Guest Blogs

Milnes, Stansfelds and Briggs – Unitarians

by Paul L Dawson

Flockton Hall, home of the Milnes Stansfeld family, where Ann Walker’s niece would live © Paul L Dawson

Ann Walker, a woman whose life is now coming to the fore, and out of the shadows of her notable spouse. She became related through her wider family, into the leading Dissenting families and communities of the West Riding, as it was at the time. These families of Briggs, Stansfelds and Milnes, were known to Anne Lister through familial branches in Halifax. It is hard to say if Ann Walker ever met any of the Milnes, Stansfelds or Briggs, but she perhaps would have found a kindred spirit in the long-lived matriarch of the family, Mary Anne Milnes nee Bell, a forthright woman of character, passion and indominance, who in a world dominated by men ‘ploughed her own furrow’ and showed a woman was as capable as any man, when it came to managing a colliery and railway.

Mary Anne Milnes, nee Bell

South of Wakefield at Flockton, the Milnes family developed a colliery system; which was unique locally and nationally.  The Milnes family, of a father and 4 brothers, were farmers and maltsters, who took up mining in the 1770s. In about 1772 they started a colliery at Flockton.[1]

When the Calder & Hebble Navigation was authorised in 1758, the Act forbade the carrying of coal downstream, but when the original trust was turned into a company in 1769, this prohibition was not renewed so coal could be moved using the Navigation. The colliery was connected to the river by a ‘Newcastle way’ which cost about £6,000 and ran for some 3 miles from Lane End on Barnsley Road to Grange Moor and then down to the Navigation at Horbury Bridge.  The first tramway was completed by 1775, linking Dial Wood colliery to the wharf; the coal was sold to the Calder &Hebble Navigation Company at 7s 10d per load from April that year. 

 In 1776 the family gained concessions to sell oak to the Calder & Hebble Navigation Co. The oak came from the Bretton estate. Richard Milnes died in 1779 leaving – remarkably- his third son James Milnes as heir.[2]

James Milnes

James used his income from the colliery to promote his own coal pits and railway.

A lease of 1778 granted James Milnes, permission to build an additional ‘Newcastle road’ linking Middlestown colliery to the wharf, which was then leased by his father, Richard Milnes from Sir George Armitage, for the term of 21 years.[3] During 1780 a 21-year lease was obtained by the four brothers – John, James, William, Richard – to extract coal from land in Thornhill owned by Sir George Armitage, which included the provision of a railed-way. [4]

From 1787, Milnes had leased 44 acres of land in Flockton from the Rhodes family. Three years later 1790 James purchased Flockton coal seams outright from Elizabeth & Abigail Rhodes who owned about 380 acres in Flockton. [5]The Rhodes family had married into the Busc family from Bull House near Penistone. The Busc family – who removed to Leeds as merchants and attended Call Lane Chapel – married into the Milnes family of Wakefield, who like the Milnes of Flockton, attended Westgate Chapel. Elizabeth Rhodes died soon after the settlement, and her daughter also Elizabeth married Benjamin Gott, a then emerging Leeds industrialist. John Milnes (1742-1812) married Dorothy Woollin,(1740-1780) and in 1793 his daughter Martha (1775-1823) married the Rev Thomas Johnstone (1869-1856), Unitarian Minister of Westgate Chapel 1794-1833. John’s sister Ann Milnes (1757-1812) had married John Woollin (1752-1823), his wife’s brother. John Milnes was buried at Flockton 18 January 1812.

A further lease was obtained in 1792 by James Milnes (1744-1803) and John Woollin (1752-1823) – his sister married John Milnes – to sink pits on land belonging to Richard Henry Beaumont of Whitley, and would pay the sum of £9 a year to Beaumont for every collier employed.[6] To extract the coal to the canal, James Milnes, further expanded the railway system in 1793. A document entitled “plan of a colliery held under lease by James Milnes Esq in the new winning or tunnel taken at Uverton (sic) 1st May 1793’ includes the designs for the first railway tunnel and viaduct in the North of England, if not the country. It was for the Dial Wood to Lane End Colliery that the tunnel and viaduct was completed in 1793, surveyed by John Curr of Sheffield. [7] Lane End Colliery on the road between Flockton and Midgley became the largest of the Flockton pits with access to eight coal seams and provided employment for 500 men and boys. Only ruins remain.

On 19 October 1796 James Milnes and John Woollin entered into partnership to sink a new pit.[8] In order to extract the coals, the pair leased land for 21years from Sir George Armitage, lord of the manor of Shitlington (Netherton today), to build a new line from Mugg Mill, along the Smith Brooky valley at the foot of Thornhill.[9] Contiguously, four new pits were sunk and led to the development of coking ovens, nine iron workings, ironstone pits, lime kilns. From Emroyd to the Smithy Brook, the tramway operated as a self-acting inclined plane, completed in 1803, along with a soil embankment. The lease was renewed in 1829.[10]

A new coal staithe was built for £50 in 1798.

A letter writer tells us, the Milnes collieries used their “horses both above and below ground.” 

The ‘Ossett Spy’ reported in 1802 that the wagons travelled in trains of 24 waggons drawn by 3 horses. In 1807 the loading was 48 cwts per wagon.[11]

Mary Ann Milnes

As part of the settlement on Milnes death – he died an Anglican- his widow Mary Ann Milnes nee Bell (1769-1858), commissioned John Blenkinsop to survey the colliery and working, and valued the tramway at £10,497. The total enterprise was valued at £39,629 or £3.5million today. She had married James Milnes in 1794. The marriage produced two daughters: Margaret (1793-1836)  and  Marianne  (1801-1886).

Marianne Briggs nee Milnes, interalia aunt to Ann Walker’s niece © Paul L Dawson

Mary was the daughter of Robert Bell, who moved to Wakefield from Manchester. He was a member of Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester and was an associate of the radical Thomas Walker. Her mother was the daughter of William Turner of Hull. By profession Robert Bell was a wool-stapler. He died 31 March 1811 aged 79, and is described on his tomb stone as ‘late of Manchester’ on his tombstone in the catacombs beneath Westgate Chapel. 

 Her brother, John Bell married Sarah Cappe, daughter of Rev Newcome Cappe (21 February 1733 – 24 December 1800), Unitarian minister at York and Sarah, eldest daughter of William Turner of Hull, sister of Mary Ann Milne’s mother. Newcome was an intimate of Theophilus Lindsey, Joseph Priestley and William Turner, the minister at Westgate 1761-1794.  John and Sarah’s son, also John, also removed to Overton, and his daughter Catherine Mary Anne Bell was baptised at Westgate Chapel 24 January 1806.

Mary Ann was born and raised a Unitarian. Historically Unitarianism (from Latin unitas “unity, oneness”, from unus “one”) was a nontrinitarian branch of Christian theology. Most other branches of Christianity and the major Churches accept the doctrine of the Trinity which states that there is one God who exists in three coequal, coeternal, consubstantial divine persons. Unitarian Christians believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings and that he is a saviour and supreme example, the sole mediator between God and man, but not God. Unitarians also questioned the historical reliability and fallibility of the bible. Unitarianism emerged in Europe in the 1520’s during the Reformation. Denial of the Trinity was considered blasphemy until 2008 and Unitarians from 1662 suffered from various legal impediments against their belief until the 1870’s, although Unitarian Worship was legalised in 1813. The first avowed Unitarian Chapel was opened in 1774 in London by Anglican Priest Rev Theophilus Lindsay. He was soon joined by Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Arian and other clergy to establish a distinct denomination, the Unitarian Society in 1791. Lindsey stated that “The Fundamental principles of the society, in which we all agree, are that there is but one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, without an equal or viceregent, the only proper object of religious worship, and that Jesus Christ was the most eminent of those messengers employed to reveal his will to mankind.”[12]

Unitarians furthermore, in denying the trinity and divinity of Jesus, disavowed the bible as divine revelation and dismissed the notion of original sin.[13] Not only was this blasphemy for most Christians, but it gave Unitarians a differing world view. Rather than seeing humanity as damned and unredeemable, Unitarians believe – and still believe – that mankind could be redeemed, and that all in society had the same human rights, that education had the power to lift the poor out of poverty, and to allow humanity to grasp its full potential.[14] This led Unitarians to champion women’s rights, and electoral reform.[15]

Since 1689 Unitarianism and the denial of the Trinity had been illegal. Unitarians, quite rightly, wanted the same legal rights as the next man in the street who attended the established church. Until the 1870’s Unitarians who wished to go to university, become MPs, Justice of Peace and hold other local and national administrative functions had to take communion in the local Parish church. According to the Test and Corporation Acts, If a non-Anglican took a Crown or Municipal office, without taking the sacrament in an Anglican church, then under the law the Unitarian had to pay a fine of £500, had no recourse to legal defence against the charge. The Acts also state than non-Anglicans and could not act as a guardian or executor, or even inherit a legacy which was forfeited to the crown.[16]  Unitarians who were excluded from the Anglican church thanks to the Blasphemy Act, along with Catholics, found themselves ‘second class citizens’ thanks to the Anglican Ascendancy following the English Civil War. Since 1753, the law forced Unitarians and other non-Anglicans, to be married in an Anglican Church according to Anglican rites. In one instance, an entire Unitarian wedding party turned their backs in silence on the clergy during the ceremony whenever the sign of the cross was made or the trinity invoked. Indeed, the bride and groom wrote complaints in the register- the act was a deliberate affront to Unitarian congregations.[17] It was not until the 1840’s that Unitarians could marry in a Unitarian chapel and not till 1871 they could graduate from an English university. Long running legal disputes centring on the illegality of Unitarian belief before 1813 nearly deprived Unitarians of most of their older chapels in the 1840s. However, for the first time ever, the government came to their aid and passed the Dissenters’ Chapels Act of 1844. The Act confirmed Unitarian congregations, as legal owners of buildings originally constructed by a congregation who were not Unitarian in their beliefs. The lack of equality with Anglicans, drove Catholics, Unitarians, Independents and Baptist to seek political equality and liberty. Nonconformity as espoused from Unitarian pulpits by the likes of Price, Priestley, Turner, Walker, Lindsay et al was the midwife to English radicalism, social identify and class. 

Evidently, her brothers in law, John, William and Richard were unhappy with their father’s will, and also the fact their brother had passed all his property to his wife in trust for his daughters for 25 years.[18] In a protected court case, Mary Ann sued her husband’s brothers, which she settled out of court, with each agreeing to pay her £300 for their share in the business. She had sole control of the railway and collieries. The iron-smelting business was run by Milnes’ executors until 1814 when it was taken over by William Coe of the Dewsbury Ironworks in Thornhill Lees. Emroyd Common was described as “a piece of bad land covered with coal pit and ironstone hills” in 1825. The Emroyd furnace was worked until 1835 but its ruins survived until 1958 when the site was open casted. The timber tramway was laid with Stephenson and Locke iron rails at this time, and the track had the unusual gauge of 3ft 9 inches.

In running the business, and taking her family to court, she was no less remarkable than women she would have met on a Sunday at Westgate Chapel:

Rachel Milnes (1760-1835) who for 30 years managed a woollen mill and its ancillary trades as well as a merchanting business based in Hull.

Mary Bridgette Monckton Arundel nee Milnes, (1754-1835) Dowager Duchess Galway, a forthright woman of Whig sentiment.

Also in the congregation – along with her daughters and their families – she would have met Benjamin Gaskell (1781-1857), MP for Maldon in Essex 1812-1827, educationalist and supporter of all good works in Wakefield, and his brother Daniel Gaskell (1782-1875), the first MP for Wakefield 1832-1836. No less important was Mary Gaskell (1783-1848), Daniel’s wife: this power couple were known to luminaries of the day, notably Mary Shelley. James Milnes Gaskell, son of Benjamin Gaskell and MP for Much Wenlock told his mother that ‘it is, in fact, my Aunt, that would be member of Parliament’. No less important was Rev Thomas Johnstone (1769-1856) who had married Mary Annes niece, Martha, John Milnes of Wakefield (1751-1810) a man of radical left-wing politics, John Pemberton Heywood (1765-1835) and his wife Margaret (1773-1851), the latter was treasurer and stockbroker for the Wakefield House of Recovery, the then town’s first outpatient hospital. She ran the chapel choir, library and Sunday School for many years. Mary Anne was part of a wider community of empowered and impassioned women. As a mark of respect, and of the esteem felt for her and her father, he lies in the Milnes family vault beneath the chapel.

Westgate Chapel (Unitarian) Wakefield © Paul L Dawson

After managing the business for 15 years, from 1818 Mary Anne brought her brother John to assist in the running of the colliery on her father’s death. 

Quite how long John helped his sister with the business, we cannot say, but from 1826 Mary Anne brought her sons-in-law Henry Briggs – who married Marianne- and William Stansfeld – who married Margaret – to assist with the running of the colliery. Mrs Milnes devoted her life to building a theatre, gymnasium, allotments, a school, sports field, and also a Unitarian chapel in Flockton.  Brigg’s sister, Ann (1796-1862) married Thomas Woolrich Stansfeld, William’s brother. Thomas Woolrich Stansfeld (1779-1853) was in business with Henry Briggs and Henry Currer as woollen banket and carpet producing firm of ‘Currer, Briggs and Co. of Luddendenfoot’, near Halifax. It was very much a familial concern.

Mrs Milnes was a remarkable woman in managing a family and a colliery enterprise in an age dominated by men. 

Mary Ann’s later life is not known. 

Memorial Window in Westgate Chapel (Unitarian) to Mary Anne Milnes © Paul L Dawson

She died 12 April 1858. About her life, we can do no better than the eulogy written by Robert Aspland and given at Westgate Chapel:


The death of this venerable and truly excellent lady, which took place, in the 90th year of her age, at the Manor-house, near Wakefield, is an event which calls for something more than the mere record of the fact, and leads the writer, who long enjoyed her friendship and deeply reveres her memory, to add a few brief remarks to the obituary notice contained in the last No. of the Christian Reformer. Her father, Mr. Robert Bell, was of a Scotch family, and, with his brother Alexander, came to England about the middle of the last century and settled in business at Manchester, where the deceased was born, Dec. 16, 1769. At that period doctrinal distinctions were not so frequently a cause of disunion as they have since become, and the simple and unceremonial worship of the English Presbyterians of that day not unfrequently approved itself to those who had been brought up in the severer Presbyterianism of the Kirk of Scotland. So it was with Robert and Archibald Bell, who attended the services at the Old Chapel Cross Street, Manchester, and ultimately embraced the Unitarian faith, of which they continued steadfast professors to the close of life. The mother of Mrs. Milnes was the daughter of Mr. Turner, of Hull, a gentleman of Unitarian sentiments, and some of whose descendants have been amongst the most useful and talented ministers of our church. At the age of 23, the subject of this brief notice married James, the eldest son of Richard Milnes, Esq., of Flockton Hall, and took up her abode at the Old Manor-house of that village, where she continued to reside until the time of her death. Her husband, who was extensively engaged in the colliery trade, was a man of great activity and benevolence. He died about ten years after his marriage, and deeply was his loss deplored, not merely by the members of his own family and a large circle of friends, but by those especially to whom he stood in the relation of employer, and by whom his amiable and benevolent character was duly appreciated. On the death of Mr. Milnes, the management of the Flockton property devolved upon his widow, and in the fulfilment of the various and responsible duties which then fell to her lot, she manifested an ability and benevolence akin to that by which her husband was distinguished.

Although her husband was a member of the Established Church, and the society into which she was naturally thrown, in her removal to Flockton consisted chiefly of members of the same persuasion, she never appears to have wavered in her profession of that faith which, from inquiry and conviction, she had made her own, and in which her interest was afterwards greatly heightened by the marriage of one of her daughters with a gentleman who in his own life was a beautiful illustration of the spirit and power of Unitarianism, the late William Stansfeld, Esq. Convinced of the superior practical value of those religious sentiments which she professed, she was ever ready to aid in their diffusion, and manifested her own sense of their value by a regular and punctual attendance at the Westgate Chapel Wakefield, her usual place of worship, though several miles distant from her residence. When, however, the severity of the weather or sickness or the infirmities of age prevented her from joining in public worship, her own house became a house of prayer, in which she gathered around her the various members of her household, for whose spiritual benefit a religious service was conducted by herself or by some member of her family, who endeavoured by this means to supply the want of those more public religious services, her own absence from which she regarded as one of her greatest privations. On such occasions her reading of the Scriptures was peculiarly interesting from the simple, earnest and impressive manner in which this duty was discharged. From her youth, the Holy Scriptures were her daily study and delight, and it was no small privilege and gratification to those around her to listen to her clear and steady voice, long after she hid passed fourscore years, as she read from that Sacred Volume, which was to her book of inestimable value. Unable in the later years of her life to join her fellow Christians in the public celebration of the Lord’s Supper, that ordinance was usually administered to her in her own room by the respected minister of Wakefield, the Rev. E. Higginson, and occasionally by other ministers who visited at her hospitable abode. Surviving most of her own generation, she could yet sympathize with the present, and her vigorous and healthy mind enabled her to feel a rare interest (considering her advanced age) in the literature, no less than in the passing events, of the day. In the education of the children of her numerous workpeople she was warmly interested, and for their benefit established Day and Sunday schools, which, being under her own immediate superintendence and that of her family, contributed largely to the moral and religious improvement of the neighbourhood. Nor were they who had arrived at an adult age forgotten; for she herself, until a very recent period, continued to give instruction to a class of young men, by whom her lessons and her example will be long remembered and her memory fondly cherished. To the poor she was a constant and wise benefactress, sympathizing with them in their sufferings, relieving them in their distress, and often personally superintending various plans devised for their physical comfort and temporal welfare. For some years preceding her death, she occasionally suffered much pain, but no murmur escaped her. To God’s will she was wholly resigned. “Nearer to Thee, nearer to Thee, my God!” was the expression of her dying lips. To the last, her intellect was bright, her faith was all-sufficient, and her death was calm and peaceful, as her life had been useful and happy. Her end was such as that of which the poet speaks:

“That calm decay of nature, when the mind 
Retains its strength, and in the languid eye 
Religion’s holy hopes kindle a joy 
That makes old age look lovely.”

In the presence of her two daughters (Mrs. Briggs, of Outwood Hall, and Mrs. Stansfeld, of Manor-house) and the various members of their families, all of whom were permitted to assemble once more at her house, this venerable Christian fell asleep on April 12th, and received from her own children the same devoted attention in her last moments which she herself had paid to her beloved father and uncle beneath the same roof, under like circumstances, more than half a century ago. The tree which produced such fruits cannot be bad; and if to surviving friends the loss of the deceased be great, their sorrow will be mitigated by the remembrance of her pure and happy life, and their gratitude will be called forth by the thought that one so dear had been preserved to them so long.[19]

William Stansfeld

William was born 8 June 1785 in Flockton, son of David Stansfeld (1751-1818) of Leeds and Sarah Woolwich (1757-1824). The marriage brought two Leeds wool merchanting families together: and both David Stansfeld and Thomas Woolrich (1719-1791) were trustees of Mill Hill, Unitarian Chapel in Leeds. Thomas Woolrich married Peggy Hamer, daughter of Leeds Unitarian merchant Samuel Hamer, and Mary Ibbetson, sister of Sir Henry Ibbetson of Leeds. The Hamer’s would marry into another leading family at Mill Hill, the Oates.

Mill Hill Chapel (Unitarian) in Leeds City Square © Paul L Dawson

Thomas Woolrich had formed a dyeing and merchanting enterprise with George Oates (1717-1779) in the second half of the 1740’s. The partnership was dissolved with David Stansfeld married Woolrich’s daughter: the young man and his father-in-law formed a new partnership When George Oates’s daughter married the Rev William Wood, a new partnership was formed.[20] George Oates’s brother Samuel (died 1789) married Mary, daughter of Samuel Hamer: their son Samuel Hamer Oates was notable amongst the Leeds anti-war liberals and political reform movement, and was a trustee at Mill Hill.[21]

 Sarah Woolrich’s sister, Peggy Stansfeld (1777-1860) married James Bischoff (1776-1845) the leading wool merchanting family of Call Lane Unitarian Chapel in Leeds, and brother Thomas Woolrich Stansfeld continued the family wool merchanting business. The congregation at Call Lane was given much financial vigour by Jacob Busk and Bernard Bischoff as trustees in 1740.[22] William’s grandfather, David Stansfeld (1720-1769), had married Ellen Aldred (1730-1755), daughter of Unitarian minister Timothy Aldred, who was minister at Morley Old Chapel, and brother to the Rev John Aldred minister of Westgate Chapel.[23] This David was named trustee of Northgate End in 1757. William’s brother, James Stansfeld (1792-1872) was a lawyer in Halifax; he married 13 December 1817 Emma Ralph, daughter of the Rev John Ralph minister at Northgate End: son Sir James Stansfeld (1820-1898) was the longest serving MP for Halifax (1859-1895) and laid the foundation stone in 1872 of the new Northgate End Chapel. He was a radical feminist, in the circle of Edward J Fox MP, the communist Rev Goodwyn Barmby, John Stuart Mill and Margaret Fuller. Indeed, Stansfelds marriage to Caroline Ashurst (1816-1885 was conducted by Fox.[24] His aunt, Marianne Briggs nee Milnes signed the 1866 suffrage petition.[25]

William’s brother, Hamer Stansfeld (1797-1865), laid the foundation stone of the current Mill Hill Chapel in Leeds in 1847, and would be Lord Mayor of the City; as were three other members of the congregation: Darnton Lupton, J D Luccock and Francis Carbutt.[26]

 William married Margaret Milnes, 31 January 1815, they had a large family, all baptised at Westgate Chapel, the names and dates recorded clearly in the chapel’s register: 

  • James Milnes Stansfeld born 21 February 1816, baptised by the Rev T Johnstone 16 May 1816
  • Laura Ellen Stansfeld, born 26 July 1817,’baptised soon after by me Rev T Johnstone’
  • Adelaide Marianne Stansfeld, born 17 April 1818, baptised by Rev T Johnstone 30 June 1819.
  • William Logan Stansfeld born 14 July 1821, baptised 14 May 1822
  • Emily Margaret Stansfeld, born 23 July 1826 ‘baptised soon after by me Rev T Johnstone’
  • Henry William Stansfeld born 9 March 1828, baptised 20 May 1828

William Logan Stansfeld died in 1825.

Chapel records report that on Lady Day 1832, William was paying £6 5s 0d a quarter in pew rent. The older children by summer 1832 were enrolled in the Sunday school, costing £1 5s. James Milnes Stansfeld was elected trustee in 1838, and would remain a trustee when a new trust was formed 15 February 1850. In May 1838 at a request of the Stansfeld family en masse the Rev Cannon agreed the congregation were henceforth to stand and sing. It was James Milnes Stansfeld who at a special meeting of the trustees on 29 March 1844, along with Daniel Gaskell, Henry Briggs, Charles Morton, Henry Clarkson, and Peter Heywood to eject the then minister, Rev John Cameron. [27]

As a devout Unitarian family, it is no surprise that William and Margaret raised their family in that faith, and drove forward the building of a Unitarian Chapel in Flockton. However, before its completion, William died 12 June 1836, and a memorial plaque was erected at Westgate Chapel Wakefield. The chapel seems to have been of dual purpose, being both a school room and place of worship according to John Goodchild, although James Milnes Stansfeld in the 1860’s proposed building a purpose-built chapel.

Marble Tablet commemorating William Stansfield in Westgate Chapel (Unitarian) in Wakefield © Paul L Dawson

With the death of their father, James Milnes Stansfeld with his brother Henry managed their father’s share of Briggs and Stansfeld. In 1839 Henry Briggs retired from the partnership, but retained a financial interest in the concern. He invested money with Margaret Stansfeld, his sister-in-law in November 1842 for the purchase of additional coal rights.[28]  The pair went onto obtain a colliery at Grange Moor near Briestfield.[29] Clearly, Margaret Stansfeld was as capable as her sister in business management: Margaret and her brother-in-law negotiated a settlement with Sir John Lister Kaye over coal rights during 1846.[30] In 1853 Henry Briggs sold his half share of the Flockton Minerals to the continuing partners.[31]

 Henry Briggs went onto develop one of the largest colliery concerns in the West Riding. Both he and his wife Marianne Briggs nee Milnes – aunt to James and Henry William – were conscientious Unitarian and spent much of their spare time in promoting the education of the young. Henry Briggs was noted as a keen and regular Sunday School teacher at Westgate Chapel, Wakefield, and on many occasions acted as a Lay Preacher and occupied the pulpit when need arose. He was a powerful man and described ‘as eminently just’. Being 6 feet 2½ inches in height made him a notable figure. His wife ably supported him and as she was 6 feet in height they were noted as an imposing couple. 

Mrs Stansfeld nee Milnes, purchased Flockton Manor House and 164 acres in 1852. [32]

Mrs Stansfeld arranged the marriage of Henry William to Ann ‘Annie’ Walker Sutherland with a settlement dated November 1858.[33] Annie married Henry William Stansfeld on 6 November 1858, in Hastings with her brother Evan C. Sutherland Walker listed as a witness.  The 1861 census reveals Henry William and Annie living in Flockton, with their son Logan Sutherland Stansfeld and five servants. Henry died on 23 January 1893, aged 64. 

Unlike her husband and his wider family, Annie was a devout Anglican. What made Henry William reject his faith, his family and heritage is not known. It marked a schism in the family, that never healed. Clearly, the new masters of the colliery were no friends to liberal religion or politics, which had characterised both the Milnes and Stansfeld families for over 200 years by this point.

Ann ‘Annie’ Walker Sutherland’s birth on 1 October 1837 is mentioned in the diary of Anne Lister. Her aunt was Ann Walker, who married Anne Lister. On 17 September 1858, four years later when she reached 21 years of age, Annie received her legacy, the sum of £2,000 from William Gray, the Executor of her aunt’s will. The legacy made her wealthy in her own right.

It was perhaps at Annie’s urging, a Parish Church was built in Flockton, largely financed by the Stansfelds. Annie laid the foundation stone in 1867. Seemingly Henry William had now rejected the faith of his birth, and his family’s liberal sentiment, and followed his wife and her family in being supporters of the burgeoning Conservative Party, and were no longer friends to the labour movement. 

Religious and political disagreement witnessed James Milnes Stansfeld leaving the partnership in 1872, with the Unitarian Chapel being closed by Mr and Mrs Stansfeld, much to the chagrin of the Rev Goodwyn Barmby who led services here, by 1882. Mrs Stansfeld died in March 1881, ending any links that remained with Westgate Chapel and the Unitarian faith. 

Industrial relations between the owners and the workers had deteriorated with Margaret Stansfeld’s death, and in August 1893 the workforce threatened to go on strike. Mrs Milnes gave notice that if her colliers did so, she would close the pit. A strike ensued and the business failed. During 1894 a scheme was hatched to try and save the concern of Milnes and Stansfeld, but it came to nought.[34]


The founder of the dynasty in the West Riding – as it was – was John Briggs. He was a merchant in the export trade in Hull, where he was particularly connected with woollens and textiles produced in the active industrial areas centred around Wakefield, Halifax and Leeds, all places connected to the port by water transport, either river or canal. At that time protestant dissenting groups in the Hull district met frequently in private houses and John Briggs was one of their number who eventually joined together to build Bowlalley Lane Unitarian Chapel, (circa 1725) with a seating capacity of 450; the members of the congregation reached about 120.

On 22 June 1726 John Briggs married Sarah Buttry in York Minster. In the register of the Minster, they are both described as citizens of Hull. Their eldest son, also called John, was born 23rd March 1727; he died 19 March 1782. He is described as citizen of Hull and Hessel; he married Mary Rawdon, eldest daughter of Christopher Rawdon of Bilborough, near, York, and a tablet commemorating John and Mary was fixed in Bowlalley Chapel:

“To the memory of Mr. John Briggs a zealous and valuable member of this congregation and for many years a Trustee of the Chapel and also to the memory of Mary Briggs his amiable and exemplary wife, daughter of Christopher Rawdon Esq., of Bilborough, near York. This tablet is erected by their surviving children in testimony of their filial respect and veneration for the many virtues of excellent parents. Mr. Briggs died March 19 1782 aged 55 years, highly esteemed as a man of truly Christian principles and upright conduct. Mrs. Briggs died December 25 1799 aged 67 sincerely respected by all who knew her.”

This tablet was later removed to the new Unitarian Chapel in Hull when the original chapel was pulled down. John Junior is variously described in notices and papers of that time as a merchant, ship owner, or underwriter. No record has been found giving the name of the eldest son of John and Mary Briggs who possibly died in infancy, but their second son Rawdon was born on 23 August 1758 in Hull. 

He married Ann Currer, born 25 May 1763 at Clapham, where they were married on 10 August 1791. They lived at Ward’s End, Halifax. Mrs Briggs died on 2 August 1802. Rawdon and Ann had three sons and three daughters, the sons were namely: Rawdon (junior) born 17 August 1792, William born 30 May 1795 and Henry born on 10 August 1797. 

Henry Briggs, born in Halifax in 1796 and died in Wakefield in 1866. He was a leading industrialist, Unitarian and brother of Rawdon Briggs of Halifax © Paul L Dawson

Rawdon’s daughter Ann (1796-1862) married Thomas Woolwich Stansfeld, daughter Charlotte (1800-1886) married her cousin Christopher Rawdon, and Ellen died unmarried.

In December 1810 Rawdon (senior) married for a second time, Mary (née Allen) widow of John Fletcher of Oldham, by whom daughter Mary was born in 1812. It seems probable that Rawdon (senior) of Hull was originally sent to Halifax by his father, John (junior), to learn a trade and to promote the export of wool and cloth by ship through Hull; for it appears from certain records that he became partner with his brother-in-law William Currer of Halifax in a firm known as Currer, Briggs and Co., producing woollen yarn and carpets. Rawdon Senior’s third son Henry joined this same firm sometime prior to his marriage. Rawdon senior was an active Unitarian of the Northgate End Chapel in Halifax and was later involved with other members of that community in supporting a local banking partnership which was short of funds to meet creditors’ requirements; from this time Rawdon senior became closely connected with banking (see Genesis of Banking in Halifax by H. Ling Roth). In this venture, he was associated with his eldest son Rawdon junior and also his second son William and eventually formed the Halifax Commercial Bank Rawdon Briggs senior died 14 April 1835 and a memorial window was erected to his memory at Westgate Chapel and another at Northgate End.   Rawdon Briggs junior was a trustee of Northgate End, and was the first MP for Halifax 1832-1834 for the Liberal cause, and died in 1859. Indeed, in 1822 Rawdon senior, Rawdon and William Briggs were appointed trustees of Northgate End, along with Abraham, George, Richard and William Kershaw – the family is mentioned by Anne Lister – and also James Milnes Stansfeld. Also, a trustee was banker Robert Swaine. William Rawdon Briggs (1844-1914) William’s son, was named a trustee in 1881. The Briggs links with Northgate End, only came to an in the 1920’s. The sons of Henry Briggs were trustees of both Westgate Chapel (Unitarian) Wakefield, and Mill Hill Chapel Leeds until the 1950’s.

Rawdon and his brother William appear in the diary of both Ann Walker and Anne Lister; clearly, they were associates. Anne Lister was a shareholder in Brigg’s banking concern. It may be via this connection that the link with the Milnes Stansfeld’s was made, after all, Rawdon was uncle to Margaret Stansfeld’s children. It seems both Ann Lister and Anne Walker were on the fringes of the Unitarian community in Halifax, a community that dominated the textile trade, banking and liberal politics.                                        

[1] West Yorkshire Archive Service [hereafter WYAS] Halifax, KC746 Milnes Stansfeld

[2] John Goodchild Collection, Milnes Flockton MSS Notes

[3] Ibid.

[4] WYAS Huddersfield, KM:940 Lease for 21 years, 8 May 1780

[5] WYAS Halifax, KC746 Milnes Stansfeld

[6] WYAS Halifax, DD/WBD/III/222 Lease for 21 years of land at Kirkheaton, 3 September 1792

[7] John Goodchild Collection, Milnes Flockton MSS Notes

[8] WYAS Wakefield JG001588 Correspondence, Woollin of Overton, 1796

[9] WYAS WYW1630 Stansfeld family. Lease of coal from 1. to 2. at Middletown and of making tram roads and other privileges, 19 Oct 1796

[10] WYAS KMA:1054 Draft lease for 21 years, 1 June 1829

[11] John Goodchild Collection. MSS Notes Milnes of Flockton

[12] Valerie Smith, Rational Dissenters,The Boydell press, Woodbridge, 2021, p.149

[13] Ibid. p.64

[14] Ibid. P.69

[15] Ruth Watts, Gender, Power and the Unitarians in England, 1760-1860, Routledge, London, 2014

[16] Samuel Heywood (1789) The right of protestant dissenters toa compleat toleration asserted. London: J Johnson, p.45

[17] John Seed (1985). Gentlemen Dissenters: The Social and Political Meanings of Rational Dissent in the 1770s and 1780s. In The Historical Journal, 28(2), 299-325.

[18] The National Archives IR 26/425/649 Abstract of Administration of James Milnes, Gentleman of Manor House in Flockton in the parish of Thornhill, Yorkshire. Proved in the Court of York.

[19] Westgate Chapel Archive.

[20] R G Wilson Gentleman merchants: The merchant community in Leeds 1700-1830 Manchester University Press, Manchester. 1971, p.189

[21] Ibid. p.246

[22] Ibid. p.187

[23] John Goodchild reports that in the demolished Northgate End Unitarian Halifax, there was a memorial with memorials to Eli, Timothy and Mary Stansfeld who died in infancy.  The tablet also records Ellen Stansfeld who died 1755 aged 33, and to his mother Mary Stansfeld who died 30 October 1765, aged 78, David Stansfeld who died 10 August 1769 aged 49, Mary Stansfeld who died 10 March 1778 aged 52/4, Elizabeth Moore who died 16 June 1778, aged 60, and Mary Aldred, mother of Ellen Stansfeld, who died 21 August 1778, aged 92 years.

[24] Elizabeth Crawford The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866-1928 UCL Press, London, 1999, p. 53, See Also ibid, p.652. See Also Kathryn Gleadle The Early Feminists: Radical Unitarians and the Emergence of the Women’s rights movement, 1831-1851 Saint Martins Press, New York, 1998


[26] Derek Fraser, A History of Modern Leeds Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1980 p.287

[27] Westgate Chapel Archive

[28] WYAS Halifax KC746/7 Agreement for purchase of coal rights relating to Flockton Thin and Flockton Upper

[29] Ibid. KC746/9 Agreement and confirmation of lease of a colliery and premises at bottom of Grange Moor, December 1845

[30] Ibid. KC746/10 Award of John Walker of Lake Lock near Wakefield, mining engineer, May 1846

[31] WYAS JG001582 Draft agreement between Henry Briggs esquire and others to James Milnes Stansfeld esquire and others, 1853

[32] John Goodchild Collection. MSS Notes Milnes of Flockton

[33] WYAS, Halifax, WYW1630 Settlement on the marriage of Ann Walker Sutherland and Henry William Stansfield, 6 Nov 1858

[34] John Goodchild Collection MSS Notes Milnes of Flockton

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:
Paul L Dawson (2023) “Milnes, Stansfelds and Briggs – Unitarians”: In Search of Ann Walker [Accessed “add date”]

Paul L Dawson

Paul L Dawson Bsc Hons Mres MIFA FINS, is a historian who specialises in the history of West Yorkshire in the 18th and 19th century, with a special reference to Dissenting communities. He has written over 40 books on the history of West Yorkshire, and his home city of Wakefield. He is also a Unitarian Lay Minister attending Mill Hill Chapel (Unitarian) Leeds.