Category: Durham England

Robert Mitcheson’s Last Will and Testament

When my husband and I visited County Durham in northern England in 2009, the guide who drove us around for a day handed me a photocopy of my five-times great-grandfather’s last will and testament, written in 1782.1 I was thrilled!

Our guide, retired genealogist Geoff Nicholson,2 was pleased too. He hadn’t been certain that this will had actually been my ancestor’s, but I recognized the names of the sons and daughters mentioned in it.

The ancestor in question was Robert Mitchinson, gentleman, of Lanchester Parish, a rural area west of Durham City. Mitchinson, or Mitcheson, is not a common name, but it was fairly common in County Durham, especially two centuries ago. According to a family story, my Mitchinson family came to County Durham from Scotland, however, when they arrived and where they originated are unknowns.

This historic map on the Vision of Britain website shows part of Lanchester Parish, County Durham. Moorside, where Robert Mitcheson lived in his final years, was near Consett.

Nor do I know Robert’s date or place of birth, or his wife’s maiden name. One son’s baptism record and another son’s burial record indicate her first name was Mary. Someone named Robert Mitchinson married a Mary Thompson at Durham Cathedral in 1723, but this may not be the right couple.

Robert was probably over 70 years of age when he died in 1784, perhaps closer to 80, and his wife must have also lived a long life since he mentioned her in his will.

When Robert wrote that will in 1782, he was “of Moorside”, and when he was buried two years later, his residence was identified as Manor House. Moorside is near Consett, northwest of Lanchester village. When the children were growing up, the family lived at High Langley, southeast of Lanchester.

He must have been a farmer since he left his milk vessels to his younger son, Joseph. In fact, Robert was probably what is known as a gentleman farmer who hired people to do the farm work and who owned the property, as opposed to being a tenant farmer.

Cemetery behind Lanchester Parish Church. JH photo.

The Lanchester parish records show that Robert Mitchinson (the babies’ mother was not mentioned), of High Langley, had seven children baptized over an 18-year span: Robert junior was baptized in 1728, Mary in 1730, Jane in 1733, John in 1736, William in 1739, Margaret in 1742 and Joseph in 1746.3 All the children lived to adulthood, although William died in 1763, age 23, and was buried in the cemetery of All Saints Parish Church, Lanchester. According to a family story, John was a captain in the King’s Life Guards, although I have not confirmed that. The others married and lived within about 20 miles of each other in County Durham.

Robert must have thought carefully about his children’s needs as he wrote his will, taking their individual circumstances into consideration. His eldest son was a yeoman farmer in the nearby hamlet of Knitsley, married with two grown sons. Robert senior left him the right to collect the repayment of a 300-pound mortgage loaned to an acquaintance, plus the interest due.   

The house at High Langley, where the Mitcheson children grew up in the mid-1700s, is shown on this 1945 map.

The will referred to Robert’s three daughters by their married names: Mary Taylor, Jane Stephenson and Margaret Taylor. He left one pound to each of them. Presumably their husbands were supporting them comfortably.

To his wife, he left ten pounds and all the household goods and furniture, except for one bed and set of bedcovers which he promised to his youngest son, Joseph. Perhaps Mary lived with a family member after her husband’s death.

Joseph certainly benefited from his father’s estate. He was 37 at the time, married and with three young children, so he probably needed the most help. Unfortunately, the will was not specific enough to be a help to me. It simply said that Robert left to Joseph “all other my Real and Personal Estates whatsoever and wheresoever of what Tenure, Kind or Sort soever the same doth or may consist.”

Robert also left 50 pounds apiece to each of Joseph’s children, to be paid to them when they reached age 21, and to be applied toward their maintenance and education in the meantime. These bequests were no doubt good investments as the two oldest grandchildren eventually immigrated to North America: Robert Mitcheson settled in Philadelphia around 1817 and Mary (Mitcheson) Clark and her husband John Clark came to Montreal around 1795. Another of the grandchildren, William Mitcheson, became an anchor manufacturer and sailing ship owner in London.

Notes and Sources

1. Robert Mitcheson’s will is stored at Durham University Archives and can now be viewed online. Search for it at and view it on “England, Durham, Diocese of Durham Original Wills, 1650-1857,” images, FamilySearch ( : 7 July 2014), DPRI/1/1784/M5 > image 3 of 3; Special Collections, Palace Green Library, Durham University, Durham. (accessed Feb. 28, 2022)

2. A former high school teacher turned professional genealogist, Geoff Nicholson was a former president of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society. He was extremely well informed, not only about the families of the area, but also about the region’s history. He generously assisted me with my research for several years after we met, and I was sorry to learn that he died in 2021.

3. The baptisms and marriages of these family members are online on, Ancestry and Find My Past.

Sources of Maps:

Ordnance Survey of England and Wales Revised New Series, 1902. Vision of Britain Historical Maps. (accessed Feb 28 2022)

British War Office GSGS 4127, Ordnance Survey Popular and New Popular Editions, sheet 85-Durham, 1945. (accessed Feb. 28, 2022)

A Trip to England in 1842

Durham Cathedral (jh photo)

When Stanley Clark Bagg (SCB) and his father, Stanley Bagg, of Montreal, visited England in 1842, they were combining business and pleasure. The business involved selling property that SCB’s maternal grandfather had owned in Durham, England, and the pleasure involved a whirlwind tour of London, Scotland, Ireland and France, as well as visits with various great-aunts and great-uncles who still lived in England.

It was a good time for a trip: SCB had just finished a four-year apprenticeship with a notary and could now practice as a notary himself. It made sense to travel before he opened his own office.

A few months after his return to Montreal, SCB wrote to his cousin in Philadelphia, outlining the trip. Unfortunately, he did not include any details or impressions of their adventures, but the list of places they visited sounds exhausting. Passenger rail services were expanding in England at the time, but much of their travel would have been done by horse-drawn coach.

Crossing the Atlantic, however, was fast. The age of the trans-Atlantic steamship had arrived in the 1830s, and SCB wrote, “We made the passage to Liverpool from Halifax in the incredible short space of nine days and six hours, which was I believe the shortest passage ever made across the Atlantic. From Liverpool we went to London, thence to Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, York Darlington, Durham, Stockton, Sunderland, Newcastle, Shields, Tynemouth, Otterburn …. ” 1

As they moved north to Scotland, they passed though many small towns, including Lesmahagow, and they explored both Glasgow and Edinburgh. On the way back to London, they stopped in Carlisle, in the north of England.

After a few days in London, they crossed the Channel to France, where they visited Boulogne, Paris, Versailles, Le Havre and several other spots before returning to London. SCB wrote, “We left London shortly afterwards for Ireland, and having visited Kingstown, Dublin and Kilmainham, returned to Liverpool, where … we embarked on board a steamship and after a boisterous passage of 14 days arrived at Boston exceedingly gratified with our tour.” 2

Anchor-maker William Mitcheson, brother of SCB’s grandmother Mary Mitcheson Clark, lived in London, and the Baggs visited him there. While in County Durham, they visited more Mitcheson relations, including Mrs. Dodd (Mary Mitcheson’s sister Margaret) near Ryton, and Mrs. Maugham (Mary’s sister Elizabeth) at Sunderland.

It is clear that the visit to Durham was the highlight of the trip, but not because of the business they finalized there. In fact, SCB did not mention the land sales at all in his letter. When SCB turned 21 in December, 1841, he gained control over the property he had inherited from his grandfather John Clark (1767-1827). This property was generating rental income, but SCB wanted to sell it. Proof that the sale took place can be found in a notarized document, dated after their return to Montreal, in which Stanley Bagg listed the sales of three properties in Durham. 3

Modern sculpture of the monks carrying St. Cuthbert’s body. (jh photo)

Meanwhile, SCB was interested in ancient legends, old coins, Norman castles and the like, and was enthralled with Durham. More than 20 years later, he presented a lecture to the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal on “The Antiquities and Legends of Durham.” 4

He described the legend surrounding the founding of Durham city by 9th century monks. When Danes attacked England’s northeast coast, the monks fled their monastery on the Island of Lindisfarne with the miraculously well-preserved body of their former bishop. Eventually they built an abbey at the future site of Durham city and buried him there. Today, that bishop is remembered as Saint Cuthbert and pilgrims still visit the abbey church, Durham Cathedral.

In his 1866 lecture to the Numismatic Society, SCB opened up about his feelings on the trip. He recalled, “The first time I had the privilege of attending a divine service in Durham Abbey, I was enraptured with the sweet and masterly chanting, unsurpassed in the empire. My father and I obtained seats in the choir. The service was exceedingly impressive, so much so, that …. whenever the portion of the Psalter chanted upon that occasion recurs in the services of the church, it carries me back in imagination to the first service I attended in the venerable abbey of my mother’s native city.” 4

This story is also posted on

See also:

 Janice Hamilton, “A Freehold Estate in Durham,” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 3, 2019

Janice Hamilton,“Mary Mitcheson Clark,” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 16, 2014,

Janice Hamilton,“Mary Ann (Clark) Bagg,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Nov. 29, 2013,

Janice Hamilton,“The Mitcheson Family of Limehouse,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 21, 2015,

Janice Hamilton, “Stanley Bagg’s Difficulties,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 10, 2014,


  1. Letter from Stanley Clark Bagg to Rev. R. M. Mitcheson, Dec. 6, 1842, probably transcribed by Stanley Bagg Lindsay; Lindsay family collection.
  2. Record in a passenger list of Stanley Bagg and S.C. Bagg travelling from Liverpool to Boston aboard the Acadia. Boston Courier (Boston, Massachusetts, Monday, Sept. 19, 1842, issue 1921;) 19th Century Newspapers Collection, special interest databases, (accessed April 18, 2019.)
  3. Joseph-Hilarion Jobin, “Account and mortgages from Stanley Bagg Esq to Stanley Clark Bagg,” 8 October 1842, notarial act #3537, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.
  4. Stanley Clark Bagg, “The Antiquities and Legends of Durham: a Lecture before the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal,” p. 21, Montreal, 1866. (accessed Dec. 27, 2019) SCB’s article can also be found here: