Ash Villa, Stainton

After taking photos of graves at Beacon Edge, Cemetery, Penrith, I realised that the photo I took of Joseph Dalton’s unusual headstone also shows a good part of the grave of the Blackburn family of Ash Villa, Stainton.

Fairybead, Stainton

Stainton, just outside Penrith, to me brings back memories of visiting my mum’s cousin and her husband, who lived there a while (before moving to Northumbria). It also is surely the only place anywhere with the wonderful address of Fairybead Lane. Old maps suggest this was based on Fairybead Sike/Syke – but how did this beck get its name?

Another great name

Old maps also show buildings listed as Zerubbabel Place. Renamed at some point Hazel Bank – far easier on the tongue, but far less interesting than finding an Old Testament personage (he was a 6th century BC governor of Judea) in a Cumbrian village!

Ash Villa

Thanks to The Genealogist linking census returns to its brilliant Map Explorer, I can see that Ash Villa is now the Brantwood Hotel.

Ash Villa is central. Zerubbabel Place is on the right-hand edge

The Brantwood Hotel is an early 18th Century former country residence with a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere (

A ‘for sale or let’ listing in 1883 (and similar in 1888) says it contains:

a large Entrance Hall, 2 Entertaining Rooms, Kitchen, Scullery, and extensive Laundry on the Ground Floor ; 5 Bedrooms and W.C. above, with 2 pairs of Stairs ; Stable (with Hayloft), Coach House, Joiner’s Shop, Dutch Barn, and Cow House. Also, Yard, Garden, Orchard, Greenhouse, fine Ornamental Trees; and about 3.5 Acres of superior Meadow Land

It was sold ‘by private treaty’ late in 1888 to ‘Mr T Blackburn of Shields’.

Back to the Blackburn family

So this post so far has sidelined the family who inspired it, rather like the photo.

Thomas Blackburn, of Ash Villa, Stainton, died Feb 1904, aged 66.

Mary died July 4, 1898, aged 69

son -iam died 192-

-ry Ann  —-as Blackburn d – 21st 1934

They are easy to find on the census returns:

Ash Villa, Stainton, 1891

Thomas Blackburn, 53, farmer, b Kirklinton

Mary 62, b Newcastle

George W, 22, farmer’s son, b North Shields

and two nieces:

Gertrude M Heppell, 28

Ann W Heppell, 21, both farmer’s daughter, both born Merthy Tydfil, Wales.

We know Mary died in 1898.  Thomas didn’t stay a widower for long, however. For 1901 shows him with a wife Mary Ann, 49 (Thomas is 63), born Arthuret. With them are son George W, while Ann Heppell is no longer listed as a niece but as a general servant.

This explains the 1934 listing on the grave. While son George William Blackburn, who died in 1924, is the -iam visible in the photo.

The Penrith Observer tells us that Thomas Blackburn married Mary Ann Jardine, second daughter of John Jardine of Jackson’s Rigg, Longtown, on November 10, 1900.

Draper to farmer

Thomas Blackburn wasn’t always a farmer. In 1881, he shows up in Chirton, Northumberland, as a draper (employing three assistants, who are boarding with him). His place of birth and age, and those of wife Mary, as well as son George W, 12, confirm we have the right person. They were there in 1871, where Thomas has no occupation but the photographer above’s wife is listed as ‘travelling draper’ – seems a fair guess the enumerator used the wrong line on the page!

It also seems fair to guess that the Thomas Blackburn, draper’s assistant, 23, in Tynemouth in 1861, is ‘our’ Thomas, tho’ the place of birth is listed as Carlisle.

1895, December 30.

The Sunday and day scholars of the Stainton schools were entertained by Mrs Blackburn, Ash Villa, on Thursday… After tea, Mr G W Blackburn gave a magic lantern entertainment…

Penrith Observer

The first Mrs Blackburn

1898, July 16.

By the recent death of Mrs. Blackburn, of Ash Villa, Stainton, the parish of Dacre has lost a generous friend and helper, the church and schools, reading rooms and other parochial institutions profited by her liberal hearted generosity, the poor of the village of Stainton will lose a good friend. Only as recently as February last, Mrs. Blackburn was instrumental in providing a tea for the villagers, and for years past gave an annual feast to the school children. Much sympathy is expressed with Mr. Blackburn in his bereavement.

Cumberland & Westmorland Herald

Mr Blackburn was ‘too ill to be present’ at his wife’s funeral. 

A bit of digging finds a 1868 marriage of a Thomas Blackburn to a Mary Heppell. 

The Heppell nieces

Ann W Heppell, the niece who became a family servant, is listed on the 1911 census – still as a domestic servant, but with 12 rooms to herself and visitor William Blackburn Robinson, aged seven. However, the front of the schedule says ‘Mrs Blackburn’, and Ann was originally down as ‘niece’ (crossed out and replaced with ‘head’). This is surely Ash Villa (but not named as such) and ‘Mrs Blackburn’ is the head but wasn’t at home on census night?

1861 Merthyr: mining engineer Richard Heppell, 26, was born Wallsend, Northumberland, while wife Frances, 24, was born in ‘Frizmaton’ Cumberland. An interesting attempt at ‘Frizington’! Gertrude M is a year old.

Meanwhile, the future Mrs Blackburn, Mary Heppell (Richard’s sister), is also living in Merthyr, with her widowed mother Isabella, various siblings and a domestic servant. 1851 shows her father to be George, a coal agent.

What led her (back to the north-east?) to meet Thomas Blackburn, the travelling Cumbrian draper, we can never know.