Tag: Whickham

Joseph Mitcheson, Yeoman Farmer

We reached Whickham Parish Church in County Durham, England at the end of a long day of exploration. I knew that two of my ancestors had been baptized in the little Norman-style church, but I didn’t know whether any family members were buried in its large cemetery. The weather was cool and rainy and the church was locked, so, after giving the cemetery a quick glance, we turned to leave. At that point, our guide drew our attention to an old gravestone to the left of the church door. 

“What you say the family name was?” he asked.

“Mitcheson,” I replied.

Only part of the inscription was legible, but enough remained to identify the couple buried there. This was the grave of my ancestors Joseph Mitcheson (1746-1821) and his wife Margaret Philipson (1756-1804). I like to imagine that, knowing we had come all the way from Canada, Joseph and Margaret were trying to get our attention. They didn’t want us to leave without finding them.

I posed with our guide, Geoff Nicholson, beside the family gravestone. HR photo.

This couple is of special significance to my family tree.  Two of their children, Mary Mitcheson Clark and Robert Mitcheson, moved to North America, and both are my direct ancestors. In 1844, Mary’s grandson, Stanley Clark Bagg, of Montreal, married his first cousin once removed, Catharine Mitcheson, daughter of Robert Mitcheson, of Philadelphia.1 This makes Joseph and Margaret simultaneously my four-times and five-times great-grandparents.

I know almost nothing about Margaret, and only a few bare facts about Joseph. He was born and baptized in Lanchester Parish, County Durham, in 1746, the youngest son of gentleman farmer Robert Mitcheson and his wife, Mary..2

When Robert died in 1784, he left most of his estate to Joseph.3 Joseph became what is known as a yeoman farmer, meaning he owned a small amount of property. Socially, a yeoman was notch above a tenant farmer, but below a gentleman.

Joseph Mitcheson, of Lanchester Parish, married Margaret Philipson, of Whickham Parish, by licence at Whickham Parish Church in 1774.4 They eventually had six children – four girls and two boys.

Before his father’s death, Joseph’s family seems to have moved frequently. According to family notes, Mary (1776-1856) was born at Stow House in the hamlet of Cornsay, Lanchester Parish. Again according to family stories, Robert (1779-1859) was born at Eland Hall, Ponteland, near Newcastle. I can’t confirm either of these accounts, but both children were baptized in Whickham. All of the couple’s other children – Margaret (1781-1864), William (1783-1857), Elizabeth (1786-?) and Jane (1793-1825) — were baptized at Lanchester Parish Church, so the family must have been living in the Lanchester area by 1781.

I found this photo of Stow House Farm, Cornsay, on a real estate page online. There is also a Facebook page for Stow House holiday cottage rentals. I have no idea whether the Mitcheson family actually lived here, but the photo does give an idea of the location.

Fortunately, County Durham has kept its records of land tax returns. These lists showed who owned each property, who lived on it and whether the occupant was the owner or a tenant. In 1789, Joseph was living in Lanchester Parish on a property owned by John Stephenson, Esq., who may have been the husband of his aunt Jane Mitcheson. Meanwhile, Joseph was getting income from three properties that he rented out: a farm in Iveston that he had inherited from his father, and another farm in Witton Gilbert.5 Both were located in Lanchester Parish.

In addition, his wife had inherited property in the town of Swalwell from her parents. Married women’s property belonged to their husbands, so legally it belonged to Joseph and he collected rent from the house, or houses, on this land. Swalwell, a township in Whickham Parish on the River Derwent, was an important iron manufacturing center in the 18th century.

The tax records show that, by 1798, Joseph and his family had moved to Iveston, where It appears he farmed the land: in his will, written in 1803, Joseph bequeathed his “implements of husbandry”, as well as household goods and furniture, to his wife.6

Margaret died in 1804 and perhaps Joseph decided to give up farming after her death and move to Swalwell. The Durham tax records of 1810 show the farm properties at Iveston and Witton Gilbert were occupied by renters and Joseph was living on his Swalwell property, although it now belonged to his son Robert, an iron manufacturer.

When Joseph died in 1821, he left cash to his daughters and the farm in Witton Gilbert to his middle son, William. William lived in London, so he rented the farm to a tenant farmer. Joseph left the bulk of his estate to his older son, Robert, although by this time, Robert had settled in Philadelphia. The 1824 land tax records show that Robert rented out both the properties in Swalwell and in Iveston.

Harold and Geoff took a close look at the Mitcheson/Philipson gravestone. JH photo.

Two final remarks:  I suspect that Joseph Mitcheson and Margaret Philipson’s grave was in a prominent location in Whickham Parish Cemetery because of her family’s prominence. The grave is near the front door of the church where everyone coming and going could see it. (See the link below to the story of the Philipson family, “Can Two Wrongs Make a Right?”)

My other thought is that, while Joseph was a farmer like his father, his children were the first generation to break new trails. In Montreal, Mary and her husband, John Clark, invested in real estate. In Philadelphia, Robert was involved in several different business ventures as a merchant, a manufacturer and a landlord. Meanwhile, son William was an anchor manufacturer. Did Joseph and Margaret encourage their children to be adventurous and to leave County Durham, or were the next generation just fortunate to live at a time when new opportunities beckoned? That is a question I can’t answer.

See also:

“Can Two Wrongs Make a Right?” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 4, 2022, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2022/05/can-two-wrongs-make-a-right.html

“Robert Mitcheson’s Last Will and Testament” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 1, 2022, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2022/03/robert-mitchesons-last-will-and-testament.html

“Mary Mitcheson Clark” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 16, 2014, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2014/05/mary-mitcheson-clark.html

“The Mitcheson Family of Limehouse” Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 21, 2015, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2015/01/the-mitcheson-family-of-limehouse.html

“The Mitcheson Sisters” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 18, 2022, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2022/05/the-mitcheson-sisters.html

“Master Mariners in the Family” Writing Up the Ancestors, June 13, 2022,  https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2022/06/master-mariners-in-the-family.html

An article about the life of Robert Mitcheson of Philadelphia will appear in the fall. 

This article is also posted on the family history blog Genealogy Ensemble, https://genealogyensemble.com


My husband and I made that trip in 2009. Our guide that day in Durham was retired professional genealogist Geoff Nicholson. Later, Geoff e-mailed me the whole memorial inscription, copied by the Northumberland and Durham My Family History Society in 1995. It said, “In memory of Margaret, wife of Joseph Mitcheson of Swalwell who died June 23 1804 aged 49? years. The above Joseph Mitcheson died June 1821 aged 77 years”


1. Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records; Reel: 1078, database, Ancestry.com (http://:Ancestry.ca, accessed Dec. 22, 2019,) entry for Stanley Clark Bagg, 9 Sept. 1844; citing Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

2. England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.ca, database on-line, entry for Joseph Mitchinson, Lanchester, accessed May 2, 2022), citing England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

3. Robert Mitcheson’s will is stored at Durham University Archives and can be viewed online. Search for it at http://familyrecords.dur.ac.uk/nei/data/simple.php and view it on Familysearch.org. “England, Durham, Diocese of Durham Original Wills, 1650-1857,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-67DQ-481?cc=2358715&wc=9PQL-ZRH%3A1078415794 : 7 July 2014), DPRI/1/1784/M5 > image 3 of 3; Special Collections, Palace Green Library, Durham University, Durham. (accessed Feb. 28, 2022).

4 England, Select Marriages, 1538-1973 Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.ca, database on-line, entry for Joseph Mitcheson, accessed May 2, 2022), citing England, Marriages, 1538–1973. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

5. Durham County Records Office. Quarter Sessions – Land Tax Returns, Chester Ward West 1759-1830, www.durhamrecordsoffice.org.uk, search for Mitcheson, viewed April 19, 2022.

6. Will of Joseph Mitcheson, yeoman, Iveston, Durham, The National Archives, Wills 1384-1858 (http://nationalarchives.gov.uk, search for Joseph Mitcheson, accessed Nov. 18, 2010), The National Archives, Kew – Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 9 February, 1822.

Master Mariners in the Family

County Durham and neighbouring Northumberland face the North Sea and have a long history of shipping and shipbuilding, especially around Newcastle, at the mouth of the Tyne River, so it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that several of my ancestors had close links to the sea.

Jane Mitcheson (1793-1825) was one of four daughters and two sons of farmer Joseph Mitcheson (1746-1821) and his wife Margaret Philipson, my four-times great-grandparents in County Durham. Jane’s brother William Mitcheson (1783-1857) became an anchor maker and lived in the Limehouse area of London, near the docks. Perhaps Jane met her future husband through her brother William.

In 1812, she married David Mainland, bachelor and master mariner, of Tynemouth, Northumberland,saying her vows at the parish church in Whickham, County Durham.1 I do not know when or where David was born, or even when he died, but he appears to have had a successful career. There was a reference to him as early as 1808 in the London Gazette, noting he was captain of an English merchant ship that had sailed from Stockholm to Hull, Yorkshire.

Jane gave birth to the first of their children, Margaret, who was baptized just before Christmas, 1813 at Christ Church, Tynemouth. The couple may have had a daughter Jane, born around 1818, but I have not found her birth record. More about her later.

David Mainland junior was born around 1819 in North Shields, Northumberland. More about him later also.

Etching by Charles William Sherborn, View along the Thames River with Limehouse in the distance and a builder’s yard on the right. 1876. Source: the British Musem.

In October, 1825, Jane gave birth to Joseph Mitcheson Mainland, named after his grandfather who had died four years earlier. By this time, the Mainland family was living in London, a major center of the shipping industry. Jane died about a month after Joseph’s birth and was buried on Nov. 2, 1825.2 Joseph died at age seven and was buried in 1833 in the same cemetery as his mother, St. Anne’s, Limehouse, Tower Hamlets. This left David as a single father, however, Jane’s brother William and his family lived nearby and may have helped with the children. In fact, although Jane was dead, the ties between the Mainland family and William Mitcheson’s family were close for decades.

In 1849, David Mainland junior, a master mariner like his father, married one of William Mitcheson’s daughters. Mary Ann Mitcheson was born in 1814 in Poplar, London, married school teacher Manasseh Phillips Eady in 1833, and had a daughter, Mary (1834-1905). Manasseh died in 1839, and Mary Ann Eady married her cousin David Mainland at All Saints Church, Poplar, ten years later.3 David and Mary Ann spent many years together, despite his long absences at sea. They had no children.

I have not done much research on David’s career as a mariner – this could be another rabbit hole to explore some day – but I did find that a David Mainland (father or son?) was commander of Sons of Commerce, a new copper-bottom ship sailing from London to India in 1841. In 1850, 1851 and 1852, David (this must have been the son) was captain of the barque Sultana, owned by Mitcheson, carrying immigrants to South Australia.4 Toward the end of his life, David became a ship owner himself.

David and Mary Ann were living on Garford Street, Poplar, near the Mitchesons, in 1851, but by 1861 they were in West Ham, an unfashionable suburb of east-end London. Many industries were located there at the end of the 19th century, making soaps, dyes, gunpowder and other products. West Ham was said to be one of the busiest and dirtiest parts of the city.

The Thames River and the port of London, east of the city center in 1900. Limehouse and Poplar are near Stepney. These docks were the gateway to the British Empire. Detail of a map in the 10th edition of Encyclopædia Britannica.

Mary Ann died in 1887. When David died in 1906, at age 87, he was buried with her in Tower Hamlets Cemetery, London.5 By then he was a rich man, and he split his estate between three people: Ernest Frederick Walford, stockbroker; William Mitcheson Dodd, gentleman (William, 1853-1933, was a mariner and the grandson of Jane Mitcheson’s sister Margaret); and Mary Ann Mainland Lewis, spinster.6

Mary Ann Mainland Lewis was the daughter of Jane Mainland (who was probably David junior’s sister),and her husband, David Lewis. According to Jane’s and David’s 1839 marriage record,7 Jane’s father was David Mainland and, according to the 1861 census, she was born in Whickham, Newcastle around 1817. David Lewis was also a master mariner. That 1861 census entry for Jane shows the couple had four daughters. Mary Ann Mainland Lewis, the youngest of their daughters, born about 1852 in Poplar, Middlesex, was therefor probably David Mainland’s niece and the third beneficiary of his estate.

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “The Mitcheson Family of Limehouse”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Jan. 21, 2015, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2015/01/the-mitcheson-family-of-limehouse.html


Mary Eady Mainland, daughter of Manasseh Phillip Eady and Mary Ann (Mitcheson) Eady, married Alexander Fleming and the couple had a large family.

As an adult, Jane and David Mainland’s daughter Margaret lived in the London area and was married twice, first to Magnus Smith in 1832. The widowed Margaret Smith married Daniel Cooks in 1851.

Mariners worked at an extremely hazardous occupation, at risk of injury or death from big storms and submerged rocks. Accidents were so common that, in 1879, a British charity called the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society assisted 11,863 shipwrecked mariners, their widows and orphans with financial support. David Mainland attended a meeting of this organization in 1879.


1. England, Select Marriages, 1538-1973, Ancestry.com. (ancestry.ca, database on-line, entry for David Mainland, accessed April 16, 2022), citing England, Marriages, 1538–1973. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

2. London England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-2003, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.ca, database online, entry for Jane Mainland, Tower Hamlets, St. Anne, Limehouse, accessed April 17, 2022) citing London Metropolitan Archives, London, England, London Church of England Parish Registers.

3.London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.ca, database online, entry for David Mainland, accessed April 18, 2022), citing Church of England Parish Registers. London Metropolitan Archives, London.

4. Barque Sultana, SA Passenger Lists 1847-1886, transcribed and submitted by Robert Janmatt, TheShipsList.com (database online, www.theshipslist.com/ships/australia/sultana1851.shtml, accessed April 16, 2022)

5. London, England, City of London and Tower Hamlets Registry of Graves, 1841-1966, Registry of Private Graves, 1883-1920, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.ca, entry for David Mainland, accessed April 16, 2022), citing City of London and Tower Hamlets cemetery registers held by the London Metropolitan Archives, London, England.

6. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995, Ancestry.com. (www.ancestry.ca, database on-line, entry for David Mainland, accessed April 16, 2022), citing Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England. London, England 7. London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936, Ancestry.com [www.ancestry.ca, database on-line, entry for Jane Mainland, accessed April 17, 2022), citing Church of England Parish Registers. London Metropolitan Archives, London.