2. Ah’s Yorkshire… William’s immediate family

This is the second posting on the timeline of William’s life. It describes his immediate family and his antecedents, his illegitimacy and how he came adopt the middle name of Hall.


After the brief introduction to William’s birthplace of Stokesley (St Peter’s Bells and my native town) I return to an exploration of his immediate family. The Stokesley parish register records baptisms of two other children born to William’s mother Hannah, while she was living in Busby, his much-loved sister, Elizabeth on Sunday, 11th September 1831, and another sister, Mary on Sunday, 19th May 1833; whom William was never to know as she died in infancy and was buried on the 3rd August 1836 [1]. By the time the 1841 Census[2] was taken, William Burnett, for that was his baptismal name, was six months old and living with his mother and his now ten-year-old sister, Elizabeth, in Front Street, Stokesley.

Although there is no baptismal record, there is strong evidence that Hannah may have had another illegitimate child called Thomas, who was born a year or two earlier than Elizabeth and before she moved to Busby.  Illegitimacy as measured by there being no record of a father at baptism was not uncommon. In 1841, the year William was baptised, there were six such cases out of the fifty-eight baptisms at St Peter’s, Stokesley. In the early part of 19th century it was not uncommon in Cleveland to hear it remarked of the mother of an illegitimate child, ‘Ay, poor gell, she’s had a misfortin; but she’s nane the warse for’t.’[3].

When William was born his mother was forty-two years old and working as a washerwoman, perhaps being a washerwoman enabled her more easily to care for William when he was young. Previously and subsequently she worked as an agricultural labourer. Whether she took in washing or went to other people’s houses is uncertain. Few houses had their own water supplies but Stokesley was generously provided with water pumps, there being some fourteen pumps in the immediate vicinity of Front Street, some in public places and others associated with dwellings.  One of William’s earliest memories would have been going with his sister to collect water from a public pump, the nearest being on Low Green[4].  It is possible that William’s mother went to help the two live-in servants with laundry at the home of John Slater Pratt; the most prolific and enterprising printer in Stokesley. He lived with his family at nearby Oakland House (now divided into flats) in the West End of town. John Walker Ord who we must remember worked with William Braithwaite, wrote rather deprecatingly – ‘Mr Pratt carried on an extensive establishment for the manufacture of cheap reprints for foreign markets’. However, it was obviously a successful business and in 1840, he built Oakland House, which unlike most houses in the area, which were of brick, was built of fine stone in a ‘provincial palladian’ style with a frontage of four bays ‘ionic pilasters’[5].  At about the same time he moved his printing business from 30 High Street (which was subsequently occupied by William Braithwaite) and ‘erected a Steam Engine, Printing Office, Warehouse, Gas works and necessary outbuildings’ on the land behind Oakland House.  He moved rapidly up the social ladder and became a ‘prominent landowner’, the second largest landowner in the Glaisdale and Danby area where the large farm of ‘Didderhowe’ had become his second residence.  Elizabeth, William’s sister was resident at Didderhowe at the time of her marriage in 1854 but whether she was living or working at the farm house or perhaps staying in one of the farm cottages is uncertain.

Although William’s mother remains a shadowy figure and hard facts are difficult to establish, but she must have had considerable fortitude to take on work of a washerwoman ‘so unpleasant was the task, before piped and heated water and domestic appliances eased the burden, that paying someone else to do the laundry was a top priority of many households when funds permitted’ and ‘since the requisite skills were widespread and the basic equipment was readily acquired, it was a trade often turned to in adversity; indeed, contributing to the purchase of an item of laundry equipment, such as a mangle, was sometimes one of the neighbourly strategies employed to help a widow support herself and her children’ [6].  Sadly, for William’s mother it is unlikely that a ringer mangle would be available in 1841 leaving the removal of water to hand wringing.

Despite William saying, in later life, that ‘…searching out of family genealogies had never great attractions for me’ [7] he was very proud of being a Yorkshire-man. One of the earliest poems he wrote was in the Cleveland dialect of the North Riding and published by him in 1877 in a collection of poems and sketches, ‘Broad Yorkshire’ [8].  It is entitled ‘Ah’s Yorkshire’.  The last verse says it all!

Ah’s Yorkshire! Bi mi truly!
Ah is, ahm proud ti say;
Ah’s fond ar grand awd county,
An’trust at lang Ah may:
England wer nowt without it,
An’ its brave-hearted men.
Ah’ll drink ther health, and wish ‘em wealth,
Because Ah’s yan mysen,
Ah’s Yorkshire

In tracing William’s antecedents, I had the good fortune to find the website [9] run by Bill Burnett, devoted to the ancestry of all persons born in Yorkshire with the surname Burnett.  I am indebted to Bill not only for the information the website contains but also for his constant encouragement. According to his research, William’s great-great-grandfather was an alehouse keeper called Thomas Burnett [10] who lived in the village of Levisham on the southern edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. He and his wife Mary raised a family of at least four children. Philip the eldest son, Robert who died in infancy, a daughter Mary and the youngest son, John Burnett (1727-1805). Thomas, the father, and Robert, Mary and John were baptised at the original Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin which nestles deeply in the valley between Levisham and Lockton. In May 2016 I walked, with my wife Hilary, down through meadows deep in buttercups to the Church which is now a ruin, with no roof and only a few monuments leaning against the walls of the chancel – notably those of two early incumbents of the living, Robert Skelton, Snr. (1752-1818) and son Robert (1818-1877). Robert Skelton Snr. was responsible for modernising what was an old medieval Church, during the course of which ‘The ancient font, roughly carved with a cross and bishop’s crozier was banished to a farmyard for use as a cattle trough’[11]. Fortunately, it was rescued and is now reinstated in St John’s the Baptist in Levisham[12] – the original chapel of ease used for services when inclement weather made access to the Valley Church of St Mary’s impossible. It was quite a moment to see the font in which my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Burnett and his youngest son, John had been baptised!

John was William’s great-grandfather and his descendants form what Bill Burnett has termed the North Yorkshire Moors branch of the Burnett pedigree. John like his father was an innkeeper and also a farmer. He married twice, his first wife Elizabeth Breckon died childless after nineteen years of marriage. He married for a second time to Elizabeth Mead, who was thirteen years his junior, and together they had seven children. Elizabeth Burnett, their second child was William’s grandmother, she was born in 1772 in Egton, a village some five miles west of Whitby, and died in 1850 at Farndale.

Perhaps some of William’s antipathy to genealogy stems from the fact that, not only was he illegitimate; but that his mother was also illegitimate When she was twenty-six, William’s grandmother Elizabeth had an illegitimate child Hannah, born like her mother in Egton and baptized on the 9th September 1798 in Goathland. Hannah was William’s mother.  Some eight years later Elizabeth married a farmer, Joseph Baylieff in Danby on the 26th August 1807; by whom she had five children, John, Mary, Elizabeth, Esther and Lucy. Joseph died in 1846 and Elizabeth, William’s grandmother, died four years later when he was nine years old. She left a will dated 2nd October 1850, proved in the Prerogative Court of York on 30th April 1851 by her unmarried daughter, Esther Baylieff, the sole executrix and main beneficiary.  The will also names Elizabeth’s son John and married daughters Mary Barthram, Lucy Robson and Elizabeth Wood as beneficiaries but makes no mention of her illegitimate daughter, Hannah.  Mary Barthram (nee Baylieff) had a daughter Elizabeth, who was witness at William’s sister’s wedding in 1854. So indeed William’s pedigree, if his father was who I think he was, was undoubtedly Yorkshire or more precisely undoubtedly Cleveland – facts mirrored in the titles of his first two books ‘Broad Yorkshire’ (1877) [13]  and  ‘Old Cleveland’ (1886)[14]

Detailed though this genealogy is it leaves unanswered the question of who was William’s father and who was his sister’s father’?  There is no definitive answer as to who was Elizabeth’s father, except to say that her wedding certificate states her father’s name and profession as ‘John Burnett, Labourer’ and on her death certificate similar entries were made. Additionally, William’s mother’s death certificate described her as the ‘widow of John Burnett, an agricultural labourer’. It was not uncommon to ‘invent’ a father for respectability, but despite best efforts there are no clear contenders as to whom this John Burnett might be.

In William’s case more formal acknowledgement as to who his father was did not occur until after his first wife died and he remarried.  I suspect that from an early age he knew who his biological father was, and the certificate of his second marriage records his father’s name as ‘Thomas Hall Burnett’, and profession ‘Weaver’. In his early teens he adopted Hall as his middle name and thus became William Hall Burnett. At the time of William’s birth there was a Thomas Hall, who was forty-seven years old living nearby in Back Lane with his elderly mother Jane Hall [15], a sister Mary and two brothers, James, who was deaf and dumb and John. John was married and with his wife Mary had three children, Charles, Ann and John.  Thomas was almost certainly William’s putative father. Jane Hall, the matriarch of the family, died in 1852 at the age of 91, of ‘old age’[16]; she had been a worsted dealer in Darlington, County Durham and at that time of her death all three sons were handloom linen weavers.

In terms of family members, apart from his sister – who might William have known? On his mother’s side, William was five when his step-grandfather, Joseph Baylieff died and nine when his grandmother Elizabeth died but he would have met his step-uncle, John and his step-aunties, Mary, Elizabeth, Esther and Lucy.  On his putative father’s side he would have known his ‘grand-mother’ Jane Hall, who died when William was twelve, his ‘aunt’ Mary and his ‘uncles’ John and James. Of ‘Uncle’ John’s children, both Charles, who was a few years older than William, and his brother John junior who was William’s age, entered the printing trade and as ‘cousins’ may have played some part in William becoming apprenticed to the printing trade. Like William they were to leave Stokesley when printing and publishing was in decline and find work elsewhere.  Charles, who at some stage added Carter as a middle name, ended up as a ‘Sporting reporter’[17] in West Derby, Liverpool and John worked as a printer-compositor and ended up as a ‘Master printer’[18] in Sheffield.

Thomas Hall, William’s father, and James remained unmarried and lived together in Back Lane, working as handloom linen weavers until Thomas died in 1876 at the age of 82. His death [19], recorded like his mother’s as being of ‘old age’, was registered by Elizabeth Cook, a laundress and widow with two young children, who was a near neighbour in Back Lane.  James who must have been very dependent on his brother was admitted to the Union Workhouse where he died some twenty months later after having suffered from diarrhoea for eleven days[20]. The memory of Tom C Tweddell [21], son of George Markham Tweddell of Rose Cottage Stokesley, attests to this relationship, ‘Stokesley was a great place for weaving, I remember being taken as a boy (in about 1867) to see the last of the ancient handlooms which were still being worked by the brothers Tommy (Thomas) and John Hall assisted by their deaf and dumb brother Jimmy (James). These were worked in the house at the extreme west end of the north side of Stokesley’s Back Lane’. [22].

As for why William adopted the middle name of Hall we can only speculate. One possible explanation might be that, when at the age of thirteen, he started acting as a correspondent for the York Herald, every edition featured advertisements for the services of a Mr William Burnett, a prominent auctioneer from Wetherby. Perhaps he wanted to formally recognise his father and/or was perhaps seeking to distinguish himself with a different name.  William was 36 years old when his putative father died but to what extent William kept in touch with his father after he moved to Middlesbrough is unknown but he would have had occasion to visit Stokesley as two of his newspapers, the ‘Cleveland News’ and the ‘Guisborough Exchange’ were being published at that time and he had an office in nearby Guisborough.


[1] YB Stokesley parish register, Baptisms 19 May 1833, Mary (81) daughter of Hannah Burnett (20), spinster, of Busby.  Stokesley parish register, Burials 3 August 1836, Mary (81) daughter of Hannah Burnett(20)

[2] YB 1841 Census (June 6th): HO107/1259/11, folio 10, p11.

[3] Atkinson, J C, Forty years in a moorland parish; reminiscences and researches in Danby in Cleveland London, New York, Macmillan and Co (1891)

[4] Low Green now called West Green

[5] Franks, Daphne,Printing and Publishing in Stokesley Stokesley & District Local History Study Group (1984)

[6] Malcolmson, P.E.  English Laundresses: A Social History, 1850-1930. University of Illinois Press (1986) https://washergenes.wordpress.com/2006/06/15/english-laundresses-a-social-history-1850-1930 [accessed 26/02/2015]

[7] Burnett, W H, Blackburn Parish Church (1906) p xv-xvi

[8] Burnett, William Hall, Broad Yorkshire, being poems and sketches from the writings of Castillo, Mrs. G. M. Tweddell, Reed, Brown, Lewis and others. Second edition. Edited by W. H. Burnett. Hamilton, Adams & Co.: London; W. H. Burnett: Middlesborough, 1885 (my copy has the signature of C V Burnett, son of WHB)

[9] A website managed by Bill Burnett http://www.yorksburnett.org/

[10] The names Burnett/Burnand appear interchangeably in the records

[11] Halse, Betty Levisham: A case study in Local History Moors Publications, Levisham (2003)

[12] Font at St John the Baptist, Levisham

[13] Burnett, William Hall, Broad Yorkshire, being poems and sketches from the writings of Castillo, Mrs. G. M. Tweddell, Reed, Brown, Lewis and others. Second edition. Edited by W. H. Burnett. Hamilton, Adams & Co.: London; W. H. Burnett: Middlesborough, 1877

[14] Burnett, William Hall, Old Cleveland, being a collection of papers compiled and written by W. H. Burnett. Local writers and local worthies. Section I-complete,  London : Hamilton, Adams & Co.; Middlesbrough : W. H. Burnett, 1886

[15] 1841 Census (June 6th): HO107/1259/11, folio 5, p3. Jane Hall (81) Mary Hall daughter (50) etc

[16] Jane Hall, Death Certificate, Stokesley, March 1852, 9d, 279

[17] 1901Census record (31 March) RG13/3488, folio126, page 12. Charles Carter Hall (65)

[18] 1881 Census record (3 April) RG11/4643, folio103, page 21. John Hall (43)

[19] Thomas Hall. Death Certificate, Stokesley, March 1876, 9d, 388

[20] James Hall. Death Certificate, Stokesley, September 1877, 9d, 355,

[21] An article in the Northern Echo (29th August 1934) and cited in ‘Stokesley, Aspects of Victorian Everyday Life’, Stokesley Local History Study Group (2009)

[22] Back Lane now called North Road


  1. Tony & Freya Flower

    My wife’s Great Great Grandfather is also Willian Hall Burnett.
    Thank you for all the details.
    Happy to share our details.
    Kind regards
    Tony Flower


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