10. Detour: Alexander Keir of Brodsworth Hall, Yorkshire

Welcome to the 10th Blog entry in this current series of articles looking at the Keir family from Aberdalgie (and Kirkliston), Scotland. Before we continue on with the third installment in the tale of  George Keir (Sr), the 3rd son of Rodger Keir and Isabel Armour (part III: A Return to Scottish Roots), we make a slight detour in our story arc to consider Alexander Keir who by the time of George Keir’s letter (dated 1761) to the newly promoted Archbishop of York (see blog #9) was working at Brodsworth Hall near York.

George Keir (Sr) (1705-1788) and his immediate family were not the only Keirs in Yorkshire come the 1760’s – as we (the Keir Collaboration) soon discovered. A John Keir, the ancestor of Anne & Ian was (also) employed at Low Hall, Horsforth by the Stanhope family, as we will soon discover in a later blog and at Brodsworth Hall, near the city of York, was an Alexander Keir (the subject of this post).

Brodsworth Hall

Brodsworth Hall is near the village of Brodsworth, situated about 5 miles (8.0 km) North West of Doncaster in the County of Yorkshire. In 1713 George Henry Hay of Aberdalgie (1689-1758) (viscount Dupplin and later to become the 8th Lord Kinnoull)  purchased Brodsworth Hall in Yorkshire (see note 1) from the then owner Sir John Wentworth of North Elmsall (see note 2).

When George Henry died in 1758, his titles and property was passed on to his eldest son and heir, Thomas Hay (1710-1787), the 9th Earl of Kinnoull (see note 3). [This Thomas was the same person George Keir appealed to in his 1761 letter via the Archbishop of York – see blog 9.] Robert Hay-Drummond of Cromlix and Innerpeffray (1711-1776) – the 2nd son of George Henry Hay and Abigail Harley, the youngest daughter of Robert Harley (the 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer, the Lord High Treasurer of England) – would accede to the positions of Archbishop of York and Lord High Almoner in October, 1761.

Whilst the official residence of the Archbishop is Bishopsthorpe, Robert Hay-Drummond chose to live at his private residence, Brodsworth Hall and it is here that we find one Alexander Keir ‘on the books’ in 1764.

Who was Alexander Keir (1718-1804) of Brodsworth Hall?

Truth be told, we do not actually know who this Alexander Keir was, where he came from or his early history, however, given the circumstantial evidence (and the rarity of the surname Keir in those parts) it is tempting to suggest that this Alexander Keir was the son of the Scotsman, Alexander Keir who was born in Balhousie, Perth in 1699 (the subject of blog #3) – and therefore would have been a nephew of George Keir (1705-1788) (see blogs #8 & 9) and grand son of Roger Keir and Isobel Armour (see blog #2 & 2a).

We first learn of Alexander Keir (1718-1804) in the documented record in 1764 when he marries, Rebecca Smith (~1732-1803) (see note 4). This document also provides us with Alexander’s occupation – he was ‘gardener’ for the Archbishop at Brodsworth Hall [cf. both George Keir (Sr.) (1705-1788) and John Keir (Sr.) (~1739-1818) held that very same posting at Low Hall, Horsforth with the Stanhopes.] Given Alexander’s age (he was 46 when he married Rebecca) it is not surprising that the couple had only one child, Elizabeth Henrietta Keir who was born in 1770.

The Parish records of Brodsworth are a rich source of information and attests to the idea that  Alexander and Rebecca Keir were staunch and active supporters of the community, as their names are given as witnesses to many a local marriage. But it is to a Brodsworth marriage on the 4th of December,  1767 to which we now turn. This was between William Hett (Sr.) (1742-1824) and Mary Bailey (1741-1805) who are both listed as being servants to the Archbishop of York”. [Incidentally, William Hett is the same person who was witness to Alexander Keir’s marriage in 1764. (see note 4)]

Rounding off this story segment, William & Mary had a single son, William Hett (Jr.); baptised at Owston on the 11th of April, 1768 who subsequently married Elizabeth Henrietta Keir, Spinster of Providence-Row, Leeds (29 Nov 1790, Saint Peter’s chapel, Leeds) and produced a ‘Hett dynasty’ which survives to the present day (see note 5).

Alexander Keir, Gentleman

Perhaps from humble beginnings (but with an influential sponsor), Alexander Keir became a wealthy man – a property owner and a ‘gentleman’. As early as 1781 the extant documentation shows a mortgage between Walter Spencer Stanhope of Horsforth, Esq., and Alexander Keir of Brodsworth, gent. for various messuages and closes in Horsforth  [Source: The National Archives (West Yorkshire Archive Service, WYAS, Bradford) , Catalogue number: SpSt/4/11/66/633.] A decade later (1791), Alexander & Rebecca move from their dwelling house on Providence-row to Sunny Bank, also in Leeds (presumably to be closer to their daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth Henrietta & William Hett (a wool merchant of that latter location)).

There is little else to say; Alexander Keir died in Leeds in January, 1804, aged 86, with as little fanfare as his arrival in Yorkshire. He was preceded by a few months by his wife of forty years, who died on the 5th of May, 1803. (Both were living in Albion St., Leeds at the time and are buried in St. Johns church yard.)

Alexander however did leave a brief will (dated 12th of October, 1803) which is a testimony to his understated wealth and also cements his connection to the Keir family of Horsforth in Yorkshire and Aberdalgie in Scotland. As expected Alexander gives and bequeaths his worldly possessions to his only child (and heir) Elizabeth Henrietta Hett (wife of William Hett, Woolstapler of Leeds), but it is his choice of executors which belies the association with the Horsforth/Aberdalgie Keirs. His first executor was Bryan Wormald (a Hett family friend and business associate who was also a witness at Elizabeth & William’s wedding). The second executor was one John Hinchcliffe, coach maker of Leeds (and ubiquitous Keir executor) whom we have mentioned in an earlier blog (#8) as he married Catharine Keir (youngest daughter of George Keir (Sr.) & Catharine Hinscliffe) in Milnholm, Scotland on the 18th of July, 1791.

…and with that we leave this detour into the life & times of Alexander Keir of Brodsworth. All that is left is for us to plead and beseech that if anyone has further information about Alexander Keir, that they contact us (the Keir collaboration) as soon as possible.


1. Following a short period of incarceration as a suspected Jacobite sympathiser, George Henry Hay returned to Brodsworth in 1716 and probably undertook significant estate ‘improvements’, including rebuilding of the house, laying out of the gardens and park and extension of his agricultural lands. A son-in-law of the first earl of Oxford, Hay was involved in trading in South Sea Company stock and lost heavily in the 1720 ‘crash’. Soon after he took up the post of ambassador to the Ottoman empire (1729-1736), perhaps in an attempt to restore his families fortunes. George received as compensation upon the abolition of heritable jurisdictions in 1747, for the regality of Balhousie [Source:http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/10th-june-1865/12/116-hays-of-erroll-kinnoull-branch].

2. Sir John Wentworth was (firstly) married to Mary Lowther (1676-1706) the daughter of Sir John Lowther, the Baronet of Lowther & later Viscount Lonsdale, who is inextricably linked to the Stanhope family of Low Hall in Horsforth (but that is yet another story).

3. Thomas was mainly resident in Scotland (where he actively improved his Dupplin estates, particularly through tree planting).

4. Alexander Keir, Gardener and Rebecca Smith were married ‘by licence’ by Matthew Buck, Vicar. Witnesses, Chrr (Christopher) Brumpton, W Sutherland, Robert Hewitt, William Hett, Thomas Reynold on the 18th of September, 1764 at Brodsworth. The Licence (a standard ‘Bond & Allegation’) had been granted by Dr Roper, Chancellor, three days earlier. The bond of £200.00 was offered by Bondsman Robert Senior of Doncaster in the presence of George Hatfield (Surrogate). [Source: Ancestry.com  Collection: Yorkshire: Brodsworth – Parish records, 1764; the Licence document itself is held by the Borthwick Institute, University of York, where it can be sighted by special appointment.] The following is a transcript made of that document:

Bond & Allegation: 15 Sep 1764

The fifteenth day of September in the year of our lord 1764

On which day appeared personally Alexander Keir of Brodsworth in the diocese of York GARDENER and being sworn on the Holy Evangelists, alledges and made oath as follows, that he is of the age  of 38 years and upwards and a batchelor and intends to marry Rebecca Smith of Brodsworth aged 30 years and upwards and a spinster. Not knowing or believing any lawful let or impediment by reason of consanguinity, affinity or any other cause whatsoever to hinder the said marriage. And he prayed a licence to solemnise the said marriage in the parish church of Brodsworth aforesaid, in which said parish the said Alexander Keir further made oath that the said Rebecca Smith hath had her usual abode for the space of four weeks last past.

On the same day the said Alexander Keir

Was sworn before me

George Hatfield


5. William Hett (Sr.) and his wife Mary both died at Bawtry, Yorkshire on the land they had been farming (since at least 1786). Skip ahead a few generations and ‘Bawtry’ in Selsfield Rd., Ardingly, West Sussex was built for Arnold Hett, his wife Laura and family in 1928 by Arnold’s architect brother, Leonard Keir Hett, who chose to design the home in the so-called Sussex ‘arts & craft’ style. The house was, of course, named after Bawtry in Yorkshire, the birthplace of their father, Henry Herbert Hett (1843–1935) who was a grandson of William Hett (Jr.) and Elizabeth Henrietta Keir.


4 thoughts on “10. Detour: Alexander Keir of Brodsworth Hall, Yorkshire

  1. Hello. This is Julia Hett just checking in! I am delighted to get this information about Alexander Keir and his wife Rebecca! I hadn’t known he was a gardener at Brodsworth Hall! So there’s the connection between my ancestor William Hett servant at Brodswoth Hall and the Keir family. I am sure I have told you that I still have a young cousin called Keir as a Christian name! His mother was a Hett, great grand daughter of Henry Herbert Hett. Thank you for keeping me in the loop! Julia


    1. Hi Julia, Glad to be of service. Unfortunately this is all we currently know about Alexander Keir – he, like John Keir in Horsforth just ‘appear’ in the record books (these being mainly the Yorkshire Parish Records) in the mid-18th century. From dates given at their respected deaths, we know when (but not where) they were born. Alexander was twenty or so years older than John (and although they both have the same surname and also have proven Stanhope and Hay family ‘links’, we cannot (and should not) simply assume they are related. However, human nature being what it is, we cannot help speculating that Alexander Keir ‘of Brodsworth’ is the son of (the mysterious) Alexander Keir (born 1699, Balhousie) and that John Keir (Sr.) ‘of Horsforth’ is (the equally illusive) Hugh Keir’s (born 1703, Kirkliston) son. As Alexander (1699-?) and Hugh (1703-1745) were brothers, this means that (if the above is true) Alexander Keir of Brodsworth (1718-1804) and John Keir (Sr.) of Horsforth (1739-1818) would have been first-cousins. As you can see we are still hoping for a break-through on any of this. Cheers, Ian.


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