WHAT DID HAPPEN TO ROBERT PICKERSGILL?
by KEN AARON
My great grandfather on my mothers and grandmothers side of the family
was Robert Pickersgill who was born in Knottingley in 1849, and married
Elizabeth Southernwood in December 1871. They had seven children over
the next ten years then he disappears off the scene in the 1880’s. The
family story is that he had emigrated to America, and would send for the
family when he had settled.
Robert Pickersgill was born in Knottingley in 1849, the fourth child
of Robert Pickersgill (1820-1884), born in Methley, near Castleford and
Hannah Womack (1821-1886) of Knottingley. He was baptised on the 29th
July 1849 at Christ Church, Knottingley and in the 1861 Census, Robert
is a scholar living with his parents at Low Green, Knottingley. In the
1871 Census, Robert is staying with his future wife’s parents at Banks
Lane, Knottingley, as a visitor aged 22 and his occupation is shown as
Robert’s parents were Robert Pickersgill and Hannah Womack who married
on the 11th August 1841 at St. Peter's, Leeds Parish Church.
Robert and Hannah appear to have been prosperous and to have had
money. In the 1841 Census Robert Pickersgill is an agricultural labourer
at Methley, recorded with no family. In the 1841 Census Hannah is living
with her parents William and Ellen Womack at Low Green, Knottingley, her
father William is on the 1836 Electors List, Knottingley Ward,
Pontefract as occupier of property and land. In the 1841 Census, William
Womack is a Farmer employing four youths, and in 1851 a beer seller
employing two servants, an agricultural labourer and general servant. In
1861 William is a Farmer and Lime burner at Canal Side, and in an 1866
directory he is a Farmer at Cow Lane.
After marriage Robert and Hannah moved to Purston, then Castleford
before settling in Knottingley in 1846. In the 1851 Census they live at
Racca Green, Knottingley where his occupation is shown as labourer, and
in1861 the family have moved to Low Green, where he is a Farmer,
occupying 90 acres employing one man. In the 1871 Census they are back
at Racca Green and Robert is a Market Gardener, and in the 1881 Census
Robert is still at Racca Green, a farmer of 20 acres. They had a large
family of thirteen children, two died in infancy and the last child
Sarah Jane was born in July 1862
Robert married Elizabeth Southernwood in December 1871. Elizabeth was
born in Knottingley on the 19th November 1848, and in the 1851 Census
she is at Racca Green, Knottingley with her mother and elder sister
Nancy, her mother Jane is recorded as a mariners wife, father William is
away on a boat. In the 1861 Census Elizabeth and her mother are not
found in Knottingley but her father William is recorded as William
Winkworth, his stepfather’s surname which he used from time to time, on
the mariners list on the boat Ark of Knottingley with daughter Nancy and
son George aged five.
ROBERT'S WIFE'S PARENTS:
Elizabeth was the daughter of William Hodsoll Southernwood (1816-1892)
born in St Mary's Cray, Kent and Jane Baker (1824-1887) born in Bingham,
Nottinghamshire. William had been a mariner and became the licensee of
the Greyhound Inn, Weeland Road, Knottingley. In his will, probate
granted 27th February 1893, he left property valued at £886-5s-5d, he
left £30 to his half sister Elizabeth Winkworth of Erith, Kent and ‘I
bequeath to my daughter Elizabeth the wife of Robert Pickersgill of
Knottingley aforesaid Farmer the sum of one shilling I have from time to
time given to her various sums which in the aggregate would amount to an
equal share with my children hereinafter mentioned ‘. The remainder of
the money was divided equally between his remaining children, including
George Baker Southernwood of Austin, Texas.
One of Jane’s brothers William Baker and his wife Matilda had
emigrated to America in the mid 1830,s where they where they were both
murdered by a runaway slave
in Austin, Texas in July 1851. Jane’s sister, Mary Jane Baker married a
William Thompson in 1845 and they also emigrated to Austin, Texas in
1851 with their family which included Ben
Thompson and his younger brother
Billy, the famous, infamous Texan gamblers, gunfighters. Elizabeth’s
only brother George Baker Southernwood emigrated to America in the early
1880,s where he met up with the Thompson’s just before Ben was shot and
killed in a Theatre in San Antonio, Texas.
In the 1881 Census, Robert and Elizabeth are at the Ship Inn, the
Island, Aire Street, Knottingley where Robert is the Landlord, they have
four children and grandmother Ellen is the youngest aged two months.
Robert does not appear in Knottingley in the 1891 Census and Elizabeth
is shown as the head of the family living at Adams Buildings with five
children, the youngest Ben aged seven.
According to Terry Spencer’s book about the
Public Houses of Knottingley, Robert Pickersgill was licensee of the
Ship Inn from the 22nd October 1878 to 17th July 1881 when Edwin
Keithley became the licensee.
Robert seems to have gone missing between 1881 and 1891, after
youngest son Ben was born in 1884, and is not recorded in the 1901
In the Christ Church, Knottingley marriage records Robert’s daughter
Nancy married Alfred Robinson on the 20th March 1897, Nancy is described
as ‘daughter of Robert Pickersgill, labourer’ brother George and sister
Betsey are the witnesses. Daughter Betsey Elizabeth married Thomas Dews
on the 1st October 1898, Betsey Elizabeth is described as ‘daughter of
Robert Pickersgill deceased publican’. William Womack Pickersgill and
Nancy Robinson her brother and sister are the witnesses. Robert’s son
George married Elizabeth Hobman on the 29th July 1899 at Christ Church,
Knottingley, the marriage record states that George is the son of Robert
Pickersgill, publican, the witnesses were Robert Hobman and Nellie
The story in the family is that Robert had emigrated to America, and
when established the family would follow, letters were received for a
while, but these eventually stopped. It was said that Mary Rhodes late
of Womersley Road, the grand daughter of Mary Ann Southernwood,
Elizabeth’s elder sister had a letter of Roberts from America, but I
don’t know any one who has seen it.
Aunt Susy, Susanna Aaron, wrote a short story about her
Childhood in Knottingley. Unknown to us Aunt Susy was not only
related through marriage to dads brother Thomas Aaron she was also
related through her grandfather George Pickersgill, born in 1856,
Roberts younger brother. In her story she writes about her Great
grandparents, ‘Great grandma was a very autocratic person, with Great
grandpa under her thumb-Old Mrs Rowley told me of her. Anyway when
Granddad said that he was going to marry Sarah Richardson his mother
said when he left to get married the door was shut against him, and it
was. She would drive herself through Knottingley and would not recognise
Granddad, his wife or children. Then years later she was found dead in
her chair the house ransacked, and a son (Robert?) and her housekeeper
vanished to America. George had to clear up the mess, but nothing was
left to him in the will, and his sisters and brothers got everything’.
There is no mention of any suspicious death in the local papers at the
time, just a brief announcement in the Death Announcements. Hannah died
on the 29th July 1886 at Racca Green, Knottingley, on the Death
Certificate dated 30th July 1886 Hannah is shown as age 62, widow of
Robert Pickersgill a Farmer the cause of death ‘Cardiac disease Several
years Certified by H J Simms L.R.C.P.’ and the informant is ‘Elizabeth
Pickersgill Daughter in law In attendance Low Green, Knottingley’.
Did Robert have an argument with his mother over money, was their a
struggle, and did she collapse and die of an heart attack, and did
Robert disappear with the housekeeper ? And did Robert’s wife Elizabeth
and the family tidy up afterwards?
Elizabeth died on the 5th March 1913 and is buried in Womersley Road
Cemetary, Knottingley in the same grave as her daughter Betsy who died
on the 30th January 1899, aged 21. Grandmother Ellen and grandfather
George Knapton were also buried in the same grave in the 1950's.
What did happen to Robert Pickersgill?