The Rich Uncle                             Read the Will

Robert Burnell of Thorner, a few miles north east of Leeds, had four sons: Samuel (b1721), Timothy (b1724), Benjamin (b1727) and Abraham (b1730). Although all four married, neither Benjamin nor Abraham had children. Benjamin continued to live in Shadwell in Thorner parish and was reasonably successful as a small scale farmer, sufficiently so that when he died in 1808 he was able to leave land in Shadwell to Samuel’s children, Robert, Caleb, Benjamin, Isabella (Procter) and Ann (Dixon) and land in Little Ribston to Timothy’s son Peter with instructions that amounts be paid from this to Timothy’s other children, James, Abraham and Elizabeth (Nichols).

Abraham Burnell 

However, it was the youngest of Robert’s children, Abraham, who did really well for himself. We do not know what the source of this wealth was – whether he married well or was successful in business. He may have been involved in corn dealing, like Timothy’s son Abraham. What we do know is that at some stage he moved down to Chelsea, then a fashionable, semi-rural village on the western outskirts of London. Here he lived in Lawrence Street, just off Cheyne Walk and supported local charities such as the Sunday School and School of Industry in Lawrence Street and St George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner. 

The Sunday School movement began in the 1780s, frequently associated with Methodist or other non-conformist chapels. The curriculum was not confined to religious subjects but was designed to give working class children (and occasionally adults) a broader education. It ultimately paved the way for the introduction of organised state education in 1870.

Lawrence Street runs down to the River and contained a mixture of housing (some quite grand) together with smaller workshops. From 1750-1784 the Chelsea Porcelain Works was located in the Street, but this would have closed by the time Abraham moved here. 

Lawrence Street, Chelsea

This view shows the end of Lawrence Street where it meets Cheyne Walk and the River Thames.

Between Lawrence Street and Church Street, in former times, was the stabling for the old Chelsea stage-coaches. The fare for inside passengers was 1s. 6d.; outside, 1s.; and no intermediate fare of a lower sum was taken. Such are the changes, however, brought about by the "whirligig of time," that passengers can now go almost from one extremity of London to the other for sixpence, and Chelsea can now be reached by steamboat for the moderate sum of twopence. Old and New London, Edward Walford, 1878  

Bramley Grange Farm 

On 5th April 1802, when he was 72, Abraham purchased Bramley Grange Farm in Kirkby Malzard, North Yorkshire from James Geldart of Kirk Deighton. (Wakefield Deeds EN 134). The purpose of this purchase appears to have been to assist Timothy and his sons, because the land was then leased back in 5 parts to Timothy, his son Abraham, James Geldart, John Geldart and James Ridsdale of Kirkby Overblow, maltster. (James Ridsdale was related to the Burnells, being the brother of Peter Ridsdale who married Timothy’s granddaughter, Sarah.) 

Timothy would have been too old to work the land and in practice it may have been taken over by Timothy’s son, James. James witnessed the signatures on the deed and we know he later lived at Bramley Grange. The property included not only the buildings and surrounding land but also rights to two pews in Kirkby Malzard Church opposite each other against the south and north walls. 

After buying Bramley Grange, Abraham made a codicil to his will leaving the freehold jointly to James and Abraham, sons of Timothy, but with the stipulation that they paid one thousand pounds to the children of Peter and Elizabeth, Timothy’s other two surviving children.

 When Abraham died in Chelsea in 1804, his estate, including the Bramley Grange farm was valued at 7500. This sum in 1804, compared to average earnings then, would be worth over 6m today compared to today's average earnings. However, its purchasing power in 1804 would be only equivalent to about 500,000 in today’s money. This is because goods were relatively much more expensive in 1804 than they are today. On either count, Abraham was a wealthy man when he died. Lawrence H. Officer, "Purchasing Power of British Pounds from 1264 to 2007.", 2008.

Abraham left specific bequests to all his nephews and nieces, small sums to relatives through marriage and to friends, and some money to St George’s Hospital and the Sunday School. It would seem that he had a servant or servants, because they were to get gratuities. The balance of the estate (excluding Bramley Grange) was divided equally between Peter, James and Abraham (sons of Timothy) and Robert (son of Samuel).

 James was 45 when he inherited half of Bramley Grange. He reached an agreement with his brother Abraham who had inherited the other half to buy out his share on 5th April 1805, immediately after probate had been granted. (Wakefield Deeds EU 307). Abraham had a successful business as a corn merchant in the centre of Leeds and was no doubt happy to leave the farming to James. 

It seems likely that James moved permanently to Bramley Grange around 1804. We know that as late as 1802 he was still working as a carpenter in Little Ribston (Parish record for the birth of his son Abraham).  However in May 1804 his eldest daughter got married in St Andrews Church in Kirkby Malzard and her address in the parish record was given as Bramley Grange.

James remained at Bramley Grange until 1818. By then he was 59 and may have been finding the farming too much. Anyway, he sold some or all of the land on 17th February of that year to Thomas Durham of Masham, a grocer, linen and woollen draper and to William Lightfoot of Howe Farm, Masham, a yeoman. One complication of the sale was that Peter had inherited the tenancy that Abraham originally granted to Timothy, so Peter was also a party. (Wakefield Deeds GR 609).  James later moved to the nearby village of Grewelthorpe where he died in 1844 aged 85. Mary, his wife, had died in 1819 at the age of 60.

The Inheritance 

There is no doubt that the money James and his brothers inherited from their uncle Abraham increased their status and enabled their own children to prosper. James’ eldest daughter married a farmer in 1804. His son James became a schoolmaster, as did the youngest son, Abraham.  So perhaps one of the things James was able to buy for his sons was an education.

Peter also benefited. He inherited land from his uncle Benjamin and got 500 plus a quarter share of the residue of the estate from Abraham. He took up farming and left his sons Robert and Abraham to carry on the joinery business in Little Ribston. He was a staunch Methodist, having been described as a Methodist preacher when he married in 1780. This was a period of rapid expansion of the Methodist Church with many new chapels being built. Peter, with other local Methodists, was involved in the purchase of land to build new chapels. On 27th June 1815 he and others purchased land at Cherry Gart, Knaresborough, almost certainly to build a chapel, although this is not stated. Peter is described as a “gentleman”. (Wakefield Deeds GH 138). 

Methodist Chapel in Little RibstonOn 7th May 1817 another group including Peter purchased land in the Low Field Close at Boston Spa with the intention of “now erecting and building a certain Chapel or Meeting House for the Worship and Service of God”. (Wakefield Deeds GN 644). Then on 17th March 1818 we find Peter as the lead name on the deed to purchase land in Little Ribston “on which piece or parcel of land a chapel or meeting house in which divine worship is intended to be performed…”  (Wakefield Deeds GS 577).

No doubt Peter’s inherited wealth enabled him to contribute financially and enhance his status in the community, as well as putting the joinery business on a sound footing.

Read the Will