Richardsons in England


Whether the Cheshire/Yorkshire origins are true or not, Richardson is very much a name of the northeast.  The table below shows the main counties where the name was to be found in 1891.

Leading English Counties with the Richardson Name in 1891
Yorkshire                         17%
Lancashire                       12%
London                            12%
Durham                           11%
Northumberland                  6%

Richardsons in Yorkshire

Yorkshire surnames were special to Yorkshire until late in the 14th century.  Most names were local, occupational, or nicknames.  The suffix “son” gradually became more common, but was often applied in a non-hereditary way,  Thus in 1409 the son of Richard de Shagh was Thomas Richardson.

The Wool Trade.  The Richardsons had settled in the late fifteenth century at Bierley in the heart of Yorkshire’s wool trade.  They were active in this business and their estates extended a third of the way around Bradford, then only a small market town, and included most of North Bierley and beyond towards Wibsey and Calverley.  The family over the years intermarried with other prominent families in the area such as the Currers, Ferrands, Hopkinsons, Midgleys, and Saviles.  Overall, they were middle class made good, rather than aristocracy (none of them for instance ever became peers of the realm). 

We find Richardsons in prominent positions in Hull and Ripon in the 17th century.  Richardsons can also be traced to the small village of Bubwith near Howden in the East Ridings from Elizabethan times.  They were still to be found there as farmers and tradesmen in the 19th century

The following were some of the notable Yorkshire Richardsons from these roots at this time.

Prominent Richardsons from Yorkshire
First Name                   Born               Birth Place              Commentary
Richard                       1604               Bierley                    a wool merchant
Richard                      1663               Bierley                    a keen botanist   
John                           1666               Kirbymoorside          a Quaker preacher
Dorothy                      1748               Thornton-in-Craven   she kept an illustrated journal
                                                                                   of her travels around England

Dissent and the Quaker Emergence.  The Quaker faith, which was to have such a strong hold on the Richardsons in the succeeding years, began with the preachings of George Fox in north Yorkshire in the 1650's.  These Quakers encountered persecution after 1660.  Many took part in the northern uprisings, of which Dr. Edward Richardson, the Anabaptist dean of Ripon who had been deprived of his living, was apparently one of the instigators.

Toleration did come in 1689.  The first Quaker meetinghouse in Yorkshire was built a year later, at Kirbymoorside.  John Richardson, who lived at Hutton-le-Hole nearby, became apprenticed to a Friend there after having been disowned by his stepfather.  He later achieved renown as a charismatic preacher, travelling to America and writing an autobiography at the end of a long and active life.

There was a larger Quaker community at Whitby along the coast.  They were tolerated, but often seen as kill-joys:

"At Whitby, the refusal of Quakers to join in public rejoicings by illuminating their windows was traditionally the occasion for much broken glass."

The Richardsons, farmers and tanners of hides at Boghall nearby, were part of this community.  William Richardson had become a Quaker in the 1680's.  He later moved to Ayton in Cleveland. 

A descendant, Thomas Richardson, became a prominent London financier and, on his retirement, founded a Quaker school in the village (which continued until 1997).  Another Richardson from these roots, John Richardson, moved in the 1760's further north to Newcastle.

More Recent History.  Richardsons did continue to prosper in Yorkshire's traditional industries. 

In the early 1800's, Robert Richardson was a wealthy landowner in the weaving town of Barnsley, inhabiting a large stone mansion on Church Street.   But the story that has been handed down about him does not do him much credit.  When hiis daughter Frances ran away to marry an Irish soldier, he vowed to disinherit her.  And he carried out on his threat.  On his death in 1836, she received nothing of his £60,000 estate. Nevertheless there was a happy outcome.  The three recipients of the will decided that the settlement had been unfair and conveyed the sum to her. 

Later on, another Richardson, Henry Richardson, ran a linen works in Barnsley and was the town's largest employer.  He built a folly, Hartcliffe Tower (which still stands), at Penistone nearby and was the first mayor of the borough.
  
Prominent 20th century
Richardsons from Yorkshire have been the physicist Owen Richardson (from Dewsbury) and the stage and film director Tony Richardson (from Shipley),

Richardsons in Durham

Richardsons were to be found in Sedgefield in south Durham since Elizabethan times.   The marriage records there show some archaic Christian names - Gulielmus, Willimus, Lancelot, Johes, and Riccus – that were handed down from father to son over the seventeenth century.  The Richardsons at Tudhoe near Spennymoor had more conventional names.  The village was a Catholic holdout in the reign of Elizabeth. 

This may explain the cautionary words of Henry Richardson for his wife Isabel in his will of 1579: “be in the house with our son Robert accordingly as she and I have been."

There were also Richardsons in Durham in Elizabethan times.  John Richardson was a local merchant in the 1650's who used his own coins as currency there.   A century later, his namesake dealt in books and became a mayor of the town.

Newcastle.  There was a larger Richardson cluster in and around Newcastle.  They were to be found at Shotley Bridge, possibly from an early date.  The Richardsons were local gentry here.  In the nineteenth century, Jonathan Richardson opened a spa on his estate which included Swiss-type chalets and a small zoo with tropical birds and unusual animals. 

South Shields near Newcastle was a point of early emigration to America, including Francis and John Richardson in the 1680's.  The descendants of Francis Richardson, a Quaker, settled in Philadelphia, those of John Richardson in Virginia and later in South Carolina.
 
More Richardsons were to be found in Newcastle itself as the city grew.  The table following gives a list of prominent Richardsons in that city from the eighteenth century onwards.

Prominent Richardsons in the Newcastle Area
First Name               Born           Birth Place            Commentary
George                    1773           North Shields         a Quaker missionary
Thomas Miles          1784           Newcastle            a painter of local scenes  
John Wigham            1837           Newcastle            a Quaker shipbuilder
Elizabeth                1838           Westgate             a Quaker diarist
Hugh                      1864            Newcastle            a Quaker peace advocate
Lewis Fry                1881            Newcastle            a Quaker who studied the cause of war

More Quakers.  The above selection may be unrepresentative.  But the close-knit nature of the Quaker community there is quite remarkable, particularly during the 19th century.  These Richardsons started off as tanners in the town and then spread into other activities.  Most sought to lead their lives according to their Quaker beliefs.  The shipbuilder John Wigham Richardson, for instance, founded a local Workers’ Benevolent Trust, the forerunner to today's trade unions, at his yard in the 1890's.

Perhaps the most remarkable of these Quakers was Lewis Fry Richardson.  He applied at the Meteorological Office his mathematical mind to the dynamics of weather patterns and the issue of making weather forecasts.  In a sense he was ahead of his time; but the time taken to solve his equations in a pre-computer age was just too long.   Even so, the principles which he established can be said to have laid the foundations for present-day foorecasting. 

As a Quaker,he was a pacifist and resigned from the Met Office when it became part of the Air Ministry in 1920.  He devoted the rest of his life to a mathematical investigation into the causes of war. 

A friend said of him.

"Research for Richardson was the inevitable consequence of the tendency of the mental machine to run almost, but not quite, by itself.  So he was a bad listener, distracted by his thoughts, and a bad driver, seeing his dream instead of the traffic.  The same tendency explains why he appeared sometimes abrupt in manner, otherwise inexplicable in one of his character."

Sir Ralph Richardson, although born in the West Country, came from these Newcastle Quaker Richardson roots as well.  He was one of the great English stage actors of the 20th century.

Richardsons Elsewhere 

The Richardson name appeared in Cheshire as a well-known family of clockmakers, starting with Richard Richardson at Aston near Great Budworth in the 1730’s.