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.

A milestone in Kildwick on the turnpike road
Thomas and Ann Gill c1865

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. The turnpike was eventually to prove a financial loss for its investors as they had failed to foresee the cost of repairing the wear and tear of the traffic. It had required the bridge at Kildwick to be widened and allowed the packhorses to make way for the mail coach and other wheeled vehicles, so regular coaches to other parts of the county were introduced. There was a table of charges (such as 2s for twenty cattle) but the list of exclusions and the poor management led to a huge loss.

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.

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. Both farmed for their fathers but later had their own land locally: small farms of only about ten acres, but supplemented by weaving. In 1812 Thomas had married Ann Lambert, the eldest child of a nearby landowner, Tobias Lambert, who farmed over 100 acres and whose forebears had lived at Gillgrange, a hamlet in Silsden, for centuries [1]. It is difficult to know the balance between farming and weaving: Thomas was always described as a 'farmer' (on censuses, his death certificate and his sons' marriage certificates) but 8 acres cannot do much more than supply the family. His four surviving sons all became weavers and, in 1851, while Thomas remained a farmer, the two sons still living at home were both hand loom weavers of worsted. It is difficult not to visualise the young men sitting at looms in a room of the house, but that probably wasn't the case. At some stage in the 1850s, certainly by 1858, Thomas and Ann's eldest son, James, had taken over Lumb Mill, one of the oldest mills in the north of England and where the industrial revolution is said to have started in the area - and that doesn't happen if you had been doing your weaving in a corner of a room previously. Thomas and Ann moved around within the area as they are New Houses, Sutton in 1841, Cragg End ten years after that, and Summer Seat in 1861; but these houses are all close to each other.

Thomas' parents died when their grandchildren were very young, and Ann's father lived to see them all become adults. They had a close relationship with him and the eldest, James (who later owned Lumb Mill) must have been staying with him in 1840 when he was about twelve. Tobias' house was in the hamlet of Brunthwaite on the edge of the moor near the ridge that divides the valleys of the Aire and the Wharfe.[2]. The census suggests that there were over 200 people living there, but three or four houses, including Tobias', must have been slightly away from the others, with one, belonging to an Abraham Flesher, even more remote, about a quarter of a mile beyond Tobias' farm, even Abraham describing it as a 'lonely position'. Late one night, after 11pm, six men broke into the Flesher house, beat up Abraham's wife and stole two silver watches, money and several other items. the injuries to his wife were such that she didn't think she would survive (and to modern eyes the doctor's method of curing her brain concussion seemed barbaric: sixteen horse leeches!). One of the Fleshers servants ran to the nearest house for help, which was Tobias'. Judging from the census a year later, Tobias had four sons living at home ranging in age from thirteen to thirty-five but oddly the person accompanying the servant back to the Fleshers was Tobias' grandson, James, the youngest of them all [3] Luckily by the time they had returned the robbers had fled (but they were later tried and found guilty).

Tobias remained an active member of the farming community until he died in 1855. As late as 1850 (and then again in 1853) he took first (£1 and a silver medal) and second prize (10s and a bronze medal) in the Keighley Agricultural Show for the 'Best pen of five two-shear wethers. [4]. The sheep category appears to have been open to all, whereas others seemed divided into gentleman, farmers and tradesmen! Tobias' son-in-law, Thomas, only survived him by ten years, dying at Lumb Mill, where presumably he was living with (or just staying) his son, James. His widow, Ann, now went to live with one of her other sons, Thomas jr, who was also a weaver; but now done on a steam loom rather than by hand. When she died in 1866 she was described as a retired weaver of worsted, so the farmer/weaver debate continued to the end.


  1. Tobias is likely to be a direct descendant of John Lambert, who lived in Gillgrange at the end of the 16th century; and there are plentiful references to Lambert yeoman living in the hamlet over the centuries, including several namesakes of Tobias Lambert
  2. This description comes from witness statements at the trial
  3. The newspaper report doesn't name the grandson, but it can only have been James or one of his younger brothers
  4. I believe the 'two-shear' gives their age as they have been shorn twice; and the 'wethers' means they have been castrated