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Jack Priestley’s Family History

This site is a work-in-progress. There is a massive amount to cover. I have included both male and female lines. Keep coming back for more.
I have numbered the generations working backwards from Jack’s as (1)



RICHARD HARRISON. Ann Harrison, who married William Riley in Skipton in 1834, was descended from a long line of farmers in the rural north-west of Skipton parish.[1]

The earliest record of this family we have found is the marriage of Richard Harrison in 1637. [2]

Marriage. Holy Trinity, Skipton.
1637 Nov  20. Richerd Harrissonne and Anne Wattsonne.

We have not found a baptism for Richard.

The Skipton parish registers go back to 1592. The earliest record of the Harrisons is the burial in Nov 1603 of Margret wife of William Harrison of Stirton. Stirton is a township adjacent to Thorlby, where we find most of our Harrisons. They lie in the NW of Skipton parish. Both consist of a handful of houses surrounded by farmland. Margret and William could be Richard’s grandparents, but there is no firm evidence for this.

There is also a burial on 19 Jan 1623 for John Harrissonne of Stirton. He is likely to be Margret and William’s son, and possibly Richard’s father, though this can only be conjecture. Richard may have come from outside Skipton parish.

George and Francis Clifford were the third and fourth Earls of Cumberland, the former of whom died in 1605, and the latter in 1641. They were lords of Skipton Castle and major landowners in the area. During their time a great number of freehold and leasehold tenancies were created. Skipton appears to have increased rapidly during the first years of the seventeenth century. Among Skipton names on a rent-roll from the middle of the seventeenth century we find Ric. Harrison. [3]


ANNE WATSON. We have a baptism for Anne in Skipton.

Baptism. Holy Trinity, Skipton.
1615 June 3 Anne daughter of Roger Watson of Thorlby.

The township of Thorlby features prominently in the Harrison history. Its rural nature makes it likely that Anne’s father was a farmer, or working on a farm.

Anne was the youngest of four daughters, two of whom had died before she was born.

Her mother may be Ellen Ellis, who married Roger Watson of Thorlby in Barnoldswick in 1594, or it may be Anne, surname unknown, who was buried as Anne Watson, widow of Thorlby, in 1640.

The younger Annewas 22 when she married Richard Harrison.


Their marriage in 1637 was followed by the birth of a son.

Baptism. Holy Trinity, Skipton.
1638 Aug 19  Thomas the sonne of Richard Harrison of Thorleby .

This is our first indication that the Richard, like Anne’s family, farmed at Thorlby.

This was shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642.

There are no further baptisms for children of Richard and Anne until 1654. In some parishes this might be partially explained by a break in the registers during the Commonwealth period following the war. But this is not true of Skipton. And it would not explain why there were no births during the Civil War.

There is another explanation.

H. Dawson, in his History of Skipton, tells us that “the majority of the nobility and gentry of Yorkshire sided with the King, and brought with them their retainers, as well as a great portion of their tenantry, and thus swelled the royal army very greatly.”

As usual with the Civil War, we have no information about which side our ancestors personally favoured. Communities tended to back either the Royalists or the Parliamentarians, but there were always individuals who dissented from the common view. The Clifford family, probably Richard’s landlords, were staunch Royalists. It looks very much as though Richard was one of those tenants conscripted into the Royalist army. We do not know whether he was one of the garrison defending Skipton Castle or whether he fought elsewhere.

Skipton Castle was the only Royalist stronghold in the north of England until Dec 1645. After a three-year siege, a surrender was negotiated between Oliver Cromwell and the Royalists. Cromwell ordered the removal of the castle roofs.[4]

Governor of Skipton Caste – re-enactment [5]


Legend has it that during the siege, sheep fleeces were hung over the walls to deaden the impact from the rounds of cannon fire. Sheep fleeces feature in the town’s coat of arms. Skipton remained the Cliffords’ principal seat until 1676. Lady Anne Clifford (1590–1676) was the last Clifford to own it. After the siege, she ordered repairs and planted a yew tree in the central courtyard to commemorate this. [6]

Skipton coat of arms [7]

If Richard was away for a long time, Anne would have been left alone with a small son. She would not have been able to turn to her parents for help. Both Roger and Anne Watson had died before the outbreak of the war.

Things would, in any case, have been hard for the farming community. They would be required to provision whichever army was marching through their neighbourhood. The three-year-siege of Skipton Castle would bear particularly hard on them, with the requirement to feed the Parliamentarian army. Parliamentarian troops were rather better than the Royalists at paying for the food they took, but their record is not blameless.

Towards the end of 1644 we read that the Royalists were continually despatching marauding parties from the castle; indeed, that ” scarcely a day passed but information was received of irreparable depredations and the most wanton barbarities committed by these parties,” from Skipton on the one hand and Knaresborough on the other. [8]

The main phase of the Civil War ended in 1645, when King Charles was captured. But it revived when he escaped and continued until his execution in 1649.

Even this leaves another 6 years before the next baptism for the Harrisons. Skipton’s baptismal records for this period seem to be complete, with the exception of 1645.

Perhaps Richard returned from the war wounded.

The Harrisons resumed their family life with the baptism of twins, followed by another son.

Baptism. Holy Trinity.
1654/5  Feb 14  John and Elizabeth the sonn and daughter of Richard Harryson of Thorlby.

John was buried on 1 Jun that year.

The church of Holy Trinity had been damaged in the war. In 1652, Lady Anne Clifford returned to Skipton and ordered its repair. Work was begun three years later. Lady Anne was not one “to dwell in ceiled palaces, while the Lord’s house lay waste.” The shattered windows were replaced ; the tombs of her two little brothers were renewed ; and she erected a magnificent monument to her father, “adorned with the armorial bearings of the various noble families whose blood mingled in his veins.” She also built up the steeple, which had been partially destroyed. Dawson quotes an earlier historian: “In the Civil Wars the Steeple was almost demolish’d: The Five Bells were taken as a Prize; and tho’ agreed to be redeem’d for Two Hundred Pounds, yet only Four of them were sent back, which are in the present steeple, that was erected (or rather re-built) by the Countess of Pembroke.” “The Parliamentary soldiers were once credited with having stolen the brasses of two of the Clifford tombs in the parish church. Unjust probably is the charge, for some years ago several were found behind some wainscotting in an old farm-house at Thorlby.” [9]

Four years after the death of their twin son John, the Harrisons had another boy also baptised John.

1659 Nov 5 John the sonne of Richard Harrissonn of Thorleby


Richard Harrison of Thorlby was buried on 13 Sep 1660, the year that Charles II was restored to his executed father’s throne.

Anne survived him by 16 years.

Burial. Holy Trinity, Skipton
1676 May 2. Ann Harrison widow of Thorlby.

She was 61.


Their eldest son Thomas married at the late age of 43.

1679 April 12 Thomas Harrison married Susan Croft. Both were of this parish.



[2] BMDs from Findmypast.
[3] Dawson, William Harbutt,, History of Skipton. 1882. https://archive.org/stream/historyofskipton00daws/historyofskipton00daws_djvu.txt
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skipton_Castle
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skipton_Castle
[7] http://www.ngw.nl/heraldrywiki/images/4/49/Skipton.jpg
[8] Dawson
[9] Dawson.




Riley Tree