Cover

Contents

Page 44

Previous <

Next >

 

 

The Birtwhistles of Craven and Galloway

 

 

 

 

 

Even on the basis of the few works discussed here, it is clear that she was an important writer of the Regency Period, writing satirically and subtly on feminist issues. Now that all her contributions to the European Magazine may be downloaded from the web, her work has become more accessible and easier to research than at any time since her death.  To date, no one has attempted to assess her work in its entirety, and it is hoped that this newly discovered background information about  Anna and her  extraordinary extended family may  tempt someone to provide us with a more comprehensive literary assessment. 

 

 

Birtwhistle vs Vardill, a celebrated inheritance  dispute ( 1823-1841)

 

The protracted inheritance dispute which followed William Birtwhistle’s death in 1819 is one of the most important sources of information about  the Birtwhistle  droving business in the previous century. Their story is of more than family interest, since the Birtwhistles were important players in a poorly documented industry which changed the economy of northern Britain in the second half of the 18th century. Taking a broader view, Birtwhistle vs Vardill is also important because it changed inheritance law in England, and in a number of other countries. The constitutional aspects of the inheritance dispute are simple, although many of the finer details are complicated by the nature of the Birtwhistle estate. Although John Birtwhistle had  left his property to his sons as tenants-in-common in 1787, some of his children had purchased additional property in their own right, and William Birtwhistle had failed to define properly who should inherit his freehold property. Alexander was the only Birtwhistle brother to marry the mother of his children and, although all the children of the three brothers received bequests, Agnes Vardill, as the surviving offspring of John Birtwhistle, was regarded as the heir at law of the residual estate. These details are however less important to us  than the fact that the Birtwhistle estate in Craven was kept intact by the inheritance dispute until the 1840s, when tithe surveys reveal details of the Craven estate used by the droving business in the previous century on a field by field basis.

A letter from Anna in Skipton to Mary Flaxman on 26th April 1819 suggests that, although her uncle William was still alive, his lawyers were already hinting that she and her mother were to be  the main beneficiary of his estate…my uncle whose life still hangs on a thread has two attornies who have manifested great zeal and alacrity on our behalf.

John Purdie Birtwhistle, Alexander Birtwhistle’s 20 year old son, who was to become the plaintiff in Birtwhistle vs Vardill, was already resident in the neighbourhood, but had left on their arrival.. our young Scotch relative  has thought fit  since our arrival to relinquish the splendid establishment he has set up in the neighbourhood and to take a tour abroad for the benefit of his health, we do not apprehend that any appeal will be necessary to a court of law. The splendid establishment in which John Birtwhistle was living with his young wife, his cousin Martha, was Beamsley Hall in the Wharfe valley, where they were attended by 11 servants. Little did Anna realise that the Birtwhistle inheritance dispute would only be resolved in the House of Lords in 1841, and the estate divided in 1847.

Anna’s next letter advised Mary Flaxman on 25th May 1819 that her uncle had died and that my uncle’s will contains only what the case stated, a disposition of all the lands he inherited from his father in favour of his brother by whose death they fall to the heir- at- law.  Although Agnes Vardill was now the heir- at- law, she was an invalid who spent most of her time in bed; in reality it was Anna Vardill who was the heir- at- law to the Birtwhistle estate.

     We do not know precisely where Agnes and Anna Vardill stayed when summoned to Skipton in 1819, except that it was at the top of the High Street and close to the Parish church, whose bells disturbed Anna when doing “family accounts”. On subsequent visits to Skipton the Vardills stayed at Mill House with their friends the Kings, the Skipton corn millers. (Mill House is the house in sunlight just to the left of the church tower in figure 30).

 

 

 

 

 

Cover

Contents

Page 44

Previous <

Next >