John Bell

Reverend John Bell.

The family photographs on this page are courtesy of Christopher Bell, a descendant of John Bell. The picture of the house is from the collection of Ben Williams, a relative of the the manager of Water Haigh colliery.

The Reverend John Bell was the Vicar of Rothwell for 40 years from 1829 until his death at the age of 65 in 1869. For most of that time he lived in Oulton, initially at Oulton House opposite St. John’s school and then at Hemingway House, the large mansion at Oulton Green. It had previously been owned by a lawyer called Edward Hemingway and was later to become the clubhouse for Oulton Miners’ Welfare.

Both John Bell and his wife, Isabella Elizabeth, were from well-to-do Northumberland families. Her father was Sir Charles Loraine and his brother, Matthew, was a Member of Parliament for 20 years.

Through his mother, Sarah Frances Brandling, John had strong links to the Rothwell area as the Brandling family were the owners of the collieries at Middleton which was then part of Rothwell parish.

Indeed Sarah’s brother, Ralph Henry Brandling, had been the “absentee” Vicar of Rothwell for 33 years before John succeeded him. Another of her brothers, Charles John Brandling, was M.P. for Newcastle from 1798 to 1812. He employed John Blenkinsop who in 1812 designed a rack and pinion steam locomotive to run on the Middleton Railway. Charles John was also chairman of a committee set up to give an award to George Stephenson for the invention of the Geordie pit safety lamp in 1815.

Reverend Bell and his wife brought up a large family of nine boys and five girls. One son, Henry, also became a priest in the Church of England at Muncaster in Cumberland. Another, Charles Loraine Bell, was a senior civil servant in the Board of Trade in London before retiring to the ancestral home at Woolsington Hall on the outskirts of Newcastle.

In 1861 the Bells had seven servants at Oulton Green including cook Rachel Backhouse from Oulton, maids Ann Dobson and Jane Schofield from Rothwell along with Elizabeth Grins from Carlton.

Isabella Elizabeth Bell.

Decades before the Bells took up residence the land on which their house was built  was owned by Marmaduke Vavasour, the proprietor of a tannery in Oulton. He was born and baptised in Rothwell parish in 1747 with the records indicating his father was called John.

Research by the Reverend Geoffrey Mercer in the 1950s indicates the tannery was on land close to the site of the present day motel and was in operation during John Vavasour’s life in the mid-eighteenth century.

The Vavasour name goes back to the Norman conquest with the main branch of the family living at Hazlewood Castle near Tadcaster for over 900 years. A William Vavasour is known to have owned a mill in Hunslet in the early thirteenth century. It’s likely therefore that the Vavasours at Oulton were descendants of the original Norman family.

In June 1778 Marmaduke Vavasour married Dorothy Beatson, possibly the daughter of Richard Beatson from Thornhill near Wakefield. She was described in the Leeds Intelligencer as a very agreeable young lady with a fortune of £3,000 – worth approximately £200,000 today. Her father may have been a yeoman farmer or mill owner. Richard had responsibilities as a county official placing a notice in the local papers in 1761 in connection with a shoemaker from Thornhill held in the debtors prison at Rothwell. A Richard Beatson, possibly his son, was appointed the Chief Constable of the Wapentake of Agbrigg and Morley in 1789.

The mansion house at Oulton Green known as Hemingway House.

Marmaduke and Dorothy Vavasour’s first child, Elizabeth, died before she was a year old in 1781. They went on to have two more daughters. Dorothy, born in 1786, married Quarton Levitt, a merchant and ship owner from Hull. 

Their youngest, Mary, born in 1787, married the attorney Edward Hemingway. He practised in Leeds and, based on the birth places and baptisms of their children it looks as though the the mansion at Oulton Green was built in about 1830 on a plot of land owned by the Vavasours. The 1841 census records them living there along with their daughter, Mary Ann, and four servants, Hannah Dyson, Hannah Barratt, Mary Whitehead and Thomas Savile. The census ten years later labels the mansion as “Hemingway House.”

The Hemingways had three sons. The youngest, Marmaduke Vavasour, followed his father into the legal profession whilst the middle son, Edward Vavasour, became a surgeon.

It’s through the eldest, Shepley Watson Hemingway, born in 1827, that the link with Oulton Green and the Reverend Bell comes full circle. After attending boarding school in Wakefield, at the same time as Timothy Bentley from the Woodlesford brewing family, Shepley Watson went to Uppingham School in Rutland and then St. John’s College at Cambridge, graduating in 1846.

Two years later, in compliance with the will of his great uncle, a Wakefield solicitor who managed the Winn estate at Nostell Priory, and who he was named after, he changed his surname so that he became Shepley Watson Watson. This probably allowed him to inherit property in the Wakefield area acquired by his great uncle and indeed in the electoral registers in the 1850s he’s listed as the owner of freehold houses, land and tenements in the Stanley-cum-Wrenthorpe polling district.

After a period living back home at Oulton Green he went to train as a priest in Durham where he was ordained in 1856, going first as a curate to Berwick-on-Tweed and then to Plumbland in Cumberland.

Shepley Watson Watson.

Suitably educated and now with probably quite a substantial and secure income Shepley Watson Watson returned home to Oulton to marry the Reverend Bell’s eldest daughter, Sarah Frances. She was eight years younger than him and though they had probably known each other since childhood, given the social attitudes of the time, it’s likely the marriage had been arranged by their parents.

The wedding took place on 23 April 1863 at Rothwell church with the ceremony being conducted by Sarah Frances’s brother Henry. Her mother and three of her sisters signed the register.

Isabella Elizabeth Bell continued to live at Oulton Green after her husband died but by the time of her death in 1881 she had moved to Neville Hall at Middleham in North Yorkshire.


Leeds Intelligencer. Saturday 10 December 1859.

On Thursday afternoon a very handsome testimonial was presented to the Rev. John Bell, M.A., the vicar of Rothwell, and rural dean, by his parishioners, as a token of their affection and respect for his urbanity and kindness to them, and as an acknowledgment of the faithfulness with which he has discharged the various duties of his office during the 30 years that he bas been the vicar of Rothwell.

Between 40 and 50 of the subscribers dined together in the National School-room, the dinner being provided by Mr. Judson, of the Swan Inn. After the repast the room was densely filled with ladies, who manifested deep interest in the presentation and other postprandial proceedings.

The chair was occupied by Mr. C. Jewison (coroner), and the vice-chair by Mr. Richard Binney. Amongst the clergy and other gentlemen present were the Rev. J. Bell, the vicar of the parish; the Hon. and Rev. P. Y. Savile, rector of Methley; the Rev. E. D. Bland, rector of Kippax; the Rev. R. Burrell, incumbent of Stanley; the Rev. R. Chadwick, incumbent of Lofthouse; Mr. J. G. Turner, Mr. George Young (Woodlesford), Mr. J. T. Fenton (Knowsthorpe), Mr. James Dickinson, Mr. Joseph Lee, Mr. George Needham, Mr. George Appleyard, Mr. John Flockton, Mr. Robert Farrer, Mr. John Farrer, Mr. C. Jewison, jun., Mr. R. Dobson (Carlton), Mr. John Holmes (Methley), Mr. Oliver, Mr. John Bell, jun., Mr. Parnaby (Rothwell Haigh), Mr. W. Smith, Mr. John Pullon (Rothwell Haigb), Mr. W. Webster, Mr. W. Hartley (Ouzlewell Green), Mr. H.S. Smith (Leeds).

The testimonial, which was arranged on a table in the centre of the room, consisted of a very elaborately engraved solid silver dinner service, of the Shrewsbury pattern, and comprising four entree dishes and covers, with movable handles, to form eight dishes, a large soup tureen, two shaped sauce tureens, four beautiful salts (lined with gold), and a silver bread basket.

Upon the soup tureen the following inscription was engraved: “This silver dinner service was presented to the Rev. John Bell, M.A., Vicar of Rothwell, by his parishioners and friends, as a token of the high respect and esteem in which he is held, and of his exemplary conduct and kindness as pastor during a period of 30 years, October 1859, Richard Binney, John Flockton, George Needham, James Dickinson, Isaac Schofield, Joseph Lee, George Appleyard, and Joseph Watkin, churchwardens.

The various articles were also engraved with the arms and crest of Mr. Bell, and a large oak plate chest had been made to contain the whole of them. Along with the testimonial was presented a list of all the subscribers (about 270), written on parchment. The dinner service cost about £300, and was supplied by Mr. H. S. Smith, jeweller, Commercial Street, Leeds, in whose shop window it has been recently exhibited.

After the dinner “Non nobis Domine” was sung by a party of glee singers, and the usual loyal toasts were proposed by the CHAIRMAN, who then gave “The Lord Bishop and Clergy of the Diocese,” which was responded to by the Hon. and Rev. P. Y. SAVILE, in an appropriate speech. He remarked that the present Bishop of Ripon had most efficiently performed his duties ever since he was appointed to the office. (Applause.)

While engaged in the multifarious duties which called his attention to distant parts of his diocese, his lordship bad shown himself a good overseer, and he had not overlooked the parish of Rothwell, which was testified by the fact that, since his appointment to the see, the labours of the clergyman at Middleton had received, through his lordship’s exertions, treble the remuneration which they previously did. (Applause.)

The right, rev. prelate was not given to change, but to improvement; and he had followed in the footsteps of his amiable and worthy predecessor. (Applause.) He still continued to hold confirmations in the splendid church of Rothwell, to which he (Mr. Savile) had for many years been accustomed to bring the young people under his care to be confirmed; and, moreover, the bishop had pleased and gratified the clergy of the neighbourhood, as well, he thought, as the people of Rothwell, by one of the first appointments which he had made, namely, reinstating to the office of rural dean one of the most excellent clergy of his diocese – John Bell, vicar of Rothwell. (Applause.)

It was a great satisfaction to the clergy of the neighbourhood to know that, in moments of difficulty, they could obtain advice from a rural dean who had had so much experience, and had so much common sense. (Applause.)

Mr. Bell had now been vicar of Rothwell for 30 years, and he (Mr. Savile) thought that 30 years’ experience in a Yorkshire parish was equal to 50 years’ experience in a parish in a more southern latitude. (Applause.)

The hon. and rev. gentleman thanked the assembly for the way in which they had drunk the toast, and concluded by expressing a hope that the bishop and clergy of the diocese would ever continue to retain the good opinion of such true-hearted English gentlemen and English ladies as were assembled on that occasion. (Applause.)

The CHAIRMAN then presented the testimonial in an appropriate address. He regretted his inability to do justice to the merits of their esteemed pastor, whose untiring zeal and diligence in the performance of the arduous duties of his calling as a Christian minister, in that extensive parish, had secured the admiration and regard of all classes of his parishioners. (Applause.)

He had now laboured for their spiritual and moral welfare for the long period of 30 years, with credit to himself, and with advantage to his parishioners. (Hear, hear.)

The urbanity and kindness with which he had treated alike all classes were too well known and appreciated to require any lengthened observation, which would probably be as repugnant to Mr. Bell’s feelings as it would be distasteful to the assembly; but he might be permitted to say, from personal observation, that the rev. gentleman had never suffered his own convenience to stand in the way of his pastoral duties.

By night, as by day, his personal attendance had not been withheld in the hour of sickness and distress. His soothing consolation and advice had cheered the wounded spirit in the day of affliction, and his hand had been open to relieve. (Hear, hear.)

The necessitous poor had never been repulsed by forbidding haughtiness, nor the rich offended by an unbecoming levity. He had rejoiced with his parishioners in their prosperity, and sympathised with them in their adversity. His influence had been devoted to the protection of the poor and helpless, and in warning and restraining the evil-doer. (Hear, hear.)

The best portion of his life had been devoted to the welfare of his parishioners; and, in consideration of his services, his parishioners and friends had done themselves the credit of procuring a suitable token of their esteem, in the beautiful service of plate before him, and of which be now begged the rev. gentleman’s acceptance. (Cheers.)

The Chairman concluded by expressing a hope that God would bless Mr. Bell with health and prosperity, and permit the connection existing between him and his parishioners to be prolonged to the longest period assigned for human existence. (Loud applause.)

The Rev. J. BELL, who was received with great cordiality, suitably returned thanks for the testimonial.

He said: My friends and parishioners, although during the course of my life I have been placed in many positions of great difficulty, yet I can assure you that I never felt more perplexed than I do at the present moment, for I can neither command words nor select language to express to you my grateful feelings upon this occasion.

Had this magnificent gift emanated from a few of my attached friends, I need not say how much I should have valued it; but coming, as it does, from the collective body of my parishioners, from the high, from the low, from the rich, from the poor, from those who differ from me in political opinions, as well as from those who hold religious sentiments at variance with my own – coming, I say, from such a body, it is indeed doubly prizable to me; and, now that I am in possession of it, my first object will be to make it an heirloom in my family, that when my children, and their children after them, look upon it, they may at least learn to value it, and endeavour to do their duty in the station of life in which it may please God to call them. (Loud cheers.)

But this, my friends, is not the only act of liberality for which I have to thank you. During the period of my incumbency upwards of £10,000 has passed through my hands cheerfully – chiefly through your munificence, for the spiritual welfare of this important parish; – for building churches, parsonage houses, schools, and last, not least, for better adapting that church to which I am so deeply attached – my own parish church – for public worship. I trust that that money has not been spent in a manner that will cause any one to regret that it has passed through my hands. (Hear, hear.)

It is gratifying to me to feel that the constitutional guardians of the church, the gentlemen churchwardens of this parish, have taken such a lively interest in promoting this testimonial. They, of all others, from the nature of their office, are best calculated to know how far I have discharged my duty amongst you. (Hear, hear.)

It is also most pleasing to me that you have selected a gentleman to present (in your name) this gift who has lived so long in this town, and who has known me from the earliest period of my ministry amongst you. (Applause.)

I am quite sure, from his own excellent character, that he would not have occupied the position which he has done this day did he not feel that he could conscientiously do so. (Hear, hear.)

When I look back over the past 30 years, and remember how other parishes have been disturbed, from one cause or another, it is indeed grateful to my feelings that I can say I have lived in peace and harmony with my parishioners. (Applause.)

Valuable as this dinner service is from its intrinsic worth I hold in my hand that which I can honestly and truly say I value more. (Applause.)

This parchment and what is inscribed upon it will often remind me of your great kindness; and I trust that when my children unroll it, and read the names that are inscribed upon it, they will endeavour to make the same friends, and to recollect how many friends their father had. (Applause)

The best years of my life hare been spent amongst you, and the best energies of my mind have been devoted to your service; and whether, in God’s providence, our connection shall be long or short, rest assured that, by God’s help, I will continue to be to yon what I ever have been – your faithful pastor. (Cheers.)

The rev. gentleman concluded by expressing a hope that the blessing of God might rest upon the parish.

After a brief pause The Rev. J. BELL again rose, and proposed, in very complimentary terms, “The health of the

churchwardens of this parish,” which was appropriately responded to by the VICE-CHAIRMAN, who referred to the harmony which prevailed in the parish of Rothwell, and the great spiritual and moral improvements which had taken place since he first became a churchwarden, nearly 40 years ago.

The Rev R. BURRELL gave “The Testimonial Committee to which Mr. LEE replied. The VICE-CHAIRMAN then proposed “The Ladies,” and Mr. BELL, jun., responded to the toast. “The health of the Chairman, proposed by the Rev. Mr. BELL, was next heartily drunk, and the CHAIRMAN acknowledged the compliment. The Hon. and Rev. Mr. SAVILE gave “Prosperity to the coal trade,” to which Mr. FENTON replied. The various toasts were interspersed with a selection of vocal music, and the proceedings terminated with the singing of the National Anthem.


The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. Friday 15 October 1869.

The Rev. John Bell, M.A., vicar of Rothwell, died at his residence, Oulton Green, near Leeds, yesterday morning, We understand that the death of the reverend gentleman, which was somewhat sudden, resulted from disease of the heart. Mr Bell, who was 65 years of age, was son of the late Mr Matthew Bell, of Woolsington, brother to the present Mr Matthew Bell, of the same place, formerly M.P. for Northumberland.

The deceased had held the vicarage of Rothwell for 40 years. He was presented thereto in 1829, by its then patron, a near relative, one of the Brandlings, of Gosforth, Northumberland, Mr Bell’s mother being a Miss Brandling.

Besides being vicar of Rothwell, Mr Bell had also for several years filled the office of rural dean for the deanery of Wakefield, and was more recently appointed honorary canon of Ripon Cathedral. As a proof of the high respect which he was held by his clerical brethren, we may mention that Mr Bell was either three or four times in succession elected as one of the proctors to represent the archdeaconry of Craven in the Convocation of the province of York, which post occupied at the time his death.

At the meetings of the Convocation he took an active part, putting forth his views with firmness and decision on the various subjects which were brought under the consideration of that deliberative assembly the Church, but always with exemplary courtesy and kind consideration towards those who differed from him in opinion. He maintained what we may appropriately designate moderate High Church principles, and was earnest and faithful in discharge of his pastoral and other sacred functions.

Nor were his demeanour and conduct less commendable in all the other duties of life which he was called upon to fulfil. He was much beloved by his parishioners, and by those of his clerical and lay brethren in other places with whom be was intimate, and his death will be much and sincerely regretted.

We understand that the living of Rothwell, the income of which is about  £1000 a year, is in the gift of Mr Calverley, of Oulton Hall. By Mr Bell’s death several distinguished families, including those of Bell, Brandling, Loraine, Ridley, and Fairbairn, will be placed in mourning.

The soup tureen which was presented to Rev. John Bell in 1859. It was sold at Sotheby’s in 1974.


Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. Tuesday 19 October 1869.

Yesterday the remains of the Rev. John Bell, M.A., vicar of Rothwell, and honorary canon of Ripon Cathedral, were interred in the churchyard the village in which he laboured for a period of years.

The death of the rev. gentleman took place suddenly on Thursday morning last. In accordance with the wishes of the family, the funeral, the arrangements for which were entrusted to Messrs John Wales Smith & Son, Commercial Street, Leeds, was of simple and unostentatious character, and none but the nearest relatives were invited to assemble at Oulton Green, the residence at which Bell breathed his last, prior to the ceremony of interment.

At Rothwell, however, the closed shops and the general hush of business pursuits outwardly bespoke the feeling of sorrow which pervaded the parish in which the deceased had passed the better part of his active Christian life, and silent groups at street corners and doorways, and hundreds of spectators in the churchyard, afforded further illustration of the honourable place held by the departed in the hearts his flock.

There was also a large attendance of the clergy, and of those who were included in his wide circle of friends. The funeral cortege left Oulton Green about half-past eleven o’ clock. Following the hearse were two mourning coaches, in which were seated Mr C. L. Bell, the Rev. H. Bell, Mrs Bell (widow of deceased). Miss Bell, Captain H. Bell, Mr Arthur Bell, F. Bell, the Rev. S. Watson, the Rev. C. Walsham, and Mr Jewison, jun.

A few private carriages succeeded, amongst them being those of Sir Andrew Fairbairn, Knight, and Mr Calverley, of Oulton Hall, the patron of the living. Many of the villagers of Oulton congregated along the highway to witness the procession. The deep-toned bell of the church was tolling as the hearse made its appearance in Rothwell, and, nearer the burial ground the procession was joined by the clergy in their gowns, and by the other mourners.

The hearse was drawn up in front of the churchyard gates, the coffin having been lifted out, the bearers bore it aloft, and the procession was continued to the western entrance of the sacred edifice.

The pall bearers were Mr Richard Harrison, Mr Faviell of Stockeld Park; Mr Oddie, of Woodlesford; Mr Leather, jun., Mr Turner, and Mr Jewison, sen.

At the gates the procession was met by Rev. R. H. Hamilton of Oulton-cum-Woodlesford, and the Rev. Sidney Greenwood, curate Rothwell, by whom the service for the dead was conducted. Almost the whole of the unreserved part of the church was occupied by the parishioners, and their number was greatly augmented when, after the solemn proceedings in the church, the body was borne to its resting-place at the eastern angle of the burial ground, many spectators having assembled at that spot.

Amid an affecting stillness the officiating clergyman continued and completed the service over the grave, and then when the mourners had pressed forward to take a farewell look at the coffin, which reposed the remains of one who had been a faithful pastor, and a man sincere and amiable in all the relations of life, the proceedings were an end. On the coffin was the simple inscription: Rev. John Bell, M.A. Died 11th October, 1869.

Rothwell Times, 1895.


















This letter was published in the Rothwell Times on Friday 26 April 1895. It came from the Reverend Henry Bell who was the vicar at Muncaster near Ravenglass in the Lake District. He was born in Oulton in 1838 and in the letter he’s asking if anybody who reads the paper can remember a version of the game of skittles which was played in Oulton when he was a boy.

From the letter it’s obvious that Henry grew up playing skittles with other local boys and he’s asking for the rules so he can introduce the game to pupils at his local “National” school at Muncaster which was governed in the same way as the one at Oulton. From the census records the Jack Rimington he refers appears to be John Rimington, the son of stone mason William Rimington. Jack was born in 1831 so he was a few years older than Henry. The phrase “facile princeps,” which means “easily the first,” probably refers to the fact that Jack was often the first in the pub for a drink at opening time!

However time was probably playing a trick on on Henry as the records indicate that John Leake was the landlord of the New Masons rather than the Old Masons. The other man mentioned, “Old Davy,” was probably Thomas Davy who was a wheelwright.

Henry Bell left Oulton when he was about 14 or 15 years old and was sent to be a pupil at Marlborough College in Wiltshire. From there he studied theology at Durham University, not far from the Bell family seat at Woolsington Hall near Newcastle. Graduating in 1861 he returned to Marlborough where he taught as assistant master for 12 years. In 1873 he married Katherine Fitzgerald, the daughter of Sir Peter Fitzgerald, a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy who had a large estate on Valentia Island in south west Kerry. Shortly after their marriage Henry was appointed to be the vicar at Muncaster, a post he held until his retirement in 1907. As well as his interest in skittles he was also an all round cricketer and remembered as a “capital wicket keeper.”

One of Henry Bell’s sons was Aubrey Fitzgerald Bell. Born in 1881 he was taken by his mother to the “high society” resort of Saint-Jean-de-Luz in south west France close to the border with Spain. After studying at Oxford he was assistant keeper of printed books at the British Museum and from there he travelled in Spain and Portugal becoming a scholarly authority on both countries. It was at Aubrey’s home near Saint-Jean-de-Luz that Henry Bell died in 1919.

Henry Bell.