Answers to Questions


MORRISON, Shenley, c1817-c1830

June, 2010




Ian Thomas (ian.thomas7 @t of Victoria, Australia, is researching his Great Great Great Grandfather, Richard Morrison (1796 - 1850) and wants to know more about his Hertfordshire connection - and whether this throws any light on his origins. He has provided detailed biographical information and the easiest way to reply is to comment step by step, my thought processes as I read through the biography (shortened somewhat where there is no immediate relevance to Hertfordshire). In some places where the matter becomes clearer later I have left the original comment (with a later note) as this illustrates the kinds of problem this kind of research can encounter. At the end I add further comments about the possibilities of further research.

The case is of particular interest as it shows how people can move around the country if they work for a noble family with dispersed estates. I have a case in my own family which shows movements between Lancashire, Wiltshire, Scotland and London, and the common factor is probably employment by the Duke of Devonshire (see Is this the right birth/baptism?).


Presumably this was calculated back from his age given in some document. As the family were clearly literate the age given on the death certificate, on any tombstone, or in the burial register is .probably right within a year or two - but beware if all the family were absent and the death was registered by a non-family member. If the date came from the 1841 census the exact ages were not normally given and can easily be five years out (usually too low). However the practice varied (despite the rules for taking the census) and sometimes looking at other entries on the page can throw light on the census enumerators practice.

Is living in Middlesex, possibly Mayfair when he is married in 1817.

Where did this information come from? It would be unreliable to assume that because he married at St George's. If he was married in 1817 he is unlikely to have been born later than 1796 unless he was married by licence, as he would have been under age. It was not uncommon for people living in the Home Counties to get married in St George's and if there was any irregularity (such as a couple being married under-age without parent's concent) the couple may well say they were "of this parish".

Marries St George Hanover Square, 1817, Harriet Penson

St George's, Hanover Square was the fashionable place to get married (see At this time there were probably an average of about three weddings a day and people came from miles around to get married,  It can be useful to know exactly what was recorded in the register - including the witness names. (It may well be that some of the witnesses may have been regulars who signed when a couple turned up with no family - so if some of the witness names are not obviously family you should check to see if they were also witnesses to other marriages at the church that appeared around the same date.) If the marriage was by licence the marriage licence may still exist - and in some cases other documents may survive. The most likely place to check is the London Metropolitan Archives.

Harriet Penson is the daughter of John Penson and Judith Brooks. Judith is the daughter of the Reverend Henry Brooks (Vicar of Salcombe Regis, Devon) and Honoria Hall. Honoria is the daughter of the Reverend Joseph Hall, Vicar of Salcombe Regis, who is descended from Bishop Jospeh Hall quite a well known man 15-1600's. Her mother was a Brachinshaw from Llansanan, Wales, whose family had been keepers of the Tramadog Estate going back many centuries. Harriet's brother Richard Brooks was a Captain in the Royal Navy and settled in Australia in 1814 having brought out a few convict ships before that.

Richard and Harriet Morrison's first children are born in Hertfordshire. Their first son is Captain William Arthur Morrison (my GG Grandfather) born about 1826 and he said St Albans. He moved out to Australia. When William marries for the second time, Plymouth 1861, he says that his father was born in Scotland.

At this stage of reading through your notes something worries me - although if you have clear evidence for William's mother' maiden name, for instance from records associated with William from Australia there is probably no need to be too concerned. In the days before contraception it was extremely unusual for there to be a delay of 8 years before the first child. - so what happened to any children born in this period. (I can't spot any likely burials on the Herts Family History Society Burial Index.). [But see later comments which resolves the problem of children born shortly after the marriage, etc]

It is very dangerous to jump to conclusions by simply looking up names in online indexes (see Right Name, Wrong Body?), especially as there will be people with the same name born in the same period which will not be listed in the index. If we search familysearch for Richard Morrison born between 1789 and 1799 we get six possibilities - three of which vaguely fit what we know:

  • Richard Morrison, baptised 1791 at Long Horsley, Northumberland (not far from Alnwick)

  • Richard Morison, baptised 1792 at St Sepulchre, London (not far from St George, Hanover Square)

  • Richard Murrison, baptised 1792 at Canongate, Edinburgh, Scotland (If comment he was born in Scotland is correct)

It would be very dangerous to assume any of these are correct without further in-depth research. For instance a check might show that any of these died as infants - or married someone else, etc. One should also consider the inheritance of Christian names.


The Shenley Militia Lists for 1759-1786 do not include anyone named Morrison in the village and it seems very unlikely that there was any long term association between Morrison and the village. (In fact there are no Morrisons listed in any of the Hertfordshire Militia Lists for the second half of the 18th century.

There is a lack of Richard Morrisons to be found during this period at Scotlandspeople

I am not familiar with the arrangements in Scotland - but in England there was no law to say that you had to have your child baptised - and if they were it might not be in the Church of England. This means that for a significant minority of people no explicit record of their birth/baptism survives - if one ever existed (see Where is my ancestor's baptism before 1837?).

Their second child was Caroline Frances Morrison (also born about 1826) and over various census records reveals "Colney, St Albans" as place of birth. She marries and after spending time in Wales dies England

Presumably London Colney or Colney Heath, near St Albans. The ecclesiastical parish of London Colney  was created in 1826 out of parts of the civil parishes of St StephenSt Peter, Ridge and Shenley. This immediately leads to the following Shenley records on familysearch:

  Born Baptised Parents
Richard Henry Morrison 14 May 1818 28 December 1823  
William Arthur Morrison 13 April 1821 28 December 1823  
Caroline Frances Morrison

Age 3

11 February 1827  
Harriet Ann Morrison


11 February 1827 Richard & Harriet

Interestingly the parents' names appear not to be given if the child being baptised was not a babe in arms (possibly all considered old enough to saying yes to being baptised). The register should give an address and (at least in the case of Harriet) the father's occupation. With the first child born in 1818 my earlier comment about a delay before the first child is no longer relevant.

For simplicity I assume below that Richard was in the part of "Colney" which was in Shenley. However St Peter's parish was a very large parish with the church, and most of the population in one corner which was also part of the Borough of St Albans. It is likely that some of the parishioners who lived in the more remote rural parts could have used nearer parish churches. In fact the pattern of baptisms suggests that Richard did not regularly attend any church - as if he had done so the children would all have been baptised while still only a month or two old.

Later, Richard Morrison twice refers to himself as "Farmer." His son refers to him as a Land Agent,

It is very common for occupations, etc., to be upwardly mobile in certain circumstances. It is particularly common in Australia when describing one's parent's activities back in England - when it is almost impossible for the authorities to check. It could be that at one time Richard was best described as a farm bailiff - which would make both descriptions correct - and from there to a full time Land Agent would be a natural move if he was deemed particularly competent..

... and I have since found him as a representative of both Edward Bligh, the Lord Clifton, Earl of Darnley in Kent and later for the Duke of Northumberland. I found a Richard Morrison auctioning farming stock in an advertisement placed on page 2 of the Hertfordshire Mercury, 13th November 1830 and this could have been about the time that he moves to Kent that is to say if it is the same Richard Morrison.

The advert should give the location of the sale - and even if it doesn't give a specific reason the nature of the goods/livestock on offer should indicate whether he was selling up - presumably to move to Kent [or Tottenham]. If the location of the farm is a farm that would be the one he had been farming - and it should be possible to find out who his landlord was - and that may suggest a connection with Kent. [The Hertfordshire Mercury was one the most prominent local paper in the county in 1830.]

His next three children, solicitor Sydney Brooks Morrison born 1828, Dr Richard Grosvenor Morrison born 1829 and governess Louisa Honoria Morrison born 1830 (all three end up settling in Australia) are baptized at All Hallows, Tottenham together in 1834.

If the sale was his move from Hertfordshire, and the birth dates are correct presumably Sydney, Richard and Louisa were born in Hertfordshire. However it is very unlikely that there would be two children called Richard at the same time - so could the first Richard have died just after the move  and the second Richard born shortly after.  The register could include the father's address and occupation as he saw it at the time. However Tottenham is in Middlesex (north of the Thames and not all that far from Hertfordshire) - so did they move directly from Hertfordshire to Kent?

During the 1830's Richard Morrison is a Land Agent and also Agent to The Earl of Darnley at Cobham Hall, Kent. They live at Thong, [near Gravesend,] Kent in what was most likely Steward's House (no longer there.) His first grandchildren are baptised at Shorne.

In Hertfordshire at this period a steward would always be an employee. A land agent could be an employee but also might be a self-employed estate agent, surveyor or auctioneer who managed or sold property on behalf of other people. The wording of the advert you have could well make this clearer.

During the 1840's he is working as Agent to the Duke of Northumberland and living at Denwick House, Denwick which is a purpose built residence and farm near to Alnwick Castle. Harriet dies in 1849 and Richard dies in 1850 both at Alnwick. I also found that he was treasurer of the Alnwick and Hexham Turnpike Trust in 1848/9.

Have you looked for a will - someone in his position would normally have left a will (or there could be administration records). I would also expect a gravestone - and it is possible that if there was a suitable local newspaper there could be a brief mention - especially if he died suddenly and there was an inquest.

In searching for his place of birth nothing is revealed in the correspondence held in the Cobham Hall archive. I have a friend over in England at the moment who will be organising a paid search for me of the Northumberland Estate Archives and ordering death certificates from Alnwick (just on the off chance something is referenced) and searching for a gravestone at Alnwick. I also await information from the Bailiffgate Museum at Alnwick.

I don't believe that Richard Morrison started working for the Earl of Darnley simply by being a farmer in Hertfordshire

But see note earlier - a farm bailiff could well describe himself as a farmer - and the term farmer was a pretty vague term - ranging from someone who had a small-holding and no employees to a large (by 19th century Hertfordshire standards) of 200-300 acres employing 15-20 agricultural labourers. Most large estates (of which there were very many in Hertfordshire) would have had a significant "Home Farm" under a bailiff - who might also have acted as the land owner's agent if there were other farms in the estate..

Overview Comments

My reading is that as a young man Richard Morrison probably started his career in about 1817 as a farm bailiff on an estate at or near Shenley, Hertfordshire, at the age of about 20-25, getting married and starting a family at the same time. He did well, apparently moving to Tottenham circa 1830, and ending up in a senior position working for the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick.

So what additional information is needed to strengthen the connection with Hertfordshire - and perhaps throw some light on his origins.

On the records that have already been identified the marriage register entry for 1817 may include clues - such as the possible identity of witnesses and whether the marriage was by licence of banns. (If by licence there may have been a settlement relating to the marriage - although this information rarely survives.) The Shenley baptism registered can be viewed by arrangement at your nearest LDS Family History Centre (address on familysearch) and should give an occupation in 1827 and maybe an address (although it may simply say "Shenley"). I might well be able to make some useful comments if you can let me have a copy of the 1830 sales advert. The Tottenham baptism register for 1834 might also give an occupation and a farm address and it might be worth checking the burial register.

HALS holds the manuscript land tax records for Shenley between 1753 and 1830 and this list the landowners and occupiers of property for each year. Hopefully these would allow you to determine when Richard took on a farm, and the prior occupier but are not the easiest records to search . A problem is that if Richard was a farm bailiff the property might be shown with the owner also being listed as the occupier - and Richard not being named. You can identify other Shenley related documents held at HALS on Access to Archives - but in most cases the index does not include the (often hundreds of) personal names in the document.

I strongly suspect that the best clue we are likely to get about Richard's origins from Hertfordshire records is the ownership of the farm in Shenley where he apparently started his career. It is likely that his father was in a similar line and there may therefore be a link between the Shenley property owner (who may not have lived in Hertfordshire) and Richard's father.


Ian replied that while he did not have full details the 1830 Adverts located the farm at Sleaps Hyde and the sale was iof the farm stock - suggesting a pretty final sale. The following maps show the location of Sleapshyde (various spelliungs).

The above detail of a map by Charles Smith (1808 edition) shows Shenley in the bottom right and "Steap Side" at the top centre, a little above "Cony Heath". The detail on the right comes from Bryant's 1822 map and shows, at a larger scale, "Sleap Side" just  north of "Colney Heath"


There can be little doubt that the farm Richard Morrison was selling in 1830 was at what is now Sleapshyde, at Colney Heath.

Ian also supplied the following interesting information as a result of my first posting:

Your revelation of the earlier children has proven to be invaluable. Harriet Ann Morrison, born St Albans stays with another Morrison that I have had my eye on in the census, that is Nicholas Carter Morrison. Richard and Harriet, who were married by Licence, had as a witness “N. Morrison” and the signature matches that of Nicholas Carter Morrison’s Will of which I have a copy. Nicholas was born in Tottenham in 1789 and died a retired Oil and Colourman with plenty of London property to hand on to his children. Nicholas married Maria Cox at St George Hanover Square by licence two years before Richard Morrison. One witness name does not connect at this stage and the other name is one of the standby witnesses who signs regularly. Their children’s names are interesting too: Anne Maria Morrison (about the same age as her visiting cousin Harriet Ann(e) Morrison) Brownsworth Cox Morrison, who is a clerk for a wharf in Chelsea and also a clerk for a timber merchant and Hargrave Cox Morrison who is also an Oil and Colourman who ends up being the art supplier to James McNeil Whistler. His shop is on the ground floor of where Whistler and his famous mother [Whistler's Mother] lived and they all see each other on a daily basis according to correspondence and autobiography. So it may be Morrison materials that now hang in the Louvre. Most colourful to have as cousins and an interesting diversion. Whilst I can not find Tottenham Baptism Register details for Nicholas, I did have them for Richard’s children (typically all baptised older and together) and he describes himself as “Farmer” with no other revelations.

 In my research I did find that the Vicar of Tottenham earlier in the 1700’s was a Reverend Christopher Morrison who was a minor canon of St Paul’s. The other thing that was significant was that he was the personal Chaplain to the Earl of Darnley. He is buried at one of the little side doors to St Paul’s. The respective religious archives in London reveal very little as it just predates their interest in family details. The period seemed to suggest a Grandfather if anything.


In April 2012 (via the Newsletter) Tony wrote: I believe I can add information regarding the message about the Morrison of Shenley. In the information given is reference to Nicholas Carter Morrison who was baptised at All Hallows Tottenham on 14 Dec 1784. The Morrison family held copyhold land at West green in Tottenham and also had property in Edmonton and Winchmore Hill I suspect that the Richard Morrison who marries Harriet Penson (in the marriage at St George she is of the Parish of Edmonton) was in fact Nicholas's brother Richard who was baptised 14 June 1786 this is supported in part by the fact that the Harriet staying with Nicholas and his family is shown as a niece. As can be seen from the 1851 census Nicholas claims to be 5 years younger than he actually is and in researching the family this appears to be a common trait as at least 3 of Nicholas brothers also manage to lose 5 years from their age based on baptisms.
I have spent some time researching the Morrison Family and can go back to about 1650 with documented sources. I have emailed Ian offering to pass on information but have not received a reply to date.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

June 2010   Page created
April 2012   Update - message from Tony