The Workman Family in England, Part Four

by John Sharpe

With the COVID-19 pandemic, including its highly-transmissible variant, still raging through England, John Sharpe, remaining ensconced at home in Clifton, where the Workman family once lived, has found inspiration and meaning by being able to contribute to the blog these accounts of the history of the Workmans in the extreme northern part of the country.  So, what was initially projected to be a three-part post has been expanded to two new installments.  These provide us more detail about the years spent by the Workmans in the towns of Temple Sowerby and Clifton, then in Westmorland County, now part of Cumbria County, as well as context of these places and of the remarkable life of Reverend William Workman, or Warkman as he preferred it, great-uncle of the William Workman who settled his homestead on the Rancho La Puente in early 1842.  So, enjoy John’s further evocation of the Workman family in England and come back next week for part five!

“THE NEATEST and best kept village in Westmorland.”   That was the proud reputation of leafy Temple Sowerby by the year 1800 as it clustered around its parish church in the broad valley of the meandering Eden, that “most noble river in the county”.   And the good people of the old village could rest assured that their homes were a respectful half-mile or so from an Eden that could suddenly burst its banks and carry away all but the sturdiest road bridges when winter snows receded from the rugged Lake District mountains to the west and the more rounded Pennines to the east.

The Romans had passed this way to their Emperor Hadrian’s Wall near two millennia before, and early settlers of the Dark Ages had left their mark in the Sowerby part of the village’s distinctive name, before the Temple prefix appeared in medieval times when the crusading Knights Templars held sway hereabouts.   Henry VIII dispossessed the degenerate Templars in 1545 and granted manorial rights to the Dalston family at their handsome villa just outside the village, and the Boazmans had lately succeeded them as the people for whom the respectful citizenry of the locality would be expected to tug their forelocks.

A family tree typed up by John Sharpe in 1995 as he embarked on his intensive research on the Workman family, beginning with the earliest documented member, Christopher, of Brownhow farm, who was documented in local records as early as 1646. Six generations later (after five Thomases) are the brothers David and William who eventually migrated to greater Los Angeles.

Sir William Dalston re-built and enlarged the parish church in 1770, and its square tower would soon be graced by a fine clock that was a gift from the lady of the manor.   Spreading out from the new church and busy nearby “King’s Arms” coaching-inn were the red sandstone dwellings of some four hundred industrious villagers whose lot would have stood comparison with that of any in the land, for Georgian Temple Sowerby enjoyed a degree of prosperity that belied its modest size. Though nearly three hundred miles from London, the place was no rustic backwater.   The secret of its success lay in its position astride the turnpike road on which it was a regular stopping-place for local carriers as well as the long-distance London-Glasgow mail coaches that clattered in twice a day.

Temple Sowerby was just seven miles north of Westmorland’s county town of Appleby and a similar distance from bustling Penrith in Cumberland – a convenient three quarters of an hour by stagecoach to both places – yet its three inns and wide range of occupations would confirm that it was a very self-sufficient community.   There was a banker and a surgeon, and trades people included a spirit merchant, dress maker, two grocers and drapers, a joiner and cabinet maker, a wheelwright and timber dealer, two butchers, a blacksmith and a miller.   Rather unusually, though, for a place of this size, the village had its own tannery and an assortment of allied trades such as a currier, four shoemakers’ businesses and two saddlers.

A detail from a 1768 map of Westmorland County, provided by John, and which shows at the far right the village of Temple Sowerby, where David and William were born, and, directly across the Whinfell Forest at the far left, Clifton, where the Workmans settled in the early 1810s.

It was here, at Temple Sowerby, that David Workman was born, probably in July 1797, and his brother William, on November 15th 1799.   They were the second and third of five sons of well-travelled glazier-turned-landowner Thomas Workman and his Surrey-born wife Lucy.   The boys would probably have attended the village school, and it was surely more than coincidence that two adventurous brothers who were destined initially to make their mark in the New World as saddlers should have spent their formative years in an English village that could boast a tannery and all those associated leather-working enterprises.   One can almost see two inquisitive little boys getting in the way of all the hammering and cutting at Messrs Bland’s or Parkin’s saddlers at Temple Sowerby.      

One thing is certain, though: these two boys had no ordinary father.   Like generations of his family before him, Thomas Workman hailed from Brownhow farm, about three miles away in the neighbouring parish of Clifton.   Surprisingly, he was only ten years old when his name first appeared, in 1774, in the local manorial records as the purchaser of a small piece of land near his home; and another land transaction went through in his favour five years later, by which time he was living over eighty miles away with his uncle William at Earsdon near Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

A copy, located by John in the records of the Lowthers, the noble family which controlled much of the land in the area, and dated 1697 with the name of Thomas Workman, presumably the great-great grandfather of William, as owing four pounds in “The Lord’s Rents due at Martinmas,” this being the Feast of St. Martin, celebrated about 11 November.

Uncle William Workman (or Warkman, as he spelled it) had done well in an exclusive profession.    The third of three sons of the land at Brownhow, he had left the family farm as a very young man and gone into the church, where he soon secured the curacy of the grimy Northumberland coal mining village of Earsdon and eventually, under aristocratic patronage, a prestigious appointment as rector of Ford in the same county, while still keeping the position at Earsdon.    Although it was natural enough that this earlier William Workman should have left Brownhow when the estate was inherited by his eldest brother on the death of their father in 1763, not only had he ventured far from home but he had flourished in a selective calling that was much more likely to welcome a third son of the aristocracy than a third son of the land.    Certain it was that William’s acceptance for ordination in the diocese of Durham in 1767, with induction to parish responsibility the following year as a young man of twenty-four, could have been achieved only by high academic ability and personal qualities that appealed to people of influence in the church hierarchy.    The learned yet worldly clergyman would have made a profound impression on his nephew Thomas, who also had left home at a very early age.

Rev William Warkman (1744-1811) was vicar of Earsdon for forty-three years and rector of Ford for fifteen; but it was his chaplaincy to the all-powerful Delaval family at their palatial country seat near Earsdon that gave the enterprising young cleric the highlights of a long and eventful Northumbrian ministry.

Admiral George Delaval had spared no expense when he commissioned Sir John Vanbrugh, architect of Yorkshire’s fabulous Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace of the Churchills in Oxfordshire, to design his new mansion at Seaton Delaval in 1717.   The flamboyant admiral did not live to see his masterpiece finished in all its gothic splendour, and the new Hall was inherited by his nephew, a man of legendary extravagance who once borrowed Drury Lane Theatre for his own production of Othello and persuaded the House of Commons to adjourn two hours early to attend.

Another document from manorial records unearthed by John concerning a property transaction of 11 September 1761 and showing, in the second column at right, the signature of “Thos Workman Sen[ior],” likely William’s great-grandfather.

When Sir Francis Blake-Delaval MP died suddenly in 1771, Rev William Warkman officiated at the funeral and came under the generous patronage of his successor, Sir John Hussey Delaval.   The elegant Sir John saw his hopes for the future of his lineage cruelly dashed on 7 July 1775 when his only son John died aged nineteen, having been kicked in the testicles by a laundry maid to whom he was “paying his addresses”, as the official account of events put it.   While the disastrous occurrence was treated as a tragic accident, the spirited object of the libidinous young aristocrat’s importunate advances had contributed to the eventual extinction of the male line of the Delaval family and the end of the centuries-old name, for Sir John was the only one of eight brothers to produce a son.

Further opportunity for Rev William to minister to Sir John in his hour of need came in 1783 when Lady Susanna Delaval, his wife of twenty-three years, died after a long illness and left him with six daughters, although it may have been some consolation to Sir John that he was soon raised to the peerage as the first Lord Delaval (and the last, having lost his son in 1775).   His lordship ensured that Rev William Warkman was appointed rector of Ford in 1795, despite opposition by the powerful Bishop of Durham; and when he re-married at the age of 75 in 1803 in St Alban’s church at Earsdon, the Rev William officiated while his eldest daughter Jane signed the register as a witness.   Lord Delaval died in 1808 and went to his last resting-place in Westminster Abbey, three years before his long-serving chaplain William was called to higher service at Ford.                


Another copy of a manorial record located by John and bearing the dates of 7 February 1763 and 7 June 1765. Thomas Workman, Sr. died in 1763, so the mention of Thomas Workman at the top left column is obviously his son, while the signature at the lower left may also be his as it looks different than the one in the 1761 document. Also present is the name of David Harrison, Thomas, Jr.’s brother-in-law, Thomas being married to Agnes Harrison.  David Harrison was the benefactor of Thomas and Agnes’ son—of course named Thomas!—who inherited substantial property and the house at Clifton, where William lived before he left to join his brother David in the United States.

William’s eldest son, Thomas, followed him into the church, as did youngest son Henry, who graduated with the degree of Master of Arts from St Andrews University in 1803 and was the driving force behind the reconstruction in the 1830s of the imposing church of St Alban at Earsdon, a Northumbrian landmark to this day.   Some of Henry’s offspring inherited their grandfather’s inclination to travel, for twenty-five-year-old John Warkman emigrated to Australia in 1852 and his brother Thomas Clifton Warkman was a ship’s engineer who married in Trieste in 1865 and died in a steamship explosion in Brooklyn harbour, New York, in 1893, leaving descendants in Milwaukee and Vancouver. 

Thomas Workman’s father died suddenly at Brougham near Clifton early in 1781, but young Thomas did not return to Brownhow for he had abandoned the land in favour of a glazier’s skills.   This may have been at least partly due to the closeness between his uncle William and the enormously influential Lord Delaval, whose business interests in the Earsdon area of Northumberland included ownership of a celebrated glass works.  It may also have been this connection that took Thomas south to London, where his lordship had property interests.    In any event, Thomas by the age of twenty-one (in 1785) was living in the opulent surroundings of the Strand in central London when he met Lucy Cook from Godalming in Surrey, and they were married in the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street on April 5th 1789.    With over £1,000 to his credit from the recent sale of the family farm, Thomas was already well off, and fortune truly favoured him in 1794 when his uncle David Harrison died and left him his extensive Clifton estate.

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