Wrightson of Abbot Hagg Farm [map]
Thanks to Thomas Leonard Wrightson
Charles (c 1675) farmed Abbot's Hag, a large farm in the pleasant valley ofRievaulx.
He must have been reasonably amount as it is recorded in documents that he, and his
wife, had three indoor servants. Abbots Hag is about 400 acres a big holding at that
time, there must also have been a large workforce in those days of manual labour.
Rievaulx did not have a parish church until about a hundred years ago, so the family
made a weekly journey to Helmsley for worship. Charles' children were all baptised in
Helmsley. His third son, Stephen, is recorded as being a miller at Whorlton. Since
Stephen was the third son, he would not have been able to take over the Farm. It is
about 15 miles from Rievaulx to Stokesley, and about the same to Whorlton, say a four
hour trudge. On horseback, or driving a light carriage, less than two hours. Stephen's
children were christened in Helmsley, Carlton, East Horsley and Whorlton. This
suggests that he moved about as the job demanded, either to farms or mills. He and
Rebecca settled at Whorlton eventually. Whether it was a wind or a watermill I have
not been able to ascertain. Stephen was buried at Whorlton, but no legible gravestone
could be found when we searched.
Stephen (2) settled as a farmer in Ormsby, where he married Ann Smith. Ormsby is
about 10 miles from Whorlton, and in the mid 1700's would have been a village.
Francis (Stephen's son) is also recorded as being a farmer. It is useful to remember that
these were probably not farms as we now understand them, but little more than
smallholdings. They would have grown grain and roots and some hay for the livestock,
kept cattle, sheep and pigs, had hens and a kitchen garden. They depended on selling
in the market place, literally, for existence. And, apart from ploughing and harrowing,
all the work was done manually. It was a life of rising early to milk, and hard physical
toil. Many went bankrupt and were 'sold up' if they were unable to pay their annual
Francis (2), son of Francis, was born in Faceby being baptised in Whorlton. Whorlton
Parish included Faceby, where it is assumed Francis (1) had his farm. Francis (2)
married Ann Sayer on 22nd June 1826 at Stokesley, his profession being described as
'Dog Breaker' on the certificate. He may have been a hunt servant, or a trainer of gun
dogs, at the time this was done with a whip to 'break' a dog's natural instincts. John was
born in 1827; the second boy, Charles, is recorded as being born in 1829 in Raynham,
Norfolk. It is possible that Francis moved to Raynham for a post as gamekeeper on the
Townshend estates. This had some advantages over farm work -no pre-dawn starts,
freedom to arrange one's routines, no dependence on others, and regular wages.
However, the family did not remain long in Norfolk as Ann was born in Yorkshire in
There are a couple of interesting points from this incident. One is that even in the
1820's situation vacant columns existed, and so Francis was certainly literate. Many
people learned to sign their names, hence a signature on a wedding certificate is no
guarantee of literacy. The second point is that the family probably travelled by ship
from Whit by to Kings Lynn or Hunstanton, and then by cart to Raynham. Travel by
vessel was much quicker than overland and also cheaper.
On returning to Yorkshire Francis obtained employment as a gamekeeper at Ingleby
Greenhow, almost certainly at Ingleby Manor. That he was ambitious for his two boys
is evident, as both were put into 'trades', John as a joiner and Charles as a tailor. John's
bible still exists, the flysheet being inscribed 'The Gift of Lady Foules -for good
behaviour at school'. Some of the gentry in those days would organise a free ( or a
penny) school for village children. The curriculum would be minimal, just the four R's
-reading, writing, arithmetic and religion. Lady Foules probably was influenced by
John's intelligence, and his classic script.
At the age of 14 John moved to Kirk Levington to start his apprenticeship. In the end
cover of his bible he has written his address and then underneath IOHN in Roman
letters. I suspect that this was copied from an apostle window in Kirk Levington
church, but when we went there the church was locked.
In 1854 John married Sarah Watson of Yarm at Thornaby parish church. Yarm
probably came into Thornaby parish. He was running his own business as a cartwright
at Thornaby, employing an apprentice, at least until 1862 when Jane, the fifth child,
was born. At some time in the next two years, the family moved to Mill Hill Farm at
Deighton. This was to a post as gamekeeper/farm foreman. While in Deighton the
four younger children were born, and John was promoted to Farm Bailiff. At some
time in the 1870's the whole family moved to Middleton Tyas where John had a post as
gamekeeper to the estate. The parting at Deighton must have been amicable, as he was
presented with a silver tea/coffee service.
The 1881 census shows John as gamekeeper and the whole family, plus a sister-in-law
and a lodger, but minus Francis, living in one house. (More on Francis later. ) Privacy
and bathing must have been difficult. In the 1891 census the picture is different. John
has been promoted to Bailiff, Francis is still absent, Jane, Frederic and Charles have
gone to employment elsewhere, and the sister-in-law has also gone. The family are
living in Forresters Hall, more spacious accommodation. Watson is shown as living at
home, with his wife and son. He was at the time working at Hurworth School, but was
shortly to move to Elsecar near Barnsley.
There are some points which must be borne in mind when considering the foregoing.
Very few of the 'lower orders' owned a house, let alone property; the majority
depended on their employers for accommodation. These cottages were often wretched
hovels -cold, draughty and damp. Heating and cooking facilities an open fire, water
drawn from a well or stream, with a crude outside privy .Money may not have been
available to buy coals. (1 can remember visiting a family who had neither food or fuel. )
Washing would be done by hand -with eight children at home, imagine what that
meant! Although the rents would be cheaper than now taken as a percentage of
income, using the same criteria many other items, e.g. boots, were dearer.
As far as I can tell, our branch of the Wrightson family originated and lived in the York
area for some time. Possibly a Danish settler called Ritson or Ritsen settled there in the
13 or 1400's or even earlier. In the days when moving was difficult and costly -several
days' journey by cart -people stayed put; or at least only moved to an adjacent village.
There are records going back to the 14 and 1500's, but the trail is patchy at best before
1660. Strangely, for a family confined to a relatively small area for generations, the
offspring have now moved and traveled widely. Several professions have been taken
up by family members, and there are representatives in many trades, as there were in
Stokesley 150 years ago. (See copy of guide )
Thomas Leonard Wrightson -August 1996