My 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Collins, née Gibson, married her second husband, my 5 x great grandfather Joseph Holdsworth, on 20 May 1763, at the church of St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey. After their marriage, Joseph and Elizabeth lived in the village of South Weald, near Brentwood in Essex, where their children Elizabeth (1764), John (1765), Henry (1766), Sarah (1767), Joseph (1770), William (1771, my 4 x great grandfather) and Godfrey (1773), were born and baptised.

St Peter's church, South Weald (via geograph)

What do we know about Joseph Holdsworth? From the parish register of St Peter’s, South Weald, we know that he was buried there on 7 June 1795 and that he was 60 years old at the time of his death, meaning that he was born in about 1735. (So he was about 28 years old when he married Elizabeth, who was about 30.) Thanks to research by my fellow family historians and distant relatives, Ron Roe and Adrian Holdsworth, we also know that Joseph was a member of the leet jury and vestry committee in South Weald, that he took and later discharged an apprentice by the name of John Smith, and that he was at different times a tenant of land owned by one Thomas Moss (a miller), and by a Miss Taylor.

But where did Joseph come from? Our information about the earlier generations of the Holdsworth family derives from research conducted in the late nineteenth century, firstly by Joseph Cook, who was married to Lydia Holdsworth, a descendant of Joseph and Elizabeth’s son Godfrey, and then by James Joseph Holdsworth, a descendant of their son Joseph. Both were trying to prove a family claim to an estate in Yorkshire, and they drew on the memories of surviving Holdsworths to trace the family’s origins in that county.

Old map of South Weald, Essex

James Joseph Holdsworth composed the first Holdsworth family tree. At the top of the tree is ‘John or Joseph Holdsworth’, supposedly father to John, Sarah, Joseph, Henry, William and Godfrey (Elizabeth is not mentioned: presumably because she didn’t survive to adulthood). According to a note beside his name, John or Joseph ‘came from Yorkshire and took a farm in Essex near Brentwood, married a Miss Mortimer’. Elsewhere on the tree there is this note: ‘John Mortimer left it to his 6 cousins (5 brothers 1 sister) children of John or Joseph Holdsworth’.

This is puzzling. We know that the father of these children was definitely Joseph and that his wife’s name was Elizabeth. It seems likely that two people, probably a father and son, are being confused here. In fact, Ron and Adrian have found occasional mentions of a John Holdsworth, as well as Joseph, in the South Weald records.  While we can’t yet be sure, it’s feasible that it was a John Holdsworth who married ‘Miss Mortimer’, and that they had a son named Joseph.

Ron Roe has found a family in the Calderdale district of Yorkshire whose details match what we know about the Holdsworths who ended up in South Weald. On 25 November 1725 John Holdsworth, a husbandman, married Mary Mortimer, a spinster from Shelf, at the church of St John the Baptist, Halifax (now Halifax Minster). Their marriage is also mentioned in the Northowram Register, an eighteenth-century record of Nonconformist births, marriages and deaths, which provides the additional information that John Holdsworth lived at Sowood House, and that Mary was the daughter of John Mortimer of Shelf.  Although we can’t be absolutely certain that this is the right family, their Nonconformist affiliation fits with what we know of the later Holdsworth generations.

1843 map showing Northowram and surrounding area, Yorkshire

The village of Shelf is about a mile to the north-east of Northowram, which is itself only two or three miles from Halifax. There are a number of buildings with the name Sowood House in the general area, but the most likely candidate is in the neighbouring village of Coley, which forms a triangle with Northowram and Shelf, being only a few miles from both (see above map).

Standing at the junction of Coley Road and Soaper House Lane, Sowood House is a Grade II listed building, constructed in the mid-seventeenth century. Its official description runs as follows:

Thin coursed hammer-dressed stone, partly rendered, stone slate roof. 4 plan, 2 storeys. Hall and cross-wings with through passage. 4-bay front with doorway with segmental arch and composite jambs. All are double chamfered mullioned windows except 1st bay where they have been altered. The remainder are of 5 lights to ground floor and of 6, 2, 3 and 5 above, each of those in the last bay having lost the outer mullions, but retaining hoodmoulds. Coped gables with kneelers and rainwater spouts. Rear retains original 5-light windows to both floors of left hand wing and similar doorway to through passage. One lateral stack to right hand wing and one other stack to ridge on line of through passage wall and one to gable of main range.

These photographs provide aerial views of the house:

And this is a photograph of Sowood House from ground level (via flickr):

If this turns out to be the home of John Holdsworth, father of Joseph (and thus my 6 x great grandfather), then it would be the second listed building that I’ve found with links to my family history.

According to other family trees at Ancestry, John and Mary Holdsworth had five children, of whom Joseph was the second, but I’ve yet to review this information. There are a number of possible baptisms in the West Yorkshire parish registers that match Joseph’s details, and I’ll write about these another time.

The recent addition of West Yorkshire parish records to the Ancestry site, together with my discovery this week of a source for Yorkshire wills, opens up the possibility of tracing this branch of my family back to the early 18th century and perhaps beyond. Watch this space!

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