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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)



EDWARD HEELIS. We have not found a baptism for Edward Heelis. We know from his marriage licence that he was born around 1698. [1] Gillian Waters, who has done much research on our Skipton ancestors, believed that Edward Heelis of Skibeden was the second son of William Heelis, farmer of Skibeden, who married Ann Slater in 1694. Their eldest son William was born in 1695, followed by a daughter Alice, who died in infancy. This is confirmed by William Heelis’s will, in which his son Edward is the principal beneficiary after his wife.

“There is a gap of four years between the birth of Alice (1697) and the next son John Heelis in 1701… children tended to be born at about two yearly intervals, to allow for the weaning of the previous child.”

Edward’s birth would fit neatly into this 4-year gap. He called his oldest son William.

Edward became a yeoman farmer like his father.

East Skibeden Farm [2]



LEAH CATTERSON was the daughter of Stephen Catterson and his wife Grace Haworth. Her father was one of the leading citizens of Skipton. He was an attorney and a considerable landholder. He was the tenant of the Red Lion Inn on Skipton High Street, which was also a substantial farmhouse.

Baptism. Holy Trinity, Skipton. g
1697 Aug 24  Leah daughtr of Mr Stephen Catterson of Skipton.

At this time, the title ‘Mr’ was only given to the gentry.

She was the eldest of eleven children. Five of them died in infancy and one in his early twenties.


Edward was 21 and Leah 22 at the time of their marriage. Twenty-one is rather younger than usual for a groom.

If his elder brother William had lived we would expect him to have inherited the farm at Skibeden. However, William died at the age of twenty-four in July 1719. Waters comments: “It is interesting that Edward Heelis married Leah Catterson five months after the death of his elder brother, in December 1719, probably to ensure that the Heelis line continued at Skibeden. Alternatively, Edward may have married knowing that he was now able to support his young wife Leah.”

Their father William Heelis did not die until 1726.

Marriage. St Andrew, Kildwick.
1719 Dec 16  Edward Heelis of Skibeden of ye parish of Skipton Yeoman and Leah Catterson of town of Skipton Spinster were married by Licence.

Both the partners were from Skipton, but the township of Skibeden lies partly in Kildwick parish. The village of Kildwick is 4 miles south of Skipton. The marriage licence gives the intended place of the wedding as either Skipton or Kildwick.

John Heelis, Tallow Chandler, who may be Edward’s brother, also married a Catterson.

The young couple did not move to Skibeden immediately. They had ten children. Their address for the first two baptisms is Skipton, meaning that they lived in the town, but Edward is still described as a farmer.

1720 Dec 13   Grace d of Edwd Heelis & Leah his wife of Skipton
1721/2 Feb 20   Wm s of Edward Heelis (Farmer) & Leah his wife of Skipton

The following year sees the family moving to the rural township of Skibeden

Edward’s father made his will in 1723. It is likely that he was in failing health.As the oldest surviving son, Edward and Leah and their young family moved to take over Skibeden Farm.

Nine more children were born there.

1723/4 Jan 29   Jno  s of Edward Heelis (Farmer) & Leah his wife of Skibeden
1725 Nov 1   Leah d of Edward Heelis yeoman & Leah his wife of Skibeden

William Heelis yeoman died in 1726. Edward was the principal beneficiary of his will. He left a property in Eastby to Edward’s mother, and legacies from it after her death to Edward’s brother and sister. Edward then inherited it for the duration of the lease, as well as Skibeden Farm. He was to give his mother a cow from the farm every year.

1727 Oct 17   Thos s of Edwd Heelis (Farmer) & Leah his wife of Skibeden
1729 Oct 14   Stephen s of Edwd Heelis (Farmer) & Leah his wife of Skibeden
1731/2 Jan 12   Anne d of Edwd Heelis (Farmer) & Leah his wife of Skibeden
1733 Sep 18  Silvestr s of Edwd Heelis (Farmer) & Leah his wife of Skibeden
1735 Jul 2   Margt d  Edwd Heelis Farmer & Leah his wife of Skibeden
1737 Aug 17  Mary Edwd Heelis Farmer & Leah his wife of Skibeden

In the final baptism the mother’s name has been transcribed as Sarah. The original is hard to read, but it must be Leah, who did not die until 1780.

1739 Dec ?9  Eliz d  Edwd Heelis Farm & Leah his wife of Skibeden

It is a measure of the prosperity of this family that none of their eleven children died in infancy. The first to die was Margaret, who was buried on 14 Nov 1753, aged 17.

“In 1729, Edward’s father-in-law Stephen Catterson transferred a substantial property in Skipton to Edward, comprising a ‘day house with cellar, parlour and shop chambers, and garrets above the parlour.’ There were also gardens and yards at the front and back and half a Garth. At present, it is not certain where this property was, but it appears to have had extensive lands attached to it. It may have originally been one dwelling, that had been split into two separate houses by 1729… Edward and his wife Leah do not appear to have lived in this house.”

In 1733 Edward Heelis yeoman also gained an interest in property in Lamberts Hill from his father-in-law. He and his brother-in-law, Francys Catterson gentleman, were joint lessees.

Gillian Waters adds: “Edward Heelis was certainly wealthy enough to employ men to work on his farm. On 27 March 1738, 3d was paid by the parish of Skipton for ‘going to Skibeden with Edward Heelis’ apprentice’. It is not known who this apprentice was or why he needed to be accompanied to Skibeden from Skipton. It may be the case that this particular apprentice had tried to leave his place of employment and was being taken back again by the constabulary. Alternatively, the apprentice may have been one of the forty children of Skipton Parish who were apprenticed through a charitable trust. In this case, Edward Heelis may have received money for taking on the apprentice.”

In 1741 ‘Edward Halas’, of Skibeden voted for Fox in the parliamentary election and is recorded as an ‘Outliving Freeholder’.

George Fox was the Tory MP for Skipton.

In Jan 1742  Edward leased part of the Lamberts Hill property to John Heelis, Tallow Chandler. In Dec of that year John Heelis returned the tenements to him. This was probably his brother John.

The same year Edward Heelis received the other half of the tenement in Skipton from Mary Paley, his sister-in-law. There was a sitting tenant. A year later he leased it, along with several other messuages, to Samuel Whaley of St Ives, Bingley. This must have been a short-term lease, because these tenements were among those Edward transferred in 1757 to his son Thomas Heelis of Skipton Castle. His son-in-law Samuel Jennings,  mason, had leased “a barn, croft and garden and buildings” in Newmarket Street in 1751. He died in 1754. In 1757, his daughter Leah Jennings was one of the tenants.

The distinguished lawyer Sylvestet Petyt set up a number of charitable trusts. They benefited the people of Skipton generally, but particularly members of the extended Petyt family. Edward Heelis was a great-nephew of his and Leah was the granddaughter of his sister Isabell. Edward was enabled by this trust to have all his sons apprenticed. [3] Unlike our ancestor Anthony Petyt, he did not apprentice his daughters.

1736  Stephen Catterson with William son of Edward Heelis to learn Husbandry. Stephen Catterson was Leah’s father.
1738  John Heelis, Tallow Chandler, with John son of Edward Heelis.
1741  Robert Lepton, Scrivener, with Thomas son of Edward Heelis.
1744  Edmund Gundry, Butcher and Farmer, with Stephen the son of Edward Heelis.
1750  William Maude, Ironmonger, with Silvester the son of Edward Heelis.

In 1744 John Heelis, tallow chandler, transferred a malt kiln and lands in Skipton Ings and Waller Close to Edward Heelis yeoman of Skibeden.

In 1749, following the Civil War, John Heelis innholder, whilst a prisoner in the Castle at York, transferred lands at Lambert Hills which had figured previously in Edward’s transactions.

Edward Heelis, Farmer of Skibeden, was buried at Holy Trinity on 22 Feb 1772. He was in his mid-seventies.

He was buried in the same grave as his daughter Margaret, who had died at the age of 17.

Edward left his lands to be divided equally between his sons, William Heelis, Butcher, of Bolton in the Moors, Lancashire, and John Heelis of Skipton Castle, gentleman.

Leah died in 1780, aged 83. She and their youngest daughter Elizabeth, who had died aged 36, were also buried in this grave.

Burial. Skipton
1780 Aug 23  Leah Widow of the late Edwd Heelis of Skibeden.

The eldest son William moved to Bolton in the Moors where he was a butcher. In 1778 “William and his younger brother John inherited their father’s estates as ‘heirs in common’.

In practice, John took over the family estates. He initially worked as a mason, but took over the farm in Skibeden in the 1760s. “As well as being a ‘Grazier’, John Heelis later also became Steward of Skipton Castle in 1801, following in his younger brother Thomas’s footsteps… There are flagstones in the church in memory of Sarah and John Heelis of Skipton Castle.”

Their son Thomas married three times. His second wife was Anna Alcock. Gillian Waters writes: [4]

“The Alcocks were a landed Skipton family, and lived for a time at Aireville House in Skipton, the site of modern Aireville School. The Alcocks were also renowned lawyers in the area of Skipton. Thomas Heelis may have met Anna Heelis through his own training as a lawyer, or through the Heelis and Alcock family connections. By the 1760s, Thomas Heelis was living at Skipton Castle as the Steward of the Castle, and may have been employed by the Lord of Skipton Castle. In the 1760s, the Lords of Skipton Castle were the Earls of Thanet  However, Thomas also held lands of his own. In 1765 Thomas Heelis and his family moved to Appleby Castle, probably to continue work as a Steward for the Earls of Thanet there. He seems to have remained in Appleby in 1774 and in that year transferred a farm at Stirton and Embsay, along with a barnyard in Newmarket Street, to his brother John Heelis. However, he still retained some property in Skipton, as in 1771 he was liable for ten pounds, eleven shillings and four pence for a window assessment. This property must have been fairly substantial and had plenty of light.”

“Leah was the first of the Heelis sisters to marry. At the age of twenty-four, Leah was of the right age to marry for middling yeomanry, but she would have been classified as a spinster in the strata of the higher country gentry. [The] oldest sister Grace would have been nearly thirty by this time and by the standards of middling, lower or higher gentry would have been viewed as too old to marry. I have not found a marriage for Grace. Leah’s husband, Samuel Jennings, was a mason and descended of a lesser branch of the Jennings family of Ripon. This marriage may show that the status of the Heelis family was of the lesser yeomanry.”

Anne married a labourer. This suggests that “the Heelis family was only just in the yeoman strata of local Skipton society. However, Thomas [Whitham] may have been the son of another smallholder, working as a labourer to gain a living whilst waiting to take up his place in his own farm.” Anthony Petyt’s father John was in that position. He is said to be a labourer at the baptism of his first child, but thereafter a farmer.

Sylvester set up a hardware business. He may also have farmed. In 1772 “Sylvester Heelis, yeoman, was elected Parish Clerk for Skipton.” Sylvester’s daughter Margaret and her husband emigrated to New Zealand.

Mary married Anthony Petyt Farmer in 1759.

A later descendant of the Heelis family was Willie Heelis, solicitor of Appleby, who married Beatrix Potter. He lived with her at Hill Top Farm in the Lake District.



[1] BMDs from Findmypast. Other biographical information from Gillian Waters, unless otherwise stated. http://www.bgwaters.co.uk/harrison8.htm
[2] http://www.moorhousehistory.co.uk/places/pages/high%20skibeden%20farm%202_jpg.htm
[3] http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~petyt/apprentice.htm
[4] http://www.bgwaters.co.uk/harrison7.htm





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