Sunday 19 March 2023

(539) Bell of Thirsk Hall

Bell of Thirsk
This family were established in and around Thirsk as yeomen and merchants from the 16th century, but their rise into the landed gentry really begins in the early 18th century. Robert Bell (1626-1711), with whom the genealogy below starts, was a mercer in Thirsk. He lived in a mansion house in Kirkgate in the town, and evidently invested his profits in systematically buying property in and around the town. By the time of his death, he owned 22 properties in the town itself, as well as a house at Sowerby (to which his widow retired) and lands in several surrounding parishes. His property in Thirsk town gave him control of almost half the franchise in the parliamentary borough, with the majority of the remainder being controlled by the Franklands of Thirkleby. Both families held Whiggish views and in late 17th and early 18th century Sir Thomas Frankland occupied one seat himself, and agreed with Robert Bell to support Sir Godfrey Copley for the other. However, Copley died in 1709, and Robert's eldest son and eventual heir, Ralph Bell (1657-1735) came to an arrangement with Frankland that he would support the latter's nephew, Leonard Smelt, at the ensuing bye-election, on the condition that Frankland would accept whoever Ralph Bell put forward for the second seat at the next general election. In the event, that general election happened in 1710, and Ralph Bell decided to stand himself. He was re-elected in 1715, but does not seem to have been a very active Parliamentarian, and in 1717 he agreed to resign his seat in return for appointment as one of the Customers of the port of Hull (a place which he retained until his death). Such senior positions in the customs were lucrative, and Ralph combined it with appointment as steward to the Earl of Derby's manor of Thirsk. His income from the two roles, combined with the profit of the family mercery and landholdings, enabled him to buy the manor of Thirsk from Lord Derby in 1723, and to build a new five bay, two storey house next to the church at the end of Kirkgate during the 1720s. It seems likely that this house (which forms the core of the present Thirsk Hall) stood on the same site as the previous manor house, of which nothing is known.

Ralph Bell and his wife Rachel were childless, and when he died in 1735 he bequeathed Thirsk Hall and his other property to his sister's second surviving son, Ralph Consett (1690-1770), on condition that he took the name Bell in lieu of Consett. It was a decision which he evidently expected to cause trouble with his younger brother, John Bell (1665-1753), who was left a modest annuity of £50 a year subject to the condition that he accepted the terms of the will. Ralph Consett, whose elder brother Peter (1685-1730) inherited their father's estate at Yarm (Yorks NR) and Eaglescliffe (Co. Durham), duly took the name Bell for himself and his children, and served as a justice of the peace and as High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1743. He seems to have handed over the house at Thirsk to his son, Ralph Bell (1720-1801) on the latter's marriage in 1761, and moved to Brawith Hall, which belonged to another branch of the Consett family. Ralph's marriage to the heiress, Ann Conyers of Malton (Yorks NR), brought him the means to substantially enlarge Thirsk Hall to the designs of the fashionable architect, John Carr, creating the house we see today. They had two sons who survived to adulthood, John Bell (1764-1822) and Robert Bell (1768-1831). John inherited the Thirsk estate, while Robert inherited in 1803 the estate of the Livesey family in Lancashire. There has been much confusion over the descent of the Livesey property, but Ralph Consett (later Bell)'s daughter Rachel (1733-1810) married Ralph Livesey (c.1728-1803) in 1754, and since they had no children the property seems to have passed to Robert Bell (who took the additional name Livesey) on Ralph Livesey's death. Just three years later, however, Robert sold the entire property, and in 1810 he bought Kildale Manor in the Yorkshire Moors, which descended to his daughter, who carried it to the Turton family.

John Bell (1764-1822) of Thirsk and his wife had two surviving daughters but only one surviving son, John Bell (1809-51), who was educated at Oxford, became a JP and deputy lieutenant, and in 1841 was elected as MP for Thirsk, the first of his family to serve in parliament since the early 18th century. Unfortunately, a promising career was cut short in 1849 when he became mentally ill and was declared a lunatic, although since there was then no mechanism to remove a sitting member under these circumstances he remained nominally the MP for Thirsk until his death. He was unmarried and without issue, so the Thirsk estate again passed through the female line to his nephew, Frederic Macbean (1830-75), who took the name Bell. It was he who, in 1855, made land available for the laying out of the first Thirsk racecourse, and the family have been closely associated with horse-racing in the town ever since. Frederic was also unmarried, and so on his death it passed to his mother and her sister and brother-in-law, and then to his nephew, Reginald Smith (1848-1921), who for a third time kept it in the family by taking the name Bell. Reginald was the owner in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when first the Agricultural Depression, and then the legislative and taxation reforms of successive Liberal governments greatly weakened the position of landowners. A potent symbol of the financial hardship Reginald experienced was the sale in 1919 of the two Gainsborough portraits of Ralph Bell (1720-1801) and his wife Ann Conyers (1730-1813), although happily the family were able to buy back the latter in the later 20th century.

In 1921 the estate was inherited by John Bell (1879-1948), who pursued a career as a land agent while waiting to succeed, which no doubt gave him the skills to manage his own property effectively when the time came. His younger son and heir, Maj. Peter Bell (1912-91), was High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1983-84 and Chairman of Thirsk Racecourse, and was succeeded by his son John (b. 1951), who opened an art gallery in Thirsk in the 1980s. He handed over the estate to his eldest daughter Daisy (b. 1984) and her husband in 2019, and both of them are also professionally engaged in the art world. They have brought a new entrepreneurship to the management of the estate, and with Daisy's two sisters now manage a range of enterprises which are intended to support the future of the estate for the long term, and to provide a cultural and economic stimulus to the life of the town.

Thirsk Hall, Yorkshire (NR)

The house stands close to the church just as it might in a village, but here, in the market town of Thirsk, it is separated from Kirkgate, one of the main streets, only by a low hedge and a narrow gravel sweep. The rear of the house, however, tells quite a different story, overlooking some 20 acres of gardens as though its setting was completely rural; a similar arrangement to that at Leyburn Hall, not far away.

Thirsk Hall: entrance front. The original house is represented by the lower two storeys of the central five bays. Image: Alan Marsh.
The present house started out as a five-bay, two-storey brick house, built for Ralph Bell (1657- 1735), whose family had lived in the town since the 16th century. Ralph was steward of the Earl of Derby's manor of Thirsk from 1717 and bought the manor from the Earl in 1723. Work probably began on the house immediately after the purchase was concluded and is likely to have been completed by about 1730. Ralph's great-nephew, Ralph Bell (1720-1801), was apparently resident in the house by 1761, although he did not become the owner until his father died in 1770. Shortly afterwards, he commissioned John Carr of York to add an extra storey to the existing house, and to build plain three-bay two-storey wings to either side. The work was carried out in 1771-73, with the rainwater heads being dated 1771. There are stone quoins and string courses but no other decorative enrichments except a small pediment over the doorway, which could post-date Carr's work. A single-storey cast iron veranda was added in the late 19th century to the central five bays of the garden front.

Thirsk Hall: garden front in c.1903.
Inside, the entrance hall and the panelled library (originally the parlour) to its right, with Kentian greek key decoration of the ceiling beams and the overmantel, date from c.1730-40, although the Ionic screen in the entrance hall was created in the 1960s with reused columns. The main staircase is also the result of alterations. It was created originally by Carr and rises to the top of the house, but the lower part, with a most unusual balustrade, with three thick but independent strands of wood twisted into a single baluster on each step, was altered in about 1870; it is said to have been imported from the Manor House in Newcastle-on-Tyne, but could well be new work of that date.
Thirsk Hall: Carr's dining room.
Image: Country Life.
Carr's north wing contains the Great Dining Room, with very elegant and restrained decoration, and the bills for the plasterer (James Henderson) and woodcarver survive. The present drawing room owes its current form to the late 19th century.

Alongside the enlargement of the house, Ralph and Ann Bell improved the grounds of their house, enclosing it with walls, building a greenhouse, and constructing a haha in 1772. In the 19th century, the base of the former Thirsk market cross and what is believed be a Norman font from the demolished Hood church were moved to the gardens as ornaments. And more recently, the present owners have established Thirsk Hall Sculpture Garden in the grounds, among a variety of commercial enterprises designed to support the local economy and ensure the future of the house.

Descent: built c.1723-30 for Ralph Bell (1657-1735); to nephew, Ralph Consett (later Bell) (1690-1770); to son, Ralph Bell (1720-1801); to son, John Bell (1764-1822); to son, John Bell (1809-51); to nephew, Frederick Macbean (later Bell) (1830-75); to mother, Frances Macbean (1801-76) and aunt, Jane (1808-79), wife of Maj. Charles Oakley Sanders (1800-83) and then to his nephew, Reginald Smith (later Bell) (1848-1921); to son, John Bell (1879-1948); to son, Maj. Peter Bell (1912-91); to son, John Bell (b. 1951), who handed the estate over in 2019 to his daughter Daisy (b. 1984), wife of Willoughby Gerrish (b. 1985).

Bell family of Thirsk Hall

Bell, Robert (1626-1711). Son of Ralph Bell, baptised at Thirsk, 21 January 1626/7*. Mercer in Thirsk. He fell out with the vicar of Thirsk, and established a dissenting congregation there. He married, c.1650, Elizabeth [surname unknown] (d. 1715), and had issue:
(1) Elizabeth Bell (1653-1741?) (q.v.);
(2) Ralph Bell (1657-1735) (q.v.);
(3) Deborah Bell; married 21 September 1681 at Thirsk, Thomas Denison, and had issue;
(4) A daughter; married [forename unknown] Gaskell and had issue;
(5) Thomas Bell (1662-66), baptised at Thirsk, 23 December 1662; died young and was buried at Thirsk, 1 June 1666;
(6) John Bell (1665-1753), baptised at Thirsk, 23 February 1664/5; merchant at Thirsk; buried at Thirsk, 22 July 1753;
(7) Augustine Bell (1667-70), baptised at Thirsk, 29 June 1667; died young and was buried at Thirsk, 30 August 1670.
He lived in a mansion house in Kirkgate, Thirsk, and also had a house at Sowerby near Thirsk (Yorks NR), where his widow retired. He also owned 22 houses in the town of Thirsk and land in several adjoining parishes.
He was buried at Thirsk, 23 August 1711; his will was proved in the PCY, 15 September 1711. His widow was buried at Thirsk, 20 May 1715; her will was proved in the PCY, 22 May 1715.
* Not in 1615, as has been stated in most previous accounts of the family.

Bell, Ralph (1657-1735). Elder son of Robert Bell (1626-1711) and his wife Elizabeth, baptised at Thirsk, 12 November 1657. Mercer in Thirsk; JP for Yorkshire (NR); Whig MP for Thirsk, 1710-17. Customer of Hull, 1717-33; Steward of the Earl of Derby at Thirsk, 1717-23. He married, 3 March 1697 in York Minster, Rachel (d. 1711?), daughter of Richard Windlow of Yarm (Yorks NR), but had no issue*. 
He purchased the manor of Thirsk in 1723 and built Thirsk Hall in c.1723-30. He sold the manorial rights in 1726.
He died 3 November 1735 and was buried at Thirsk**; his will was proved in the Prerogative Court of York, December 1735. His wife was probably the woman of this name buried at Thirsk, 5 May 1711, and whose will was proved in the PCY, 8 February 1714/15.
*  Grainge's Vale of Mowbray, 1859 (followed by the History of Parliament) says that he had two sons and two daughters, but he has muddled the generations, and I can find no evidence that there were any children.
** Or so it is reasonable to suppose, since his will directed that he be buried there. He is, however, entered in the parish registers of both Thirsk and Sowerby.

Bell, Elizabeth (1653-1741?). Eldest daughter of Robert Bell (1626-1711) and his wife Elizabeth, baptised at Thirsk, 2 January 1653/4. She married, 24 January 1683 at Thirsk, Peter Consett (1656-1733) of Yarm (Yorks NR), and had issue:
(1) Peter Consett (1685-1750), baptised at Yarm, 21 June 1685; inherited the Yarm estate from his father; married, 31 December 1713 at Stockton-on-Tees (Co. Durham), Jane (1690-1747), daughter of Thomas Swainston of Stockton-on-Tees, and had issue at least one son; buried at Stockton-on-Tees, 16 November 1750;
(2) Jane Consett (1686-1723?), baptised at Acklam (Yorks NR), 25 March 1686; possibly the woman of this name who died unmarried and was buried at Stockton-on-Tees, 21 October 1723;
(3) Robert Consett (1688-90), baptised at Yarm, 18 December 1688; died in infancy and was buried at Yarm, 8 January 1689/90;
(4) Ralph Consett (later Bell) (1690-1770) (q.v.);
(5) Robert Consett (b. & d. 1693), baptised at Yarm, 21 August 1693; died in infancy and was buried at Yarm, 29 August 1693;
(6) William Consett (1695-1728?), baptised at Yarm, 12 March 1694/5; probably the man of this name buried at Yarm, 1 March 1727/8.
She and her husband inherited lands at Yarm (Yorks NR) and Eaglescliffe (Co. Durham)
She was probably the woman of this name buried at Yarm, 26 July 1741. Her husband was buried at Yarm, 9 February 1732/3.

Consett (later Bell), Ralph (1690-1770). Third, but second surviving son of Peter Consett (1656-1733) of Yarm (Yorks NR) and his wife Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Robert Bell (1626-1711) of Sowerby (Yorks NR), baptised at Yarm, 10 November 1690. Mercer in Thirsk, where he was taking apprentices in the later 1710s and early 1720s; he was later also described as a grocer. He inherited the Thirsk Hall estate from his uncle in 1735 and took the name Bell in lieu of Consett in the same year. JP for Yorkshire (NR) from 1736 and High Sheriff of Yorkshire, 1743. He married, 12 February 1717 at St Michael Spurriergate, York, Mary Inchbord?* (d. 1754), and had issue:
(1) Ralph Consett (later Bell) (1720-1801) (q.v.);
(2) Elizabeth Consett (1722-25), baptised at Thirsk, 22 June 1722; died young and was buried at Thirsk, 24 August 1725;
(3) Peter Consett (later Bell) (1726-93), baptised at Thirsk, 20 January 1726/7; married, 18 August 1758 at Bingley (Yorks WR), Mary, daughter of Richardson Ferrand of Harden (Yorks) and widow of Henry Currer of Kildwick (Yorks), and had issue one daughter; died 15 January and was buried at Thirsk, 20 January 1793;
(4) Mary Consett (later Bell)** (1729-1808), baptised at Thirsk, 18 July 1729; died unmarried, 7 August, and was buried at Thirsk, 11 August 1808;
(5) Rachel Consett (later Bell) (1733-1810), baptised at Thirsk, 12 December 1733; married, 11 November 1754 at Thirsk, Ralph Livesey (c.1728-1803) of Livesey (Lancs); buried at St Peter, Burnley (Lancs), 7 May 1810;
(6) Elizabeth Bell (1736-53), baptised at Thirsk, 26 May 1736; died unmarried and was buried at Thirsk, 21 November 1753.
He inherited Thirsk Hall from his maternal uncle in 1735. He lived latterly at Brawith Hall, which he presumably rented from his Consett relations.
He died 31 December 1770 and was buried at Thirsk, 4 January 1771; his will was proved 19 March 1772. His wife was buried at Thirsk, 3 June 1754.
* The name is not very clear in the register.
** Some accounts (including VCH Lancashire, vol. 6, pp. 284-89) state that she married Peter Livesay (d. 1766), and was the channel through which the Livesey estates came to the Bells later; but this seems to involve a confusion with her sister Rachel. Her burial entry at Thirsk in 1808 calls her Mary Bell and describes her as 'spinster sister of Ralph Bell'. The confusion appears to have originated with Grainge's The vale of Mowbray, 1859, which also muddles the generations of the Bell family.

Ralph Bell (1720-1801) 
Consett (later Bell), Ralph (1720-1801).
Elder son of Ralph Consett (later Bell) (1690-1770) and his wife Mary Inchbord?, baptised at Thirsk, 12 October 1720. Educated at Beverley (Yorks ER) and St John's College, Cambridge (matriculated 1740). His portrait and that of his wife were painted by Thomas Gainsborough during a visit to Bath in about 1773*. JP for the North Riding of Yorkshire. In 1770 he stood for parliament in the Scarborough constituency, but after a tight contest and much electoral manipulation he was defeated by Sir James Pennyman (1736-1808), 6th bt. of Ormesby Hall. He married, 10 March 1761 at New Malton (Yorks), Ann (1730-1813), daughter and co-heir of John Conyers of New Malton (Yorks), attorney-at-law, and had issue:
(1) Ralph Conyers Bell (1762-66), born 17 January and baptised at Thirsk, 3 February 1762; died young and was buried at Thirsk, 21 January 1766;
(2) Peter Bell (b. & d. 1763), born 2 March and baptised at Thirsk, 6 April 1763; died in infancy and was buried at Thirsk, 20 November 1763;
(3) John Bell (1764-1822) (q.v.);
(4) Jane Bell (b. 1767), born 29 January and baptised at Thirsk, 8 March 1767; perhaps died young, but burial not traced;
(5) Robert Bell (later Bell-Livesey) (1768-1831), born 1 April and baptised at Thirsk, 6 May 1768; educated at Clare College, Cambridge (matriculated 1785; BA 1790); took the additional name of Livesey on inheriting the Livesey estate near Blackburn (Lancs), 13 April 1803, but sold the estate in about 1806 and purchased Kildale Hall (Yorks NR) soon afterwards; portait painted by William Barnard; married, 27 October 1794 at New Malton, Jane (1777-1846), daughter of Rev. Dr. John Cleaver (1744-1823), rector of Malton (Yorks), and had surviving issue one daughter; died 15 November 1831 and was buried at Kildale.
He inherited Thirsk Hall from his father in 1770, and remodelled it to the designs of John Carr of York in 1771-73. His widow lived latterly at Sowerby (Yorks NR).
He died 31 October, and was buried at Thirsk, 4 November 1801; his will was proved in the PCY (effects under £2,000). His widow was buried at Thirsk, 4 December 1813.
* The pictures were sold in the early 20th century, but that of Mrs Bell was reacquired by the family later. The picture of Ralph Bell is now in the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Bell, John (1764-1822). Third, but elder surviving son of Ralph Bell (1720-1801) and his wife Ann, daughter and co-heir of Edward Conyers of Malton (Yorks), born 3 October and baptised at Thirsk, 1 November 1764. Educated at Clare College, Cambridge (matriculated 1781; BA 1786). JP for the North Riding of Yorkshire. He married, 12 June 1800 at St Olave Marygate, York, Frances Brady (1773-1810), third daughter of the Hon. William Barnett (d. c.1782) of Arcadia Plantation, Trelawny (Jamaica) and Llysworney (Glam.), and had issue:
(1) Frances Bell (1801-76) (q.v.);
(2) Ann Bell (1802-05), born 22 December 1802 and baptised at Thirsk, 5 January 1803; died young, 5 February, and was buried at Thirsk, 8 February 1805;
(3) Elizabeth Bell (1805-08), born 12 June and baptised at Thirsk, 16 November 1805; died young, 14 April, and was buried at Thirsk, 17 April 1808;
(4) Ralph Bell (b. & d. 1807), born about 10 February 1807; died in infancy, 16 April and was buried at Thirsk, 21 April 1807;
(5) Jane Bell (1808-79), born 24 June and baptised at Thirsk, 24 March 1809; married 1st, 2 September 1833 at St Andrew, Plymouth (Devon), Lt. William Henry Bayntun (1805-49), army officer (retired 1834) and apparently also a solicitor*, second son of Rev. Henry Bayntun, rector of Bromham (Wilts), but had no issue; married 2nd, 18 April 1854 at Thirsk, as his second wife, Maj. Charles Oakley Sanders (1800-83), formerly an officer in Austrian service, son of George Sanders, gent.; died 27 May and was buried at Thirsk, 3 June 1879; will proved 6 September 1879 (effects under £3,000);
(6) John Bell (1809-51) (q.v.).
He inherited Thirsk Hall from his father in 1800.
He died 23 April and was buried at Thirsk, 27 April 1822; his will was proved in the PCC, 9 July 1822. His wife died 1 October, and was buried at Thirsk, 4 October 1810.
* He was articled to Hugh Percy Redpath, solicitor, in 1821, but entered the army in 1827. After retiring from the army he apparently went back to the law and was in partnership with John Slade until 1844. He was separated from his wife, and had a relationship with a woman called Margaret Ann Tull (1817-82), by whom he had issue one son and five daughters. He had a feud with his brother, Samuel Adlam Bayntun, the MP for York, who died of scarlet fever in 1833; when William Henry Bayntun discovered this on returning from India, he is said to exhumed his brother's body and shot him in the face. In 1839 he was confined for about five months in Bethlem Hospital, London, before being discharged.

Bell, John (1809-51). Second, but only surviving, son of John Bell (1764-1822) and his wife Frances Brady, third daughter of the Hon. William Barnett of Arcadia (Jamaica), born 11 August and baptised at Thirsk, 13 October 1809. Educated at Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1827). JP and DL for North Riding of Yorkshire; Liberal MP for Thirsk, 1841-51. Around the beginning of 1849 he became mentally ill, reportedly believing that he was a bird of prey, and he was declared a lunatic in July 1849. However, he remained a member of Parliament as there was then no mechanism for his removal in these circumstances. He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited Thirsk Hall from his father in 1822, and at his death it passed to his nephew, Frederick Macbean (later Bell).
He died 5 March 1851; his will was proved 20 June 1851.

Bell, Frances (1801-76). Elder daughter of John Bell (1764-1822) and his wife Frances Brady, third daughter of the Hon. William Barnett of Arcadia (Jamaica), born 7 October and baptised at Thirsk, 15 December 1801. She married, 2 September 1823 at Kildale (Yorks NR), Rev. William Macbean MA (1797-1855), rector of Peter Tavy (Devon), son of William Macbean of Roaring River Plantation, St. Ann (Jamaica), and had issue:
(1) William Barnett Macbean (b. 1825), baptised at Peter Tavy, 1 December 1825; probably died in infancy;
(2) Frances Bell Macbean (1827-59) (q.v.);
(3) Frederick Macbean (later Bell) (1830-75) (q.v.);
(4) Archibald Macbean (1832-69), born 6 July 1832; farmer; died unmarried and without issue, 5 July, and was buried at Thirsk, 9 July 1869; administration of his goods granted to his mother, 5 November 1869 (effects under £5,000);
(5) Alfred Macbean (1834-47?), baptised at Peter Tavy, 18 August 1834; said to have died young, October  1847;
(6) Elizabeth Macbean (1835-99), baptised at Peter Tavy, 8 February 1835; married, 6 December 1860 at Thirsk, Henry Robert Markham (later Clifton) (1832-96) of Clifton Hall (Notts), only son of Rev. Henry Spencer Markham (1805-44), rector of Clifton (Notts), but died without issue, 18 June and was buried at Clifton (Notts), 22 June 1899; her will was proved 19 August 1899 (estate £109,903).
She died 4 February 1876; will proved 8 March 1876 (effects under £20,000). Her husband died 13 July 1855.

Macbean (later Bell), Frederic (1830-75). Second, but eldest son of Rev. William Macbean (1797-1855), rector of Peter Tavy (Devon), and his wife Frances, elder daughter of John Bell (1764-1822) of Thirsk Hall, born 7 December 1830. Educated at Magdalen College, Oxford (matriculated 1851). He took the name and arms of Bell by royal licence, 1852. An officer in the North Yorkshire Rifles (Lt.; Capt., 1855); JP and DL (from 1852) for North Riding of Yorkshire, and a freemason. He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited Thirsk Hall from his maternal uncle in 1851. At his death it passed to his mother (d. 1876) and aunt (d. 1879) and uncle (d. 1883), and then to his nephew, Reginald Smith (later Bell) (1848-1921).
He died unexpectedly of a heart attack, 12 January, and was buried at Thirsk, 19 January 1875; administration of his goods was granted to his mother, 11 February 1875 (effects under £25,000), and regranted after her death, August 1876.

Macbean, Frances Bell (1827-59). Elder daughter of Rev. William Macbean (1797-1855), rector of Peter Tavy (Devon), and his wife Frances, elder daughter of John Bell (1764-1822) of Thirsk Hall, baptised at Peter Tavy (Devon), 5 April 1827. She married, 2 September 1847 at Peter Tavy, her cousin, Rev. Henry Smith (1820-1904), vicar of Butlers Marston, 1844-46 and rector of Easton Maudit (Northants), 1847-74, fourth son of Very Rev. Dr. Samuel Smith (1765-1841), Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, 1824-31, and had issue:
(1) Reginald Smith (later Bell) (1848-1921) (q.v.);
(2) Henry Smith (1850-97), baptised at Easton Maudit, 4 May 1850; solicitor in Market Place, Thirsk; clerk of the course at Thirsk Racecourse; married, 10 August 1876 at Thirsk, Jane (1853-1921), daughter of George Lancaster of Thirsk, saddler, and had issue one son and one daughter; died 2 September and was buried at Thirsk, 5 September 1897; 
(3) Frances Elizabeth Smith (1851-1922), baptised at Easton Maudit, 6 October 1851; married, 3 February 1887, Rev. Alleyne Fitzherbert MA (1860-1949), rector of Scrayingham with Leppington and Howsham (Yorks ER), 1897-1913, Somersal Herbert (Derbys), 1913-17, and Manby (Lincs), 1928-37, son of Rev. Alleyne Fitzherbert (1815-60), but had no issue; died 7 July 1922;
(4) Archibald Smith (b. & d. 1853), born and baptised at Easton Maudit, 4 January 1853; died in infancy and was buried at Easton Maudit, 8 January 1853;
(5) Frederick Smith (1853-73), baptised at Easton Maudit, 8 December 1853; died unmarried and was buried at Easton Maudit, 18 April 1873;
(6) Josephine Henrietta Smith (1855-1933), baptised at Easton Maudit, 27 June 1855; lived in Kirkgate, Thirsk; died unmarried, 21 December 1933 and was buried at Thirsk.
She lived with her husband at the rectory in Easton Maudit. After retiring from the living there in 1874 he lived at Clarendon House, Redcar (Yorks NR).
She died at Saltburn-by-the-Sea (Yorks NR), 28 May 1859, and was buried at Easton Maudit. Her husband married 2nd, 4 June 1861 at Kirkleatham (Yorks NR), Eliza Catherine (1822-93), eldest daughter of Col. Forbes Macbean of Kirkleatham Old Hall, and 3rd, 17 May 1894 at Holmside (Co. Durham), Fanny Ann (1840-1925), daughter of Rev. Dr. David Brent, vicar of Grendon (Northants), and died 31 March 1904; his will was proved 27 May 1904 (estate £4,298).

Smith (later Bell), Reginald (1848-1921). Eldest son of Rev. Henry Smith (1820-1904), rector of Easton Maudit (Northants), and his wife Frances Bell, elder daughter of Rev. William Macbean, rector of Peter Tavy (Devon), born 7 June and baptised at Easton Maudit, 25 June 1848. He took the name and arms of Bell by royal licence, 6 August 1877. An officer in North Riding Militia (later 1st Volunteer Battn, Yorkshire Regiment) (Capt.; Maj., 1901); JP for North Riding of Yorkshire; Member, 1889-1904, and Alderman (from 1904) of North Riding Council Council; Chairman of Thirsk District Water Co. He married, 3 July 1878 at St Giles, Northampton, Henrietta Elizabeth (1853-1923), daughter of Arthur Bayley Markham (1815-73) of Northampton, solicitor, and had issue:
(1) John Bell (1879-1948) (q.v.);
(2) Violet Eva Bell (1880-1969), born 28 December 1880 and baptised at Thirsk, 15 February 1881; married, 18 June 1902 at Thirsk, as his second wife, Frederick Edmund Walker (1871-1942) of Ravensthorpe Manor, Boltby (Yorks NR), son of Edmund Walker, and had issue two sons and one daughter; died 29 January 1969 and was buried at Boltby; will proved 18 March 1969 (estate £32,885);
(3) Lt-Col. Frederic Bell (1881-1937), born 25 December 1881 and baptised at Thirsk, 23 January 1882; educated at Charterhouse and RMC Sandhurst; an officer in the Gordon Highlanders (2nd Lt., 1901; Lt., 1905; Capt. 1910; Maj. 1916; Lt-Col., 1930; retired 1934), who served in the Boer War and First World War and was reported captured as a Prisoner of War in 1914; married, 12 November 1912 at Kirk Hammerton (Yorks NR), Madge (1884-1973), who as County Secretary of the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmens' Families Association was awarded the OBE in 1942, (and who m2, 12 June 1956, Lt-Col. John Clervaux Chaytor CBE DSO MC (1888-1964), Chief Constable of North Riding of Yorkshire, 1929-58, son of Col. Robert James Chaytor of Clervaux (Yorks NR)), only daughter of Col. Edwin Wilfred Stanyforth CB (c.1862-1939) of Kirk Hammerton Hall (Yorks), and had issue two sons; died 29 July 1937; will proved 25 October 1937 (estate £1,041);
(4) Henrietta May Bell (1883-1971), born 1 January and baptised at Thirsk, 15 February 1883; commandant in British Red Cross Society in First World War; appointed OBE 1918; married, 1 March 1905 at Thirsk, Sir Ulick Roland Burke KCVO (1872-1958), only son of Ulick John Burke of Newton Valence Manor (Hants), and had issue one daughter; died 28 February 1971; will proved 23 April 1971 (estate £145,324);
(5) Rev. Ralph Bell (1884-1967), born 29 September and baptised at Thirsk, 17 November 1884; educated at Charterhouse, Magdalen College, Oxford (matriculated c.1903; BA 1906; MA 1911) and Cuddesdon Theological College; ordained deacon, 1908 and priest, 1909; curate in Hackney (Middx), 1908-11 and Cudworth (Yorks WR), 1911-15; temporary Chaplain to Royal Navy, 1916-20; licenced preacher in diocese of Wakefield, 1920-24; missionary at Penhalonga (Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe), 1924-26 and licenced priest in diocese of Goulburn (Australia) from 1929; joined the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield (Yorks WR) between 1932 and 1939; died 11 October 1967; will proved 16 February 1968 (estate £6,340);
(6) Margaret Evelyn Heather Bell (1886-1968), born 5 June and baptised at Thirsk, 3 July 1886; died unmarried, 7 March 1968; will proved 30 April 1968 (estate £29,782).
He lived at Sharrow, nr. Ripon (Yorks WR) until about 1879. He inherited the two moieties of the Thirsk Hall estate from his grandmother in 1876 and his great-uncle (Maj. Sanders) in 1883.
He died 23 December and was buried at Thirsk, 26 December 1921; will proved 1 September 1922 (estate £26,438). His widow died 30 March and was buried at Thirsk, 2 April 1923; her will was proved 7 December 1923 (estate £4,930).

Bell, John (1879-1948). Eldest son of Reginald Smith (later Bell) (1848-1921) and his wife Henrietta Elizabeth, daughter of Arthur Bayley Markham of Northampton, born 26 June 1879. Land agent and later landowner, farmer and breeder of racehorses and labradors. JP for North Riding of Yorkshire. He married, 6 December 1906 at Holy Trinity, Bracknell (Berks), Irene Clare (1882-1969), eldest daughter of Lt-Col. Lord Alexander Kennedy (1853-1912), second son of 2nd Marquess of Ailsa, and had issue:
(1) Robert Bell (1907-64?), born 20 September 1907; said to have died unmarried and without issue, January 1964*;
(2) Maj. Peter Bell (1912-91) (q.v.).
He lived at Park Lodge, Kimbolton (Hunts) until he inherited Thirsk Hall from his father in 1921. After his death it passed to his younger son.
He died 11 March 1948; his will was proved 23 June and 23 November 1948 (estate £135,922). His widow died 9 February 1969; her will was proved 1 May 1969 (estate £35,981).
* However, I have been unable to find any official record of a death at this date or any reference to him after 1921.

Bell, Maj. Peter (1912-91). Second son of John Bell (1879-1948) and his wife Irene Clare, eldest daughter of Lord Alexander Kennedy, born 1 February 1912. Educated at Repton and RMC Sandhurst. An officer in the Gordon Highlanders (2nd Lt., 1932; Lt., 1935; Capt., 1940; Maj., 1941; retired 1948), who served in Egypt, Italy and Palestine in the Second World War. JP for North Riding of Yorkshire from 1950; High Sheriff of North Yorkshire, 1983-84; Chairman of Thirsk Racecourse; Chairman of North Riding Agricultural Executive Committee. He married, 14 March 1946, Olive Hilary MBE (1914-2002), younger daughter of Lt-Col. Robert Walker Roylance CBE DL (1882-1962) of London SW1 and widow of Maj. Gerald Fothergill Cooke MC (1910-44), and had issue:
(1) Alexandra Bell (b. 1948), of Crayke (Yorks NR), born 29 January 1948; DL for North Yorkshire; High Sheriff of North Yorkshire, 2011-12; married, 16 September 1967, Michael Charles Holford (1944-2022), elder son of Rear-Adm. Frank Douglas Holford CB DSC (1916-91) of Soberton (Hants), and had issue one son and one daughter;
(2) John Bell (b. 1951) (q.v.).
He inherited Thirsk Hall from his father in 1948.
He died 3 May 1991; will proved 19 May 1991 (estate £1,028,027). His widow died 16 March 2002; her will was proved 8 August 2002.

Bell, John (b. 1951). Only son of Maj. Peter Bell (1912-91) and his wife Olive Hilary MBE, younger daughter of Lt-Col. Robert Walker Rylance CBE DL of Wellesley House, London SW1 and widow of Maj. Gerald Fothergill Cooke MC, born 12 September 1951. Educated at Eton. Landowner and farmer; proprietor of Zillah Bell Gallery, Thirsk, since 1988; director of Thirsk Racecourse and of companies associated with the Thirsk Hall estate. He married, 10 May 1975 at Helmsley (Yorks NR) (div. 1993), Jane Diana (b. 1955), only daughter of Arthur Edward Peter Needham of Old Sleningford Hall (Yorks WR), and had issue:
(1) Daisy Bell (b. 1984), born 17 September 1984; partner in Cramer & Bell, art consultants; took over ownership of Thirsk Hall from her father, 2019; married, June 2014, Willoughby John Gerrish (b. 1985), art dealer and consultant, elder son of Hilary Gerrish of High Glanau Manor (Mon.), and has issue two sons;
(2) Lettice Hunter Bell (b. 1987), born 7 February 1987; farmer; director of Thirsk Lodge Barns Ltd.;
(3) Zillah Bell (b. 1990), born 4 March 1990; travel consultant; director of Bronte Properties Ltd.; chief financial officer of Thirsk Hall Events Ltd.
He inherited Thirsk Hall from his father, and in 2019 handed it on to his eldest daughter. His ex-wife lives at Whitwell Hall, Whitwell-on-the-Hill, Yorks (NR).
Now living. His ex-wife is now living.

Principal sources

Burke's Landed Gentry, 1972, p. 58; Burke's Landed Gentry, vol. II: The Ridings of York, 2005, pp. 51-52; H. Bayntun-Coward, Notes on the Bayntun family, 1978; O. Gerrish, 'Lord of the town: Thirsk Hall, North Yorkshire', Country Life, 1 June 2022, pp. 92-97; F. McKenzie Johnston, 'Inside the 18th century splendour of Thirsk Hall', House and Garden, 2 November 2022;

Location of archives

Bell family of Thirsk Hall: deeds, estate and family papers, 1200-1946 [North Yorkshire Record Office, ZAG]

Coat of arms

Per chevron, azure and sable, a chevron engrailed with plain cottises between three bells argent.

Can you help?

  • Can anyone provide portraits of the people whose names appear in bold above, for whom no image is currently shown, or further images of the interior of Thirsk Hall?
  • If anyone can offer further information or corrections to any part of this article I should be most grateful. I am always particularly pleased to hear from current owners or the descendants of families associated with a property who can supply information from their own research or personal knowledge for inclusion.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 19 March 2023 and updated 26 August 2023. I am grateful to Andrew Stokes for a correction.

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