John Rawson Jr of Brockwell
By Bri Praslicka
John Rawson was born 21 November 1813 in Sowerby. He was the sixth child and second son of William Henry (W.H.) Rawson and Mary Rawson (née Priestley). He is a cousin of Ann Walker’s as his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Priestley (née Walker), was John Walker’s sister, making her Ann Walker’s aunt. He was baptized the following year on 22 November 1814. 1
The family lived at Mill House for several years which W.H. Rawson took over from his uncle, William. Sometime between the 1851 and 1861 censuses, the majority of the family moved to (New) Haugh End, which was inherited from the Priestley Family. William Henry II continued to live at Mill House. In 1832, W.H. Rawson purchased Brockwell which eventually became John’s home. John Rawson remained at Brockwell until his death. He is often referred to as John Rawson of Brockwell and other names included John Rawson the Younger and John Rawson, Jr.
The Family Businesses
John Rawson’s father, W.H. Rawson, was one of twelve children born to John and Nelly Rawson (née Stansfield) at Stoney Royd in Halifax. In 1807, John Rawson (the elder) and his brother William, along with Rawdon Briggs and John Rhodes established a banking firm which W. H. Rawson and other family members became involved in later.2 W.H. Rawson served as Chairman of the Halifax and Huddersfield Union Banking Company. Also called The Union Bank, the company was formed in 1836, after the Halifax and Huddersfield branches of Rawson’s Bank were combined.3 Those who have watched the show Gentleman Jack may be familiar with W.H. Rawson’s brothers, Christopher and Jeremiah, and their dealings with Anne Lister’s coal pits. For additional information on the strategic Rawson marriages and the family banking firms, see “William Rawson & Co. and the Birth of Rawson’s Bank”.
The Rawson family were also established wool merchants and clothing manufacturers, which was John Rawson’s primary association. The manufacturing partnership of Rawson and Saltmarsh was established in 1704. They produced wool cloth and blankets and were some of the earlier merchants who ventured to trade overseas. In 1758, the company was changed to W.H. Rawson and Company and continued production at Lee Bank Mill and Mill House Mill. The firm became known for its vivid fabrics and carriage rugs. In the 1830’s, a factory school was run at the Sowerby Bridge Mill.4
John Rawson was a partner in W.H. Rawson and Company based at Mill House Mill. His primary occupation, listed in the 1851 and 1871 census, was woolen manufacturer and merchant (also listed was the firm (probably meaning W.H. Rawson and Co.), farming and employing farmhands). In the 1881 census, he is listed as retired. He also appears to have owned a sandstone quarry.5 Throughout his life, John Rawson acquired numerous properties around the area, the deeds for many can be found in the West Yorkshire Archives Rawson family collection (WYC:1525). He made many improvements to his properties over the years, either by repairing or adding cottages and barns to the land. The many proposals for the various construction projects can be found in the West Yorkshire Archives Sowerby Urban District Council collection (CMT20). Two properties of note which came under his possession are High Sunderland, inherited from William Priestley, and White Windows which he purchased.
Marriage and Family
On 2 July 1840, John Rawson married Elizabeth Marianne Priestley (1818-1876). Elizabeth was the daughter of John Priestley, who owned and operated Thorpe Mill. Both John and Elizabeth would have William Priestly as their uncle. Fans of the show Gentleman Jack will recognize William Priestley and his wife Elizabeth (or more commonly, Eliza) as close friends of Anne Lister, who encouraged Ann Walker to go with them for a visit to Shibden. William Priestley was Ann Walker’s cousin (and an executor of her father’s will), and he and Eliza lived near Ann at New House, Lightcliffe.
In 1843, John and Elizabeth’s only child, Gertrude Elizabeth, was born. She was fond of art and painted images cut from books and advertisements. Her mother sent a collection of her painted cuttings to John Selwyn Rawson the year after Gertrude’s death. The album is located at the West Yorkshire Archives (BAR:25).
Gertrude passed away two days before Christmas in 1859 at the age of 16. Her cause of death is listed as disease of the brain, and an account of her final days, written by her mother, is held at the West Yorkshire Archives (WYC: 1525/6/13). According to the diary Gertrude fell ill in August 1858 while away at school in Brighton. A Dr. Gibson in London said there was disease in her right lung and that she was fatigued from mental exertion. He recommended a nutritious diet and fresh air. Her family brought her home and spent some time in Bath while she recuperated. Her health improved and she was able to prepare for and attend her Confirmation at Sowerby Church (the first Confirmation to be held at St. Peter’s) on 27 September 1859 and then return to Brighton. In early December, her mother received a letter from Gertrude’s teacher who was concerned about Gertrude’s health and asked Elizabeth to come to Brighton to fetch her. They returned by way of London where Gertrude was seen by a doctor who prescribed a tonic and nourishing food. On 11 December, they stopped off in Bromley, Kent, where John Rawson’s brother Arthur was a reverend. John Rawson arrived two days later. Gertrude grew weaker by the day, suffered terrible back pain, and had trouble swallowing. A few days later she had a fit of paralysis, which mostly affected her left side. A second doctor was consulted and he stated that Gertrude had a tubercle, or a disease of the brain, that has been growing steadily without notice possibly for some time and that her life would potentially be afflicted with anxiety and seizures. The struggle to get Gertrude to eat continued as she was only able to swallow a few sips or bites at a time. Her father, mother, aunt, and uncle took turns watching her around the clock and reading Bible passages to her. The pain in her back continued, her breathing became labored and rapid, and she was confined to the bed as she became too weak to sit up. On 23 December, with her father and mother at her bedside, Gertrude breathed her last breath. John Rawson and Elizabeth returned home and Arthur arrived the next day with their daughter’s remains. She was the first to be laid to rest at the new family plot at St. Peter’s Church. While a brain tumor (called a tubercle by the doctor) is a potential cause for her death, there is also the potential that she could have been suffering from some sort of bacterial infection such as tuberculosis or meningitis.
John and Elizabeth remained married until her death in 1876. Elizabeth’s cause of death is listed as paralysis. Sometimes paralysis is used as the cause of death for progressive diseases such as multiple sclerosis or advanced dementia. However, without having a prior disease mentioned, paralysis in this case may have been the result of a severe stroke (also known as apoplexy). She was buried in the family grave at St. Peter’s church. John Rawson never remarried.
Church and Music
John Rawson was likely close with his uncle, William Priestley, given they had many common interests. In 1893, at the age of 80, John Rawson was elected resident of the Halifax Choral Society, which was founded by his uncle. Originally the Halifax Quarterly Choral Society, William Priestley established the group in 1817. In 1839, it was renamed the Halifax Choral Society. The Halifax Choral Society is the world’s oldest choral society, having performed continuously since their founding. A famous soloist of the time, Mrs. Susan Sunderland, began as a member of the choir. She went on to perform at Buckingham Palace and was given the title ‘Queen of Song” by Queen Victoria.8
In 1861, John Rawson commissioned a new organ for St. Peter’s Parish Church in Sowerby. The organ was dedicated to the memory of William Priestley, a “consistent churchman” and “generous promoter of music,” who had passed away the year before.10 An interesting note, William Priestley’s music teacher and the organist at the Halifax parish church, was William Herschel. Herschel and his sister Caroline were amateur astronomers, who became world renowned for their discovery of Uranus. The pipe organ was constructed by Conacher of Huddersfield and consisted of “eight great organ stops, five swell and one pedal, a total of 714 pipes.”11 It remained in the church until 1914, when the current standing organ was installed. The location of the original parts are unknown. The organ reportedly cost £250, which would be £30,525.02 today.12
Much like his uncle, William Priestley, who was churchwarden at St. Matthew’s, John Rawson served as churchwarden of St. Peter’s Church, Sowerby for 35 years. He went to church frequently and would attend service twice on Sundays. In 1872, John Rawson and his brother William Henry, paid off the Vicar’s Rate, at a cost of £3,25014 (£376,984.05 today).15 This guaranteed the Vicar’s wage and a living while installed at Sowerby.
Around 1856, John Rawson purchased Sowerby Hall, which included on its grounds the Sowerby Almshouses. The establishment of these six cottages was set out in the will of Elkanah Horton (1661-1729). The almshouses provided for six poorly residents of the town who were of good character, over the age of 60, and single. They were also expected to attend a daily prayer service. The residents received 2 shillings and 6 pence a month, which is about £15 today. When John Rawson purchased the farm, he assumed the care and management of the cottages, as well as appointment of the almsfolk (the people supported by the charity). Appeals for repairs to the almshouses were made to the previous owner, Captain Rhys, around 1827, but were never carried out. Though it appears Captain Rhys did continue to pay the £10 required to maintain the charity. Given their dilapidated state, John Rawson had the houses torn down and rebuilt in 1862. He paid for the construction himself which totaled £1,00016 (£124,725 today).17 He installed two crests at the site, one in the memory of Elkanah Horton, for establishing the original houses and charity, and the other in memory of his daughter Gertrude.18 John Rawson also voluntarily increased the amount paid to the almsfolk to 5 shillings a month. The Scheme of 30th January 1874 officially elected John Rawson as sole trustee of the Charity. At this time, the term “scheme” was used to describe a project, plan, or program and was often used in connection with charitable organizations and is not alluding to the conspiratorial underhanded dealings we use the term for more commonly today. A description of the almshouse Scheme, John Rawson’s improvements, as well as other Sowerby charities at the time (some of which were distributed by Rawson as churchwarden) can be found here.
By the 1950’s, the charity was no longer able to maintain the repairs needed for the houses and were demolished in the 1960’s. A photo of Sowerby taken from the top of St. Peter’s Church, which shows both Sowerby Hall and the Almshouses can be seen here.
In 1885, aside from his involvement with the church and his improvements to the almshouses, John Rawson donated £100 to the Halifax Infirmary. It is possible he was a regular contributor, as he often sustained his involvement in community works. By donating to the infirmary, John Rawson was making an effort to improve the lives of those living and working in Halifax. The Infirmary was originally the Halifax Dispensary, located in Hatters Close, which catered to the poorer working population of the growing industrial town. The free medical treatment proved very popular and so a new building called the Halifax Infirmary was built in 1838 in Blackwall. This allowed room for a few beds, so more serious patients could recover, while still continuing to operate as a dispensary.21 In 1896, a new location was built outside of the Halifax Town Center and renamed the Royal Halifax Infirmary. John Rawson’s niece, Constance Ellen Rawson gave a large donation (£5000 at the time), along with other Rawson family members, towards a children’s ward. The infirmary functioned until 2001, when the property was converted into apartments, however, most of the original building, including the Rawson Children’s Ward, still stands today.
In his obituary, in the Halifax Courier 11 February 1899, it stated that John was a long-time governor of the Barsotw’s Grammar School and a trustee of St. Peter’s National School, Sowerby. He is described as a “liberal subscriber” to the maintenance of both St. Peter’s and Triangle National Schools.22 Triangle was an area of Sowerby where his wife’s family originated and where he likely had familial ties to the school.
John was also described as a “close observer of nature” and as having a “passionate interest” in gardening. I have yet to find an exact description of his plan for planting the woodlands, though it is stated he planted around 100,000 trees in the Ryburn valley.23
Ann Walker’s Committee
Once Ann Walker was declared unfit to manage her estate, her brother-in-law George Mackay Sutherland became her committee of estate and her sister, Elizabeth Sutherland, became her committee of person. Elizabeth died in 1844, and G.M. Sutherland assumed both roles. Upon his death in 1847, John Rawson became Ann’s committee (estate) and Harriet Dyson became her committee of person. West Yorkshire Archives (WYC:1525/7/1/5/4) contains the document showing their “patent of custody and property,” naming John Rawson (referred to as John Rawson Junior) and Harriet Dyson as being charged with Ann’s care. A document from The National Archives (C14/905/S148), titled Sutherland v. Rawson, shows John Rawson acting on behalf on Ann Walker in a lawsuit in 1848. He was her committee (estate) until Ann’s death in 1854. He continued to represent her estate into the 1860’s in legal matters.
John Rawson passed away at the age of 85 in his house at Brockwell. He was the longest lived and last surviving member of his immediate family. However, he did not die alone as his nephew John Selwyn Rawson was present with him at his passing. He was buried with his family at his beloved St. Peter’s Church.
As reported in his obituary in the Halifax Courier 11 Feb 1899, John Rawson fell ill after making his way to church one stormy Sunday. The illness progressed and he was monitored under a doctor’s care for a few weeks before passing. The official causes of death were influenza, cardiac dilatation, and senile decay. Influenza was the term most often used for a sudden respiratory illness with a fever, chills, aches, coughing, or sneezing. The actual flu virus was still a few years from being discovered, therefore influenza was a general term which encompassed this cluster of symptoms. Senile decay (sometimes called natural decay) was another blanket term and referred to the “frail qualities” and “gradual failure of health and strength” of an elderly person.25 Cardiac dilatation refers to an enlarged heart, which is a tricky diagnosis to make without the use of an x-ray or more modern diagnostic tools. What is more likely is that the respiratory illness John Rawson was suffering from had progressed and put stress on his heart. A doctor would be able to hear a slower, more rapid, or irregular heartbeat which would be secondary to pneumonia.
At his death, the value of his estate as written on his will on 12 May 1899, was £118,217.10.11 (around £15,582,490.91 today).26 John Rawson’s probates (those charged with organizing his assets and administering inheritances) were John Selwyn Rawson of Haugh End, Frederick Gerald Selwyn Rawson of Thorpe, and Constance Ellen Rawson of Mill House, spinster. He gave his trustees £40,000 each and the use of his extensive lands and houses. He designated the manor houses should be available for the use by his trustees and whoever they deem fit to install on the property, and by any unmarried niece. Constance Ellen Rawson was given his “Union Bank estate,” and all his possessions at Brockwell, as well as the house itself. He set up trusts for his niece Ethel Carter, as well as for any children she may have. He made particular note that any money in her trust would not be available to her husband until after Ethel’s death.27
- Ancestry.co.uk (paid subscription)
- British Banking History Society: https://banking-history.org.uk
- Malcolm Bull’s Calderdale Companion: http://www.calderdalecompanion.co.uk/r.html
- Malcolm Bull’s Calderdale Companion:http://www.calderdalecompanion.co.uk/r.html
- Quarries: List of Quarries (under the Quarries Act, 1894) in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Isle of Man. (1898). United Kingdom: H.M. Stationery Office. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Quarries_List_of_Quarries_under_the_Quar/gCxRAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=john+rawson+or+brockwell&pg=PA117&printsec=frontcover
- The Bromley Record and Monthly Advertiser (collected edition). Volume 1, June 1858 – December 1860. United Kingdom, n.p, 1865. Article from 1 Jan 1860. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Bromley_Record_and_Monthly_Advertise/rwwIAAAAQAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=john+rawson+or+brockwell&pg=PA182&printsec=frontcover
- Visitation of England and Wales. United Kingdom, Privately printed, 1900. p 68. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Visitation_of_England_and_Wales/vtYKAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1
- Halifax Choral Society: https://halifaxchoralsociety.co.uk/
- From Weaver to Web: Online visual archive of Calderdale history: https://www.calderdale.gov.uk/wtw/
- British Newspaper Archives. Halifax Guardian Oct.23, 1869. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ (paid subscription)
- Halifax and District Organists’ Association: https://www.hdoa.org.uk/?page_id=63
- CPI inflation calculator: https://www.officialdata.org/UK-inflation
- The Musical World. United Kingdom, J. Alfredo Novello, Boosey and Sons, 1861. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Musical_World/eY4PAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=john+rawson+or+brockwell&pg=PA343&printsec=frontcover
- West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale. FW:39/154
- CPI inflation calculator: https://www.officialdata.org/UK-inflation
- Parliamentary Papers: 1850-1908. United Kingdom, H.M. Stationery Office, 1899.
- CPI inflation calculator: https://www.officialdata.org/UK-inflation
- Sowerby Town site: https://greenhowhill.org.uk/sowerbytown/old/history/almshouses.html
- Libraries. From Weaver to Web: Online visual archive of Calderdale history: https://www.calderdale.gov.uk/wtw/
- British Medical Journal. United Kingdom, British Medical Association, 1885. https://www.google.com/books/edition/British_Medical_Journal/lYuUHOORW94C?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=john+rawson+or+brockwell&pg=PA396&printsec=frontcover
- Calderdale Libraries. From Weaver to Web: Online visual archive of Calderdale history: https://www.calderdale.gov.uk/wtw/
- British Newspaper Archives. Halifax Courier 11 Feb 1899. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ (paid subscription)
- British Newspaper Archives. Halifax Evening Courier 8 Feb 1899. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ (paid subscription)
- British Newspaper Archives. Halifax Courier 11 Feb 1899. (paid subscription) https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/
- University of Leeds: Causes of Death: https://library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections/collection/2151/natural_decay
- CPI inflation calculator: https://www.officialdata.org/UK-inflation
- John Rawson’s Will – UK Probate https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/
- Find a Grave Memorial ID 81864581, citing St. Peter’s Churchyard, Sowerby Bridge, Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England; Maintained by Malcolm Street (contributor 47671454). www.findagrave.com/memorial/81864581/john-rawson
Timeline of John Rawson’s life from ancestry.co.uk (paid subscription)
General Register Office: Gertrude, Elizabeth, and John Rawson’s death certificates (GRO) https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/
University of Leeds: Causes of Death and terminology
Hooper, Robert, Physicians Vade Mecum, American Edition, New York, 1846
William Rawson & Co. and the Birth of Rawson’s Bank, by Martin Walker: https://insearchofannwalker.com/rawsons-bank/
Almshouse Scheme: Parliamentary Papers 1850-1908 · Volume 71 https://www.google.com/books/edition/Parliamentary_Papers/SxhEAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=john+rawson+or+brockwell&pg=PA505&printsec=frontcover
Sowerby Town Website: https://greenhow-hill.org.uk/sowerbytown/old/history/100years.html
West Yorkshire Archives: Portrait of Gertrude Elizabeth Rawson (WYC:1525/8/2/2/12)
West Yorkshire Archives: Gertrude’s paintings (BAR:25)
West Yorkshire Archives: Elizabeth’s account of Gertrude Rawson’s final days (WYC: WYC:1525/6/13)
West Yorkshire Archives: Sowerby Urban District Council collection (CMT20)
West Yorkshire Archives: Patent of Custody for Ann Walker (WYC:1525/7/1/5/4)
The National Archives: Sutherland v. Rawson (C 14/905/S148)