Category: County Durham

Hurbuck and Biggin

On February 4, 1837, 79-year-old Robert Mitcheson, of Hurbuck, County Durham, England, shakily signed his will, splitting his properties between his two sons.1 He died three days later.

The only items he gave them outright were a bed, a bedroll and a chest of drawers each. They could choose the ones they preferred, and they were to divide the other household furniture equally. His other property was more valuable, so he named two friends as trustees.

Robert’s father, also named Robert Mitcheson (1726-1812), had been a farmer in nearby Knitsley. His grandfather, our common ancestor Robert Mitcheson (? – 1784), was a gentleman farmer in neighbouring Lanchester parish. The Robert Mitcheson who died in 1837 was a yeoman farmer, meaning he owned land: two farms and some other freehold land and buildings.

Hurbuck Farm is a grade II listed building in Britain. photo courtesy

This Robert’s wife, Ann Roxby, had predeceased him. He had two sons, Robert and Thomas, and two surviving daughters, Jane and Mary. Son Robert (1801-1883) was to receive the rental income and profits from the farm at Biggin, which the will described as “closes or parcels of land.” Son Thomas (1811-1881) was to get the income from freehold land, houses and tenements at Allerheads, County Durham.

In addition, “all my farming stock crops of hay and corn standing and growing on Hurbuck [farm] and all other my estate and effects” were to be in trust and the two sons would get the profits.

Married women could not own land, so in his will, Robert promised each of his daughters a small annual income. The trustees were to pay Jane five pounds a year from the income from the farm at Biggin, while Mary would get three pounds a year from income from the property in Allerheads. Jane was married to George Weldon and had a son and three daughters. I do not know what happened to Mary.

Intrigued by the information about this family contained in the will, I did further research. Because they were landowners, Robert and Thomas were eligible to vote, and with their names on published lists of voters, it wasn’t hard to find them. Even after they left Hurbuck, it became clear that members of the family continued to farm, and they remained in this northern part of County Durham, within short distances of each other, for decades.

After their father died, Robert and Thomas lived at Hurbuck Farm for several years. The two were listed there in the 1837 Poll Book of voters.2 In the 1841 census – the first UK census to identify individuals – both were still single and living at Hurbuck, along with their 80-year-old Uncle John.3

When the 1851 census taker came along, Robert was living on the farm at Biggin with a live-in housekeeper, a house servant and two farm labourers.He does not appear to have married. The 1858 Post Office Directory shows he was still farming in Biggin,4 but a newspaper notice reveals he put the farm up for sale at auction that year.5

In the 1861 census, Robert Mitchinson, farmer, 56, born Knitsley, was living at Bolton house, Brandon Township along with several employees, including a carter, a housemaid and a dairy maid. After this, his circumstances appear to have changed. Perhaps he ran into financial or medical problems because, in the 1871 and 1881 censuses, Robert was a boarder and agricultural labourer at Broom, near Durham City. He died in 1883, at age 82, and was buried at nearby St Edmunds church cemetery, Bearpark.6

His brother Thomas (whose full name was Thomas John Mitcheson) married Mary Harle (1813-1893) in 1842 at Lanchester Parish Church. In the 1851 census, he was living on Hurbuck farm with his wife, three children and three farm servants. Two years later, the poll book listed Thomas as “farmer as occupier” in Burnopeside, and the 1861 and 1871 censuses counted the family at High Burnhopeside.7 Thomas died in Lanchester in 1881.

A modern map of the Lanchester area, including some of the places Robert and Thomas lived. Source:

His son, John Thomas Mitcheson, born in 1845, maintained the family farming tradition at Park Head Farm, near Annfield Plain. A directory issued in 1894 showed that John was also Assistant Overseer and Collector of Income Tax.8 John and his wife, Barbara Ann Bean, had eleven children, including a son named Robert.

When John Thomas died in 1924, almost two centuries had passed since the 1728 baptism of his great-grandfather Robert Mitcheson at Lanchester Parish Church. In that time, this small corner of County Durham had changed dramatically. All around them, coal mines, collieries, quarries, roads and railroads had sprung up. The area was now an important coal mining area, but much of its farmland survived.  

See also: Janice Hamilton, “The Legendary Robert Mitcheson of Knitsley.” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 15, 2022.


Thank you to the owner of the MitchinsonStubbs public member tree on Ancestry. Not only is the family tree extensive, but it lists many sources so other researchers can easily confirm the information. 

I am not sure what and where Allerheads was. There might have been a spelling error. There was a lead ore mine decades later at Allenheads, near Hexham, Northumberland. 

Photos of High Burnhopeside Farm (grid NZ1846) and Hurbuck Farm (grid NZ1348) can be found on the website Geograph Photograph Every Grid Square,  


1. Search for this will on the Durham University Archives website,, and view it on “England, Durham, Diocese of Durham Original Wills, 1650-1857,” images, FamilySearch ( : 7 July 2014), DPRI/1/1837/M15 > image 1 of 3; Special Collections, Palace Green Library, Durham University, Durham.

2. “UK, Poll Books and Electoral Registers, 1538-1893;” (, database online, for Robert Mitchison, 1837, County Durham, Northern Division, accessed Dec. 30, 2021), citing “London, England, UK and London Poll Books”, London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library.

3. 1841 England Census; (,database on-line, entry for Robert Mitcheson, County Durham, accessed March 26, 2022), Citing: Class: HO107; Piece: 301; Book: 17; Civil Parish: Lanchester; County: Durham; Enumeration District: 16b; Folio: 13; Page: 11; Line: 1; GSU roll: 241348; original dataCensus Returns of England and Wales, 1841. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1841.

4. “UK, City and County Directories, 1766-1946,” (, database online, accessed Dec. 19, 2021), entry for Robert Mitcheson), 1858 Post Office Directory.  

5. “Farm of Land at Biggin to be sold at Auction”, Durham Chronicle, March 5, 1858,, (, online database, accessed March 15, 2022).

6. England, Select Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991” ( online database, entry for Robert Mitcheson, accessed March 26, 2022), Original data: England Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

7. “1861 England Census” (,database on-line, entry for Thomas J. Mitchanson, Durham, accessed March 26, 2022), citing: Class RG9, Piece: 3736; Folio: 63; Page: 1; GSU roll: 543179; Enumeration District: 4e; original dataCensus Returns of England and Wales, 1861. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office, 1861.

8. “UK, City and County Directories, 1766-1946,” (, database online, entry for John Thomas Mitcheson, accessed March 26, 2022), Whellan’s Directory 1894.

Ralph Clark’s 1776 Will

It is amazing how much a last will and testament can reveal about someone’s life – even a life that ended almost 250 years ago.

Ralph Clark (or Clerk), a farmer in County Durham, England, died in 1776 at about age 55.1 He must have known he was dying because he made out a detailed will,2 dated a month before his death. He was probably worried because his wife had died the previous year and their children would be orphaned.

Ralph Clark was my five-times great-grandfather; I am descended from him through his second-youngest son, John Clark, who left England around 1797 and settled in Montreal.

I knew little about John’s origins in County Durham. Then I found a note of his birthdate (June 9, 1767) in some family records.3 That discovery set me on track to find the names of John’s parents and most of his siblings. After a visit to Durham in 2009, I set my most of my research on the Clark family aside and only recently picked it up again when I hired a professional genealogist in Durham. She found Ralph’s will.

Wingate Grange Farm in 2009, JH photo.

Ralph Clark was probably born in Kirk Merrington Parish, County Durham, around 1721. His future wife was Margaret Pearson, baptized 31 Oct 1725, in Kirk Merrington Parish.4 Ralph and Margaret married on May 8, 1746 in Kirk Merrington5 and the first of their twelve children was born a year later.

Kirk Merrington is a rural parish south of the city of Durham. The nine eldest children were baptized there, or in Auckland Saint Andrew, between 1747 and 1762. The family probably moved to nearby Kelloe Parish around 1763, and the three youngest, Edward, John and Lancelot, were baptized at St. Helen’s Church in Kelloe. In the 1760s and 1770s, the family lived on a farm called Wingate Grange, and Ralph’s will revealed that he also leased a farm called Hurworth in Kelloe. He did not own the land.

An advertisement published in the Newcastle Courant on several occasions between 11 Oct and 10 Jan 1778 described Wingate Grange Farm:6

(Any one or two farms and entered upon at May Day next)

All that tenant or farm situated at Wingate Grange in the Parish of Kelloe, late in the possession of Ralph Clark deceased, tenant by survey 526 acres and tithe free, within six miles of Durham, well watered and enclosed; a draw kiln lies contiguous and limestone upon the premises; there are two very good farm houses, four barns and all other necessary buildings. The son of the late tenant above mentioned will not be treated with. Also, the farm in the possession of Jonathan Moody, situate at Wingate Grange aforesaid, containing 161 acres – enquire at Elemore Hall or Mr Henry Angus at Birkenside near Shortley Bridge.

Wingate Grange, 2009. JH photo.

Margaret had died in 1775. The record of her burial, included in the Bishop’s Transcripts for Kelloe parish, simply says, “Oct. 15, Marg, Wife of Ra. Clerk of Wingate Grainge.”7 So as he wrote his will, Ralph was clearly concerned about his children’s prospects. 

Ralph mentioned his cousin Robert Dent of Morden Red House in Sedgefield parish.8 Although he did not name Dent as the children’s guardian, he did give Dent some financial control over the bequests left to the younger children. It is not clear where the children lived after their parents’ deaths. Perhaps the younger ones lived with the Dent family, or with their older siblings.

Ralph must have realized that each of his children had different needs, so he varied his bequests to them. He also ensured that not just his sons, but also his daughters, received inheritances.

Daughters Letitia and Elizabeth were already married when their father died. Letitia (also known as Lettice, and married to butcher Richard Jefferson) was to receive £15.

Ralph seems to have been particularly concerned about Elizabeth — or perhaps more accurately, about her husband, George Dobson. Ralph left £40 for Elizabeth in trust, and her husband “shall have no power or control whatsoever and shall in no wise be liable to the payment of his debts or otherwise.” Son Thomas was left £20 and a horse. Anne was to have £40 and a third of Ralph’s household goods when she reached 21. Ralph and Edward would each get £60 when they reached 21. Lancelot was to receive £90 when he turned 21. Ralph appointed William, Mary and Margaret as joint executors and residuary legatees.

My four-times great-grandfather John Clark, who was age nine at the time of his father’s death, was to receive £70 when he turned 21 – about £8500 in today’s money. While still living in England, John became a butcher and acquired some property, probably in the part of the city of Durham known as Fleshergate, where the butchers plied their trade. He also bought property shortly after arriving in Montreal. Perhaps he was putting his inheritance from his father to work.

Updated April 27, 2019 to add footnote on Robert Dent. 

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “John Clark, of Durham, England,” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 29, 2014,

Sources and notes:

Special thanks to Margaret Hedley, Past Uncovered, for research in County Durham, 2018-2019.

  1. Burials, Stockton District, record # 573795 2, St. Edmund the Bishop Church, Sedgefield, 8 Nov. 1776, Ralph Clerk {Clark] of Wingate Grange in the Parish of Kelloe.
  2. Will of Ralph Clark, Oct. 11, 1776; 1776/C8/2, University of Durham Special Collections Department
  3. Black notebook of Bagg family births, marriages and deaths; private collection. Also Northumberland and Durham Baptisms, Northumberland & Durham Family History Society,
  4. “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch( : 11 February 2018, Margret Pearson, 31 Oct 1725); citing , index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 91,097, 94,097.
  5. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “International Genealogical Index (IGI),” database, FamilySearch( : accessed 15 April 2019), entry for Ralph Clark, batch A23286-7; citing FHL microfilm 455,471; submitter not specified. This marriage is also included in Boyd’s Marriage Index, 1538-1840,
  6. Find My Past
  7. “England, Durham Diocese Bishop’s Transcripts, 1639-1919,” images, FamilySearch ( : 12 June 2014), Durham > Kelloe > 1762-1852 > image 15 of 723; Record Office, Matlock. Accessed March 31, 2019.
  8. Possibly, baptism of Robert Dent in Sedgefield in 1725, father John Dent; and marriage of Johannes Dent to Elizabetha Clark in Sedgefield in 1721. “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch( : 11 February 2018, Robert Dent, 20 Oct 1725); citing , index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 91,112. “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch( : 10 February 2018), Johannes Dent and Elizabetha Clark, 16 May 1721; citing Sedgefield, Durham, England, reference , index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 91,112.

    For more information about the County Durham region in the mid-1800s, see the following publication through Google Books online. You can search for the names of people and places. History, Topography, and Directory of the County Palatine of Durham: Comprising a General Survey of the County, with Separate Historical, Statistical, and Descriptive Sketches of All the Towns, Boroughs, Ports, Parishes, Chapelries, Townships, Villages, Wards, and Manors. To which are Subjoined A History and Directory of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and a List of the Seats of the Nobility and Gentry, Whellan, William, & Co, Whittaker and Company, 1856.