12. John Keir (Sr.) (~1739-1818) ‘of Horsforth’ – Part (i) The Early Years (Yorkshire).

Welcome to the 12th Blog entry in this current series of articles looking at the Keir family from Aberdalgie, Perthshire, Scotland. This blog is a departure from the ‘norm’ established in the previous 11 blogs. Having exhausted the issue of Rodger Keir and Isabel Armour, we return to Horsforth in Yorkshire to ‘pick up’ hints about the Keir family who can be found there once George Keir (Sr.) (and family) had departed for more northerly climes, (circa 1763). (See the previous blog #11.)

Specifically this blog focuses on John Keir (Sr.) (~1739-1818) who simply ‘appears’ in the Horsforth records in the mid to late 18th century. John was for a long time ‘Gardener’ for the Stanhopes at Low Hall, Horsforth – a position once held with distinction by George Keir (Sr.) (see blogs 8, 9 and 11). While we know a good deal about John’s later life, his origins and childhood are a mystery to us (as far as fully documented proof is concerned), although that doesn’t stop us from making some hopefully astute and measured hypothesis (mostly building on what contemporaries said about John in his twilight years). John ‘senior‘ is important to us [The Keir Collective/Collaboration] as he is the direct Keir ancestor of two of our founding members, Anne & Ian. {Please contact us if you have any information to share about this John Keir, his family or about Horsforth in the 1700 & 1800’s, in general.}

The following facts have been instrumental in building a ‘guestimated profile’ of John Keir’s early life:

  • His age at death (1818) is given as 79, indicating that he was born about 1739.
  • In two documents (to be specified in a later blog) it is stated that “John is a ‘relative’ of Thomas Keir of Fintalich” (Thomas being a son of George Keir senior); (see blog #11 and earlier).
  • John has three children (all male) who were named: John, George and Hugh.
  • John Keir (Sr.) spent the last two decades of his life in Perthshire, Scotland (presumably the land of his birth).

From what we can glean from these records (and others), we respectfully suggest that John Keir (Sr.) (~1739-1818) was a nephew (see note #1) of George Keir (Sr.) (1705-1788) (both ‘of Horsforth, Yorkshire’). Furthermore, we propose (given the names of John (Sr.)’s children) that Hugh Keir (George’s next elder brother – see blog #4) was John’s probable father and from this, likely to have been born in Dysart, Fifeshire, Scotland around 1739. The Scottish records do confirm that Hugh Keir (1703-1745), a salt grieve, and his wife, Margaret Beath, did have a son John, born Dysart in 1739.

We are again guessing, but it seems rational to suggest that George Keir (Sr.) having married and established a family and a livelihood in Yorkshire would then recommend that his fatherless nephew (recall that George’s brother Hugh probably died in 1745) be granted a position with George’s former employee – John “lawyer” Stanhope, at Low Hall, Horsforth. (This is certainly supposition – we do not even know for sure when John arrived in Horsforth – although he was probably in his early twenties; and ‘perhaps’ as a ‘replacement’ for George Keir (Sr.) in the role of ‘gardener’. That is John Keir (Sr.) might have arrived in Horsforth in 1762-63 just as George Keir (Sr.) and family were in the process of departing.)

We are on more solid ground when we report that John Keir (Sr.), (aged just under 30), married by licence, Sarah Smith (both of Horsforth Parish) in “St. Oswald’s” Guiseley Parish Church on the 15th of December, 1768. [Documentary evidence for this licence exists both as an image of the Guisely Parish Records in Ancestry.com and as a copy of the original licence stored in the Borthwick Institute Archives.]  The officiating curate was James Bailey and the ‘surrogate’, (who granted the licence,) was Rev. William Fawcett. The witnesses were a Joseph Carr and William Bailey (this latter presumably a relative of the curate and a church appointed witness).  All parties offered their signatures (ie: could write.)

The licence was preceded on the 2nd of December, 1768 by a Bond & Allegation document (also in the Borthwick Institute Archives) for which a transcription follows:

“Bond – 2nd Dec 1768: Bonds John Keir The second day of December in the year of our lord 1768 On which day appeared personally John Keir of Horsforth in the parish of Guiseley 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 28 years and upwards and a batchelor and intends to marry Sarah Smith of Horsforth aforesaid aged 29 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 Guiseley aforesaid, in which said parish he the said John Keir further made oath that he the said John Keir hath had his usual abode for the space of four weeks last past. On the same day the said John Keir Was sworn before me Richard Fawcett. John Keir Surrogate Know all men by there presents that we John Keir of Horsforth in the county of York Gardener, and James English of Leeds in the said county of York ¿gardener¿ are bound and firmly obliged to the right worshipful ROBERT ROPER doctor of laws, vicar general and official principal of the most reverend father in god Robert by divine providence lord archbishop of York, primate of England and metropolitan, lawfully authorised in the sum of two hundred pounds of good and lawful money of Great Britain, to be paid to him, the said Robert Roper or to his executors, administrators, successors and assigns, for the payment whereof well and truly to be made, we oblige ourselves and each of us by our selves, for the whole and the full, our heirs, executors and administrators, firmly by these presents, sealed with our seals. Given the second day of the month of December in the year of our lord god 1768 The condition of this obligation is such, if the above bounden John Keir and Sarah Smith spinster now licensed to be married together, be neither of consanguinity or affinity the one to the other, within the degrees prohibited for marriage. If also there be no other Lett, impediment or lawful cause whatsoever, but that they may be lawfully married together, both by the laws of god and this land. Moreover if the persons, whole consent is required by law in this behalf, be there unto agreeing, and lastly if the said marriage be done is limited, then this obligation to be void, or else to remain in full force and virtue. Sealed and delivered in the presence of Richard Fawcett. John Keir. James English Surrogate.”

Transcription [©The Keir Collaboration, 2017] of the original Bond & Allegation (Marriage Bond) document MB/K/1768; with the generous permission of The Borthwick Institute for Archives (The University of York).

John and Sarah subsequently had three sons: John Keir Jr. (1770–1807); George Keir (1771–1845) & Hugh Keir (1773–1844); all born in Horsforth and baptised at St. Margaret’s chapel. (We shall look further at these children in later blogs.)

Sarah Keir (nee Smith) passed away on the 5th of September, 1786. and was buried at St. Margaret’s Chapel in Horsforth. (Subsequently these graves were removed and restored in the Garden of Peace, Town Street, Horsforth, adjacent to the Horsforth Museum.) These memorial stones are well worn and now difficult to read, however in an old booklet about Horsforth (available for a small price from the museum shop) it is recorded that – Sarah Keir (nee Smith), daughter of  John & Sarah Smith, died Horsforth aged 94. (The later is a misprint, she died aged 54 and thus was born in 1732. Also buried with Sarah was a Margaret Keir (nee Marshall) who we will later see was John Keir (Jr.)’s wife.)

We learn more about John Keir (Sr)’s life from another document to be found in the Spencer-Stanhope Collection of the West Yorkshire Archives (Bradford). In part, this deed (indenture) between Walter Spencer-Stanhope of Cannon Hall (see note #2) and John Keir of Horsforth, grocer and dated 12th of February, 1791 reads:

“…as a token of approbation of the conduct and long service† of the said John Keir, this indenture witnesseth that for the considerations aforesaid and for and in consideration of the yearly rents‡ and covenants hereinafter reserved…”

from a transcription by Dr. Alastair Laurence; Private Communication.

“long service” at the end of the 18th century could be typically as little as 10 years (primarily in the British Army) or as much as 30 years. The yearly rent was a modest one pound, two shillings and sixpence, and it was a condition of the deed that John Keir be paid £100 outright, if the lease was terminated within 20 years. (A situation which was enforced in 1805.)

We may thus assume that John Keir retired as Gardener for the Stanhopes at Low Hall, Horsforth circa 1790 and became a seller of small goods (a shopkeeper or grocer). This was a large concern however, as the lease covered “two bays of building each consisting of one low room and one chamber (built at John’s own expense); plus an ‘ancient cottage’ (one low room with chamber over – very likely to be that which houses the Horsforth Museum today) and “together with ‘singular; fronts, frontsteads, yards, folds, ways, paths, passages, waters, watercourse, lights, easements, profits, commodities, privileges and appurtenances to the said tenements and premises.” The lease also contained a messuage (with shed) to the west, rented & occupied by one William Hardy (see note 3).

As stated above, John’s wife, Sarah (Smith) had passed away in 1786 and by 1801 we find John Keir (recently retired from almost a decade as being a grocer) living with his cousin Thomas Keir at Fintalich farmstead in Perthshire, Scotland (see note 4).

Proof of the above assertion, the “Green Lane” Saga, and what happens in the rest of John Keir (Sr.)’s life will be the topic of the next blog – 13. John Keir (Sr.) (~1739-1818) ‘of Horsforth’ – Part (ii) The Later Years (Perthshire).

Given the gaping holes in the documentations for John Keir (Sr.) (~1739-1818) and our serious lack of concrete data, as with the Alexander Keir ‘of Brodsworth House’, Yorkshire, (see Blog #10), we ask that anyone who might be related to the said John or who can shed further light (especially) on the earliest years of John Keir (Sr.)’s life, to contact the Keir Collaboration post haste; we would love to hear from you.

Blog Notes:

#1: If George Keir (Sr.)(1705-1788) was indeed John Keir (Sr.)(~1739-1818)’s uncle that would mean that Thomas Keir of Fintalich and John were first-cousins.

#2: Water Stanhope (later to be Walter Spencer-Stanhope by royal licence) (1749-1822) was an industrialist and M.P – the nephew of John ‘Lawyer’ Stanhope (1701-1769) – who inherited both Low Hall [1769], Horsforth and Cannon Hall [1775], near Barnsley, Yorkshire from his respective Stanhope and Spencer uncles.

#3: This is almost certainly another sign of the benevolence of the Stanhope lairds of Horsforth; This William Hardy surely being a relative of the William Hardy (who died 1761) and who was a clerk of John ‘Lawyer’ Stanhope in the early to mid-18th century. (see for further information, The Spencer-Stanhope Collection / Estate Manuscripts / Correspondence or Deeds at The West Yorkshire Archive Service, Bradford; references SpSt/5/2/37 & SpSt/4/11/66/598, among others.)

#4: Thomas Keir was himself recently retired from his position as factor of the Forfeited Perth Estates, (low-land division). John Keir (Jr) appears to have joined the family business (when old enough ~1795) and ‘took over’ from his father as a Horsforth grocer and draper, a few years latter – living in the ‘ancient cottage’ / Horsforth Museum building. Unfortunately ‘junior’ was not as successful in business as his father – within a few years (by January, 1799) he was bankrupt and the premises were occupied by “widow [Elizabeth] Grimshaw [nee Marshall – John Jr’s sister-in-law] or her ‘assigns’.”

©2017 The Keir Collaboration


4 thoughts on “12. John Keir (Sr.) (~1739-1818) ‘of Horsforth’ – Part (i) The Early Years (Yorkshire).

  1. It turns out (see blog note 3) that the William Hardy occupying John Keir (Sr)’s messuage in Horsforth was the butcher son of William Hardy (Sr.), clerk to John ‘Lawyer’ Stanhope. (cf: notes in the Horsforth Museum by Dr. Alastair Laurence). [Young William’s uncle, John Hardy, who had impressed Stanhope with his courage as a child, also later became a clerk (and attorney) to the Stanhope family in Horsforth.] [IMM]


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