I Was Here: Diversity in Georgian Yorkshire

This week we hear from independent researcher Danny Friar, who offers a brilliant and sensitively-researched excavation of the Georgian era, revealing fragments of a hidden, but universal, history…

Ten years ago a discussion of the Georgian period may have brought up names such as Lord Horatio Nelson, Captain James Cook, William Wilberforce and Jane Austen. While all of those people are deserving of being remembered in history, that isn’t the full story of the Georgian period. Recent movies like Wuthering Heights (2011) and Belle (2013) and TV shows like Gentleman Jack (2019) and Bridgerton (2020) have begun to shift the narrative and have shown mass audiences that the Georgian period in England was more diverse that we once may have believed. Diversity in terms of race, nationality, religious belief, sexuality and gender has always existed throughout history. The Georgian period, from 1714 to 1837, is no exception. Nor did diversity only exist in large cities like London. With the Georgian period being an age of slavery, colonialism, xenophobia and religious persecution it might seem surprising to find diversity outside of London, but it did exist and it existed in Georgian Yorkshire.

View of the Sphinx Gateway at Temple Newsam Home Farm. Constructed in 1768, the gates show the Egyptian influence on Georgian design. (c) Leeds Libraries, http://www.leodis.net

During the Georgian period, England was a Protestant country and prior to the Roman Catholic Emancipation of 1829 and Jewish Emancipation of 1858, Catholics and Jews in England had restricted rights and freedoms. Despite these restrictions and the religious persecution that came with them, we find records of both Catholics and Jews living in Yorkshire throughout the Georgian period. A record from 1735 names some “Papists, or Supposed Papists within the Township of Leedes”. The list included Elizabeth Thorp, “who teaches a sowing school in This Town” and her husband who isn’t named but is said to be living in Rothwell. Other Catholics are listed as working in the woollen cloth industry. This includes John Jackson and Peter Railton, who are said to be cloth dressers, and Thomas Peart who is recorded as a woolcomber. Others were employed as root sellers and Richard Grocock was a fiddler. These are just some of the Catholics living in Leeds during a period when Catholicism was considered a superstitious religion and Catholics were regarded as traitors and enemies to the nation. There was certainly anti-Catholic behaviour recorded in Leeds as early as the 16th Century. Catholics worshipped in secrecy but by the Georgian period, Mass Houses where Catholics worshiped were established in Roundhay, Alterton Grange and Middleton.

Undated. Ebor House was built in the early 18th century and was situated off Middleton Road. It was occupied by the Fenton family and became a place for Roman Catholics to worship in private when open practice of Catholicism was forbidden. (c) Leeds Libraries, http://www.leodis.net

Leeds was also home to a community of Quakers that dates back to the mid-17th Century. By the beginning of the 18th Century, several homes in and around Leeds were established as meeting houses for Quakers. One Leeds Quaker, Miles Walker ran a school from 1711 to 1721 and a larger school was established by Joseph Tatham in 1756. Quakers played an important role in the Abolitionist Movement of the Georgian period. The Leeds-born Quaker and abolitionist Wilson Armistead was born in 1819 at Water Lodge, close to the Quaker meeting house in Water Lane, built in 1699. Decades before his birth, the African abolitionist Olaudah Equiano had spoken in Yorkshire in 1791.

Although Jews had lived in Yorkshire since the medieval period, all Jews were expelled from England in 1290 and were not permitted resettlement until 1657. It was during the Georgian period that the first Jewish person is recorded as living in Leeds. Israel Benjamin was buried at the Leeds Parish Church in 1735. The entry for him in the church burial register states that he was “born of Jewish parentage” and had converted to Christianity at the age of 45.  He was just one of a small number of converted Jews living in Leeds during the Georgian period. In the early 19th Century lived the Reinhardt family, a converted Jewish family probably from Germany. In the Register for St Paul’s Church special effort was made to indicate they were Christians. The head of the family, Johann Reinhardt was a pharmacist in the city centre. He and his wife Ann buried three infant sons in Leeds between 1803 and 1816 and Ann herself passed away in 1817 aged 36.

Not only were the Reinhardt family Jewish but they were likely European migrants. European migrants have been recorded in and around Leeds as early as the 15th Century. At least seven European merchants settled in Leeds in the early 18th Century. They included Jacob Busk from Sweden, John Berkenhout from Holland, Bernard Bischoff from Switzerland and Johannes Koster from Germany as well as the Noguier and Gautier families from France and the Clerkenbrinke family from Holland. The burial records for Leeds Parish Church also notes the burials of James Crowther, described as “a Scotsman”, in 1711, an unnamed “Dutch Soldier” in 1715, and Mr Keith, described as “a foreigner”, in 1718. In 1734 James Killough, described as a “Scotsman” baptised his son Andrew at the Leeds Parish Church. By the end of the Georgian period Bradford, like Leeds, was becoming a multicultural town prompting Reverend Jonathan Glynde, Minister at Horton Lane Congregational Chapel, to write in 1835:

The natives of Scotland are here, the natives of Ireland are here, from the pleasant vales of Devonshire men and women have come: from the banks of the Rhine and the Elbe they are coming.

What Reverend Jonathan Glynde failed to mention was that Bradford, and the rest of Yorkshire was home to immigrants from across the world including Africa, the Caribbean, India and China. Yorkshire’s many links to both the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the East India Company are far too numerous to detail here. The lasting legacies of those connections are some of Yorkshire’s finest country homes, Harewood House, built between 1759 and 1771, being just one example. It was a direct consequence of these connections that Yorkshire’s population became more diverse, in terms of race, during the Georgian period.

Harewood House and grounds. Harewood House was built using profits made from the Transatlantic Slave Trade and was furnished with items linked to the East India Company and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. (c) Leeds Libraries, http://www.leodis.net

Thomas Grenada was a Black man baptised in Birstall in 1769, Daniel Whitley, an African man, was baptised in Kirkheaton in 1782, John Yorke was a West-African man living in Richmond in the 1770s. His family were still living in Yorkshire in the 20th Century. Sophia Pierce was a Black British girl working in a cotton mill in Burley in Wharfedale in 1797, Thomas Smith was a Black nut seller living in Bradford in 1820 and Betsy Sawyer was an Antiguan woman living in late-Georgian Yeadon. She was a member of her local Methodist Society and had many friends.

On the left can be seen Chapel Hill Wesleyan Chapel, built in 1834 and demolished in the 1950s. Moving clockwise the next building is the caretaker’s house, which is now used by the 16th Airedale Scout group, then the Conservative Club and then, to the right, is Chapel Hill Sunday School, now Yeadon Methodist Church. Betsy Sawyer, a former Antiguan slave, worked for the Murray family who lived in Yeadon. Betsy passed away in Yeadon. There is now a plaque at Yeadon Methodist Church commemorating her death in 1839. (c) Leeds Libraries, http://www.leodis.net

In Swillington, documents record Henry Osman, an Indian servant employed by Sir William Lowther during the 18th Century. He was baptised at the Holy Trinity Church in York in 1727, aged just three-years-old. Like John Yorke, Henry Osman’s family remained in Yorkshire for many generations. In 1773 William Derosa was baptised at Ripon Cathedral. The parish register noted that his mother Parcira Derosa was “a widow and Chinese”.  Isabella Paula, “a Portuguese Hindoo”, was painted by Mary Ellen Best in York in 1834. Little is known about her but it is believed she was a circus performer.

View of the Chinese Drawing Room in Temple Newsam House showing the Eastern influence on Georgian interior design. The Chinese wallpaper, hung in 1820, was a gift from the Prince Regent in 1806. (c) Leeds Libraries, http://www.leodis.net

Another person of colour who was a circus performer in Georgian Yorkshire was the English-born person of Indian heritage, John Clifford, who worked for Cooke’s Circus. They had been assigned female at birth and went by the name Ellen Lowther before identifying as male. According to a report in the York Herald their grandfather was an Indian servant named Signor Rammapattan who had been brought to England from Bengal by Sir William Lowther of Swillington. Once in England, Signor Rammapattan had taken on the name Lowther. It was reported that “he afterwards resided in the north of England, was killed by a pitman at Sunderland, when he was 106 years and nine months old”. John Clifford’s father was reported to have lived in Tadcaster.

The York Herald reported that John Clifford was a “female imposter” but they weren’t the only one. Also working for Cooke’s Circus was the tight rope walker Pablo Paddington who was billed as ‘the Flying African’. In York in 1827 it was discovered that Pablo Paddington had been assigned female at birth. Pablo Paddington had lived as a man on and off stage and was said to have had a romantic relationship with another circus performer, Miss King.

It is impossible for us to say how Pablo Paddington identified themselves. The fact that they lived life as a man off stage as well as on stage implies that they were, in today’s terms, transgender. While the term itself is modern, the desire to identify and live as a gender different to the one assigned a person at birth has always existed. Although they never married, Pablo Paddington’s relationship with Miss King may mean Pablo came close to fitting into the category of ‘Female Husband’ – a term popularised by Henry Fielding in 1746 to identify a person assigned female at birth, who lives as a man and marries a woman. There were cases of female husbands recorded in the pages of newspapers and sensational pamphlets. Henry Stokes from Bawtry near Doncaster was exposed as a “woman-husband” by the press in 1838 and again in 1859. They had married Ann Hants in Sheffield in 1817 and after their divorce in 1838 Henry Stokes married Francis Collins in Manchester.

Another possibility is that Pablo Paddington was a lesbian, living as a man in an attempt to keep their sexuality secret in a period when being a lesbian was considered  a sin and socially unacceptable. This very well may have been the case for some of the female husbands recorded throughout history. In 1838 Ann Stokes openly admitted to knowing, for several years, her husband had been assigned female at birth.

There are, of course, accounts of lesbians living in Georgian Yorkshire who didn’t feel the need to live as men. Anne Lister of Halifax is the most well-known but others did exist. Eliza Raine is a notable example. She was the daughter of an unidentified Indian woman and an English man, Dr William Raine. Dr Raine from Scarborough was a surgeon with the East India Company in the late 18th Century. Eliza Raine was born in India in 1791 and had come to England with her sister Jane at a young age. She attended a boarding school in York in the early 19th Century. There she met Anne Lister and became her first girlfriend. Eliza’s sister Jane also attended school in York. She married Henry Boulton in 1808 and lived with him in India for a number of years before returning to England.

Women like Eliza Raine and Anne Lister were lesbians living in Georgian Yorkshire. Of course there were also homosexual men living in Georgian Yorkshire. From time to time, their names appeared in local newspapers, usually when they had been arrested or blackmailed after committing the “unnatural crime” of loving another man. There was David Marsey in Leeds in 1775, Thomas Brown in Doncaster in 1781, Robert Sellers in Cleakheaton in 1822, Thomas Hanson in Whitby and William Tasker in Lepton near Huddersfield, both  in 1824. In 1832 in Leeds, Matthew Beverley was accused of an “unnatural crime”. The York Herald reported that Matthew Beverley, who lived in Mabgate, “is in no business, keeps no female servant, and is of very retired habits, living alone, except having a boy to wait upon him.” Like many cases in this period that involved homosexual men or men accused of being homosexual, blackmail was involved. Three men; Richard Shaw, John Gascoigne, and William Vallette, had attempted to blackmail, and later rob, Matthew Beverley. They were punished for their crimes.

While London’s Molly subculture suggests some acceptance of homosexuality in Georgian London, there is evidence of some acceptance found in Yorkshire too. Matthew Tomlinson, a farmer who lived near Wakefield, wrote in his diary in 1810 that homosexuality “must then be considered as natural, otherwise, as a defect in nature…it seems cruel to punish that defect with death”. Interracial marriages, like that between Henry Osman and Anne Cook in 1753 and Jane Raine and Henry Boulton in 1808, suggests racial harmony on some level. The friendship experienced by Betsy Sawyer in Yeadon also shows racial harmony in Georgian Yorkshire. The fact that Pablo Paddington was able to continue their career after being exposed as a “female imposter” in 1827 also suggests acceptance. Similarly, Henry Stokes in Manchester had a successful career as a beerhouse manager and then a special constable despite being exposed as a “woman-husband” in 1838. Of course, there were struggles and moments of hatred. Thomas Smith in Bradford was likely the victim of a racist attack in 1820. Matthew Beverly in Leeds was the victim of an attempted homophobic-fuelled blackmail and robbery in 1832. But what these stories of diversity in Yorkshire’s past teach us is that love wins in the end. Regardless of how people were treated in the past, we know one thing: They were here and we can honour them and celebrate them now.

Marshall’s Temple Works, built in 1836, was built in the Egyptian Revival style, a popular style during the Georgian period. (c) Leeds Libraries, http://www.leodis.net

One Comment Add yours

  1. Garance Rawinsky says:

    A fascinating blog and wonderful research – thank you!

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