13. John Keir (Sr.) (~1739-1818) ‘of Horsforth’ – Part (ii) The Later Years (Perthshire).

Welcome to the 13th Blog entry in this current series of articles now looking specifically at the Keir family from Horsforth, Yorkshire; this ‘line’ being closely associated with their cousins, the Keirs of Aberdalgie in Perthshire, Scotland (the topic of the majority of  previous entries). This blog continues directly on from the foregoing offering (Blog #12: John Keir (Sr.) (~1739-1818) ‘of Horsforth’ – Part (i) The Early Years (Yorkshire)).

We left blog #12 with the promise of ‘proof’ for two assertions:

(a) That John Keir (Sr.) ‘of Horsforth (Yorkshire)’ was a close relative of Thomas Keir ‘of Fintalich (Perthshire)’, and

(b) by 1801, John Keir ‘Senior’ was living with the said Thomas Keir at his Fintalich farmstead located near Muthill, in mid-Perthshire; found today, as then, some 18 miles WSW of the ancient capital of Scotland – Perth (and incidentally within a brisk walk of the Innerpeffray Library mentioned previously in blog #11: Note 5 ).

Proof for the above comes in the form of four letters and one story – the so-called “Green Lane Saga” (- the tale of the Ashen Inheritance). How these letters came to light might be an illuminating story, but feel free to skip the next section if this narrative is not of your liking or interest.


Aside: A brief tale of persistence & discovery –

Recently (a matter of a few weeks ago), a previously illusive document came to light in the newly refurbished Wakefield Branch of the West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS). It was in a box labelled “miscellaneous documents” and part of the late John Goodchild Collection. John, (who sadly passed away this year), had come into possession of the private and legal papers of George Keir (1771-1845), a noted Barnsley lawyer  and eldest son of John Keir (Sr.). He (John Goodchild) donated his collection to WYAS and also indexed the works into broad categories.

Unbeknownst to us (at the time – 9 or 10 years ago) John Goodchild had also typed out a brief (and as it turns out, incomplete) biography for George Keir (1771-1845), in which it was mentioned that a “letter from Sheffield” (dated circa 1801) indicated that George’s father (John Keir (Sr.)) had visited his (George’s) ‘uncle’ in Scotland. It was a copy of this single A4 page typed ‘note’ that had come into our possession (via Margaret Keir a distant relative of ours). At that time the author of the note and the where-abouts, (author & origins) of this mysterious “letter from Sheffield” were totally unknown to us (but we were desperate to learn more and frustrated by our inability to do so.)

To cut a long story (a decade of fruitless searches) short, Anne, one of the founding members of the ‘Keir Collaboration’ visited the West Yorkshire Archives in Wakefield last month and was over-joyed when she discovered not only the typed original ‘note’ but also the “letter from Sheffield” AND another ‘bonus’ letter PLUS a few hand written ‘case’ notes by George Keir (the lawyer) himself, (all as described below). Our long and arduous search had finally paid off…


The ‘Green-Lane’ Saga

[As per the story portrayed by the WYAS letters, the following saga unfolds…] 

It appears that in early 1801, a Sheffield businessman and entrepreneur, William Hoole, (the actual author of the “letter from Sheffield”, dated the 24th of March, 1801 – see blog note #1 & the Appendix) was entertained by one Thomas Keir at his farmhouse in Fintalich, near Crieff (in Perthshire, Scotland). The stated purpose of Hoole’s visit was “to solicit the patronage [of Thomas]” on behalf of another Green-Lane (Sheffield) occupant, George Ashen. (Refer to ‘Letter #2’ in the Appendix below and blog note #2)

Combining all the data that we have, the (still incomplete) story unfolds. It would seem that this (reclusive? illusive) George Ashen (who lived at 4 Green Lane, Sheffield) was possibly heir to the estate of Lady (Catherine) Ashen of Preston, Lancashire. George Ashen having been informed of this possibility by his (as yet unidentified) relatives in Ireland, contacts his friend (neighbour, employer?) William Hoole and presumably together they ‘plot’ the next steps.

One of these ‘steps’ involved William Hoole visiting Thomas Keir of Fintalich to solicit his help. (Here we must ask, “why Thomas?” – how did Ashen or Hoole know of his existence and where he lived? Why did they think he could and would be of assistance? – see note #3)

Thomas Keir subsequently writes to George Ashen  with some comments and advise  (see Letter #1 transcript in the Appendix to this blog) and George then contacts Thomas’ relative George Keir (a successful Barnsley lawyer) armed with both Thomas’ letter and an introductory/explanatory note (see Letter #2) from William Hoole (a ‘stranger’ to George Keir). We are not privy to the conversation they had that day, but presumably George Keir was engaged (in a legal capacity? pro bono?) to uncover further information.

From Letter/note #3AB (as transcribed in the Appendix below) we must assume that Ashen had asked George Keir to contact (interview) one ‘Mr Watson’ who (it is stated) had previously told George Ashen that he (Watson) was a servant to Lady (Catherine) Ashen of Preston (in Lancashire?).

Mr. Watson’s Story

It is reported (in Thomas Keir’s letter (#1)) that a man (whom we later learn was called ‘Mr. Watson’) said “he was a servant to the Lady” (Mrs Ashen) and can attest that she “made a will in favour of the person now possessing the estate but that she afterwards destroyed” it. (That is Mr. ‘P’? of Liverpool is in possession of the Manor house but may not have any legal right to it, Mrs Ashen having died intestate. see letter/note 3A.)

Thomas is extremely keen (in his opinion) that this Mr. Watson be found, his character determined, his story corroborated, and that a guarantee is gained that he will tell this same testimony in a court of law, since “it is possible that this may all be a story of his own invention and that when called upon as an evidence he might give a quite different account.” If the story “be a true and real state of the case” in Thomas’ (humble, non-legal) opinion “it is certainly a good foundation to go upon“.

William Hoole’s involvement

William Hoole’s association with this ‘case’ can only be seen as benevolent and altruistic. He appears to gain no obvious benefit from being involved. He makes a considerable sacrifice (in time, effort and presumably expense) when he travels (in February, 1801) from Sheffield to Fintalich (near Muthill, Crieff in Perthshire, Scotland) – a journey of upwards of 200 miles, ‘as the crow flies’. His relationship with George Ashen is not explained (by the data we have so far) but we do know that both are closely connected to Green Lane in Sheffield. In 1801, George Ashen is said to live at number 4 Green Lane and William part-owns the Green Lane Works. His letter (the infamous ‘letter from Sheffield’ (see Letter #2 transcript in the Appendix) dated the 24th of March, 1801) is the last we hear of him in this saga.

The ‘Irish Connection’

Thomas Keir “wishes to have a further examination” of all the evidence and in his letter to George Ashen (Letter #1), he implores the said Ashen to “write to your relations in Ireland“. Thomas presumably does so in the belief that it was “…the parties in Ireland from where the first information (about the inheritance) was received…” (William Hoole, Letter #2).  As George Keir makes no mention of this in his notes (Letter #3A or B), we have nothing further to go on.

In an Army Regiment or Garrison

Both Thomas Keir and William Hoole imply in their letters that ‘someone’ has joined a Regiment and therefore will be difficult to contact. Reading between the lines of letters 1 & 2, one infers two possibilities for the identity of this ‘someone’.

Thomas implies that it is the servant of Lady Ashen, (Mr. Watson,) who has joined up as he was the subject of the paragraph which concludes: “…it would be better if you could get some person of character to write to one of the Officers of the Regiment to beg they would examine him and write back what he can say upon the matter and if you can send me his name and the Regiment he is in and whether he is a non-commissioned officer or private I may perhaps get some person in the country [which country? – Editor] to write to one of the officers and get them to examine him.”

William Hoole on the other hand seems to suggest that it is Ashen’s Irish relative [singular] who is now in the army? Hoole warns “it appears the parties may not probably be met with being sent on an expedition…(see note #4).

George Keir in his further notes (see Letter 3A) gives us no indication which of the two possibilities above may be correct.

George Keir is ‘on the case’

That George Keir attempts to track down Mr. Watson (and finds some evidence as to him being in Lincolnshire) (see letter 3 – parts A&B) does imply that there may be some substance to the claims being made by George Ashen (and William Hoole).


The ‘Green-Lane’ Saga Conclusion

Unfortunately, this brief but intense flurry of activity (from William Hoole’s visit to Scotland in early (February?) 1801 to George Ashen’s reply to George Keir’s inquiries – dated 7 May, 1801) poses more questions than it answers. Yes, we now know the name, location and history of the author of “Letter from Sheffield” (William Hoole) and we have uncovered an intriguing tale about George Ashen and his proposed inheritance, but we are still to discover any information which might cast light on the following:

  • What was the outcome of this tale – was there a law case to answer? Did George obtain his inheritance? Who was Lady (Catherine) Ashen? Was there an Ashen owned Manor House & Estate (in Preston, Lancashire)? OR was this whole thing a fabrication? (A hoax or a ‘scam’?) (and if the later, by whom? and perpetrated on whom?)
  • Who indeed was George Ashen – and the identity of Mrs Ashen (his wife? Spinster sister? or Sister-in-law)? From where did the Ashen family originate?
  • Who was this Mr. Watson (apparently formerly a man-servant of Lady Ashen) and what became of him? Where was he living in 1801? (We last knew that he went for a visit to Lincolnshire – what was he doing there? Did George Keir ever get his ‘interview’?) Did this Mr. Watson tell his story to a judge & jury (have his day in court)?
  • Who were George Ashen’s Irish relatives? Where did they live? How do they ‘fit’ into this tale? And was it he or they who joined the (British) army?

At this point we ask any reader or relative who might have further information about any of the above, (to use the following link) to contact us (the Keir collective) at this blog site. (Any information received will be treated with utmost confidentiality unless otherwise indicated by the informant and the workings of this WordPress site.)

The “Green-Lane Saga” whilest interesting in and of itself, demonstrates (and offers documentary ‘proof’) a number of key points of significance to our Keir family history.

  • It clearly establishes a familiar (genetic) link between John Keir (Sr.) and Thomas Keir ‘of Fintalich’ (see note #5).
  • It ‘locates’ both Thomas Keir and John Keir (Sr.) in Fintalich, Scotland, in early 1801.
  • It also suggests that travel between Perthshire & Yorkshire (Leeds, Sheffield) was possible if not ‘frequent’ by the start of the 19th century. (William Hoole made the trip, letters successfully flowed between the two centers, via the postal service and Thomas Keir implies that he will make the journey back to Yorkshire by May of 1801.)

An Ending (of sorts)

John Keir (Sr.) died  at Fintalich farmstead (in the Parish of Muthill, County of Perth and Commissary of Dunblane) on the 1st of March, 1818. The general Disponee and Executor of John’s will (dated the 22nd January, 1814) was a William Dron of North Blackruthven, (another Keir relative by marriage – see note 6). In this will it is written:

“The Deceased resided with his relation Mr Thomas Keir at Fintalich and had no household furniture known to the upgiver hereof.”

It is also stated:

“After my death, make payment to my son George Keir, Attorney at Law in Barnsley, Yorkshire, the sum of £100 sterling and the remainder of my estate to be divided between my son Hugh Keir of Lackwood and the children of my deceased son John Keir.”

And so endth the life of an ancestor, John Keir, senior. In the forthcoming blogs we will continue this ‘trail of discovery’ as we investigate the lives (and deaths) of John’s three children, John (Jr.), George and Hugh.



Blog Notes:

#1: Copious references (newspaper articles and so on) refer to Sheffield businessman, William Hoole as an original proprietor of the Green Lane Works which produced “ornamental stove grates and fenders in bronze and metal”. The Green Lane Works were founded in 1795 as a partnership between William Boothby, William Hoole, William Shaw and Samuel Groves. The company they formed operated until 1812 (cf: The London Gazette – Part 1; Page 322) and by the mid-1830’s the company was owned and operated by William’s son, Henry Elliott Hoole.

#2: Despite numerous searches (all negative), we are yet to find any further information about this George Ashen that would confirm his very existence and flesh out his story further. (This has even lead some of us to question if the “Green Lane Saga” is real or just an elaborate hoax or confidence trick.) We would ask any reader who has any further information about George Ashen or the Ashen family in Sheffield, Yorkshire or indeed England to contact us (the Keir collective) via this blog page.

#3: Thomas Keir ‘of Fintalich’- was born Horsforth (circa 1740), and lived there for the first 23 years of his life. He married Ann Waugh of Oulton (Rothwell), Yorkshire on the 12th of October, 1767 (in Rothwell Holy Trinity, Leeds – the witnesses were George Kitchen and Thomas’ sister, Mary Keir) – approximately a year after he had gained employment in Scotland as the factor of the forfeited Perthshire estates (low-land division). (All that can be noted here is that Rothwell was on the south side of Leeds, therefore in the direction of Sheffield and that Ann Waugh’s family were well-to-do merchants in that town.) This gives us no clue to as why George Ashen and William Hoole ‘chose’ Thomas Keir to be their ally. The only other ‘connection’ that we can currently find is the fact that the Duke of Norfolk (Charles Howard, the 11th Duke from 1746-1815) owned much of the land the Green Lane Works was built on and was good friends (and a political associate) of Walter Spencer-Stanhope of Low Hall, Horsforth & Canon Hall, Barnsley. The latter personage was, of course, brought up with the Keir family during their stay in Yorkshire, and would know of Thomas Keir, his capabilities and situation (wealthy & retired) and most importantly where he was living in 1801. (Walter would be in an ideal position to write a note of introduction for William Hoole to meet with Thomas Keir.) Thomas died in 1821 at his farmhouse at Fintalich.

#4: Of course ‘being sent on an expeditionis only suggestive of someone in an army regiment and is by no means the only possible explanation for the usage of this term.

#5: William Hoole in the so-called “Letter from Sheffield”, dated the 24th of March, 1801 suggests that he met Thomas Keir (of Fintalich) and the father of George Keir (Barnsley Lawyer – that is John Keir (Sr)) at “your uncle’s farmhouse, near Crieff”. In calling Thomas Keir, George Keir’s “uncle”, William Hoole was surely mistaken. As we have previously reported (see blogs #8 & #11), Thomas Keir (1740-1821) did have a younger brother named John (1749-1830) who was at this time (in 1801,) well ensconced as a factor for the Earl of Hopetoun and living at Philipstoun. While it IS known for some families to have two living children of the same name, it is an extremely rare occurrence. We believe (as stated before) that Thomas Keir (of Fintalich) and John Keir (Sr.) ‘of Horsforth’ were actually first-cousins.

#6: William Dron (Jr.) (1776-1844) ‘of Blackruthven’ was the son of William Dron (Sr.) (~1750-1811) and Isobel Keir (1752-?)†, who married ~1770. William, junior‡ was born in Aberdalgie in 1775 or 1776 and christened on the 21st of January, 1776. He died aged 78 in Blackruthven, Perthshire on the 17th of October, 1844.

Isobel Keir was the youngest daughter of William Keir and Mary Clerk (as previously reported in blog #5) Not to be confused with another child (by the same name) and of that couple  who was born 8 Nov 1772 in Aberdalgie and died in infancy (in or before 1774).



Appendix – Letters & Notes Transcripts:

(The originals of these primary sources are held in trust by the National Archives, (in the newly relocated and purpose-built) West Yorkshire Achieve Service’s, Wakefield branch in Kirkgate, Wakefield – see here for details: http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details

Letter #1Thomas Keir (of Fintalich) to George Ashen (Green Lane, Sheffield), 3 pages, dated 12th of March, 1801 (Addressed “post-paid” to Mr George Ashen, Green Lane, Sheffield and postmarked -“PAID & MR 13”[1])

“Sir //[2] Mrs Ashen’s letter was delivered to me by your frind [friend or find?] Mr Hoole a fortnit [fortnight] ago and from the conversation with him I find he has good hopes of your being found to be the real heir at law to the estate mentioned by Mrs Ashen provided it has not been legally disposed of to the person now in possession of it by the last proprietor and if the account you have received from a man who says he was a servant to the Lady who had made a will in favour of the person now possessing the estate but that she afterwards destroyed the said will can be deponed[3] upon to be a true and real state of the case it is certainly a good foundation to go upon But it will in my opinion be extremely necessary in the first place to make a very [¿quiet¿][4] enquiry into the character of that man {page 2} as it is possible that this may all be a story of his own invention and that when called upon as an evidence he might give a quite different account and for this purpose you should write to your relations in Ireland or it would be better if you could get some person of character to write to one of the Officers of the Regiment to beg they would examine him and write back what he can say upon the matter and if you can send me his name and the Regiment he is in and whether he is a non-commissioned officer or private I may perhaps get some person in the country to write to one of the officers and get them to examine him You must also let me know at the same time who the Lady Ashen was that was last possessed of the estate whether she enjoyed it as heiress in her own right or whether it had been left to her by her husband, also the parish where the estate is situated and name of Mansion House etc etc. I dare say your friend Mr Hoole will with pleasure give you his assistance in getting the information wanted. // It was for this {page 3} reason that I delayed in writing until all of the the time I expect he will be taken – [5] I propose to be in Yorkshire about the end of May or beginning of June and it will give me much pleasure if I can be of any use to you in procuring for you the advice of some persons well skilled in the law how you are to proceed in case there are good grounds to proceed upon. But at the same time it cannot be expected that I will on any account involve myself in the trouble and expense of a lawsuit. Wishing you all the success you can hope or deserve I am // your friend and servant, // Thos: [Thomas] Keir”

[1] This latter is a ‘Bishop mark’ – MR 13 indicating the letter was posted on the 13th of March.[2] // – new paragraph [3] Deponed – Scots Law: give evidence as a witness in a law court. [4]Word is unclear – it is short (~5 letters) and ends in “iet” [5]Unfortunately this sentence does not appear to make sense?

Translation – © 2017 Keir Collaboration

Note: Bishop Marks were introduced in England by 1661 but had fallen out of fashion in that country by the late 1780’s.  However, experts tell us that in Scotland they used two types of Bishop Mark, the first from 1693 to 1714, and then a second type (as per Thomas Keir’s letter) from 1774 to 1806. From this were are assured that the letter is genuine and was posted in Scotland (before 1806).

Letter #2William Hoole (of Green Lane, Sheffield) to George Keir (Lawyer in Barnsley), 1 page, dated 24th of March, 1801 (Presumably hand delivered by Mr George Ashen, Green Lane, Sheffield)

“Sir//I hope that you will forgive the intrusion of a stranger addressing you but part of the occasion is to inform you I spent part of an agreeable day with your father at your uncle’s farmhouse near Crieff abt. [about] about 3 weeks a go [ago] they were then in good health & I promised them if I returned by way of Barnsley to wait upon you on the subject of business for which I introduced myself to them (namely) to solicit the patronage of your uncle on behalf of this man who will be the bearer of this for further information I beg your leave to refer to your uncle’s letter & the information he will be able to give you it was proposed by your uncle that he would write to you on the subject for you to investigate the business thoroughly but it appears by his letter that he hath [has] thought different & wishes to have a further examination of the parties in Ireland from where the first information was recd [received] but it appears the parties may not probably be met with being sent on an expedition & I think it will  further appear to you that the claim will be substantiated without it soliciting your indulgence for the liberty I have took // I remain Sir // Yours respectfully // Wm [William] Hoole”

Translation – © 2017 Keir Collaboration

Letter #3 Part A and BGeorge Keir (Lawyer in Barnsley) to George Ashen (of 4 Green Lane, Sheffield), 1 page (now torn in two – with both halves ‘matching’); 3B dated 20th of April, 1801

Part A (loose notes?)

George Ashen – Green Lane No. 4 // Sheffield ___ // Catharine Ashen of Preston seized of all ¿Eds¿[6] at Preston about 29 yrs died ___ //  Intestate – left[7] //    Mr ???[8] of Liverpool in Possession of // Estate ___

——————————————————– ragged tear ——————————————————-

Part B (directed letter)

I have not been fortunate enough /[9] to meet with Mr. Watson at House / as he is now gone into Lincolnshire for / ten days or a fortnight. I / will see him immediately upon / his return respecting the / business you desire I would / and you shall know the result of / any enquiries ¿???¿[10] yours ¿__tly¿[11] / ¿?[12] GK ! / On 20 April 1801.

[6] Unknown short word possible ¿Ed¿ or ¿Eds¿ (legal term?) has been inserted with a caret (^) at this point (above and to the right) of ‘all’. [7] The word ‘left’ was written then struck out. [8] Unfortunately the surname is unreadable but is a short word of three (or perhaps four) letters, starting with “P” – perhaps Mr. Pew of Liverpool? [9] New line. [10] Short unreadable word with a word (perhaps ‘please?’) inserted (and lined through) above examine and a caret mark below). [11] Precise valediction (salutation closure or sign-off) is not clear but consists of only 5 (abbreviated?) letters ending in “tly”. [12] There is a short ‘word’ or mark preceding the initials GK (George Keir).

Translation – © 2017 Keir Collaboration

Note: For this to still be in the possession of George Keir implies that Letter #3 (ab) was not intended to be sent – as is. It is more likely that these are George’s rough notes or a draft copy of the actual letter sent to George Ashen. (The two pieces do however bear the marks of having been sealed (with red wax and a circular siglillum) at some point.)

 Letter #4  [From] George Ashen (of 4 Green Lane, Sheffield) to George Keir (Lawyer in Barnsley), 1 page, dated 7th of May, 1801

“Sir, // George Ashen presents his compliments[13] / I will be much obliged by your informing him / the result of your enquiry of Mr Watson / concerning the writings he spoke to you about[14] / as it is proposed to make application for them / next Wednesday you[r][15] reply by return post / will be gratefully acknowledged by // your most obedient servant // George Ashen // Green Lane, Sheffield, May 7th, 1801″

[13] Note that this is ostensibly written in 3rd & 1st person. Either by George Ashen himself ‘affecting a style’, or more likely by another (unidentified) person on behalf of George Ashen. It is noted here that George Ashen does not appear to write his own letters but has another write them for him. We are uncertain as to why this should be the case. [14] It is clear from this that George Ashen did receive Letter #3 (or like version of this) from George Keir and that the two George’s have been in further communication together. It is unclear what these “writings”, as mentioned, may contain. [15] ‘Your’ is misspelt as ‘you’ (a common error).

Translation – © 2017 Keir Collaboration

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