Burrow - The History behind the Headstones

Mary Slater
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Many local residents walking up Settle’s Townhead towards the Surgery will have looked over the wall of the Church of the Holy Ascension and seen the ornate Birkbeck tomb, but may not have noticed two plainer gravestones nearby, side-by-side, commemorating Thomas Dixon Burrow and his family. The site near the surgery is appropriate because Burrow was a surgeon. Born about 1797 he was in Settle by 1828, following Abraham then William Sutcliffe in their surgeon’s and apothecary’s practice in Duke Street. He had married Mary Ann Holme of Bentham in 1823, and three children followed - Agnes Eliza in 1824, William Thomas Holme two years later, both born in Bentham, and John Holme in 1832 born in Settle. A business partnership with Robert Burrow (maybe a relative?) as ‘Surgeons, Apothecaries and Man-Midwives’ was legally dissolved by mutual consent in 1833. Robert Burrow was later imprisoned for debt. Thomas Dixon Burrow was also a director of more than one railway company, during the days of railway mania.

After many years of service in the town he succumbed to heart disease and rheumatism, his headstone in the churchyard recording ‘Sacred to the memory of the late Thomas Dixon Burrow Surgeon of Settle who died March 14th 1850 aged 53’. He was later immortalised in another way, in the novel Wooers and Winners by the Victorian authoress Mrs. George Linnaeus Banks (published in 1880). This was set in and around Giggleswick in the 1830s and 1840s, and many of the locations used, events described and characters named are real. Thomas Dixon Burrow, with multiple references, features as the medical man. Mrs. Banks wrote ‘Dr. Burrow, as the surgeon was called by courtesy, occupied an old house at the corner of the Market-place, abutting on the main road, and known as Lazy Corner from the fact that there loungers and idlers ‘most did congregate’ to the annoyance of the peaceful inmates. He was a man of middle stature, always dressed in professional black, had a frilled shirt and neat neckcloth, trousers and short-waisted swallow-tailed coat, had dark brown hair and whiskers, and a capital face for a doctor, a round, pleasant, cheery-looking face, with bright, dark eyes; a face to inspire confidence in a patient ...’

In real life his son William had passed the Society of Apothecaries’ examinations by 1848 and was himself now licensed to practise, and so was able to take over his father’s business. The 1851 census shows Thomas’s widow Mary Ann heading the family, with William now the surgeon, Agnes at home and the younger son John a scholar. The Settle Chronicle noted that William was a regular subscriber to the Mechanics’ Institute in 1855. In 1860, however, he died of consumption, the common name for pulmonary tuberculosis. His obituary in The Settle Chronicle emphasised his strong feelings of mission to use his talents to calm and alleviate suffering, with especial thought for the poor, for whom, in Upper Settle and in Giggleswick Workhouse, he left some money. He too is commemorated on the same Settle gravestone. ‘… William Thomas Holme Burrow, Surgeon of Settle, who died at Ventnor, October 8th 1860 aged 34, and is interred at the old church, Bonchurch, Isle of Wight’. Presumably he was there for health reasons. The practice then passed from the Burrow family and the 1861 census shows Robert Simpson as surgeon at Duke Street.

The youngest of Thomas’s children, John Holme Burrow, had been at Giggleswick School and was admitted to St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge, in 1851, where by 1855 he had obtained his degree of BA. In 1859 he was one of a group of North Craven Rifle Corps volunteers being sworn in at Settle at the time of the threat of British-French hostilities, and in 1861 he was proving his worth as a marksman at the Corp’s annual contest at Attermire. 1860 saw him in a winning Settle chess team against Bradford. In 1862 at the Mechanics’ Hall he was lecturing on ‘Caves of Craven’ (followed by three literary readings) and in 1863 he was taking part in local theatricals there, all in aid of distressed cotton workers. He also unveiled a bust of Dr. George Birkbeck. Around the same time he was writing energetically to the newspapers concerning the acrimonious Giggleswick School disputes then occurring amongst its Governors, headmaster and the townspeople. More importantly, keenly interested in local geology, he was amassing a collection of carboniferous fossils from the local area, and he also joined the army of writers producing the kind of literature for which the Victorian period is so well known. Stories for Weekdays and Sundays was published by Routledge in 1860 for one shilling, The Settle Chronicle being ‘… happy to introduce this little book by a late towns-man … The style is agreeable, the incidents are interesting, and, without being too prosy, a decided moral lesson is impressed upon the minds of the youthful readers’. In 1863 The Morning Post advertised ‘Now ready with 8 illustrations by J. D. Watson 8vo, 5s., Adventures of Alfan or The Magic Amulet by John Holme Burrow BA. Smith, Elder, and Co. 65, Cornhill’. This was ‘full of exciting events, strange adventures, love, magic and mystery’ according to The Bookseller, which was sure it would become a standard story - and so it proved as the book was re-issued until at least the 1890s. The illustrator was a good one - John Dawson Watson, Sedbergh born, was very popular in the 1860s. Then in 1869 Fraser’s Magazine started serialising a new work, Jabez Oliphant or the Merchant Prince, which was widely advertised in the press. This ran to thirteen instalments and by Spring 1870 The Morning Post and many other periodicals were heralding the book, to be issued in 3 volumes by publishers Richard Bentley, New Burlington St. The author used his Settle roots as inspiration for this book, incorporating many recognisable places and, indeed, characters. The eponymous Jabez Oliphant was possibly suggested by James Foster of Stainforth, an old Giggleswick schoolboy and City of London merchant. A review in The Spectator of 25 June 1870 is worth quoting:

This book is called on the title-page ‘a novel,’ but it does not answer the description. Jabez is a man who has realized a large fortune in the tea trade, and who retires to his native village, Reinsber, in the Craven country, where he acts the part of a social reformer, and hopes to bring about a local millennium. From first to last this character - the man and his doings - is a caricature, and made so consciously by the author. For instance, The Society for the Propagation of Virtue, which Jabez founds in Reinsber, with its system of marks, five for going to church on Sunday, ten for going on a week-day, five for eating a cold dinner on Sunday, &c., is a very good joke; but it is out of place in what should be, from its description, a tale of real life, as much out of place as by common rules of taste we hold a ghost or any supernatural appearance to be. In fact, men and things that are quite natural and probable are mixed up with men and things that are neither the one nor the other. For besides the comic figure of Jabez, there is the tragic figure, conceived in a most melodramatic spirit, of Lord Stainmore, who constructs a plot against his rival, which is about as improbable as Mr. Oliphant’s ‘Society’. This incongruity between the real and the unreal diminishes but does not destroy the reader’s pleasure in a clever book. Some of the sketches are very good, the old Tory Squire, Sir George Highside, the cynical Mr. Fothergill, and the heroine, whose brisk skirmishes with her uncle’s enemies we enjoy greatly, are all excellent.
John Holme Burrow did not enjoy good health however, and it was later said that for that reason the family spent some of their time in London. In 1870 his mother, Mary Ann, died in Kensington. The inscription on her late husband’s Settle headstone reads ‘… Mary Ann … who died in London April 18th 1870, aged 65 …’ followed by a four-line eulogistic verse above the initials of her son John Holme Burrow. By the time of the 1871 census both he and his sister Agnes were living in Earl’s Court Road, Kensington, his occupation shown as ‘BA Cantab’ and hers as ‘artist, landscape’. Presumably a London address was more convenient for dealing with publishers, and was also near the Victorian artistic heartland of Chelsea, Kensington and Holland Park, although the health benefits must have been doubtful.

In 1872 John Holme Burrow sold his fossil collection of more than 4,000 specimens to the Woodwardian Museum in Cambridge. Its catalogue of type (or original) specimens published in 1891 lists the Burrow collection amongst its chief ones. He discovered several new fossil types, some near Scaleber Foss, and at least one bears his name, the chiton burrowianus, which was described and named after him in the Proceedings of the Geological Society of London in 1862. The Woodwardian Museum developed into the present Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences in Cambridge (named for another of our Yorkshire geologists, the great Adam Sedgwick of Dent) where the collection still is.

Between 1872 and 1876 John Holme Burrow still had connections in Settle - electoral registers show he had a vote in respect of a moiety (or half) of a freehold house in Duke Street, as well as in respect of London property. But on 20 June 1876 he died in London of phthisis (a wasting disease, probably tuberculosis), obituaries appearing in The Craven Pioneer and The Lancaster Gazette. His name appears on the second Settle memorial - ‘Son of T. D. and M. A. Burrow … aged 43 years and is buried in Brompton Cemetery’.

Agnes, his sister, continued to live in Kensington, noted on the 1881 census as a landscape painter. She showed works for sale most years between 1873 and 1885, twenty-seven pictures in all, at the annual exhibitions of the Society of Lady Artists, at galleries in Conduit Street and Great Marlborough Street, London. This Society (earlier of Female Artists, and later of Women Artists) had emerged in the days of very limited career opportunities for women; stay-at-home hobby painters were looking for a wider critical audience than their immediate family and the Society also enabled women to meet others with a similar artistic interest. There were professional members, but non-members such as Agnes were encouraged to exhibit, although as such they did attract negative criticism from some professional quarters. Nonetheless ‘Far from Home’ shown in 1873 did ‘deserve notice’ according to the Art Journal. Agnes’ other titles included, for example, ‘Westminster from Lambeth Bridge’, ‘All in the Golden Summer’ and ‘The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea’, the sort of subjects popular among the commercially successful artists of the period. The only post-exhibition mention of a picture by her that I have found is one entitled ‘Romney Marsh’ exhibited in 1874, which surfaced in an art sale in Leeds in 1878 advertised in The Leeds Mercury. Agnes died on 23rd February 1891 and as noted on the second Settle stone ‘was buried beside her brother J. H. Burrow’ at Brompton Cemetery. Her death marked the end of this branch of the Burrow family.

Principal references not mentioned above:

  • ancestry.co.uk
  • archive.org
  • Bell, E.A., 1912. A history of Giggleswick School from its foundation, 1499-1912. Richard Jackson, Leeds
  • Brayshaw, T., Robinson, R.M., 1932. A history of the ancient parish of Giggleswick. London: Halton and Co. Ltd., London
  • Dakers, C., 1999. The Holland Park circle. New Haven and Yale University Press, London
  • FamilySearch.org
  • Atkinson, H.B., ed., 1922. The Giggleswick School Register, 1499-1921. Northumberland Press
  • London Gazette
  • Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge, personal communication
  • Soden, J., Baile de Laperrière, C., 1996. The Society of Women Artists exhibitors 1855-1996. v. 1. Wiltshire, England. Hilmarton Press

Pictures of the Burrow headstones in Holy Ascension Churchyard in Settle can be found in www.findagrave.com