Land Introduction

Ancestors in England

The ancestors of Law Land and Elizabeth Sykes (except for two branches) were from villages in the West riding of Yorkshire west of the city of Leeds.

Elizabeth Sykes' ancestors, the Stells, came from Keighley in the North Riding of Yorkshire, about 13 miles north/west of Leeds.

Law Land's grandmother, Mary Worth, and her family came from Cheshire which boarders Yorkshire on the south west.

The Lands lived in Wakefield and Leeds before moving to Batley parish.

All the other branches lived in the parishes of Batley and Birstall, directly southwest of Leeds. Both these parish comprised several town and various small hamlets. The population of pre-industrial England was fairly static in both size and place of inhabitance. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700's many people moved to the larger manufacturing centers. Yorkshire had been a sparsely populated area of England until the late 1700's, when it became one of the fastest growing sections of the country.

While there always seemed to be some movement from one hamlet to another, it appears to have increased at the same time as the general population movements.

The 1851 census showed that all classes of towns had grown more quickly since 1801 than the average growth of Great Britain as a whole. The fastest growing towns were almost all textile towns.

Places like Batley went form sleepy little villages to large industrial towns. The population of Batley went from 2,594 in 1801 to 28,712 in 1891. Many small hamlets either became completely disserted after much of the population moved to the larger industrial centers or they were swallowed up by the expansion of fast growing industrial areas.

A Map of the Area of The West Riding of Yorkshire That Includes the Towns Where the Land Ancestors Lived

The West Riding of Yorkshire

The West Riding is the largest division in Yorkshire and comprises all of the southwestern part of the County. In 1861 this area was extensively engaged in manufacture and agriculture. The woolen trade was centered in Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, and Wakefield. Coal was a major commodity in the area. The West Riding is an area about 95 miles long stretching from Sheffield to the borders of Westmoreland. It is about 50 miles wide in some areas an as little as 10 miles across in the north western extremity. The word Riding comes from the Saxon language and was originally spelled "thriding" meaning a division into three. There are three Ridings in Yorkshire, North, East, and West.

The 1379 Poll Tax

The poll tax of 1379 was levied to collect monies to pay for the wars both against the Scottish invaders and the French. Lists were prepared of all persons over the age of 16 in every town and village. The amount of tax depended on the social position of the person listed. An esquire paid 20 shillings. Wealthy merchants and rich landowners below the rank of esquire paid 10 shillings, 6 shillings and 8 pence, 3 shillings and 4 pence 12 pence, or 6 pence according to their financial position. Everyone else over the age of 16 paid a minimum sum of 4 pence, which equaled a "groat". A husband and wife counted as one person. The clergy did not pay any tax. People with filius, filia, son or daughter after their names were children over the age of 16 who were still living with their families. All other single persons over 16 represented bachelors, spinsters, widows and widowers.

A four pence or the "groat" was equaled to what the average man could earn in three days. The poll tax was a great burden on the poor people and was a cause of the great peasant revolt in 1381. As a result of the revolt the people demanded:

  1. The liberty to buy and sell in all fairs and markets, without being subject to taxes.
  2. The abolition of villenage (the tenure of a serf to his lord). In lieu of this compulsory service the tenant paid the annual cash rental of fourpence per acre.

In addition to serving it's purpose of filling the kings coffers, the poll tax is a major advantage to historians and genealogists today. It acts as a census and provides invaluable information on the population of England at the time.

The poll tax had an important function in the development of surnames. Before this period surnames were the prerogative of the nobility. With so many people named John, Robert, Thomas and William some method had to be devised to distinguish on from another. It was decided to add an additional distinction after each Christian name. Four categories were used:

  1. Personal, from a sire or ancestor.
  2. Trade, from an occupation.
  3. Locality, from the place of residence.
  4. Nickname, body attribute of character

It should be pointed out that it was a long time before "surnames" became fixed. In the beginning the same person might be called by different "surname" at different points in his live. For example if a man named Thomas Johnson had moved from Batley to Gomersal, he might then be know as Thomas de Batley. If the same person later mover to Mirfield he might have been know as Thomas Gomersal.

I have found the poll tax lists for:

  • Several of the villages in Bristall Parish including Liveredge, Cleckheaton, Gomersal and Heckmondwike. These villages were within a radius of 2 1/2 miles of one another. Gomersal was the village where the Sheards and Laws lived.
  • The village of Batley in Batley Parish. The first known ancestors were in Batley in the late 1700s.
The lists for Birstall parish were derived from two sources, Thomas Thompson and Frank Peel's books on the Spen Valley. Thompson's lists were in Latin. Peel translated his lists. The list for Batley was taken from Michael Sheards book.

For the actual lists see Batley and Birstall


Late in 1390 and again in the spring of the following a plague broke out. It was supposed to have killed one third of the population of Yorkshire.

The Civil War

Frank Peel wrote,

"And these stout hearted clothiers were as noted in their day and generation for their intelligence and public spirit as their successors are at the present time. Here, and indeed throughout the whole of this part of the West Riding, thy were almost to a man on the side of the Commonwealth . They had long groaned under the evils of tyranny and oppression, civil and spiritual; they feared and hated the domination of the Stuarts and obeyed in their opposition the impulses of an overwhelming religious conviction. When the fierce struggle between the king and his Parliament ended in open warfare, the clothiers of the West Riding rose indeed almost en masse in defense of their liberties, and Spen Valley, thinly populated though it was, furnished, we know a good array of recruits to swell the ranks of the marvelous army, "composed," as it commander proudly boasted, "not of tapsters and decayed serving men, but of stalwart yeomen and traders, who brought a conscience to their work," and proved their prowess in many a bloody struggle."

Frank Peel, Nonconformity in Spen Valley on LDS Microfilm 0476993 published in 1891.

Many of these Yorkshiremen who fought on the Parliamentarian side were not part of a standing army and were not paid soldiers. They did not serve continuously but went to battle when needed. When the immediate danger was passed they returned to their looms and farming. When another emergency arose the returned to battle.

There were several battles in the immediate area. These included the battle of Adwalton Moor, Kirklees, the storming of the Saville estate at Thornhill. By all accounts the locals were fierce and valiant fighters. Many of them were Puritans who marched into battle singing "the Psalms of David".

At the battle of Adwalton Moor the Parliamentarians numbered three thousand five hundred, many of them with no military training. They were greatly outnumbered by the King's troops who were trained soldiers. Accounts say that the local militia men fought bravely and with great spirit. Many men lost their lives and the Kings army did win the battle.

Notes on Yorkshire from The West Riding of Yorkshire At the Opening of the Twentieth Century

The West Riding of Yorkshire At the Opening of the Twentieth Century , by W. Herbert Scott, Contemporary Biographies, published in 1902 ( available on microfiche through LDS) includes the following information on the West Riding.

  • Yorkshiremen were considered "Hard-headed".

  • The Romans had stations at Tadcaster (Calaria), Adel, near Leeds, and Ilkley (Olicana). Old Roman road went from Aberford to the junction of the Aire and Calder at Castelford. The Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Danes, and Norwegians all formed the character of West Riding. A Scottish invasion by Brannockburn (no dates or details) "put the clock of progress back for a long time". The War of the Roses (1455-85) culminated at Wakefield and Towton . During the civil war under Oliver Cromwell (who later ruled the Commonwealth from 1649-1660), several battles were fought in the West Riding.

  • Although up to the time of Edward III (1327-1377) most of the wool from England was exported, the West Riding was a textile manufacturing area from earliest recorded times. Ancient documents indicate that there were cloth mills in Leeds and fulling mills in Leeds and Bradford as far back as the 12th century . At the close of the 14th century, there were four cloth mills in Leeds. At that point, however, Wakefield was a more important cloth center. Wakefield was the third most important cloth center in West Riding in the late 1400s. In 1626 Charles I granted Leeds its first royal charter in recognition of the fact that the inhabitants for many years had skillfully exercised
    "The art or mystery of making and working woolen clothe commonly known as "Northern Dozens" to their perpetual praise and great increase of revenues of the Crown of England for the custom of the same cloths".
    At the time Leeds Halifax and Bradford were
    "three very populous and rich towns depending wholly on clothiers"
  • By the last part of the 1700s and the early part of the 1800s the area was considered "blighted":
    • Travelers avoided the barren wilderness of hill country around Bradford
    • Roads were bad and full of ruts.
    • Trade between the towns was by pack house or wagon.
    • The area was sparsely populated.
    • The humble weaver
      ... had yet faced the industrial revolution that transformed the hand loom operation into a factory system. Nearly every villager took part in the cloth industry. Some by means of the old one thread wheel, spinning the combed wool into yarn at the cottage door. Others with hand loom weaved the yarn into cloth. Even during the third decade of the last century, the old domestic system of hand loom held say in certain parts of the country. The producers were chiefly small farmers who thus managed to find their families employed in the homestead all the year round."
  • Later (he does not say when) the area was known for coal mining, shoe and boot making, and cloth manufacturing. The Sykes wereshoemakers.

  • In the mid 1800s combing machines were developed that eliminated the old process of hand combing.

  • By the turn of the century (he does not say which) but I assume he was talking about the 20th:
    • The blanket and rug industry was well established in the Spen Valley towns and Dewsbury and Batley were known for shoddy manufacturing. Benjamin Law developed shoddy in 1813.
    • Wakefield, a once a thriving textile center, had been surpassed.
    • Keighley was a "still youthful borough".
    • There were nearly thirty miles of gas lamps in the densely populated towns.

  • Religion and education always an important aspect of the West Riding. Before public education there were "ancient" grammar schools in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Batley, Drighlington and other towns. The earliest known literate ancestor was Ben Law, who signed his name on his marriage record in 1791.

  • He says many men were successful in the new industrial revolution with inventions that changed the cloth making process. However, no all were successful.
  • "In 1858 there died in poverty and at a great age, a cloth manufacturer named William Hirst, for whom is claimed the title of "father of the Yorkshire woolen trade". Hirst was a Huddersfield cloth dresser of poor parentage who, setting up in business in Leeds about the year 1810, was practically the first to introduce spinning mills and other mechanical contrivances to the district. By this enterprise he managed to produce a quality of woolen cloth rivaling the best goods of West country manufacture. It was a new sensation for the West Riding, that; and when other makers saw the improvement in prices which Hirst was able to obtain, his example was soon followed, notwithstanding the clamour of dissatisfied hand workers. In twelve years time he retired from business with a fortune and it is recorded how, in 1825, the merchants of Saddleworth banqueted him and presented him with a silver cup in recognition of his abilities and perseverance and his "frankness and liberality in communicating his improvements to the public".

    A year later the country groaned under a financial crash, following the rage for joint stock company speculation. Hirst suffered among the rest, and back he went to business, never, however, to regain the position he once held. As a writer of the time put it -"to his dying day he believed that he was the victim of fraud and conspiracy, and that he was kept down by those who were reaping fortunes form his improvements. This delusion led him frequently to abuse and misrepresent persons who were no doubt anxious to assist him."

  • There was local and national opposition to the Industrial Revolution. The Luddites were a group of people who smashed machinery and attack mills.

    In 1830 a "Memorial" was presented to Parliament in opposition to the use of the power loom, with a petition for a tax on every article manufactured on such a principle. It was represented

    "that the rapid increase of that branch of machinery which inverts the decrees of Providence by superseding manual labour is an evil of such magnitude as to strike at the actual existence of the working classes at no distant period; and that the situation of the hand loom weaver and his family in this district is wretched in the extreme."
    Scott said that,
    "Wisdom, however, came in time. By degrees the pessimists settled down to the new order of things. They saw that as the means of production improved the trade expanded and that as the trade grew, additional mills sprang into existence, furnishing certain employment for the steadily increasing population."
  • Scott makes the following observations about Wakefield and Leeds which are nine miles apart and were two of the towns the Lands lived in.
    • In 1802, John Houseman, writing about Wakefield, found that "the cloth manufacture in the neighborhood are numerous, but the cloth is chiefly sold at Huddersfield." Scott says, however, that by this time, Wakefield had been left behind as a leader in the cloth industry. On the other hand, Leeds grew dramatically. The reasons that Leeds grew and Wakefield stagnated are unclear. Scott suggests, however, that a contributing factor may have been that there were nicer areas on the outskirts of Leeds north of the city for the new wealth to have their homes.
    • In 1820, Hazlett wrote of Leeds
      "O smoky city! Dull and dirty Leeds!"
Notes from English Industrial Cities of the 19th Century by Richard Dennis

Between the 1871 and 1881 censuses the overall urban population increased by 25% and the already heavily urbanized areas increased by 75%. By the 1880s Yorkshire had joined the most heavily urbanized counties.

  • "The prolonged building boom of the 1870s and 1880s encircled all towns and cities with the middle- and working-class red and yellow brick suburbs, which were the most enduring physical monument of the late Victorian age"

  • "The most obvious pressure on the growth of towns was migration in search of work, of the kind that had been occurring since before the start of industrialization, but now greatly intensified by the agricultural decline of the late 1870s and 1880s, and by the global growth of new economic opportunities, not just in Britain but in the Empire and the United States. By the mid-1880s no county in England or Wales, however, rural, had less than 10 percent of migrants in its population."

  • Most migration within England was "short-journey" migration from countryside to town, and most migrants were young, single working people."

Notes on the Weather from The Dewsbury Parish Registers

Sometimes the parish registers contain notes of a more general interest. The following comes from the Dewsbury parish register on LDS microfilm 1542270. It was written on the first page of the ledger that begins in the year 1774. Unfortunately some of the ink is faded a several words on the right hand side of the page are not legible. I have put these words or phrases in parenthesis:

A great flood on the River Calder on April 25, 1767.

Memorandum that on October the 7 day in 1767 being Dewsbury fair day there fell in the West an excessive fall of Rain and the River Calder overflowed its Banks the Day following that it was 11 inches deep in most part of the Church Iles the Church being nearly finished Rebuilding at the some time and it did so much Damage to the Navigation that they erected a bank from opposite Wm. Greenswoods Mill to Brookhole Lock on Thornhill side that on some parts of the said Bank two Carriages might pass and repass but on the 9 Day of February following there being a dissolution of melting Snow upwards attended with considerable rains The River rose so quick that it drove their Banke entirely to Pieces to the great joy of a Number of the Inhabitants of Dewsbury who were Spectators upon the Tower of the Church and from thence Shouted its Downfall being detrimental to the town. at the October flood there lived one (at dam Scarber) at Brookhole who had so firm and (cautiously) banked around his house and garden that he Greatly wisht for a flood to prove his labour but this flood proved so abortive to his works that he never thought proper to repair his Industry and therefore called it Adams flood_____________

Very Severe Lightning and Thunder with heavy rain and (Can't read. I believe it is a date and place but it is very faded.)

Violent storms of rain were followed by a rapid flow of water so that the Lands were water covered & ye inhabitants as much distressed in their houses as they had been for many years. Such heavy rain at such season of the year had not been remembered by the oldest man. July 22, 1789.

A most remarkable voluntary contribution was made for the support of government 1790 of which (?) states unbounded (?) of the town of (?) Dewsbury amounting to the summons Town of L47-0-0 nearly one forth of which was subscribed by the vicar and curate!!! (?) many parishes ( Two underlined words) when scribed at the same time several hundreds & some thousands for the same purpose.

On Saturday evening the 17 of August 1799 very heavy rains having fallen this Neighborhood, particularly westward very greatly inundated & damaged the Lands & houses neat the River Calder. A house was swept away & several Mills by the intensity of the torrent. Some lives were lost in this fatal visitation. In & about Dewsbury much loss was sustained by the Corn & Hay. Three sides of the Church yard walls were thrown down, some of (?) for 30 yds or 40 yds or more together. Thus considerable pains were taken to prevent its getting into the Church, it nevertheless surrounded it on all sides & was upon average 11 inches deep in the Iles. And what is more extraordinary a second flood happened only five weeks after on Sunday evening the 22nd September which, tho not equal to ye former wanted only three of four inches of getting again into the church. The first flooded so much first in the Church & so loosened & then entered over the graves that the stench in the bottom seats of (?) was really dangerous & scarcely tolerable nearly a fortnight Notwithstanding the Might and strength of Wm Tearnley's Ban(?) on the other side of the water, if made defiance to all his (?) and efforts. The whole of his low grounds, which were corn were flooded twice many feet deep. The corn being partly (?) the second time suffered very greatly from the (?) among it & from its being in part taken away._______

Two such inundations so near together & at such a season of the year have not been known by the oldest persons & indeed for ought (?) have not had their parallel for many centuries.

The Poor Laws

From The Old Poor Law in East Yorkshire by N. Mitchelson, East Yorkshire Local History Society.

"Two Acts of Parliament passed near the end of the reign of Elizabeth formed the basis of English poor law administration for almost two and a half centuries, until the passing of the Poor Law Reform Act of 1834. The first was the Act of 1597-8 which ordered the appointment of overseers of the poor and laid down their duties. The second was the Act of 1601. This law, first pass4ed as a temporary measure, but continued, and in 1640, made permanent, ordered the churchwardens and four, three or two substantial householders to be nominated each year as overseers of the poor, with the duty of maintaining and setting them to work. Funds for this purpose were to be provided from the taxation of "every inhabitant, parson, vicar, and other and every occupier of lands, houses.... etc. The unit of poor law administration was the parish"
The overseers were unpaid officers and one of their duties was to keep the annual accounts for the parish. The poor law accounts are available for several of the parishes in the area around Batley. The local records give an indication of the economic situation in Yorkshire. There were large increases in the amounts of money needed for poor relieve in during the second half of the eighteenth century. This period coincided with the period of rapid enclosure of land that had once been part of the peasants "common" rights. 1793-1815 was a period of continuous was which resulted in increased prices that did no correspond to increases in wages. Unemployment was very high during the Napoleonic wars.

Relief to the poor consisted of cash payments or relief in kind (food and clothing). Paupers were often provided with clothing and supplies to repair their dwellings. The poor law accounts enable historians to determine the prices of many commodities during a given period.

These laws made the parish responsible for the poor of the parish to the point that a person not born in a given parish was removed to the parish of his or her birth in order to receive poor law relief.

For more Information on the towns, cities and parishes where the Land ancestors lived chose on of the following.

The oldest records for the Land were found in Wakefield. For more information on Wakefield, click on the photo of All Saints Wakefield.


The Lands moved from Wakefield to Leeds. For more information on Leeds, click on the photo of St Peter's, Leeds.


The Law were originally from Birstall Parish. The Sykes and Walkers also lived in Birstall Parish. For more information on Birstall Parish, click on the photo of the Birstall Parish Church.


The last records for the Laws and Lands in England were found in Batley Parish. For more information on the Parish of Batley. For more information on Batley, click on the photo of the Batley Parish Church.


Other ancestors, the Stells, came from Keighley Parish. For more information on the Keighley Parish, click on the photo of Fellane in Keighley.

If you have any suggestions, corrections, information, copies of documents, or photos that you would like to share with this page, please contact me at maggie@maggieblanck.com