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Christopher Dawson

Christopher Holdsworth Dawson (1770 – 1865) (Son of Rev Joseph Dawson)

Christopher Holdsworth Dawson was the son of Rev Joseph Dawson and Rachel Lofthouse. At the time of his birth his father Joseph Dawson was a minister at Idle, in Bradford.

Joseph was born ‘in very humble circumstances’ but his intelligence attracted the attention of a gentleman in his neighbourhood who raised enough money to send him to the Daventry Academy. The Acadamy had been set up by dissenters who were prevented from attending Oxford or Cambridge. Joseph Priestley attended the Academy and so did Dawson. They became acquaintances and good friends but the timing of this is not certain.

Joseph Priestley had been born in Birstall. He was the man who discovered oxygen (dephlogisticated air) in 1774 and through his experiments invented soda water. Priestley mixed with men who laid the foundations of the Industrial Revolution, men such as James Watt, Matthew Boulton, Josiah Wedgewood and Erasmus Darwin (Charles Darwin’s grandfather) along with many other men of great distinction. They met frequently around the dinner table to discuss science, religion, and industry. Priestley was described as a radical polymath, his knowledge spanned many subjects, he took a great interest in science and religion, and he published many books and papers on subjects as far ranging as electricity and English grammar. In 1765 Priestley was awarded an LL.D. from the University of Edinburgh for his educational and literary accomplishments whilst teaching at Warrington. In 1766 he was elected a member of the Royal Society.

Priestley was appointed minister of Mill Hill Chapel in Leeds from 1767 to 1773 and married the daughter of Isaac Wilkinson (1695-1794) an industrialist who was said to be one of the founders of the iron industry.

By 1770 when Christopher Holdsworth Dawson was born his family were in Idle, Bradford and Joseph Priestley was in Leeds. We don’t know if Christopher’s father kept in touch with Priestley at this time, but it very likely that they did. Priestley carried out many experiments and Joseph Dawson did the same. Enquiring minds would question the world around them, and they would seek to understand the forces of nature. What made up the air around them, electricity, conductivity of materials, lightning, why plants grew as they did, and why an insect died in a certain length of time when enclosed in a glass dome. Joseph Dawson collected minerals from all over the world and amassed a collection of over 2000 specimens. These eventually ended up in Cliffe Castle Museum.

Part of Joseph Dawson’s mineral collection

In 1772 Priestley published a book entitled “The history and present state of discoveries of relating to vision, light and colours” and Rev Joseph Dawson of Idle was one of the subscribers.

When Joseph Dawson became a minister, he found he had to supplement his meagre salary of £40 a year by taking up farming, he worked as a teacher, a doctor, and a coal-master. He was not a success at being a minister, his interests lie elsewhere. However, he made some money by investing in coal mining at Idle and was able to enter into partnership with others to establish the Low Moor company. The company had just taken over the Royds Hall estate.

The Royds Hall estate had been owned by the Rookes family. Coal mining had been established on the estate as early as 1673. The latest member of the Rookes family was Edward Rookes Leedes. He was generating a good income from the estate, in the order of £1000 a year, but he was in debt.

About 1780 a wooden railway was built from the Low Moor mines to the coal yard in the centre of Bradford, and from there coal could be carried via the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Soon after, Leedes went bankrupt. The property was twice offered for sale by auction, in December 1786 and October 1787, but no suitable offer was made. In desperation, and possibly in shame, Leedes took his own life in 1787. What Leedes didn’t realise was there were rich seems of ironstone and the full extent of the coal deposits on his estate were not known. Even if he had known about them, he didn’t possess the skills to take maximum advantage of the situation, but Joseph Dawson did.

In 1788 the estate was sold to a partnership of Richard Hird, a country gentleman, John Preston and John Jarratt for ₤34,000. After some sales of shares the partners were Richard Hird, Joseph Dawson, and John Hardy, a solicitor. Dawson was interested in metallurgy and chemistry and was a prime mover in the enterprise. His education and possibly knowing what Priestley had done with his experiments ensured that he understood the importance of continuing to experiment and research, and better understand the properties of materials and the manufacturing processes. The coal was of the finest quality at Low Moor and low in Sulphur. The partners were fortunate in that they had high quality raw materials in sufficient quantity so that they could produce the best quality iron and make the business a success.

After the partnership had been established in the 1780s Joseph Dawson took up residence at Royds Hall. He conducted experiments in the house and his cook confirmed this, but she didn’t understand the nature of the experiments. The house was kept in the family and after he died in 1813 it was passed down to his eldest son Christopher, along with his shares in the company. Joseph’s Will runs to some five pages and is quite hard to decipher. His mineral collection was left to his six children, to be divided equally. Christopher was to receive the Philosophical instruments, an Air pump and a trough he used for his pneumatic experiments. Joseph got an Electrical Machine, (this was probably something capable of producing static electricity) and the contents of the library table. Martha is to receive a telescope with its mahogany box. The other daughters are to receive a microscope and drawing apparatus which were in two boxes on the shelves.

John James in his book ‘The History of Bradford and its Parish’ written in 1866 has this to say…
“Joseph Dawson esquire one of the first proprietors of Low Moor Iron Works, the father of the present possessor, was an intimate friend of Priestley, and what is worthy of observation, part of the apparatus is yet at Royds Hall with which the great philosopher made his discoveries, respecting the qualities of air and the phenomena of electricity. So long as science is honoured, or genius admired, the name of Priestley, despite groveling intellects will be had in green remembrance.”

An article in the Garden Magazine 3rd Feb 1894 shows this engraving of Royds Hall and says “The manor of Royds Hall which was purchased in 1788 by the Low Moor Co. After the estate passed to this company Royds Hall became the residence of Mr. Joseph Dawson, one of the partners, ‘a man of philosophic, sagacious mind, who first discovered and directed attention to the mineral riches of Low Moor’ During his residence at Royds Hall the mansion became a rendezvous of scientific men. Mr. Dawson was a friend of Priestley, and botany was a famous study at the hall.”

William Cudworth in his book Round about Bradford published in 1876 had this to say. “He was the friend of Priestley, the electrician, and acquainted with most of the philosophers of the period. Royds Hall was at that time the scene of many interesting experiments in natural phenomena. We have the testimony of an old lady who was cook there during Mr Dawsons time, that ‘he had many curious things in his room to try experiments with that she didn’t understand.’”

Joseph Dawson’s fortune amounted to some £150,000 which today would be worth approximately £24 million.

In 1800 Joseph had presented an essay to principal iron masters of Derby and York at Bradford. The subject was ‘The effect of air and moisture in blast furnaces’ He was president of the Leeds Philosophical Society and president of the Yorkshire and Derbyshire Iron Masters Association.

Amongst other things the Low Moor Company made cannon, which were used in the Crimean war. By 1863 they were employing 3,600 people at the works including 1,993 miners, 420 furnacemen, 770 forgemen and 323 engineers.

The 1851 census shows us that Christopher aged 78 was living at Royds Hall with sisters Rachel aged 80 and Mary aged 74 and daughter Eliza aged 37.

Rachel, who never married died on the 17th April 1859, Mary on 31st March 1865 and Christopher 4th June 1865. All three are buried in the family grave at Undercliffe Cemetery. There was a plaque at Unitarian Chapel in Chapel Lane, Bradford (Toad Lane Chapel) to commemorate the family and it was thought that Christopher was buried there but this is not the case.

There are numerous interesting stories associated with Royds Hall and the Low Moor Company, we have selected just a few.

Apprentices absconded

The Leeds Mercury 6th June 1812 reported.

“Whereas John Tarpin, William Harper and George Halliday. Apprentices to Messrs Jarratt, Dawson and Hardy, Low Moor Iron Works have absconded from the service of the masters:

Notice is hereby given,
That whoever employs the said Apprentices will be prosecuted; and that whoever will apprehend the said Apprentices, or any of them, and lodge them in any of his Majesty’s Gaols, shall be well Rewarded for their trouble, by the said Messrs. Jarratt, Dawson and Hardy.

John Tarpin is 18 years of age, 4 feet 10 inches high, and has a large scar on his left hand; had on a Corbeau Cloth Jacket, Woollen Cord Wastcoat, and Cotton Breeches.
William Harper is 19 years of age, 5 feet 2 inches high, red hair and grey eyes; had on a cloth Corbeau Coat, Woollen Cord waistcoat and Cotton Breeches.
George Halliday is 15 years of age, 4 feet 10 inches hgh, light hair, had on a Corbeau Jacket and woollen cord waistcoat. “
We assume that George had some trousers but it doesn’t say what type.

Death sentence or transportation ?

In 1816 the counting house at Low Moor Iron Works had been broken into and some bills of exchange had been stolen. The company offered a £50 reward to anyone who could provide information that may lead to the conviction of the offender or offenders.

The Stamford Mercury 9th August 1816 reported on several cases that came to court.

“John Wragg, Thomas Baxter, Richard Newton and Luke Laycock, charged by George Leif of Sheffield, watchmaker, with breaking open his shop, and stealing a quantity of watches. Guilty – Death. Benjamin Marsh, an accomplice, admitted evidence.

Squire Lister of Halifax charged upon the oath of William Taylor with assaulting and robbing him upon the highway on the 28th May, last. Guilty – Death.

Edmund Lord and Benjamin Hindley charged with breaking into the counting house of Messrs Jarratt, Dawson and Hardy of the Low Moor Iron Works on the 22nd April and stealing therefrom bills of exchange to a large amount. Guilty – To be transported for seven years.”

Did Jarratt, Dawson and Hardy have any influence over the sentence? Maybe they wanted the judge to be more lenient and not give the death sentence.

The Family

Christopher Holdsworth Dawson Snr had married Eliza Dean in 1807 and they had at least four children, Joseph, John, Christopher and Eliza.

Christopher Holdsworth Dawson Jnr (Grandson of Rev Joseph Dawson)

Christophers son also called Christopher Holdsworth Dawson married Emma Carter the daughter of William Elmsall Carter whose residence was Weston Hall in Otley. Carter had inherited the Weston estate from William Vavasour in 1833. William Elmsall Carter of Weston Hall died in 1834 and his wife Susan Carter nee Greenwood married Samuel Jeyes in August 1838, he was a doctor and his father a solicitor. Susan Greenwood’s father was a Banker. Both Susan and Samuel are shown to be living at Weston Hall . Susan died in 1845. The estate must have been still been with the Carter family.

Emma’s brother was William Vavasour Carter who married Elizabeth Cunliffe Lister, the daughter of Ellis Cunliffe Lister, and sister to Samuel Lister of Manningham Mills.
Emma’s sister was Susan Carter and she married William Millthorpe Spence in 1851 They lived in a country house called Dean Field House which was later known as Weston Manor.

In 1851 Christopher and Emma were living at Beamsley Hall in the parish of Skipton and Christopher had taken up farming. They had two sons William Christopher Dawson and Walter Stopham Dawson.

Christopher Holdsworth Dawson Jnr died in 1869. The 1871 census shows Emma as head of household at Weston Hall and Landowner. Also at the address were daughters Emma aged 12 and Eliza aged 9, and son Walter Stopham Dawson aged 7.

Emma died in 1880 and the estate must have been passed down to their eldest son William Christopher Dawson.

William Christopher Dawson 1857-1912 (Great Grandson of Rev Joseph Dawson)

The 1881 census shows us that it was William Christopher Dawson that was head of household at Weston Hall, he was 23 years of age. Also at the address were his brother Walter aged 17 and his two sisters Emma aged 22 and Eliza aged 19. All the old staff shown in the 1871 census were gone, and William recruited a completely new set of staff. This may have taken place over a ten year period, but it could also have happened quite quickly after Emma’s death. Taking into account the ages of the new staff, as shown in the 1881 census, it is more likely that when his mother died he dispensed with all the old staff and recruited new staff. What is remarkable about this household is that there were ten members of staff, nine of which were under the age of 25. There was the butler aged 24, two pages aged 15, two grooms aged 22 and 18, one laundry maid aged 21, two housemaids aged 20 and 18, one kitchen maid aged 18, and one scullery maid aged 14. Last but not least there was the Cook, Anne Sharpe, aged 50.

The Plaque and stained-glass windows dedicated to Emma Dawson at All Saints Church, Weston, both depicting the Redcar lifeboat. The lifeboat station at Redcar (now the Zetland Lifeboat museum), and the lifeboat were funded by the philanthropy of Emma Dawson and the United Order of Free Gardeners, the boat being named ‘Emma’ in her honour. It actually operated independently of the RNLI from 1877 to 1884

According to the Leeds Mercury 8th June 1912 William Christopher Dawson joined the volunteers when he was eighteen and by 1881 he was promoted to the rank of Captain of the Otley Company. He was subsequently given charge of the Leeds Engineers of which the Otley Company were part. For fifteen years he commanded this battalion. He was promoted to Colonel. He did a great deal to promote the volunteer movement in Wharfedale and allowed them to use the Drill Hall free of charge, and also the use of the Weston Hall estate for their manoeuvres. He was a keen sportsman. He owned extensive grouse moors and the Dawsons owned a house in Egelsbach, Germany where they took their holidays and rented hunting grounds. In 1890 he formed a pack of Otter Hounds that for some time regularly hunted the Wharfe.

Both Royds Hall and Weston Hall are privately owned and are not open to the public.

There is so much history to the Dawson family, to Royds Hall, Weston Hall and the Low Moor Company and this article does not do justice to it all, however, if you require more information the West Yorkshire Archives have a certain amount of material, and there is lots more on the Internet and in old documents that might be stored elsewhere. A local historian has pointed out to me that you cannot always trust what the old history books say. She is right of course, but to take this research back to first principles and seek out the original documents would take a very long time, and we will leave that for others to do.

Christopher Holdsworth Dawson’s grave in is Uncon B458

Research by Steve Lightfoot 2021

Census information
British Newspaper archive.
History of Bradford and its Parish by John James 1866
Fortunes made in Business c1880s
William Cudworth Round about Bradford 1876
The Garden Magazine 1894
Information from the plaques at All Saints Church at Weston
Telegraph and Argus 21st April 2005

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