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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)



THOMAS HARRISON. We know from his marriage licence that Thomas was born around 1749-50. The Skipton register for his children’s baptisms tells us that his father was John Harrison, late of Manchester, tallow chandler. [1]

There is a baptism in Manchester on 18 June 1749 for Thomas, son of John Harrison and Ann. We do not know his mother’s maiden name.

Thomas did not stay in Manchester, nor follow his father’s occupation. Before he was 23 he had moved to his father’s birthplace: the rural township of Thorlby, outside Skipton. His grandfather, a yeoman farmer of Thorlby, had died before Thomas was born. His uncle, also called Thomas, took over the farm. No baptisms have been found for this Thomas’s children, nor for children of his brothers. It appears that the younger Thomas went to Thorlby to help his grandmother Margaret, née Oldfield, with the farm in her later years.

Thorlby was changing. In the mid-18th century moves were afoot to improve the road from Keighley to Kendal, which passed through Skipton and Thorlby. A broadsheet distributed in Settle around 1750 claimed:

“The Woollen Manufacture has of late years been carried on and is daily increasing in Craven, for which it is better situated in every respect (save the scarcity of Coal) than any other part of the Country. Good Roads wou’d lower the Price of Coal at least one‐Third, this wou’d be a prodigious advantage to all the inhabitants, and such an encouragement to that Branch of Trade as wou’d render it General, by this means the Country wou’d become Populous and consequently the Value of Land greatly increased … When the Roads are effectually repaired Goods may be conveyed from one Place to another in Carriages with less than half the Number of Horses now employed in carrying Packs and consequently at half the Expence.” [2]


In 1753 a local act was introduced “for repairing, amending, and widening the Road from Kieghley, in the West Riding of the County of York, to Kirkby in Kendal, in the County of Westmorland.

The preamble sets forth that “Whereas the road leading from the town of Kieghley, in the West Riding of the County of York, to the town of Skipton, and from thence to the town of Settle, in the Riding aforesaid, and from Settle aforesaid to Cowen otherwise Coin Bridge, in the County of Lancaster, and from thence to Kirkby in Kendal, in the County of Westmoreland, is from the narrowness thereof in many places, and the nature of the soil, become very ruinous and in great decay, and is not only almost impassable for wheel carriages, but very dangerous for travellers, and is incapable of being repaired by the ordinary course of law : Therefore, to the intent the said highways and roads may be forthwith effectually amended, repaired, and widened, and from time to time hereafter kept in good and sufficient repair, May it please your Majesty that it may be enacted.[3]

This was to be a turnpike road with gates and toll-houses. The section from Skipton to Settle was one of the earliest to be built. The turnpike road converged on the old coaching road on the outskirts of Thorlby and passed through the hamlet. Bay Horse Farm, once a coaching inn, stands beside this turnpike road. The gardens in front were then cobbles. Rings in the house front wall show where the horses were tied. [4]

In 1765, when Thomas was 17 a great storm struck Skipton. A contemporary newspaper reported:

“July 26th. — The most terrible storm of thunder and lightning happened at Skipton-in-Craven that has ever been known in the memory of the oldest man there. The lightning struck the church steeple, beat off the weathercock and several of the pinnacles, and has greatly rent and damaged the whole steeple. Much about the same time, at a place called Shire Oaks, near Skipton, a mare and foal were killed, the former of which was divided and torn by the lightning in an almost incredible manner, being nearly separated in two parts.” [5]


Thomas married twice.

Marriage. Holy Trinity Skipton.

1772 Jan 28  Thomas Harrison of Thorleby, in ye parish of Skipton, Farmer and Ann Moorhouse of Gargrave.

Both signed. Thomas was 23. He already has the status of ‘farmer’.

There were three children from this first marriage.

1772 Dec 30 Thomas son of Thomas Harrison farmer and Ann
1774  Feb 2 Ann
1775 Sep 21 John

The toll road was not the only improvement in travel. In 1770 an act of Parliament was passed to build the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. The first section built was that from Bingley to Skipton. Contractors were each given a one-mile section. This part of the canal was lock-free. It opened in 1773.

The Leeds Intelligencer  of 8 April 1773 reported: “On Thursday last, that part of the Grand Canal from Bingley to Skipton was opened, and two boats laden with coals arrived at the last mentioned place, which were sold at half the price they have hitherto given for that most necessary convenience of life, which is a recent instance, among other, of the great use of canals in general. On which occasion the bells were set ringing at Skipton; there were also bonfires, illuminations, and other demonstrations of joy.”

As the canal progressed north to Gargrave, it passed through the township of Thorlby, half a mile from the hamlet.

The Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Thorlby [6]

 In Dec of 1775 Thomas’s grandmother Margaret Harrison died. This was followed just over two years later by the death of his first wife.

On 10 Jan 1778 Ann W Thos Harrison Farmer Skipton was buried.

 In 1780 Thomas married for the second time.


MARY PETYT. She was the second daughter of Anthony Petyt and Mary Heelis, both of Skipton. Her father was a yeoman farming at Crookrise, near Thorlby, and Deerstones, Bolton Abbey, fivemiles west of Skipton.

Baptism. Holy Trinity, Skipton.
1762 May  7  Mary Dau of Anthony Petyt Farmer and Mary his wife of Crookerise.

Mary never knew her older sister Margaret, who only lived two months. Three younger brothers died in infancy. Out of seven children only Mary, Ann and Elizabeth reached adulthood.

Mary bore a distinguished Skipton name. Whenever she visited Holy Trinity church she would have seen a board listing the terms of Sylvester Petyt’s charity. Her father, Anthony Petyt, had benefited from this, which provided apprenticeships for poorer members of the Petyt family. Sylvester Petyt also gave the Petyt Library to the parish church. His portrait hung in the vestry.

On 18 May 1780 Thomas Harrison farmer and widower married Mary Petyt spinster. Both were of this parish. Both signed their names. One of the witnesses was John Heelis. Mary’s mother was Mary Heelis. There was a considerable gap in their ages. Thomas was 30 and Mary 18.

At this early age Mary had three young stepchildren to look after. These were joined by nine children of her own.

Baptisms. Holy Trinity, Skipton.
1783 Anthony son of Thomas Harrison of Stirton Grazier  son of John Harrison late of Manchester and Mary Dr of Anthony Pettyt of Crookrise Farmer, born Mar 23 bapt May 8.

Thomas is now farming, not at Thorlby, but in the neighbouring township of Stirton.

The remaining baptisms give similar information, though the details vary over time.

1784 Margaret born 31 Aug  bapt 17 Oct.
1786 Susanna born 24 Jul  bapt 30 Jul.

Entries from now on add the information that John Harrison was a Tallow Chandler.

1788 Edward born 21 Jun  bapt 29 Aug

4-year-old Margaret died in on 20 Feb 1789. She was buried on the North side of the Middle Quarter of the churchyard.

1793 Leah  born 4 Feb  bapt 6 May.

Both Thomas Harrison and Anthony Petyt are now said to be Yeomen, and Anthony is of  Skipton.

1794 William born 21 July   bapt  23 Sep

Anthony Pettyt is “formerly of Crookrice now of Skipton Yeoman”

1795 Richard  born 1 Oct  bapt 31 Dec.

From now on, Thomas is of Thorlby, having apparently moved from Stirton.  Anthony is once more designated a Farmer, as he is for the remaining baptisms.

1797 Elizabeth born 12 Dec  1797  bapt 6 Jan 1798

Anthony Petyt is now “of Skipton formerly Crookrice”

1800 Sarah 6th daur of Thomas Harrison of Thorlby.  Born 24 May bapt 14 Aug

Antony Petty is now of Haylewood, Farmer

The terms Farmer and Yeoman seem to be used interchangeably, depending on who is filling in the register. Sometimes Thomas is termed a Grazier, telling us that he farmed cattle and/or sheep.

Of their nine children only one seems to have died in infancy. This is another indication that the Harrisons were a fairly well-to-do family.

The sons of yeomen were often sent to a grammar school. Skipton had a free grammar school since the 16th century. We do not know whether Thomas sent his sons there. Certainly, his son Edward had a well-schooled hand.

Mary died in 1806, six years after the birth of her last child. She was buried two days later at Skipton parish church.

  1. Mary Harrison Wife of Thomas Harrison of Thorlby Grazier. Died July 27 Bd 29. A little above the Church Porch. Age 45. No cause of death is given.


Thomas survived her by two years.

Burial. Holy Trinity, Skipton
1808 Thomas Harrison of Thorlby Grazier. Died Feby 3  Bd 5. Little east of Porch in the Aisle. Age 60. The cause of death is often given, but not in Thomas’s case, unless he shares the one below: “Natural Decay”

Thomas’s entry means that he was buried in the church. Mary’s indicates that they may have shared the same grave. ‘Above’ probably means nearer the altar, in other words ‘east’.

Burial inside the church usually means that these persons were of some standing. You had to pay a fee for this privilege. But in Thomas and Mary’s time this had become fashionable in Skipton.

In 1853 there was a report on The Sanitary Condition of Burial Vaults and Graves in the Church.[7]

Every available space beneath the flooring of the parish church has been used for ages as a depository of the dead, and it passes belief how large a quantity of putrefying matter has in this way been disposed of. Even now the vaults are in some cases gorged with corruption, and all along the aisles and in the porch are graves filled with human remains. In most instances the only partition between the living and the dead is a single slab of stone and a few inches of earth. These offered but a very imperfect barrier to the escape of noxious effluvia, and slowly, therefore, but incessantly, the gaseous products of decomposition were effused into the atmosphere of the church. But at the night services, established in 1843, when gas was introduced into the church, when the air became rarified by the warmth of stoves and burning gas, the rank vapours were drawn in uncontrollable profusion. It is impossible to say what mischief was done by this, and how many while worshipping within the sanctuary, have breathed the atmosphere of corruption, and have sickened unto death.

The bodies were removed and reburied elsewhere, presumably in the churchyard, and the church was re-flagged. Thomas and Ann’s memorial stone may still exist.

Flagstones in Holy Trinity church [8]

Thomas’s will was proved on 14 May 1808. He is described as a gentleman of Thorlby, in the parish of Skipton. This is the first time we find  him recorded as a ‘gentleman’.

His estate was valued at £200, one of the lower figures on that page of the Probate Index. All his real estate, the leases of his farms, the stock upon them, and all his other effects were to be sold. The principal beneficiary from the proceeds was his eldest son from his first marriage, Thomas Harrison. Thomas also received a bequest of £50.The residue was to be invested in a trust fund for his remaining 11 children, to be given to them when they reached the age of 21. [9]

 Mary’s father, Anthony Petyt outlived them both, living to the great age of 93. He died in 1814.



[1] BMDs from Findmypast.
[2] Keighley and Kendal Turnpike. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keighley_and_Kendal_Turnpike
[3] W. H. Dawson, History of Skipton. 1882. https://archive.org/stream/historyofskipton00daws/historyofskipton00daws_djvu.txt
[4] http://www.visitoruk.com/.thorlby-C592-V18211.html
[5] W. H. Dawson, History of Skipton. 1882.
[6] https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Bb59LJRN9RU/VxvOR32XDSI/AAAAAAAAH60/ip2e90ljbOse8m5o9avPrNQhiSye9oeZACLcB/s1600/008%2BThorlby%2BSwing%2B%2BBridge.JPG
[7] Dawson.
[8] http://www.overtonarchitects.co.uk/images/projects/churches/holy-trinity-skipton/images/holy-trinity-church-skipton-3.jpg
[9] National Archives: IR 26/429/295





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