Settle and John Lettsom

Alan King
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Many of us search out our family history or the past of our property or street from old deeds, photographs and maps. Research in the town, even a small one like Settle, is more teamwork over time than a sudden flash of insight. Attempting to unravel the early history -- before 1066 at least -- I have been travelling to Ironbridge to delve in Arthur Raistrick's archive there. In conversation I learned from the librarian of a map of Settle hanging in an upstairs corridor of Abraham Darby's house (which opens to the public over the summer season).

Unlike most maps this is not the work of a professional surveyor but of a young man John Coakley Lettsom who clearly enjoyed living in Settle for about five years. John Lettsom (1744 -- 1815) was the only surviving child of seven successive pairs of male twins born to parents on the West Indian island of Tortola where they were plantation owners. Concerned and not willing to lose John they sent him at the age of six in the care of a ship's captain they knew from Lancaster to be cared for in Furness by Abraham and Hatton Rawlinson. At their home he met many of the local Quakers including Samuel Fothergill, brother of Dr John Fothergill a famous surgeon. Samuel the younger brother was a tea dealer there and American merchant; on his advice John was sent to the Quaker school at Penketh near Warrington; on leaving school at 14 he went to Liverpool to learn accountancy. Subsequently (1761) he journeyed by packhorse to Settle as apprentice to Abraham Sutcliffe a Quaker apothecary. Sutcliffe taught him Latin, though Lettsom's favourite pastime was walking around the locality collecting minerals and fossils and plants he pressed and from which he made prints. In 1794 his mineral collection of 700 specimens became an early element of Cambridge College's geology department, Boston (later becoming Harvard University). He spent five years in Settle; in only his second year he tended patients in their homes. " These were very numerous when my master was out-of-town or engaged in mid-wifery". The map is undated but presumably drawn when John was resident in Settle as a thank you for his time in Liverpool. Following Settle he moved to London staying with Dr John Fothergill and was entered by him as a surgeon's dresser at St Thomas' Hospital under Benjamin Cowell, also a Friend and "as a small gratuity admitted me to see the books of the physicians and to accompany them through the wards". After a year he returned to Tortola (1767) having inherited the family estate which though small comprised many slaves, "to these I gave freedom when I had less than 50 in the world, I never repented this act" (Wilberforce's Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1806). John stayed on the island working as a physician earning 2000 before returning to England.

Like many Quakers he travelled to Scotland entering Edinburgh University where he wrote his dissertation on the medicinal properties of tea. He then toured Europe, often accompanied by Dr John Knowles, visiting many schools of medicine before studying in Leyden where he successfully graduated in medicine in June 1769. Back in London he became a licentiate of the College of Physicians in June 1770 marrying Ann Miers the following month. John Lettsom became one of the most successful and wealthiest of London's surgeons taking over Fothergill's practice in 1780 by which time he had become a member of the Medicinal Society of London and elected Fellow of the Royal Society (one of his proposers being Benjamin Franklin) in November 1773.

So what about the map? What does it tell us about the town in 1765? In the first place it shows Settle as a place that John Lettsom clearly knew well. He had no doubt visited many homes and knew the street layout and their names. It is only a sketch map but when compared with a copy of the Tithe map of 1845 or a first edition Ordnance Survey map it is a fine effort. Settle was an agricultural and trading town in a position where the regular markets and fairs catered for far more than the local population. There were large Scotch cattle fairs held in the locality, the one at Gearstones, Ribblehead sounded particularly wild, "a seat of misery in a desert, the house filled with buyers and sellers most of whom were in plaids, fillibegs etc." (Souden, 1991) while that in Great Close, adjacent to Malham Tarn, Hurtley in 1786 saw 5000 cattle sold. Sold to be fattened and then sold on to the rapidly growing towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire. But the Market Place was not at the core of the town - it was stretched on two levels around the foot of Castleberg extending to Upper Settle and the Green. The main water supply was the springs flowing out of the limestone especially at the top of the present Well Hill but also along the now Victoria Street and around the lower edge of the Green. The Keighley -- Kendal turnpike road entered Settle along Duck Street turning down Kirkgate to cross the river over the bridge. The early building where Marshfield House is located is drawn perhaps too close to the Market Place to accommodate the railway embankment and later building. It was occupied by the Countess of Gyllenborg, daughter of a Swedish Prime Minister who died in 1766. Meeting House Lane is shown separated by a wall from Kirkgate with two gateposts leading to a building set well back from the lane. As at Cheapside, Lettsom would have known every feature of and around the Meeting House. As the original map is blank in the bottom left, Sutcliffe House, built by Abraham Sutcliffe (Lettsom's master) at the corner of Cheapside and Duck Street is shown as an enlargement of the much smaller sketch besides it. The ginnel between the Sutcliffe house and the rest of Cheapside was Elbow Lane. It swings around the Golden Lion to the main road. Branching off the lane are Alley Street then Tanner Lane heading for Preston's Folly, at one time called Tan House, fronted by a willow but with no sign or mention of Paley's Puddle. Paley Lane leads towards Upper Settle passing into Bodkinhall Street at the top of which the roads divide as they do today. Uphill Pauper Street has the Poor House at the roadside on the right in today's Twistleton's Yard. After 1759 it is relocated a little higher up the hill on the left where the building has now reverted to dwelling houses. Two foot paths ran northwards, one from Kirkgate passes through what is now Whitefriars' car park, that from the Market Place was replaced by a stretch of the turnpike road, built "13 yards between the fences, 10 yards to be stoned" in 1804. The land was bought for 200 an acre. Though Buck's sketch of Settle drawn in 1720 is little different to that planned by Lettsom, they both show the sundial marked out on Castleberg's unwooded slopes with the gnomon casting its shadow down the hillside. The Victorians made a popular pleasure garden of that ground with pathways, swings, tea rooms and a bowling green in the field just over the wall near the flagpole but I never suspected that they swept away almost every one of the previous street names. My own apology is that I am uncertain about the scale written along the left margin as the "Length of town" reads " 7a mile" but the Breadth is more confusing so I shall have to try and unravel this point. Why the map should be in Abraham Darby's house in Ironbridge is another issue. My best guess is that Abraham Darby II may well have known Lettsom at Liverpool and it is likely that Darby learned accountancy also. Epigrams were popular humorous reading in the early 19th century. The one below to me seems to carry a sting in its tail. I believe the poem has been rewritten accurately with no spelling altered.

Is people sick? To me apply
I blisters, bleeds and sweats 'em.
If after that they choose to die,
What's that to me J. Lettsom