This research blog post explores the long-standing friendship between Ann Walker and Lydia Fenton (née Wilkinson).
Born in 1796, Lydia was the fourth daughter of Rev. Robert Wilkinson and his wife Sarah Robinson, of Heath, just outside Halifax. They had a large family of eight children, five daughters and three sons. The sons and one daughter never lived to adulthood. Rev. Robert Wilkinson was the curate of Lightcliffe from 1782 and Master of Heath Grammar School. He baptized Ann Walker in 1803.
Lydia was educated at Crofton Hall near Wakefield where she was a childhood friend of Elizabeth Firth, who would become Anne Brontë’s godmother. She is mentioned in several entries in Diaries of Elizabeth Firth.
Friendship with Ann Walker
Lydia’s friendship with Ann Walker and her sister Elizabeth can best be tracked through Anne Lister’s diaries with the first mention of Lydia in 1818. Their friendship was consistent over the course of Ann Walker’s life. (Transcriptions by Frankie Raia, Anne Lister Italia)
Anne Lister’s Diary Tuesday 21st July 1818
Rather windy – met the 2 Miss Walkers of Crownest and with them 2 Miss Wilkinsons of Heath at the library besides 4 smart ladies and a gentleman I did not know.
(SH:7/ML/E/2/0046 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Anne Lister’s Diary Thursday 22nd September 1819
From Lightcliffe to Cliff Hill sat 1/2 hour with the 2 Miss Walkers – I half promised to go and drink tea sometime soon in a free way as I do at Lightcliffe – and after this sat 30 or 40 minutes with Miss Walker and her friend’s sister Miss Lydia Wilkinson (Miss Wilkinson of Heath) – Mr and Mrs Walker being at Cheltenham.
(SH:7/ML/E/3/0096 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
In 1832 Ann Walker lent money to Rev. George Fenton, the man whom Lydia would marry in 1833.
Anne Lister’s Diary Friday 16th November 1832
Miss W- had the Miss Wilkinsons yesterday gave Lydia tore before her and destroyed the bond or note of hand of 200 lent to Mr Fenton.
(SH:7/ML/E/15/0149 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
During Ann Walker’s mental decline Lydia was one of the friends who stayed with her at Lidgate.
Anne Lister’s Diary Friday 7th December 1832
Miss Parkhill was in the room on my going in – spoke or rather bowed to her formally and on my going to point out where the cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree) I had brought her should be planted Miss P- left the room – she goes on Monday and Miss Lydia Wilkinson then comes to Lidgate of which I said I should be glad.
(SH:7/ML/E/15/0149 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Anne Lister’s Diary Tuesday 11th December 1832
Miss W- read prayers – breakfast – a little while tête-à-tête with Miss Wilkinson – very civil to her – then at 10 40 proposed to Miss W-‘s going out & our all going at the same time.
(SH:7/ML/E/15/0162 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Prior to going to Scotland, Ann considered letting Lidgate to the Fentons.
Anne Lister’s Diary Thursday 4th January 1833
At Lidgate at 3 ¼ – Miserable again both in tears and owned ourselves wretched she not knowing what to do would let the Fentons (Lydia Wilkinson to marry Mr F-) have Lidgate I advised not throwing herself on the pavé if she thought she could make me happy.
(SH:7/ML/E/15/0174 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Marriage and children
Lydia married Rev George Fenton, Curate at Ilkley, On 30th May 1833 at Halifax Parish Church, with her sisters as witnesses. They resided at the Vicarage house, Ilkley.
Rev. Fenton had received his BA from Oxford University and was appointed Curate at Ilkley in 1822. He is recognized for restoring the church and appropriating its first organ. He also raised considerable funds for the Ilkley Bath Charitable Institution, which he founded and continued to support. Ann Walker and her Aunt Ann were both donors to this charity in 1842.
While Ann Walker was under Dr. Belcombe’s medical care at Heworth Grange in York, the Fentons visited her.
Anne Lister’s Diary Wednesday 27th February 1834
Mr. and Mrs. George Fenton called on Miss Walker about 11 ½ and staid about an hour – Mr. Fenton having as we afterwards heard having written to Dr. Belcombe yesterday evening to say his wife could not sleep till she knew how and where her friend Miss Walker was.
(SH:7/ML/E/16/0174 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Weeks after the Fenton’s visit to Heworth Grange, Ann’s Aunt Ann (Walker) commented on it when Anne Lister visited Cliff Hill.
Anne Lister’s Diary Monday 17th March 1834
Leisurely along my walk to Cliff Hill – there from 1 ¼ to 2 20 Mr William Priestley there 10 minutes or ¼ hour and Mrs W.P.- there all the while and staid me out – Miss W- reproached me for not having told her & her niece for not having written her that Mr & Mrs Fenton had called! And wanted to know if she (Miss W- junior) would remain in York during the assizes when she would not stay the one night (16th January) of the ball – on Miss Cliff Hill’s telling me story of Dr Belcombe’s telling his intimate acquaintance Mr George Fenton that Miss Lidgate would be quite well in a few weeks (expressed my surprise) Mrs WP- did say she was glad to hear Miss W- was so much better, and on my asking if she had anything to send to York – No! Not till she saw her – but she should be glad to see her at home again.
(SH:7/ML/E/17/0009 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Later that year, Ann Walker, now living at Shibden, received a letter from the Fentons asking to lend them money.
Anne Lister’s Diary on Saturday 4th October 1834
A- had letter this morning 3 pages from the Reverend Mr. George Fenton, the ends filled and crossed by his wife To ask A- to lend on their joint bond and on interest four hundred pounds helped A- to indite letter civilly declining saying she had had within the last two years heavy expenses more hung over her and she could not.
(SH:7/ML/E/17/0091 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
During the Fentons’ time at Ilkley, Lydia suffered the loss of two stillborn infants, a boy and a girl. They were buried in the Ilkley Churchyard with a stone that bears the inscription: – “Here are deposited the remains of two still born infants, male and female, of Lydia, wife of Rev. George Fenton, B.A., vicar of Royston, Yorks, and many years officiating minister of Ilkley and Denton.”
From the dates, it appears these diary entries were about this baby girl.
Ann Walker’s Diary 19th February 1835
Sent cap and frock to Mrs Fenton.
(WYC:1525/7/1/5/1/40 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Anne Lister’s Diary Thursday 26th February 1835
Letter from Mr George Fenton of thanks in the name of his wife for the baby’s frock and cap A- sent her last week.
(SH:7/ML/E/17/0171 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
There were no entries about the loss of the Fentons’ daughter.
In 1836, Rev. Fenton was appointed Vicar of Royston, near Barnsley. The 1841 England, Wales & Scotland Census documents them living at the Royston Vicarage in Yorkshire. Rev. Fenton often held services for his father-in-law at Lightcliffe Church.
Sadly in 1836, Lydia was to lose another child, a still-born son.
In the 1960’s the Ilkley Civic Society, supported by the Friends of Ilkley Cemetery moved the headstones dating back to the 19th Century to Ilkley Cemetery, Ashlands Road. The Fentons’ children’s stone was among those moved.
In 1837, Rev. Fenton sent letters to Anne Lister and Ann Walker soliciting funds for building a new church.
Anne Lister’s Diary Wednesday 15th February 1837
Printed letter tonight (Sheffield post mark) from the committee at a meeting held on the 6th instant of which Mr. Fenton was chairman, for subscriptions for building a new church to contain 700 sittings, and endow the clergyman with £60 a year exclusive of what can be made of the pews, at Monk Bretton, in the parish of Roystone, near Barnsley – the same sort of letter also came for A-.
(SH:7/ML/E/20/0024 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
In addition to writing letters, Lydia and Ann would visit one another, the latter often riding her pony to Heath. Ann Walker and Anne Lister hired the Fentons’ 16-year-old servant John Burton.
Anne Lister’s Diary Friday 2nd June 1837
Then about 12 ½ letter from Mr. Fenton by his servant John Burton – good character – hired the young man (aetatis 16) at £16 per annum including washing (i.e. he to pay for his own washing out of the £16 per annum) 1 dress 1 undress and 1 fustian dress and 1 hat per annum – John had £10 a year with Mr. Fenton and was washed for in the house – had lived with him 6 months – leave him because a small boy will be enough for the work – John to turn the washing machine – to take charge of the ponies or work under the gardener in my absence as I may think best – to wear powder when out of livery – I to find the powder or allow a gin a year.
(SH:7/ML/E/20/0070 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Rev. Fenton was also a friend to Ann Walker as seen in these passages regarding purchasing a pony on her behalf, though it was returned later.
Anne Lister’s diary excerpts
Monday 18th September 1837
– A- and I came upstairs at 9 ½ – she sat with me ¼ hour – she had letter tonight from Mr. Fenton – he seems to have some chance of meeting with a horse to suit her –
(SH:7/ML/E/20/0129 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Saturday 30th September 1837
Sat talking to A- ¼ hour till 1 – soon after when she rode off to Cliff Hill to stay all night (as she is to do henceforth every Saturday) and return tomorrow and the next Sunday after – she wrote to Mrs. Fenton by SW. this morning to say George should go over on Thursday to see and pay for the horse Mr. Fenton thought would suit.
(SH:7/ML/E/20/0136 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Thursday 5th October 1837
A- and I came upstairs at 9 ½ she had letter from Mr. Fenton to say he had bought her a bay pony 13 hands – 1in. price £23 afterwards came note to say it was at the Strafford arms – George to go for it tomorrow.
(SH:7/ML/E/20/0139 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Wednesday 12th October 1837
Then with A- a little while who had written to Mr. Fenton on returning the bay horse and also to Mrs. Fenton to go by George this afternoon.
(SH:7/ML/E/20/0143 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
In 1838 Rev. Fenton and Lydia called upon their longtime friend Ann Walker to gain information for them regarding her father, the aging Rev. Wilkinson.
Friday 19th January 1838
Sat reading in the dining room the newspaper for 40 minutes after A- had left me – she had letter from Mr. Fenton to ask if she (A-) could learn if any steps were in contemplation for the public inducing Mr. Wilkinson to give up the school.
(SH:7/ML/E/21/0031 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Monday 22nd January 1838
Then with A- till 6 – she had written to Mr. Fenton in answer to his letter received on Friday night asking if A- had heard of there being any intention or wish for Mr. Wilkinson to resign the school.
(SH:7/ML/E/21/0032 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Sunday 28th January 1838
A- had letter tonight from Mrs. Fenton – very anxious for her father to have an usher who would act as curate – mentions one – Mr…… of the proprietary school at Wakefield who will be at liberty next week.
(SH:7/ML/E/21/0034 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Monday 29th January 1838
– In spite of the snow A- rode off to Heath before 12, and got back at 4 covered with snow – having had no success in persuading Miss Wilkinson of the expediency of her fathers’ having an undergraduate of the universities as usher and curate.
(SH:7/ML/E/21/0034 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
The following month, according to Anne’s diary, the Fentons and Lydia’s sister came for luncheon with Ann.
Wednesday 21st February 1838
A minute or 2 with A- then at my desk at 10 20 to 12 when Mr. and Mrs. Fenton and Miss Kitty Wilkinson called had luncheon and staid an hour after I went downstairs and I had been 5 minutes from the time of Edwards’ announcing them – A- and I very civil to them all – Mr. F- would be glad to see what was doing here – yes! with pleasure some time when the weather finer – admires the west tower – said I would have shewn it to him, but the bookshelves were not yet put up – soon after they all went away about 1 ¾.
(SH:7/ML/E/21/0045 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
It would appear that Lydia’s father Rev. Wilkinson was not ready to reduce his responsibilities.
Monday 5th March 1838
Then a little while in the west tower and then with A- till she rode off to Heath to ask Mr. Wilkinson advice about the church rate meeting to be held on Thursday – proposed Mr. Fentons’ attending for Mr. W- – all in vain.
(SH:7/ML/E/21/0053 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale)
Rev. Robert Wilkinson’s Death
Lydia’s mother died in 1833; her father Rev. Robert Wilkinson died at the end of December 1839, aged 86. Both lie buried at Lightcliffe. There is a wall-mounted memorial to them at Halifax Minster.
Rev. Robert Wilkinson’s Legacy
Joshua Lucock Bragg owned Lorton Hall in the County of Cumberland and passed away in 1809 leaving a wife and 6 young children. Upon Joshua’s death, Rev. Robert Wilkinson, was one of the three trustees appointed under the will to manage the property for the beneficiaries. They were responsible for using the property to provide the cash required for the maintenance and education of the children, some of whom attended Wilkinson’s school. The four eldest children were declared lunatics in 1834 through the Court of Chancery and lived at Lorton Hall in the care of attendants until their deaths.
There were continuous legal cases over the years regarding the Bragg Estate until the last lunatic died at Lorton Hall in the 1870s. The responsibility and management of the property held in trust passed to the heirs of a trustee upon his death. Lydia and her husband were among his heirs and were involved in at least one legal case (1839-1845 Bragg v Wilkinson C 101/4302). Upon her death, this responsibility was passed on to her beneficiaries.
Rev. George Fenton, Vicar of Royston died on 7th April 1843 in Halifax. This newspaper clipping from the Halifax Guardian gives us some insight into the location of his death. He was confined to the home of William Cass due to illness, and he died here, not at the Royston Vicarage where he and Lydia had lived. His cause of death was recorded as General Dropsy. He was buried in St. Matthew’s churchyard.
The Cambridge World History of Human Disease explains that: “The historical diagnosis of dropsy – which is now obsolete – indicated simply an abnormal accumulation of fluid; the word derives from the Greek hydrops (water). Alternative or supplementary terms included hydrothorax (fluid in the chest cavity), ascites (which still indicates excess free fluid in the abdominal cavity), anasarca (still used to describe generalized edema throughout the body), hydrocephalus (used until the nineteenth century to indicate excess fluid within the skull), and ovarian dropsy (large ovarian cysts filled with fluid). Edema was often a synonym for dropsy, but it now has additional connotations, and pulmonary edema has been differentiated from hydrothorax. Since the mid-nineteenth century, dropsy has been recognized as a sign of underlying disease of the heart, liver, or kidneys, or of malnutrition. Untreated dropsy was, eventually, always fatal.”
The Borthwick Institute for Archives holds Yorkshire probate proved in the church courts prior to January 1858. They were unable to identify any probate record for George Fenton (as a beneficed clergyman his will would have been proved in the Prerogative Court of York by the time of his death in 1843), which would suggest that he died intestate.
After her husband’s death in 1843, Lydia moved to 2 Savile Row, Halifax with her sisters.
Lydia and the Sutherlands
In 1844, the Sutherlands and Ann Walker lived in Abbey Lodge, Merton in Surrey. Elizabeth Sutherland was ill sporadically during 1843 and 1844. She died in December 1844. The Sutherland’s second daughter, Mary, was also ill during this period.
In a letter dated 8 Jan 1844 from George M Sutherland to Robert Parker about his trip to Shibden Hall the following week, George writes:
“…I take my second daughter with me as I now travel the change will do her good. I lament to say my eldest has been very far from well”.
“I cannot say what a blessing the presence of Mrs Fenton has been her solicitude and kindness I can never forget She very kindly has agreed to remain until my return from Yorkshire.”West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale FW:120/51 Transcription by Diane Halford
It appears that Lydia, whose friendship with Elizabeth also dates back to childhood, stayed with Elizabeth, her children and Ann in London while George took their daughter Elizabeth with him to Shibden Hall. Learn more about the Sutherland’s eldest child Mary here.
Lydia was also at Abbey Lodge in Merton in late November 1844 just before Elizabeth died, George again refers to this in a letter to Robert Parker dated 22nd November – he states:
“I am I assure you more than delighted to say that Mrs. Fenton kindly made her appearance at 7 oclock this morning: and my Wife was gratified indeed by seeing her. Mrs. Fenton left Keswick at 12 oclock yesterday and took the Rail Road at Lancaster – She had a pleasant Journey and seems not to be much fatigued – I cannot say what an ease of mind I feel at Mrs. Fenton being here – and how much I appreciate her kindness in being so kind as to come such a distance at so inclement a SeasonWest Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale FW:120/32 Transcription by Leila Straub
of the Year – “
Shibden Hall & Cliff Hill
Up to this point, we were only able to prove that Lydia was at Cliff Hill with Ann Walker by the 1851 UK census which listed her as the House Keeper with Ann as Head of the household and six servants. Knowing the long friendship these women shared, it wasn’t surprising that Lydia would be there again for her friend.
Two letters have been uncovered by Diane Halford, archival researcher, that place Lydia living with Ann at Shibden Hall prior to Cliff Hill.
Captain George M. Sutherland died in April 1847 at Shibden Hall. He was living there with his children (Mary had died in 1845) Evan Charles, Elizabeth and Ann W Sutherland as well as his second wife Mary E Sutherland and his sister-in-law Ann Walker.
The first letter from George’s widow Mary, written from Savile Hall is addressed to Lydia at Shibden Hall.
In the letter, Mary Sutherland asks Lydia to intervene in an issue about the servants at Shibden Hall sitting in the Sutherland pew at the Parish Church which Captain Sutherland had fitted for his family and was still in her possession. Her servants were unable to sit in the pew and she asked Lydia to ask them to sit in the appointed pew for the Shibden Hall servants on the south aisle. She ends with:
“I hope Miss Walker goes on well, which I am sure will add to your comfort at Shibden Hall.West Yorkshire Archive, Calderdale FW 120/32 Transcription by Deb Woolson & Leila Straub
I remain my dear
Yours very truly
Mary E Sutherland “
The next letter is written from Lydia at Cliff Hill to Robert Parker, sending him the key to the tower at Shibden Hall:
“Cliff Hill April 1st 1848West Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale FW 120/50-52 Transcription by Deb Woolson & Leila Straub
My dear Mr Parker,
I send you
the key of the Tower at Shibden
Hall, and I have desired
Kelly to give you the keys
of the House – …”
She signs it:
“….Believe meWest Yorkshire Archives, Calderdale FW 120/50-52 Transcription by Deb Woolson & Leila Straub
Yours very truly
Lydia Fenton – ”
From these two newly discovered letters, we now know that Lydia was at Shibden Hall with Ann Walker after Captain Sutherland’s death in 1847 and then with her in 1848 at Cliff Hill.
On 3rd February 1852, there was a conveyance of five pews forming part of the South West Gallery in the Parish of Halifax between Mary Wilkinson (sister) and Lydia Fenton. From this date, we know that Lydia was still at Cliff Hill during that time period.
After Ann Walker died in February 1854, if Lydia was with Ann at Cliff Hill at that time, she is presumed to have moved back to 2 Savile Row, where the 1861 census reports her living with her sister Catherine Wilkinson, her niece Lydia Roughton and two servants.
Lydia died on 24th March 1865 at the age of 69, at her home. Lawrence Bramley, a surgeon and friend of the family was in attendance. The cause of death listed is Chronic Rheumatism and Carcinoma.
She was buried in St. Matthew’s churchyard with her husband.
Unlike Rev. Fenton, Lydia wrote out her Last Will and Testament. Here is a very interesting portion of it:
“And upon further trust to pay divide assign and transfer the residue of the said residuary personal estate trust monies stocks funds and securities and the interest dividends and annual proceeds thereof unto my nephews and nieces John Roughton and the said Robert Roughton Christopher Roughton Sarah Jane Carter and Lydia Ann Roughton their respective executors administrators and assigns in equal shares and proportions as tenants in common and I do hereby declare and direct that all and every the real and personal estate shares money effects and premises hereby devised or bequeathed to or in trust for my said nieces Sarah Jane Carter and Lydia Ann Roughton respectively shall be held and received by each of them respectively for her separate use and benefit independent of her present and any future husband and shall not be subject to his debts control or interference.”
Clearly, she did not want her niece’s future husbands to have access to their inheritance, a progressive act for the 19th Century.
It is only through Anne Lister’s diaries that we have learned of the long friendship that Ann Walker and Lydia Fenton shared. We now know that Lydia was with Ann Walker at Shibden Hall after Captain Sutherland’s death and then with her at Cliff Hill. As research continues, we may learn more about these two women who were in one another’s life from adolescence, through illness, happy and sad times.
Neil Adams, Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York
Joy Bray, All Saints Church, Ilkley Heritage team 2021
Cambridge World History of Human Disease
Collyer, Dr & Turner, JH Ilkley: Ancient and Modern, 1885
Cutworth, William, Ilkley Hospital and Convalescent Home
Dr. Derek Denman, Secretary, Lorton & Derwent Fells Local History Society
Elizabeth Firth’s diaries at the University of Sheffield
Friends of St Matthew’s Churchyard
General Register Office (GRO)
David Glover, President, Halifax Antiquarian Society
Anne Lister’s diaries at West Yorkshire Archive Service
Bragg v Wilkinson https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C10862351
Transcriptions by Frankie Raia, Anne Lister Italia
Fr. Craig Tomlinson, Parish of Royston, St John the Baptist, South Yorkshire
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale, West Yorkshire
UK Probate search https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/
Diane Halford – archival research
Edited by Louise Godley and Ivana Nika
In Search of Ann Walker’s research into Ann’s life is ongoing, therefore new discoveries may change the way we chronicle her life in the future.
How to cite this article:
Deb Woolson (2021) “Lydia Fenton (née Wilkinson)”: In Search of Ann Walker [Accessed “add date”]