Local Historical Stories


Early in 1996 Alastair Robertson - one of our local historians was asked if he would write a couple of historical articles for the Alston Moor Newsletter. He thought he could manage three or four but in the event, over 20 years later, they were still going. Once, and only once, he received an unsolicited article from an outside source, this was the reminiscence of a school for wartime evacuees at Nent Hall that came from Mr. Michael Dickinson and it was gratefully included in the series.

They’re a real mixed bag, too random to put into a book, but they’re still worth keeping in a more permanent form, so the Historical Society website seemed the perfect place to have them.

Material for the articles came largely from local sources, from the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives, St. Augustine’s Church Records, Alston Library, the Cumbria County Records Office in Carlisle and the County Records Office Northumberland.

There has been editing in some cases that will be noted at the beginning of each item, otherwise the articles have been left as they were written, complete with occasional references to such things as cement lorries, the millennium, and foot and mouth disease, which are themselves now things of the past (?).
Read on …

Story No 39: The Intriguing Stephensons of Crosslands

Stacks Image 309445
Photo: from Simon Danby
Trawling back and forwards for ages through the International Genealogical Index on the internet produced a mixed bag of results. The only family group that consistently fitted the Stephenson family was one that came from Lythe in Yorkshire, namely father Henry, born in 1675, who married Elizabeth Wood in 1704, and their sons William, born in 1706, Robert, born 1710, John, 1713, Thomas, 1717, and Henry, born in 1720.

This could be a red herring, but if it is correct, then Henry and his family moved from Lythe sometime between 1720 and 1723 to Alston Moor.

Wherever he came from, Henry Stephenson of Crosslands was wealthy enough to be the lessee of the coal mine at the head of Gilderdale on Alston Moor. Gilderdale colliery was the only coal mine worth the Lord’s Rent in 1723, for in that year on 11th July, in a “Rental of Estate of the Earl of Derwentwater” for “A Colliery att Hartside ffell”, Henry Stephenson was due to pay two instalments of rent per year at Martinmas and Whitsuntide of £5.2s.6d., in total £10.5.0.

When Henry died he was buried in a privileged place inside St. Augustine’s Church on 30th April 1734 and the coal mine was taken over by his son, John. How long John remained the lessee is not known, but in 1735 there was a spot of bother with the lessee of the coal mine on the other side of the boundary between Alston Moor and the manor of Ousby. A letter of 9th October 1735 from John reads:-

To John Aynsley, Attorney at Law, from Jno. Stephenson.
Wm. Dobson of Naskew speeks to ye same that John Westmoreland did at Alston about removeing ye coles from ye pitt in Gildersdale to ye other side of ye hill one partyell near Blackgutterhead in Lord Portland’s liberty, ye other partyell on ye other side of ye hill west of Blackgutterhead in Kirkoswald and Naskew liberty which is very faire to be seen where has laid the removall was when Henry Stephenson took ye Pitt. For a good many years he has known Relf’s Currick Black Gutter head Cole Cleugh head, etc, and did never know anything else but these places divided ye Boundary betwixt Lord Darwentwater Kirkoswald and Naskew as alsoe W D says he was a workman at ye New Pitt which was sett on by Sir Christr or order he tould Sir Christr when begun that he was out in his own liberty and that he would not work unless he could have it in writing to be kept undempnyfyd from Lord Darwentwater & C but Sir Chr refused him which did not look well on his side. Dobson speaks very bright to everything mynchioned above.
My best respects attend you and good famely Sir
Your humble servant Jno Stephenson.

And further:- Sir Chr (Musgrave) hath taken liberty to sink a Cole pit within 50 yards of My Lord’s pit on the south west side of his pretended boundary from the currick nigh Rowgill head to the currick nigh Colecleugh. ... it will be plain Sir Chr is working in my Lord’s waist.

In other words, Sir Christopher Musgrave was nicking coal underground from John Stephenson’s pit!

With regard to Henry’s children, if he did come from Lythe, then we know nothing of his youngest son, Henry. Robert died at the early age of twenty in January 1731 and he was buried in the chancel of St. Augustine’s Church, which again illustrates the prominence of the family at that time. Thomas also died young in 1748 and his widow, Margaret, died in Newcastle in 1759. A possible daughter of Henry, Dorothy, was married relatively late in life to the Rev. Mr. Anthony Munton of Newcastle in 1751.

But it is Henry’s two other sons, John and William, who are of interest to us. According to the Reverend John Hodgson, the great historian of Northumberland, whose work was published in 1840, John made his name in Newcastle.

John Stephenson married the daughter of Matthew Bell of Wolsington and together they had eleven children. John became Sheriff of Newcastle in 1728 then in 1730 he bought Knarsdale Hall for £2,600 from the Wallis family who had fallen on hard times. In 1747 John became an alderman of Newcastle, he was also the owner of Hunwich and Rogerly in County Durham and he had interest in Coxlodge Colliery near Newcastle.

John died in 1761 and by his will made in 1759 he established what became known as ‘Stephenson’s Charity’ of Alston and Garrigill, from which £4 a year was given to sixteen poor widows of the parish. The Charity also applied to Knarsdale and Kirkhaugh where 5/- each was given to eight poor widows in both parishes and if there were not enough women then the difference was made up with poor men. The money was distributed by the minister and churchwardens each Christmas Day.

Of John’s children, his son Matthew became Sheriff of Newcastle in 1759 and his daughter Elizabeth married Aubone Surtees who became Mayor of Newcastle in 1770. John’s son and successor, Henry, married his first cousin Alice, the daughter of his brother William, in 1759. Then after nearly forty years in the family’s possession, Henry sold Knarsdale Hall in 1769 to James Wallace.

Now, here is the thorny problem. If Henry Stephenson came to Alston from Lythe then, according to the dates of birth of his sons, this John Stephenson is not our John at all, but someone else, because he must be at least fifteen years older than Henry’s son.

If, on the other hand, this John was Henry’s son after all, then Henry did not come from Lythe and the whole matter of his family, their dates of birth and place of origin could be anything. Were they born in Alston before church records began in 1700?

Then there is the matter of Dorothy. The only Dorothy Stephenson of the 1700s on Alston Moor was born to a Thomas Stephenson of Bailes in 1718. This makes her the right age to marry Rev. Munton who was born in 1720. Was Thomas the son of Henry who set up a marital home not far from Crosslands, then later moved back by the time of his death in 1748?

Do you see the dilemma?

This leaves us with William, about whom, unfortunately, we also know precious little. William was definitely Henry’s son, who went to London, whether to seek his fortune or whether he already had one we can’t say, but probably he arrived as a man of substance. In 1754 he was elected Alderman of Bridge Ward Within. In 1757 he became Sheriff and he was elected Lord Mayor of London in 1764. What he had done to deserve this honour is not known but to be mayor was an expensive business, because the banquets, parades, favours, gifts, etc., all had to be paid for personally by the mayor.

In celebration of becoming mayor, William gave money for the erection of a Market Cross in his home town of Alston on land given by the Lords of the Manor, the Greenwich Hospital. In 1773 he was once more an alderman of London just before his death in 1774.

Although the Market Cross has had its troubles, i.e. having been accidentally demolished a couple of times, it still stands as a symbol for the town and the district.

We can see that for a short time the Stephensons were an important family on Alston Moor. Their story is a tangled web alright and it’s a shame that the family left no records to tell it.

Alastair Robertson

Back to main stories

We are adding a story every few weeks, so bookmark this page to come back for more………..

Alston Moor Historical Society Archives are staffed by volunteers. But even though we give our time for free there are still ongoing costs. Filing cabinets, electricity, heating, hosting costs and more.

We would appreciate any contribution you could give us to help us with our work.
About Us
Alston Moor Historical Society was founded in 1973 and, due to the nature of Alston Moor, it is a member of both the Northumberland Association of Local History Societies and the Cumbria Federation of Local History Societies.
Alston Moor Historical Society
Alston Moor, Cumbria
Alston Moor Historical Society - Alston Stories