William Smith of Melmerby (1781-1857) and his family

This is the first of four posts I am writing about William Smith and his family even though they are not direct ancestors of mine (William was my great-great-grandfather’s older brother). I am doing this because I have found some interesting information about this family that I want to share.

I have tended to picture the Smiths of Melmerby as preferring to stay put in the Cumberland village where they owned freehold property, sometimes living in nearby communities in the Upper Eden valley such as Gamblesby, and only reluctantly leaving there to go to live somewhere else. This may be only partly true. Certainly, by the nineteenth century, other possible ways of making a living were opening up following the industrial revolution.

Upper Eden Valley, Cumberland

So far I have found that, rather than leave the land and go to work in a Lancashire cotton mill, a coal mine or other industrial enterprise, the Smiths either moved to the nearest market town of Penrith or in some cases they ventured further afield, including to London. (My own line of Melmerby Smiths stuck to farming and went to Ireland to continue farming there on a scale that was impossible for them in Cumberland.)

When I started researching the male line of Smiths going back from my grandfather William Smith of Blackhall, I was focused on tracing the eldest sons in order to get back as far as possible in Cumberland. While doing so, I did often wonder what happened to the younger sons and to the daughters. In the earliest generations, information about those sons and daughters was very scarce indeed. However, by the nineteenth century, the available sources of information had expanded.

Those sources are now increasingly available on-line so it is possible to learn much more about all the members of the family fairly easily. The principal sources I have used here are: church baptisms, census records, probate records and wills (when available), and civil registration of births, marriages and deaths.

The William Smith I am writing about in this post was the oldest surviving son of John Smith of Melmerby so he inherited the family farm in Melmerby (see his father John Smith Jr.’s will, probated in 1821).

William  also inherited freehold property in Gamblesby (Parish of Addingham) under his mother Hannah Smith’s will of 1832.  Hannah Huddart came from Gamblesby where her father William Huddart was a yeoman farmer. I believe that Hannah was an only child and inherited her father’s property. Gamblesby is about a mile and a half (2.5 km) north-west of Melmerby.

William had an older brother John who died in 1802, aged 24, in Jamaica. There is a gravestone in Melmerby parish churchyard commemorating his death. I have no information on why he went to Jamaica.

In February 1812, William married Mary Longrigg in Kirkoswald Parish Church.  (Her birthplace in census records is always given as Kirkoswald.) Mary was under age when she married, with her parents’ permission. She was baptised in Kirkoswald Parish Church on November 3rd 1793 so she was eighteen when she married William Smith, who was 31.

In their early years of marriage, William and Mary lived in Hesket, which is north-west of Kirkoswald and about 12 miles (20 km) from Melmerby. Hesket is where their first three children were born. The other children were born in Melmerby.

William and Mary had 11 children, of whom four died young. (Thomas was an infant, Isaac was aged 7, Jane died when she was 16 or 17 and the eldest daughter Hannah died when she was 25.) There were four surviving daughters and three surviving sons.

William’s three adult sons were: John, William and Lancelot. John inherited the Melmerby farm and other freehold property; William inherited freehold land in Gamblesby and farmed there; and Lancelot inherited a small freehold property in Gamblesby but he went to London (more later on him and his surprising career). Both John and William were yeoman farmers in their respective communities.

William had four adult daughters: Ann, Mary, Agnes and Elizabeth. Each of them received £140 in William Smith’s will of 1857.

Tracing females in public records is somewhat more difficult than searching for males but I have identified all the daughters’ married names and have been able to follow a bit of their lives, as described in later posts. They were: Ann Dobson, Mary Sutton, Agnes Scott and Elizabeth Harrison.

William lived in Melmerby until his death in 1857. His will provided for generous support to his widow Mary, who continued to live in Melmerby until she died in 1868. Both of them were buried in the churchyard of Melmerby Parish Church.

William’s successor on the Melmerby property was his son John Smith. I will be writing about John later when I describe his family. Before I do that, I want to write about William’s other children. The next post will be about William’s oldest daughter, Ann Dobson.

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