The Fearnside Page

(The Textile Line)

My father was born in Aberdeen, the son of a Customs Officer. His mother was Elspet Fearnside, the daughter of a Kincardineshire woollen mill owner. When I started my family history quest, I researched all the Fearnsides I could find in Scotland, unaware that what I should be looking for was a Yorkshire family! The only information I found at home was that Elspet Fearnside's maiden surname was Reith and her features apparently resembled those of John (later Lord) Reith, the founder and first Governor of the BBC. I have yet to find any close relationship between our family and that gentleman.

When realisation dawned that I should be looking nearer home, I spent hours in the library, extracting Fearnside details from Dewsbury and nearby parish registers. (At this time England was well behind Scotland in putting such information on line.) Having just moved into the Calder valley, I found Fearnside history all around me!

Local parishes

John Fearnside appears to have been born in Halifax parish in 1698. He married Hannah Walker and is described in the Birstall Register as "John Fearnside of Toftshaw". (Toftshaw is on the boundary of Birstall and Bradford parishes.) They had three sons, John, Bennjamin and David. David's only son (John) died at the age of seven, so that branch of the Fearnside line died out in 1778.

John and Benjamin were baptised at Cleckheaton Congregational Church in 1732 and 1733 respectively. Our line is through Benjamin, although we may well refer to John's family again later on.

In 1765 Benjamin married Sarah Moss at All Saints, Dewsbury. He was followed by his brother David who married there the following year. So began a Fearnside occupation of Ossett which continues to this day.

Benjamin and Sarah had several children. Their eldest son was our ancestor Thomas Fearnside, but first we must consider his younger brother Benjamin(2), as his actions had repercussions for the whole family. He married Carolina Montgomery at Rothiemay in Banffshire, around 1800 or 1801. (Their first child, Jean, was born in August 1802.) Carolina was the daughter of Henry Montgomery, an Army Officer, and was born in America in 1779. So far, we have been unable to find any evidence which would explain why this marriage should have happened where it did. However, within a few years (about 1808) Benjamin established the first Fearnside woollen mill in Scotland.

The Rothiemay mill was at Bridge of Isla and, after Benjamin's death, became Laidlaw's Mills. One of the original looms still exists, in the Knockando Woolmill Museum. William Reid of Rothiemay has put together an interesting account of the history, with relevant links, on the Rothiemay website.

Benjamin's eldest son, Thomas, born in Ossett in 1770, moved to Scotland with his second wife Sarah Dews in the early 1820s. Thomas's eldest son Thomas(2) had already moved to Scotland, preseumably to work with his Uncle Benjamin. He married Helen Robertson at Rothiemay in about 1815. In the 1820s, he emigrated to America where an extensive line of Fearnsides was established.

Thomas(2)'s younger brother, William Fearnside and Elspet Keir had a son James, Peter's great grandfather. The only record we have of Elspet Keir (apart from James's two marriage certificates) is of her death. There is no evidence to suggest that William ever married her. This might lend credence to James's alleged claim to be "the illegitimate son of an English laird". William went on to marry Ann Davidson in Stonehaven, where they had a son, Alexander. Ann and her son are both recorded in the 1841 census as linen hand loom weavers. Ann's will, recorded at Stonehaven Sheriff Court in 1890 (SC5/41/32) refers to her as the widow of William Fearnside.

Bogendriep Mill Building

James established a blanket mill at Bogindreep, near Strachan in Kincardineshire, which he ran until his death in 1910. He had two marriages and eight children, the penultimate being Elspet Fearnside, Peter's grandmother, born 1875.

In 1859 James married Ann Ogilvie. At the time, their address is shown as Inchmarlow, a large Georgian mansion a few miles West of Banchory. Two families which figure largely in the history of this house are Ogilvie and Davidson. I don't know quite how we fit in with that history, but it seems more than a co-incidence that James married an Ogilvie and lived at Inchmarlow and that his father married a Davidson.

Bogendriep Cottage

John Fearnside, Benjamin's older brother, appears to have married and lived in Bradford. His youngest child, also John, married Frances Kitson in Dewsbury in 1792. Most of his descendants remained in the Dewsbury/Ossett area, but his son John Fearnside moved to Rothiemay, where he married Isabella Smith in 1877. Their descendants are still largely to be found in North-Eastern Scotland and have included weavers, doctors, pharmacists, teachers and army officers.

Left: The Bogindreep Blankey Mill . . . Above: The house at Bogindreep

© 2005 - 2018 Thelma and Peter Jones . . . Last updated 14 March 2018