. She signed the register with an 'X'. Richard Dickinson, her brother, was a witness along with a Robert Ainscough.

Thomas and Frances' first son, John was baptised as St Laurence in Chorley in March 1803. At some stage the family moved to Walton Le Dale, where Margaret (1805), Esther (1807) and Richard (1809) were born.

Frances was only 33 when Thomas died in 1813 (cause unknown). How she managed alone with four children can only be guessed. In 1818, 5 years after Thomas' death, she gave birth to another child, Frances (also known as Fanny). In the parish register the officiating minister at her baptism records only Fanny Ward, widow, as the mother, with no father named.

In May 1829 Frances remarried, to William Tomlinson, a widower. The banns of marriage were read at St Mary's Eccleston (not far from Chorley), and both were said to be living at Wrightington, near Eccleston. Perhaps Frances had moved back to the Chorley area to be closer to her family. The marriage, on May 29, also took place at St Mary the Virgin, Eccleston. Robert Dickinson was one of the witnesses.

According to census records, William was born in Lancaster in about 1792, which makes him quite a bit younger than Frances. It seems likely that he is the same William Tomlinson who lived in Walton Le Dale for several years with his first wife, Ellen Porter. He was a labourer and later a weaver. They were married in Walton Le Dale in 1816 and their children John, Richard, Mary, Catherine and Ellen were all born there. Baby Ellen died a few days after her baptism in February 1828 and her mother Ellen died in August 1828. Note that if this is the same William who married Frances Ward, then he would have been already married when the younger Fanny was born in 1818. Was he her father? We'll probably never know.

After their marriage Frances and William moved to Salford. In the 1841 census they were living in Mason Street with Richard and Catherine Tomlinson and Esther and Fanny Ward. By 1851 all the children had moved on - Esther, still single, was living with Catherine Tomlinson in Butler St, Manchester, and Fanny seems to have married a George Hayes from Manchester and had three children of her own.

Possibly Frances Tomlinson's mother Margaret also lived with them for a short time. A Margaret Dickinson, aged 64, was buried at St Laurence, Chorley in December 1832. Her abode was said to be Manchester. However, since I don't know for sure when Margaret was born, this is just speculation.

Frances died at the age of 81 in Salford in 1861. This makes her one of the longest-lived of our ancestors prior to the last century. Her second marriage was also a long one, at over 30 years. William appears to have lived on until 1866. I'll describe what happened to Frances' other children in a later post.