Ann’s People

William Priestley Letters

24 November 1829 William Priestley letter portion
24 November 1829 William Priestley letter
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN: 107/1

Believe me to be  
My dear Sir
Your’s [sic] most truly
W. Priestley .

Reading someone’s letters cannot only bring them to life, but also shed light on their personality as well as their relationships with other people. We will look at some excerpts of letters, written by William Priestley, that span from 1823 to 1834. His letters are interesting to the reader because they are quite detailed, with a touch of gossip.

William and his wife Eliza Priestley played a significant role in Gentleman Jack series one, which portrayed them as rushing to Scotland to rescue Ann Walker and bring her back to Halifax. That storyline was for drama and was not based in fact. They did not bring Ann home.

Before reading these letters my opinion of William Priestley came from watching Gentleman Jack, and from the incident mentioned in my blog about Aunt Ann Walker, where Priestley strong-armed her into signing a letter to William Gray, her solicitor, saying that there had been a misunderstanding over the interest he owed her and that all was settled. It was not.

What was not touched on in Gentleman Jack, was that Priestley was an accomplished musician, playing the oboe and clarinet, and in later years he founded the Halifax Choral Society. You can read an article in the Halifax Courier, from 18th October 2019 here.

William Priestley was Ann Walker’s first cousin, as their mothers, Elizabeth Edwards Priestley and Mary Edwards Walker respectively, were sisters. William married Elizabeth (Eliza) Paley in 18081. They never had children and lived on the Walker estate in Lightcliffe.

William was a trustee for his uncle John Walker Snr’s estate (Ann Walker’s father), working closely with fellow trustee, Henry Lees Edwards, who was the brother of Mary Edwards Walker (Ann Walker’s mother).

Overall, Priestley’s letters are largely business oriented, sprinkled with interesting comments about others within his orbit in Halifax. As trustee, the letters show that he was very hands-on with the running of Crownest, working with Sam Washington (the Walkers’ land steward), and communicating frequently with Ann Walker’s brother-in-law, George Mackay Sutherland, who no longer lived in Halifax.

1823 – 1825 After John Walker Snr’s death

This first letter was written a month after John Walker Snr’s death. It is from Priestley to fellow trustee Henry Lees Edwards in regards to John’s wife Mary and her inheritance. It appears, through his own words, that Priestley feels it would be in Mary’s best interest to give up the Crownest lands and hand them over to the executors. However, this scheme could only be successful with John Jnr’s agreement. Six months later, Mary herself died, so it’s unclear at this time, if his suggestion was ever acted upon or even considered. Here is an excerpt.

“Lightcliffe May 11th, 1823.
My dear Sir!-
…I feel quite disposed to give any relief that may, with consistency be thought proper. – I think, you will concur in opinion with me, that, your Sister cannot drive any advantage whatever, in keeping the Crownest-lands in her own hands, and with a view to relieve her of this burthen (for I can consider it only as such) I would recommend it to her to give up the farm to the Executors;- As these arrangements cannot be brought about without John’s concurrence, I trust that, his disposition will prove to be such, that in a consciousness of having done his duty to an indulgent parent, he will find a most ample remuneration for any pecuniary sacrifice he will have to make. – With my kind regards to my Cousin, Believe [page ripped] to be
My dear Sir!
Most truly your’s [sic]
W. Priestley.”2

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN:100/2

John Walker Jnr, Ann’s younger brother, entered Brasenose College, Oxford in January 1822, at the age of 17. At some point in 1825, he removed his name from the college books and did not obtain his degree.3 This excerpt from a letter, dated 8th March 1825, from Priestley to John at Brasenose College, discusses estate business, Elizabeth and Ann leaving on a trip, and ends with this reference to a fall that John had had. We have yet to uncover any more information regarding the incident.

“Dear John
I was sorry to hear of the accident that had befallen you; I hope however, that, you are in a convalescent state, and that you will not experience any inconvenience from the fall. I am happy to say that your sisters, were both in good health when they left home last week. Make my best regards to all my young friends and believe me to be
Dear John,
Your’s [sic] very truly
W. Priestley
John Walker Esqr
Brazen-Nose [sic] Coll[ege]:

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN:100/2

Crownest Estate business with other tidbits

The rest of the letters here are written by Priestley to George Mackay Sutherland where he discusses Crownest Estate business with a touch of gossip. As a trustee, Priestley appears to have worked very closely with Sutherland and Washington, reporting on rent collections, property repairs and tenant issues.

In this excerpt from 21st July 1829, Priestley congratulates the Sutherlands on being comfortable in their new abode with the letter addressed to Ardeer House, Saltcoats, Ayrshire. Whether that was a temporary or permanent home is not clear at present. He also shares that his own wife, Eliza, had not been well and can’t accompany Ann Walker to Scotland.

“My dear Sir –
It afforded to myself and to my wife much satisfaction to learn from your kind and Friendly letter, that, you and Elizabeth are comfortably settled in your new abode, and that, you both enjoy the greatest of all earthly blessings, – good health…Perhaps, you may not be aware, how much my wife’s heath has suffered in consequence of an unremitting attendance, during a period of three months, on her much-valued friend Miss Hudson, and I am fully convinced that, for some time to come, she must abstain from all exertion, both of body and mind, and submit to the even-paced tranquillity of our own fire-side – and, it is solely on account of feeling herself utterly incapable of taking so long a journey, that she must decline – and believe me, it is done reluctantly, to accompany Ann Walker in September – no other circumstance would have prevented her from acceding to your wishes without a moments hesitation:”5

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN: 107/1

The letter of 29th December 1829, from Priestley to Sutherland is full of Crownest Estate business until the very end, when he mentions Lydia Wilkinson. We know this “connexion” didn’t result in marriage for her, as she married Rev. George Fenton in 1833.

“The report of our Vicar’s intended marriage to Miss Waterhouse I conclude, reached your ear some time ago – but there is another match, which Fame’s trumpet has been busily sounding abroad within the last three or four days, which will equally surprise you – it is no other than, Elizabeth’s old friend Miss Lydia Wilkinson. The gentleman’s name is Birds – a clergyman, about Miss W’s age, with some little private fortune, and tolerably good preferment near Wellington in Shropshire. I understand it is a connexion highly approved of by all the parties interested”6

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN: 107/1

John Walker Jnr’s death and protecting the family fortune

John Walker Jnr died on 19th January 1830, in Naples while on his honeymoon with his new bride, Frances (Fanny) Penfold Walker. The news of his death did not reach Halifax until February. Through Priestley’s letters, we learn the timing of events, and that Ann Walker was not in Halifax at that time.

This excerpt from a letter dated 2nd February 1830, from Priestley to Sutherland, is again mostly about estate business, with this little tidbit at the end. We now know that Ann Walker was at the Rev. and Mrs. Ainsworth’s home when she learned of her brother’s death. She was to be there a fortnight (two weeks).

“Ann Walker set out yesterday morning to Mrs Ainsworth’s, where, I understand, she intends to stay about a fortnight.”7

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN: 107/1

An interesting side story – If you have watched Gentleman Jack series one, the knowledge that Ann was staying with the Ainsworths during this period might conjure up an uneasy feeling for her. We would later learn from Anne Lister’s diary that Rev. Ainsworth, husband of Ann’s friend Mrs. Ainsworth, had taken sexual advantage of her, though it’s not clear as to what extent or how often that occurred. Certainly, it was enough to cause Ann great distress.

Mrs. Ainsworth was killed in a terrible carriage accident in October 1832, which caused great sadness to Ann Walker during the time she became involved with Anne Lister.

30 Oct 1832 London Courier and Evening Gazette ©The British Library Board about Mrs Ainsworth's carriage accident.
30 Oct 1832 London Courier and Evening Gazette ©The British Library Board

Anne Lister wrote in her diary on 7th November 1832:

then spoke of Mr Ainsley she was very nervous at last from little to more it came out that if she married him it would be from duty I pressed for explanation and discovered that she felt bound to him by some indiscretion he had taught her to kiss but they had never got as far as she and I had done he had express[ed] pathetic sorrow but was annoyed at the business with Mr Fraser and she did not know whether she should have been happy with Mr F on Mr A’s account my indignation rose against the parson I reasoned her out of all feeling of duty obligation towards a man who had taken such base advantage…she had been near sending off James with [a] packet she had had from Mr Ainsworth half a dozen pages to be returned of canting told detail of particulars of the last day of Mrs A’s life (how she had taken dripping and pills to one poor woman and gone to thank another for cooking them a dinner ridiculous stuff) a proper letter that any one might see and one page of half sheet note marked private reminding her of being his affectionate Annie that he was a friend to her in affliction and calling upon her to be one now to him and concluding with a call upon god to bless her as the prayer of her own Thomas Ainsworth8

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/15/0141 & SH:7/ML/E/15/0142

The following excerpt from the 11th February 1830 letter from Priestley to Sutherland reveals the general feeling of shock at the news of John Walker Jnr’s death, and the compassion for his young widow Fanny Walker.

“My dear Sir —
We were much shocked yesterday by the appearance of Mr Edwards who communicated to us the melancholy intelligence of the death of poor John Walker on the 19th January at Naples. – For this afflicting news, we were, by no means prepared, as, the letters, an- nouncing his indisposition (in consequence of the obstruction of the roads on the Continent) reached us with those, acquainting us of his death. – I am aware that, ‘ere you receive this, you will be in possession of all that we know of this distressing event, as Mr Edwards informed us that Mr Plowes wrote to you on Monday. I understand that one of the Penfolds is gone to join his sisters at Naples, whose situation, in being left in a foreign clime, without a protector, may be more easily conceived than described.”9

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN:107/1

By the time of this 18th February 1830 letter from Priestly to Sutherland (below), we can see that the effort to protect the Walkers’ Crownest Estate from John Jnr’s widow Fanny Penfold Walker had begun. We also learn that Ann is still with the Ainsworths in Cheshire, and that the Priestleys were aware that John had health issues, which have not been uncovered to date. Priestley also mentions that John Jnr has no issue (child). However Fanny’s situation is unknown at this time and he encourages Sutherland to go to Crownest as soon as he can.

“My dear Sir
… Being aware, that, the intelligence of poor Walker’s death, had been communicated to you from London, my object in writing to you, in great haste, was, to request that, you would come here, under an impression that, there might be no one at Crownest on your arrival, thinking that poor Ann would remain in Cheshire for a few days, ‘till she recovered from the first shock, which this unlooked-for event, must occasion.- …Walker having died without issue, the entail will now take effect, the Crownest Estate devolving to your wife and the Cliffhill Estate To Ann – the road leading from Knowl Top to the Bridge being the division of the two estates – this, however must depend upon the circumstance of no posthumous heir; With my kindest remembrances to Elizabeth, believe
Me to be, My dear Sir Your’s [sic] very truly
W. Priestley”10

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN:107/2

Another letter, dated 15th October 1830, from Priestley to Sutherland, reveals that Fanny Walker delivered a stillborn child. Sutherland was apparently unable to travel due to a ‘lame leg’, and Ann has recovered in spirit from the loss of her brother. The Walker family united to protect the estate, and the settlement between the Walkers and Fanny Penfold Walker took years to finalise.

“My dear Sir-
At present, I will briefly admit to the receiving of your letter of the 14 Sep[tembe]r without particularly replying to it. – ‘Ere this, you have received the intelligence, which has been communicated to us of Mrs. Walker’s delivery on Sunday last of a still-born child — this event, being of some importance to you, I think it highly necessary that you come to Crownest with all convenient speed in order to make such arrangements as you may deem expedient for the management of the property &c. – …I have not heard from Mr. Penfold since he left Halifax in July:- but, I conclude that, he, or some other person, deputed by Mrs. W- [Walker] will, ‘ere long, make their appearance for the of arranging the personalty, and, I think it highly desireable, and it must be satisfactory to all parties, that, you should be present at the time. I am truly sorry to learn that, you are at present prevented from travelling; I hope however you will soon throw this lame leg aside, and, I think, the sooner we see you amongst us, [the] better. – If, in the mean time, you have any thing to suggest, in relation to your future plans, I shall most gladly, attend to your wishes. – Ann Walker is much better than she has been for some time past; today she appears to have recovered her spirits, and is very cheerful. Mrs. Priestley joins me in kindest regards to Elizabeth, and to yourself – believe me to be
Dear sir, your’s [sic] very truly,
W. Priestley
Capt. G. M. Sutherland

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN:107/1

Where will Ann Walker live?

The final letter explored in this blog, from Priestley to Sutherland on 1st July 1834, is rather gossipy. It mentions Ann Walker being away, and the rumor circulating about where she will live when she returns from her trip abroad. Of course, she was on her honeymoon with Anne Lister at the time of his writing. It would appear from this letter that Ann Walker did indeed keep her life quite private.

“Dear Sir,
My Aunt has just informed me that, it appears from a letter received from Elizabeth, you had it in contemplation to visit Yorkshire this summer, but that Ann Walker’s absence on the Continent prevents you from putting your plans into execution; – my object in writing to you is to say that, we shall be particularly glad to receive you here, and, to afford to you every accommodation in our power for as long a period as may be convenient and agreeable to yourself; –indeed, on Ann’s return, we are at a loss to divine where she intends to take up her abode, as there is a rumour afloat that, Lidget either is, or, is about to be let to Mr Lamplugh Hird, who is on the eve of marriage to a Miss Hale of Acomb near York:”12

West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN:107/2


These excerpts give a flavor of William Priestley’s style of writing, poetic at times, very pointed at others, and with a touch of gossip. They also give us insight into his sense of family, and his duty to protect the Walker family fortune. It would appear that during this period of time, he enjoyed a close relationship with George Mackay Sutherland, although we only have Priestley’s letters to show his side of it. But the treasures in his letters are the bits we learn in an offhanded way, where people were, their health – be it a lame leg, a fall, a recovered spirit, or who is courting a Vicar! Priestley also loved commas, and at times his spelling elicits a chuckle as with his reference to John Jnr’s ‘Brazen-Nose [sic] Coll[ege]:’


1. William & Eliza Priestley married 1st Dec 1808 (A paid service)
FHL Film Number:90582 Reference ID: #65

2. 11th May 1823 – William Priestley to Henry Lees Edwards
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN:100/2
Transcription by Caroline Maillard, Martin Walker & Deb Woolson

3. Brasenose College confirmation of John Walker Jr’s education status

4. 8th March 1825 – William Priestley to John Walker Jr.
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN:100/2
Transcription by Caroline Maillard, Martin Walker & Deb Woolson

5. 21st July 1829 – William Priestley to George M Sutherland
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN: 107/1
Transcription by Caroline Maillard, Martin Walker & Deb Woolson

6. 29th December 1829 William Priestley to George M Sutherland
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN: 107/1
Transcription by Caroline Maillard, Martin Walker & Deb Woolson

7. 2nd February 1830 William Priestley to George M Sutherland
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN: 107/1
Transcription by Caroline Maillard, Martin Walker & Deb Woolson

8. 7 November 1832 Anne Lister’s Diary
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale SH:7/ML/E/15/0141 & SH:7/ML/E/15/0142
Transcription by Martin Walker – Twitter-@ListeriaUK

10. 18th February, 1830 William Priestley to George M Sutherland
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN:107/2
Transcription by Caroline Maillard, Martin Walker & Deb Woolson

11. 15th October 1830 William Priestley to George M Sutherland
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN:107/1
Transcription by Caroline Maillard, Martin Walker & Deb Woolson

12. 1st July 1834 William Priestly to George M Sutherland
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale CN:107/2 
Transcription by Caroline Maillard, Martin Walker & Deb Woolson

Special Thanks

To Team Priestley – Caroline Maillard & Martin Walker, who helped transcribe Priestley’s letters, made great suggestions, and edited this blog.

Louise Godley for more editing, and to Diane Halford for her direction and rock-solid knowledge of Ann Walker and ALL her associates.

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 (2022) “William Priestley Letters”: In Search of Ann Walker [Accessed “add date”]

Deb Woolson

I'm semi-retired and live in the US. Between researching for ISAW and dabbling in politics, my time is well spent. I watched GJ S1 and was overwhelmed by the beauty of Yorkshire and the amazing story of these two women. (Months later I learned my ancestors came from Yorkshire!) I have such admiration for Ann Walker and am honored to work with the talented ISAW team to bring her story to the forefront.