Morrell family in Scotton, Yorkshire – upwardly mobile?

In Emma Rothschild’s 2011 book The Inner Life of Empires: an eighteenth-century history, she investigates the history of one (large) Scottish family – the Johnstones. She describes it as a “microhistory”, but a “large history in relation to space” (several members travelled and lived overseas, many were slave owners); “a history of individuals of diverse legal conditions and social classes… it is a history of economic life, of political ideas, of slavery, and of family relationships…. It is an exploration of new ways of connecting the microhistories of individuals and families to the larger scenes of which they were a part.” (pp. 6-7)[1]

This is the kind of history I would like to do with my families, but on the smaller scale of blog posts! Unfortunately, I don’t have the sort of material evidence she had for the Johnstones – letters, legal cases, etc. Most of my ancestors were of the poorer classes, some signed their marriage certificates with their mark, so presumably hadn’t learned to write. But with limited evidence and on this smaller scale, I’ll attempt a microhistory of two generations of my Morrell ancestors who lived in or near the small Yorkshire village of Scotton in the nineteenth century.

Scotton is a small village in the Harrogate district of Yorkshire with a population of 624 at the 2011 Census, and whose main claim to fame according to Wikipedia was as the home (at some point in his life) of Guy Fawkes, the gunpowder plotter who attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605.[2] It is near Knaresborough, Harrogate and north of Leeds and north-west of York.


Scotton Hall.PNG

Old postcard of Scotton Hall, from Lost Scotton website: 

I briefly visited the village in the 1990s to search for possible ancestors in the cemetery! I took these photos:

Scotton 1994 photos

The stone building is now part of the Guy Fawkes Arms as seen in this Google street view (along with another street view looking towards the pub):


I didn’t have time to find scenic paths or sample the delights of the river Nidd:

“The river Nidd runs to the south of the village, and there are some beautiful woodland paths that take the walker along its banks. Near the old flax mill there is an impressive weir to add interest to a stroll in the countryside. The Nidd is a healthy river, providing those in search of sport with the opportunity in season to catch trout, grayling, barbel and pike, as well as smaller coarse species.”[3]

There weren’t many houses in the mid-19th century as this ordnance map shows:

Scotton ordnance survey 19th century.PNG

1858 Ordnance survey of Scotton area. Map credit: GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of Scotton, in Harrogate and West Riding | Map and description, A Vision of Britain through Time:

There were 74 houses in Scotton in 1881.[4] The total population in the late 19th century and early 20th hovered around 250 to 300.[5] Most of the male population in 1881 was engaged in agriculture.

Scotton occupations 1881.PNG

Source for table: GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, Scotton CP/Tn through time | Industry Statistics | Occupation data classified into the 24 1881 Orders; plus sex, A Vision of Britain through Time. URL: Date accessed: 23rd March 2016

My ancestors were no exception – most of them worked in agriculture.

The two generations of my Morrell ancestors who lived in this area of Yorkshire both seem to have risen from labourers or servants to be farmers. Both were called William, so I will add ‘sr’ (senior) and ‘jr’ (junior) to their names. Many of the same names come up in each generation – William and Samuel being particularly common. I have bolded the people who are my direct ancestors. Being described as a farmer doesn’t necessarily mean they owned the land – in fact they rented the land and are best described as tenant farmers.[6] Nevertheless, it suggests some improvement in circumstances from an agricultural labourer. I’ll start with the younger William.

William Morrell jr was christened on 7 Nov 1824 at Staveley, Yorkshire and died on 10 June 1890 and he is buried in Scotton. He married Sarah Coulson in Brearton (more on her later) on 9 July 1843.[7] This couple were my great-great-grandparents. He signed the certificate with his mark. The witnesses were his mother Hannah and Sarah’s grandfather, John Warf (sometimes spelled Wharf or Wharff).

William and Sarah’s nine children were born from about 1844 to 1860 – the eldest (Ellen) and youngest (Isabel) in Brearton; six in Scotton, including my great-grandfather Samuel who was born on 21 November 1850; and one (John) in Scriven, c. 1854.[8] Brearton and Scriven are both close to Scotton (Brearton a little to the north, and Scriven closer to Knaresborough).

William was listed as a labourer on Samuel’s birth certificate in 1850 and in the 1851 census he was described as a gardener when they were living in Scotton.[9] In 1861 he was an agricultural labourer and they were living at 34 Town Street, Scotton. I assume Town Street is probably what is now called Main Street. They had seven children living with them. At 39 Town Street was Sarah Ann Morrell (most likely their daughter), aged 14, a servant in the house of William Thackray. At 33 Town Street were John (aged 80) and Sarah (82) Wharff, the grandparents of Sarah Morrell (nee Coulson).

At 32 Town Street was an Elizabeth Morrell, a widow aged 61, born in Knaresborough and an agricultural labourer, with her niece also an Elizabeth Morrell (aged 14, born in Scotton and who worked at the flax mill) and four-year old Mary Almond, described as a boarder.[10] The family of John and Mary Almond were listed next to William Morrell on the 1851 census, and in 1881 William and Sarah Morrell had a 16-year old Samuel Almond as a servant; so I assume these are related Almonds. At this stage, I don’t know how or if this Elizabeth is connected to ‘my’ Morrells.

Interestingly, but perhaps just a coincidence, one of Guy Fawkes’s sisters, Elizabeth, married William Dickenson of Scotton in 1594. Over 250 years later there is a Richard Dickensen living at Scotton Hall (1851 census) and in 1861 two Morrells are servants in his house.[11]

In 1871 William Morrell jr was a farmer of 44 acres. I don’t know how he has moved from being an agricultural labourer to a farmer, but perhaps he inherited something from his mother who died in 1864. I found his first appearance on the electoral roll for 1869, his qualification for voting being described as “farm as occupier” in Scotton.

In 1871 his son Samuel (aged 20) was not living at home. I believe he was living in Leeds – a 20-year old Samuel Morrell, bricklayer, born at Scotton was a boarder in the home of Mary Pullan (wife of a builder) at 48 Elmwood Street. Her father Samuel Morrell, 67, widower born in Pannal (was a butter factor – a buying and selling agent) and her brother Samuel and sister Jane also lived there. I have a little more information about this family, but as yet I don’t know if Samuel (my great-grandfather) was connected to them, although it seems likely there was some relationship given he is boarding with them. Mary Pullan was to die on 8 February 1876 aged only 42; she was the wife of John Pullan and eldest daughter of Samuel Morrell of Holme Bottom, Nidd (Nidd isn’t far from Scotton); as reported in the York Herald on 21 Feb 1876.

In 1881 William jr (aged 56) was living at New House Farm in Brearton, a farmer of 190 acres – it would seem he did well over his lifetime. Eldest daughter Ellen (unmarried, aged 35), Walter (20) and Isabel (18) were living at home and the 16-year-old servant, Samuel Almond was living with them.[12] William’s father had died in 1878 so perhaps he received some inheritance from him (William jr was the oldest son); however, as we will see below, William (senior) had a young second family and I assume he would have wanted to provide for them (but perhaps any assistance ceased if his widow remarried, which she did).

William jr appears in the Brearton electoral roll from 1877 as being a farm occupier at rent of £50 and upwards. In the 1879 electoral roll William Morrell ‘of Scotton’ is described as having copyhold houses in Roecliffe, occupied by Edward Nicholson and another. Copyhold is an old feudal term of land tenure ‘held according to the custom of the manor’.[13] It was a written copy of what the tenant had agreed with the landlord (or his steward) as written down in  manor records. It was a tenancy usually for three ‘lives’ – so it may include parents and the eldest son, or father son and daughter, for example, and lasted until the last one died. However, I found no further references to Morrells and copyhold in other electoral rolls.

I took a photo of what I’m sure must be William and Sarah’s headstone when I was in Scotton – it says William, aged 65, of Brearton died 1890 June 10th aged 65.

Morrell at Scotton 1994.JPG

In the 1891 census the widowed Sarah, aged 67 was a farmer living in Brearton with her unmarried daughter Ellen, aged 46, also described as a farmer. Sarah died 18 May 1897.


William jr’s father was another William Morrell, and his mother was Hannah Barker.[14] These two were my great-great-great-grandparents.

This William was christened in 1803 (maybe September 29) at Staveley and died on 8 June 1878.[15] Hannah was born about 1797 or ’98 at Scotton, and died on November 6 1864 at Scotton. They are both buried at Farnham. Their six children were born at Staveley (William jr) or Ferrensby (the rest).

It is likely William and Hannah lived apart much of the time at least until 1854 – William was described as a servant and manservant at two of his children’s baptisms (in 1827 and 1830). William was living at Scriven Hall in the 1841 census and Hannah was living in Ferrensby, listed as a farmer. She had three children living with her and 20-year-old Henry Barker (her brother) – a cattle dealer. In the 1851 census William (aged 47) was a house servant and huntsman, living at Scriven Hall, Scriven Park, in the house of Charles Slingsby, a 26-year-old unmarried “baronet and proprietor of farm”. Hannah (described as “wife of huntsman”) was living in Ferrensby – with two sons and her granddaughter Ellen Morrell (aged 6) – eldest daughter of William jr. Sir Charles Slingsby  drowned while out hunting in 1869. [16]

Scriven Hall photos.PNG

Postcards of Scriven Hall (credit: from this site:–files/talks-and-exhibtions/9029.pdf )

 In 1854 William sr first appears in the electoral roll for Scotton, living at Moor House and an occupier of a farm paying at least £50 rent. Could it be that his father had died and left him some inheritance, or perhaps he was just a good saver? As yet, I don’t know when his father died.

By the 1861 census William and Hannah were living together at Moor End House, Scotton and William was described as a farmer – they had an 8 year old granddaughter living with them, so this may have been a common practice. Hannah died in 1864 and by 1871 William, aged 66, had remarried. His 22 year old wife, Emma Amelia, and two servants were living with him – George Smith and Ann Morrell, aged 12 born at Copgrove. He was still a farmer of 70 acres. He continues to appear in the electoral rolls until 1877 as a farm occupier of rent at £50 or more. This would seem to be another example of going from servant to farmer over a couple of decades.

An interesting family story related to me concerned a much younger second wife, who was a servant that one of the sons had got pregnant but refused to marry, so his father did! This could be William (aged 66) and his young wife Emma Amelia (22). In 1871 one of William sr’s unmarried sons, Henry (aged 35) was living with his sister Hannah Gibson and her family in Ferrensby (he had been living with his parents in 1861). Could this have been the wayward son who wouldn’t marry the servant? If the story has any factual basis, there is a tragic irony in that the child died at 10 days old. She was buried with William’s first wife Hannah. I have found what I think is William (‘aged 60’) and Emma Amelia Sadler’s (‘aged 21’) marriage certificate (13 December 1869) – if it is, they married in Leeds and his occupation is given as railway porter. (The child Emily was born and died five months later). Their names and ages almost match as does the name of his father (Samuel), but the location and his occupation are something of a mystery! Could he have been a railway porter in 1869, whereas he was described as a farmer in 1861 and 1871, or was he trying to hide something?

William sr and second wife Emma Amelia had five children before he died in 1878. Emily, the first, as mentioned, died young. At the 1881 census the living children were Emma Morrell (aged 9), Maria Morrell (6), Serena Ingham Morrell (4), and Stephen Morrell (aged 2) and Emma Amelia had an 8 month old daughter, Amelia Morland with her current husband Frederick Morland, aged 31, a farmer born in Ferrensby. At the 1891 census Emma’s mother Serena Sadler, a widow of 72, was living with them (but “living on her own means”). The five children (four Morrells and one Morland) had been joined by five-year old sister Alice Morland. The family has moved a short distance to Bishop Monkton and they had two servants. Another Morland family lived next door. In the 1911 census children Maria (aged 36), Serena (35), Stephen (32), Amelia (30) and Alice (25) are all unmarried and living on the farm.

William and Hannah’s headstone in Farnham says: “In memory of Hannah Morrell of Scotton, who departed this life Nov 6th 1864 aged 67 years… Also Emily, daughter of William and Amelia Morrell, who died May 14th 1870, aged 10 days. Also of the above named William Morrell who died June 8th 1878 aged 76 years.”. The other two photos show the Farnham cemetery, church and the pub across the road (taken by me in the 1990s).


In August 2017, Jim Bradley, who is connected with the Barkers, got in touch via my website and gave me the following information about Hannah Morrell (nee Barker). Hannah, recorded as ‘Hanay’ was baptised 29 Oct 1797 at Farnham to father William Barker. [A transcription of the Farnham records can be found here.] Other siblings of Hannah included William, baptised 28 Dec 1800; Sarah baptised 21 Apr 1805; and Henry baptised 31 Aug 1817 to parents William and Ellen.  The parents’ burials are recorded as: William Barker age 56 – burial 23 Mar 1834, Farnham; Ellen Barker age 59 – burial 14 Nov 1836, Farnham. There is a will for William Barker, farmer of Scotton dated 13 Feb 1833 and proved 1835 (but not sighted). However there is a late probate proved 5 June 1844 for his wife Ellen with the administrators named as William Barker, Henry Barker and Hannah Morrell. Her estate was valued at under £20, “though from the size of William’s farm I suspect the value of his estate was much higher. Her date of death was recorded as 14 November 1838 on that document rather than 1836”.


I said I would come back to Sarah Coulson (wife of William jr). Their son Samuel Morrell (born in Scotton, became a bricklayer and inventor) married Susannah (nee Tankard) in Leeds in 1878. There is an ‘empire’ connection as they emigrated to New Zealand in 1880 and were to become my great-grandparents. See my post on Morrells in Wellington for more information about them.

Samuel’s parents were William Morrell jr, who I began this post with and Sarah Coulson (christened on 26 Oct 1823, in Scotton and died 18 May 1897.) This is despite Samuel’s death certificate saying his mother’s maiden name was Fawcett. The confusion arose because Sarah Coulson’s mother Isabella remarried Walter Fawcett after her husband John Coulson died. Isabella and John had seven children – Sarah was the oldest – before John died in 1839. Isabella and Walter married on 1 April 1840 – she was 38 and a widow and he was 65 and a widower. In the 1841 census, Isabella (Fawcett), ‘aged 35’ [ages were rounded in the 1841 census], was married to Walter Fawcett ‘aged 65’, a farmer, and living with them were her seven Coulson children (aged 15 to 2).

The marriage to Walter Fawcett was probably a lifeline for the young widowed Isabella with the seven children to support. It seems that over time the children took Fawcett as their surname.[17]  In the 1861 census Isabella was a widow aged 58, a farmer occupying 90 acres. Two sons and a daughter (now called Fawcett) were living with her. And in the 1881 census, Isabella aged 79, lived with her unmarried son Joseph Fawcett, aged 50, who is the ‘head of the household’ and a farmer of 40 acres. In 1861 and 1881 they lived in Brearton. Despite Joseph being ‘head’ and a voter in the 1877 electoral roll for Brearton where he was described as having ‘house and land’, Isabella Fawcett was given as the owner. So she (presumably) also did well from her second marriage.

(August 2017) In looking through the Farnham records (link given above) I also found the marriage record for Isabella’s parents – John Wharf and Sarah Jackson of Farnham parish married by banns on 9 November 1801. Isabella, daughter of John Wharf (publican) was baptised 20 June 1802. In 1806 her sister Elizabeth was baptised (23 Feb) but was unfortunately buried on 6 Nov 1808. On 31 Jan 1808 sister Ann was baptised and on 25 Dec 1810 son John was baptised, but he was buried on 10 April 1812.


This rather briefly covers some of the relationships among families in this small area and how two generations of Morrells appear to have improved their economic circumstances from labourers or servants to farmers. Nevertheless, there is still much to be discovered about this family in this area and I may update this post or do further ones as my research progresses.


[1] Emma Rothschild, The Inner Life of Empires: an eighteenth-century history, Princeton University Press, 2011. I was introduced to this book in a talk from Charlotte MacDonald, historian at Victoria University of Wellington.

[2] Wikipedia entry on Scotton, Harrogate:,_Harrogate. But the entry on Guy Fawkes is vague as to when he lived here: “In 1579, when Guy was eight years old, his father died. His mother remarried several years later, to the Catholic Dionis Baynbrigge (or Denis Bainbridge) of Scotton, Harrogate”. He probably only lived in Scotton for a few years around 1590:

[3] accessed 24 March 2016

[4] GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, Scotton CP/Tn through time | Housing Statistics | Total Houses, A Vision of Britain through Time. URL: Date accessed: 23rd March 2016

[5] Vision of Britain:

[6] Here is a definition “Tenant farming, agricultural system in which landowners contribute their land and a measure of operating capital and management while tenants contribute their labour with various amounts of capital and management, the returns being shared in a variety of ways. Payment to the owner may be in the form of a share in the product, or in cash, or in a combination of both.”

[7] I am reasonably sure the baptism date and headstone relate to this William (my ancestor) but I need to confirm that. I have a copy of their wedding certificate.

[8] These places and approximate dates come from information given on census forms, except for Samuel, whose birth certificate I have.

[9] A William Morrell (aged about 15) was living in the house of James Fletcher in Scotton in the 1841 census (this may be ‘my’ William). The census form doesn’t say what his role was. Ref: “England and Wales Census, 1841,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 22 March 2016),  database and images, findmypast ( : n.d.); citing PRO HO 107, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey

[10] 1861 census results. I think her late husband was John Morrell and I found them in the 1851 census in Scotton.

[11] Joseph aged 22 and William aged 16, both born in Scriven and both carters. I don’t know if they are connected to me.

[12] An Almond family had lived next door to them at the 1851 census.

[13] See Wikipedia entry: Adam Nicolson, in Earls of Paradise: England and the Dream of Perfection, 2008 also gives quite a lot of information on copyhold. He says that although it was being replaced by leasehold (as early as the mid 1600s in Wiltshire) it wasn’t finally abolished until 1925 (p. 273).

[14] Her surname was Barker, which comes from other people’s research and I’ve yet to see any of the documents confirming it.

[15] I have a copy of his death certificate but still need to confirm the birth details.

[16] According to this website, Sir Charles Slingsby (1824–1869) remained single and the long line of Slingsbys died out: “Scriven Hall was demolished in 1952 or 4 after a fire. The stable block and coach house, impressive in themselves, remain and have been converted into homes”.

[17] My cousin Lyn Price originally made the Coulson/Fawcett connection. I have since confirmed it in census records. It is most likely that John died in 1839 and Isabella Coulson married Walter Fawcett in 1840. I found the records for these events but haven’t got the actual certificates.


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