In the early 1800s Woodlesford House was the home of the owner of Woodlesford pottery, William Wilks. On his death it passed to his son Joseph and after Joseph died in about 1830 the house and most of the land surrounding it was bought by John Upton, a solicitor who had offices on Park View and then Bank Street in Leeds.
Born at Lydgate 1795 Upton was active in Leeds politics, a lieutenant in the Volunteer Infantry and a supporter of the Yorkshire Music Festival. After having two children, John Everard and Catherine, with his first wife, Catherine Lapage, she had died and in 1825 he had remarried Jane Briggs from York.
Probably after the death of his second wife John Upton moved back to live on Rockingham Street in Leeds in 1837 letting Woodlesford House to Sussanah Prest and the farm land to John Storey.
Mrs. Prest was the daughter of the Rev. Dr. Wells of Wellingham near Lincoln and could trace her roots back to a Norman who came over with William the Conqueror.
Her husband was William Prest, a magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant of the West Riding who died at the age of 65 in 1836. According to a memorial stone to him placed by his wife in Saxton All Saints’ church he was “greatly respected by his extensive circle of friends.”
After their marriage in 1803 they had lived at Scarthingwell Park near Tadcaster but when her husband died Sussanah appears to have sold off many of his possessions including farm stock, furniture, and a “phaeton” carriage, and moved to Woodlesford.
Quite why she chose to move away from Scarthingwell is unclear but during her husband’s lifetime they appear to have been very active in “society.” He had been a supporter of the Tory party and served as the chairman of the City Commissioners of York for nine years helping to build a new market. The couple had attended many dinners and social functions and perhaps a house at Woodlesford meant Mrs. Prest was more easily able to travel into Leeds where many of the events were held.
In the 1841 census she was 65 years old and is recorded as the head of the household at Woodlesford House. Living with her were her niece Charlotte Close, 35, and three servants: Sarah Spinks, 30, Hannah Demaine, 25, and Richard Westmoreland, 50. As well as household duties Richard would have been Mrs. Prest’s groom driving her around in a carriage or gig.
A year earlier on the night of Tuesday 28 April 1840 Mrs. Prest was the victim of a burglary when she lost some of her jewellery and what appear to have been family heirlooms. The chief constable of Leeds, Edward Read, was informed at his office at 38 Briggate and the details were quickly sent off by telegraph to the Bow Street Police Office in London. They were printed in the “House Breaking” section of the Police Gazette published three days later.
The stolen property included: “two pairs of silver sugar tongs, marked “P”; two silver sugar spoons; a silver sugar sifter, marked “P”; a gold brooch, with open work and three stones; a cameo brooch; a brooch for hair, set round with garnets; a coral necklace of large beads; two garnet rings, one of them with the garnet in the centre set round with pearls; a ring with pale green stones; six gold seals, one with “Eliza,” and another with a crown and the words “God Save The King”; two seals not gold, several thimbles; keys and rings.”
Anyone with information which led to a conviction was offered a reward of ten guineas.
It’s not known if Mrs. Prest’s stolen property was recovered but it’s highly likely the main suspects for the burglary would have been among the the navvies who were working on the construction of the North Midland Railway just a few yards away from the house.
Sussanah Prest died at Bath in Somerset on 4 March 1843, no doubt travelling there by train to “take the waters” for her failing health. She was buried with her husband at Saxton.
Just over a month later the contents of Woodlesford House were put up for sale by auction by the Leeds firm of T. & W. Hardwick. Amongst the items were mahogany furniture, a grand piano, silver plate, table and bed linen, fine wines, a library of 200 books, and two horses. Sussanah’s niece moved to live at Coldhill Farm near Lotherton Hall where she lived until 1862.