Thomas Gill (1789 - 1866) & Ann Lambert (1793 - 1876)

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Kildwick lies nearly ten miles North of Haworth, but it was an area that the Bronte sisters knew well. They may have visited it regularly, but they would certainly have passed through the parish on their way to their boarding school; and the owner of Kildwick Hall - a Miss Currer - is believed to be the inspiration for Charlotte's pen name: Currer Bell. Thomas Gill's maternal grandmother was also a Currer (although not a close relation of Miss Currer) and several boys in his family, including an uncle and brother, were christened Currer, so Charlotte's name would not have stood out as unusual. Kildwick lies in the Pennines, about halfway between Keighley and Skipton, and is made up from a number of small villages and hamlets that stretch towards the Lancashire border. On either side of the River Aire the land is agricultural, but to the North lie the gentle limestone Yorkshire Dales, and South are the more rugged sandstone moors made famous by the Brontes in their stories.

Nowadays, many of Cowling, Glusburn, Farnhill, Sutton and the dozen other communities have churches of their own; but, until the middle of the 19th century, the only church in the parish was in Kildwick, even though many of the other villages were much larger. Throughout the 18th century the population was scattered through the parish with groups of houses clustered round the various sources of water, which often provided the energy for mills, as well as being needed for drinking. Most people farmed, for themselves or selling their produce to those living nearby, although a number would weave or spin to supplement their income.

In 1773 the first section of the Liverpool-Leeds canal was built and so fundamentally changed the way people lived. Running between Bingkey and Skipton, it skirted Kildwick and extensions followed in the next few years. All this meant that corn and other foods could be transported more easily, and those living in Kildwick found that they could buy their corn more cheaply from other areas. Local corn mills found it increasingly uneconomic to grind corn and started to use their mills to saw wood, or more often for weaving, the industry that would dominate the area for years to come. Increasing populations meant that there was still a market for corn and other food, but it was less economic than weaving so farmers turned their mills to industry and their fields to livestock. As well as the canal, new roads were built, such as the Keighley to Kendall turnpike in 1786, and villages grew, sometimes, as in Cowling's case, a little was away from the original community, so that the church and school were left outside the new centre.

One of those experiencing this firsthand was James Gill. Like his father, James was a husbandman, so owned his farm and would have employed others to work on it. He was born in Glusburn, and his wife Mary, whom he married in 1776, was from Silsden where, over the next twenty-five years, they were to have eleven children. There are no records to show what James grew, but they do show that in 1723 flax was grown extensively around Silsden to meet the Royal Navy's requirements for sails and cordage. A nationally commissioned survey of the agriculture in the Craven area, published in 1793 showed that the the range of soil types led to widely differing outcomes in crop results. They criticised the drainage and design of farm buildings and recommended that farmers grew more wheat and turnips. Employers were paying their permanent labourers about £12 a year together with food and drink, and casual workers 2s 6d (12.5p) a day, to work from 'dawn until dark' in the winter; and from 6am to 6pm during the harvest with one hour off for lunch. Presumably James would have done much the same.

Thomas and Ann Gill c1865
Lumb Mill

Most farmers supplemented their income through spinning or nailmaking, although one enterprising family in the 18th century combined farming with the trades of mason, joiner, blacksmith, turner, mechanic, bee-keeper and woolcomber! James is likely to have been the same, and certainly spinning became important in the family. In 1835-6 Beck’s Mill became the first powered mill in the region; it was built by Joshua Fletcher, Henry Mitchell and a James Gill (although there is no evidence that it was the same James Gill who would have been 77 at the time, and died in 1837, so is an unlikely candidate). The advent of this sort of mechanisation was the end for domestic weaving, as one such loom could do more in a day than all the hand weavers could do in a week.

James and Mary had eleven children, most of whom survived childhood, although few went on to have families of their own. The two sons who did were Thomas and Currer, ten years the younger.

Notes (to be written up later) Thomas (1786-1866) of Lumb Mill, in family for generations. 'Farmer' on death certificate in 1866 Wife, Ann daughter of Tobias Lambert, farmer of 111 acres in Gill Grange. Five sons; four daughters. Tobias d1855. One son became wheelwright. Ann (Lambert) Gill, described in 1871 as 'retired weaver of worsted'. Died 1876. Thomas G d at Lumb Mill in 1866. He was a 'farmer of 8 acres' in in Sutton in 1841-1861 censuses. Eldest son, James, 54, worsted commission weaver at L.M. in 1881. Described father as farmer in 1847 Thomas jr steam loom weaver in 1863, grocer in 1871. Described father as farmer in 1863