NOTES ON THE HISTORY OF THORPE HOUSE
Thorpe House, near Triangle, in the Ryburn Valley, is a fine, two-storey ashlar-faced house of five bays, with a stone slate roof. It has an interesting history, as the home of Priestleys and the Rawsons, two families of importance in Sowerby township in days gone by.
In the mid-18th Century, Thorpe Mill was owned by the famous Samuel Hill of Making Place, Soyland, that remarkable pre-industrial-age textile merchant. At that time, there was apparently no residence at Thorpe. In – or soon after – December 1790, George Stansfield of Field House, Sowerby, executor of Hill’s complex will, along with other trustees, sold “Lower Stubbin, in Sowerby, and a Water Fulling Mill called Thorp Mill, in Sowerby, to John Priestley, the younger, of Sowerby, merchant, for £1,260.”
This John Priestley was a younger son of the Priestley family of White Windows, Sowerby. He lived at The Lodge, Pond, on the site of Stansfield Grange, Triangle. He is sometimes described as “of Thorpe”, but never lived there. It seems probable that he planned to build the existing house before his death in 1801, at the age of 46. His wife was Elizabeth Walker of Lightcliffe, aunt to Anne Lister’s friend, Ann Walker. Elizabeth Priestley long outlived her husband, and during her widowhood lived mostly at Thorpe, with her son John and his family. She died at Kebroyd, home of her youngest son, in 1829.
John and Elizabeth Priestley’s eldest surviving son, William (1779-1860), was to become the founder of the Halifax Choral Society; he lived at Lightcliffe, and later moved to Thorp Arch, near Boston Spa.
John and Elizabeth’s second son, John (junior), born in 1784, inherited the Thorpe property, and presumably oversaw the completion of the present house there, which is believed to date from 1804. Together with his youngest brother Walker Priestley, he owned and operated Thorpe Mill nearby, a woollen manufactory. This was rebuilt in the early 19th Century.
On 16th November 1815, John married Marianne Lloyd at the church of Saint Michael-le-Belfrey, York. She was the daughter of Thomas Lloyd, D.L. (1750-1828), of Barrowby Hall, near Leeds, and of Kingthorpe House, near Pickering, Commandant of the Leeds Volunteers during Napoleonic times.
John and Marianne Priestley were to have three children: Elizabeth Marianne born in 1818; she was followed by a son, John, born in November 1821, who died at the age of 11 ½ weeks. In Anne Lister’s diary is this poignant reference: “January 30th 1822: – Mr. John Priestley, of Thorpe, has just had his first and only boy – dead in the house.” Following the loss of her son, Marianne Priestley suffered much ill-health.
Anne Lister was on calling terms with the Priestleys, and on 15th August 1822 she records: “…Set off to call at Pye Nest, Thorpe, and spend the rest of the day at Haugh End. . . . Sat … about half-an-hour with Mrs. John Priestley (Thorpe); got to Haugh End just after their dinner and spent the rest of the day with them…” In October she records: “…Mr. Lloyd’s sister, Mrs. John Priestley (of Thorpe) is slowly recovering from a severe illness. An ossification of the heart was apprehended, but, I suppose, the fear of this is at present subsided. . . .”
On 5th December the following year Marianne gave birth to a second daughter, Harriet Susannah. Three weeks after Harriet’s birth, Marianne died, at the age of 39.
Early in February 1823, a robbery took place following a break-in at the counting house at Thorpe Mill. Cash and banknotes were stolen from a safe, the lock of which had been picked; and John and Walker Priestley immediately issued flyers offering 100 guineas as a reward for information leading to the apprehension of the offenders.
In August 1824, there was a serious fire in the warehouse at Thorpe Mill, after which John Priestley and his brother, Walker, issued handbills, thanking their friends and neighbours for their help in extinguishing the conflagration.
Following Anne Lister’s involvement with Ann Walker, the latter moved into Shibden Hall. This explains the following entry in the Lister diary for 31st December 1834: “Miss Caroline Rawson of Mill-house brought the 2 girls from Thorpe to call on [Ann]; & sat with her 6 minutes enquiring after my aunt & father, but not after Marian or myself…” The two Priestley girls from Thorpe were the children of Ann Walker’s deceased first cousin.
In 1847, Thorpe House and its dependencies were valued at £3,753 8s. 1½d.; and Thorpe Mill, with its appurtenances, at £7,380.
John Priestley never remarried. His only sister Mary (1781-1870) had married William Henry Rawson (1781-1865) of Mill House, nearby. When they grew up, both of Priestley’s daughters were to marry first cousins, sons of this couple. In July 1840, at Halifax Parish Church, Elizabeth Marianne married John Rawson of Brockwell; and in October 1843, at the same church, Harriet Susannah married John’s brother, Frederick Edward Rawson. The latter moved into Thorpe House.
In 1851, John Priestley was “in an infirm state of health” and no longer able to cope with his own affairs. Power of attorney was therefore granted to his Rawson sons-in-law to manage them for him. Mr. Priestley died in 1858; his funeral at Sowerby costing his executors £87 6 shillings, as the surviving bill from Duncans of Halifax informs us. He left nearly £4,000 in his will.
The Thorpe property, including the mill, now passed to Frederick Edward Rawson and his wife, Harriet Elizabeth, who had lived in the house since they were wed. This couple had three children: Frederick Gerard Selwyn, born in 1851; Florence Harriet Marianne, born in 1853; and John Selwyn, born in 1858. Sadly, the daughter died in childhood.
Frederick Edward had also inherited considerable property from his two Priestley uncles who had died without issue. In 1868, he provided Ripponden Church with a new organ; and six years later, his wife Harriet had a stained glass memorial window installed in the same church.
In 1873, Frederick had a new house organ installed at Thorpe House. This stood in the hallway, and was designed by Conacher and Co. of Huddersfield, a well-known firm of Yorkshire organ-builders. The interesting specification for this instrument survives, and indicates that it may have been a partial rebuild. [The organ was moved to Rishworth School in the 1952, with the approval of the Rawson family. Around 1990, it was dismantled, but some of the casing remains in the chapel at that School.]
Frederick Edward Rawson died in 1879; when his will was proved, his estate was valued at almost £80,000. At the time of his death, he was actively planning the erection of the new church of St John the Divine, Thorpe, designed by W. S. Barber of Halifax; but the structure was not yet complete. His widow Harriet took over administration of the project, and saw it through; the church was consecrated on 23rd September 1880, and the family endowed the living liberally. Harriet lived on at Thorpe until her death in 1901.
On the death of Frederick Edward in 1879, Thorpe passed to his elder son, Frederick Gerard Selwyn Rawson, who resided there until his death in 1911. He and his wife, nee Dora Hoggarth, had no children, and in due course the property passed to his brother, John Selwyn Rawson, who lived at Haugh End. He apparently had no use for Thorpe as a residence, and let it out to tenants.
One of these tenants of Thorpe was Arnold Williams, (1890-1958), Liberal MP for Sowerby from 1923 to 1924.
During World War II, Thorpe House served as officers’ quarters for the Royal Engineers; following which it was to lie empty for twelve years; but it was still in the ownership of the Rawson family. In 1957, Thorpe House was purchased from John Selwyn Rawson’s son, Commander Selwyn Rawson, O.B.E., R.N., by Douglas and Jean Kneen. The Kneens had the building fully renovated, converting it into a home for the elderly. In this usage it remained until 1994.The mill has long been in other hands, and has been converted for residential use.
David C Glover – May 2013
On 15th August 1822 “…Set off to call at Pye Nest, Thorpe, and spend the rest of the day at Haugh End. . . . Sat … about half-an-hour with Mrs. John Priestley (Thorpe); got to Haugh End just after their dinner and spent the rest of the day with them.
October 16th, 1822. – “[Wrote] to Miss Maclean. . . . Have told her Mr. Lloyd’s sister, Mrs. John Priestley (of Thorpe) is slowly recovering from a severe illness. An ossification of the heart was apprehended, but, I suppose, the fear of this is at present subsided. . . .” Sibella Maclean’s sister Marion, had been married to Elizabeth Priestley Rawson’s brother, George Lloyd of Cowesby Hall.
 Weds 31st December – “…Miss Caroline Rawson of Mill-house brought the 2 girls from Thorpe to call on A-; & sat with her 6 minutes enquiring after my aunt & father, but not after Marian or myself.
 June 19th “…Then to Haugh End. Sat with Mrs. Henry Priestley from 2.25. to 2.55; found her pretty well, but nervous at first on seeing us for the first time since her husband’s death. Then to Thorpe, and sat with Miss Priestley (her father gone to his farm in Norland).
Frederick Edward Rawson, the fourth son of William Henry and Mary Rawson, was born in 1821. He married in 1843 Harriet Susanna, daughter of John Priestley, of Thorpe and his wife Marianne, the latter being the daughter of Thomas Lloyd, of Kingthorpe House, York. Frederick E. Rawson succeeded his father-in-law, John Priestley, in the occupation of Thorpe, which came to the Rawsons by marriage into the Priestley family. St. John’s Church at Thorpe, near Triangle, owes its foundation to Mr. F. E. Rawson, who, however, did not live to see its foundation stone laid in 1880. Mrs. Rawson held the gift of the living, and enabled the building of the church to proceed as her husband had planned; it cost £6.000. The church was consecrated on September 23rd, 1880. Mr. W. S. Barber, Architect, of Halifax, was its designer. (Fire destroyed its interior in 1917, but the church was restored and was re-dedicated on June 17th, 1923.) Frederick E. Rawson provided Ripponden Church with a new organ in 1868; and six years later Mrs. Harriet Rawson installed a stained glass memorial window in the same church. F. E. Rawson died in 1879, aged 58, his widow being 78 when she died in 1901. They had two sons and a daughter.
In 1843, he married Harriet Susanna Priestley.
In 1880, he set about building the church of Saint John the Divine, Thorpe, but died before the foundation stone was laid. His widow completed the work.
Members of the family were buried at Saint Peter’s Church, Sowerby:
Frederick Gerard Selwyn
On 9th October 1897, he married Dora Hoggarth,
home to Arnold Williams, (1890-1958) Liberal MP for Sowerby 1923/4. During World War II it served as officers‘ quarters for the Royal Engineers, after which it lay empty for 12 years. In 1957 Thorpe House was repaired and converted into a home for elderly people, which it remained until 1994.
Catherine married Donald Cameron of Locheil, the 23rd Chief of the Camerons.
Yet another daughter of the six, was Catherine MacLean, born 1787, and married in 1806 Major Donald MacLeod the sixth of Talisker, on the Isle of Skye. Before they emigrated to Australia in 1820, they lived for a few years at the new castle with her father the fourteenth MacLean of Coll. Old MacLean of Coll handed his estates to his son Hugh by 1828 and died at Quinish house in 1835, his body being brought to Coll for burial.