The Bell Family in
North Tynedale, Northumberland, England
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Welcome to the Bell family page of my family history website. This page covers the family of my wife's grandmother, Linda Winifred Tasker's mother, Frances Bell. The Bell family were rural farm hands from Northumberland, England where their ancestry can be traced back to the 18th century. A family legend claims that the Bells were illegitimately descended from British royalty, but this information has since been lost.
Please Note: This page is intended only as a narrative historical overview of this family. There is additional detailed information available for almost ever person presented on this page. To avoid the unnecessary work of double-entering such things as vital statistics, the additional information can be found in the accompanying GEDCOM database. Please make sure you click on the INDEX button at the bottom of the page so you don't miss out on potentially valuable additional information.
The research presented on this page is not mine alone. It contains information submitted by all the Fellow Researchers listed below. I am indebted to them for their generous contributions. This page is intended as a place for researchers to freely and cooperatively share our research with each other. It would be too cumbersome a task to reference each piece of data as to which researcher it has come from. The information shown on this page should be understood as a product of ALL of the Fellow Researchers. I am merely the editor and not the sole author. - Ryk
If you are just arriving at this page for the first time then you may wish to start here.
The name Bell could be an occupational surname coming from an early ancestor who was either a maker of bells or a player of bells. It could also be a characteristic surname for an early ancestor who had a "bell-like" personal characteristic -- perhaps someone whose voice was "as clear as a bell", or someone who "sang like a bell", or perhaps even someone whose head was shaped like a bell. It may also be derived from the French word "Belle" meaning "beautiful", referring to a particularly attractive ancestor. All these possible origins for the surname Bell probably account for why it is such a common name. The surname probably originates not from one of these sources, but more likely from all of them. It is for this reason that one can be certain that the name Bell has multiple origins and not all Bells are related.
Click here to learn more about surnames.
The North Tyne River runs through northwest Northumberland north of Hadrian's Wall. The towns of Bellingham and Wark-on-Tyne feature prominently in our family's past as well as smaller villages such as Greystead and Houxty Bankhead.
North Tynedale including: Bellingham, Wark, Greystead, Falstone, Hetherington, Birtley, Thockrington and Chollterton.
Greystead parish lies in west Northumberland not far from the Scottish border. It stretches from the valley of the River North Tyne across high moorland to the county boundary with Cumbria. Today, most of the parish is planted with trees, being part of the border forests of Wark and Kielder. The name Greystead probably refers to a farm known as Grievesteads in the 17th century.
The parish was settled in medieval times but there is little evidence for actual villages. The manor of Chirdon is recorded in the 13th century but nothing is known about a settlement there. A few other villages have been suggested at Hott, Dally and Snabdaugh but there is even less evidence for these. The most common signs of human habitation are the many shielings dotted around the parish. They lie by small streams or take shelter beneath crags and lie in some of the most remote places in the county, such as at Paddaburn Crags and Woolfe Kennel Cave. Shepherds looking after sheep on high pasture probably lived in them in the summer months. A number of small farms have also been found by streams and were probably more permanent settlements.
In medieval and early post-medieval times the border between England and Scotland was very unsettled, with battles, skirmishes and raids taking place on both sides. Greystead lies very close to the Scottish border and would have been in the thick of the action. There was obviously a need for some defences because Dally Castle was built in the 13th century and extended in the 14th century. Later, as feuds between border families (known as Border Reivers) continued it was necessary for those who could afford it to build special defended farms that we now call bastles. The remains of two such buildings stand at Snabdaugh and Stokoe Crags, but there are also other references to buildings that no longer exist at Chirdon, Birks and The Bower. In the 16th century The Bower was the home of one Hector Charlton said to be one of the greatest thieves in the region.
As the Borders became a more settled and peaceful area in post-medieval times it was a fairly prosperous time for this region of England. Elsewhere in the 17th and 18th centuries, people started to invest more in their surroundings and new farming methods were introduced, but here the high and remote moorlands may have changed very little. Some small farms did spring up, such as at Noble Shields and Muckle Samuel's Crags, and others expanded around older defensive buildings such as Snabdaugh bastle. Part of the parish belonged to the Earl of Derwentwater whose lands were confiscated for his part in the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion and were then held by the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital. They built the Church of St Luke in Greystead in 1817. Dallycastle Mill was also built about this time because of the increase in farming demanded by the wars between England and France, but was only used for 40 years. Few industrial activities seem to have sprung up here at this time other than lime burning to improve the land, with lime kilns by the Chirdon Burn. One of the most recent monuments to have been built in the parish was the Lord Robinson Memorial in 1953. He was chairman of the Forestry Commission whose impact on the appearance of this part of Northumberland has been considerable. (From Keys to the Past - Greystead)
The church at Bellingham is dedicated to St Cuthbert and is said to have been one of the places where St Cuthbert's body was brought to following the Viking raids on Lindisfarne in the ninth century A.D.
In the churchyard of St Cuthbert's is a long stone which marks a grave closely associated with a well known piece of North Tynedale folklore; `the Legend of the Lang Pack'.
The story is set around Lee Hall on the banks of the North Tyne to the south of Bellingham, near to where the River Rede joins the North Tyne at Redesmouth. The hall was historically the home of the Ridley family who left their country residence each winter to reside in London. In the winter of 1723 the house was left in the care of three servants, who looked after the hall under strict instructions not to allow any guest or lodger into the house.
One afternoon that winter, a peddler called at the hall carrying with him an unusually long package and asked if he could have shelter for the night. Remembering their master's orders the servants refused the peddler, but when he asked if he could leave the package, while he sought shelter elsewhere, permission was granted.
As the night grew dark one of the servants, a young maid called Alice, became increasingly suspicious of the peddler's long pack which had been left in the kitchen of the house. While lighting a candle the maid swore she saw the package move.
She quickly alerted the other two servants one called Richard and the other, a younger man called Edward. The older man scorned young Alice's suspicion, but young Edward not wishing to take any chances fetched his gun (which he called Copenhagen), and shot at the lang pack. To his astonishment a cry was heard and blood began to ooze from the mysterious package.
When the Lang pack was opened, the body of a dead man was found inside wearing a silver whistle around his neck. It soon became apparent that the man had been brought to the hall as part of a plot. The plan was obvious, this man was going to break free from his package and open the door for fellow accomplices to burgle the household.
The servants realizing that they were likely to be visited by the rest of the gang that night, summoned help from the neighbourhood and many locals came to Lee Hall, bringing with them their guns ready to see off the gang.
Later that night the gang arrived and were given the signal on the whistle, but were astonished to be greeted with gunshot from the servants and locals waiting at the hall. Four of the gang immediately fell dead from their horses, the rest quickly fled.
At daylight the following morning the bodies of the four dead men had mysteriously disappeared and the Lee Hall servants were only left with the body of the unfortunate man from the Lang Pack. The rest of the gang were never caught and the identity of the man from the Lang pack remained a mystery for all time. The body was finally buried at Bellingham churchyard, where it is said to lie beneath the long stone cut in the shape of a peddler's pack.
Our Bell ancestors grew up within just a few miles of Hadrian's Wall. Hadrian's Wall is an impressive archaeological remnant, nearly 2000 years old, from the time when England (then known as Britannia) was a province of the Roman Empire. The Wall was built by order of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, around AD 122. For six years professional soldiers built a wall 80 Roman miles long (about 120kms), from Wallsend-on-Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west. Hadrian wanted to mark the northern boundary of his Empire and to protect the "civilized" Empire from the Celtic "barbarians" to the north.
From Keys to the Past
medieval times Wark was the head of the Lordship of Tynedale and was part of
Scotland in the 13th century. People lived in small villages and hamlets at
Wark. In the summer months, when animals were grazed on higher pasture,
shepherds lived in small buildings called
shielings, and the remains of some of these structures survive as
earthworks in the more remote parts of the parish, such as
Blacka Burn and
Watergate Sike. Those who could afford it built more substantial places in
which to defend themselves and their property, for example the
tower house at Wark village. There is also a possibility that there was a
castle at Wark although this remains unproven. The remains of a medieval
deer park are still present in place-name evidence with
Park End Farm recalling the limits of this old park. Landownership and
routes across the mosses were marked by wayside crosses.
Comynís Cross is named after a local chieftan who is said to have visited
the legendary King Arthur at
In the 16th and 17th centuries the eruption of feuds between local border families meant that this part of the country was a wild and lawless place with raids made against people and property. These raiders were known as Border reivers and the only protection was through the building of strong defended farmhouses called bastles. At least seven were built in Wark parish. Those at Horneystead, Mortley and Hesley Hirst survive only as ruins but others were converted into less defensive buildings when the threat of reivers disappeared in the 18th century.
Unknown BELL - The following three households (Jacob, George and Isaac) represent the only BELL families in Wark in 1841, strongly suggesting they are sibling branches.
Matthew BELL, b. 1791 in Stamfordham, Northumberland, m 28 NOV 1818 in Wark on Tyne to Ann Charleton -- not found in 1841, 1851 in Bishopwearmouth, Durham, occ mason. Wife, Ann, b 1789 in Wark
The earliest verifiable ancestor of our Bell family is Jacob Bell who was born in 1767 in Halton, Northumberland, England. His exact birth record has not been identified. Jacob Bell married on 28 APR 1800 in St. John-Lee, Acomb, Northumberland, England to Ann Rutter. She was born about 1780 presumably in Northumberland, England but her exact birth has not yet been identified either. Jacob was a farmer at Moralee in Warksburn, Northumberland. In 1841 Jacob and Ann have their son Luke residing with them, along with the following unidentified: Margaret Bell age age 15 and Ann Bell age 1. They seem too young to be children and are more likely grandchildren by an unidentified child. Jacob is recorded as being "from Corbridge" on his marriage record. Jacob and Ann had the following children:
Edward James BELL b: 1871 in Hexham, Northumberland, England. This branch is being researched by John Bell and Lillian Bell. Edward Bell had the following children:
John Bell was born 4 JAN 1812 in Greystead near Bellingham, Northumberland, England. . Census records show his occupation as "animal husband". He married on 8 JUN 1839 in Wark On Tyne, Northumberland, England to Frances Stobbard. She was born 11 JAN 1815 in Hexham, Northumberland, England as the daughter of Matthew Stobart and Elizabeth Armstrong. John Bell and Frances Stobbard had the following children:
Matthew Bell was involved firstly with a woman named Mary, believed to be Mary DAGG, by whom he had the following daughter:
Matthew Bell was involved secondly with Margaret DAGG, possibly the sister of his first partner. They had the following daughter:
John Bell PURVIS b: ABT 10 SEP 1867 in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland, England. He died as a child, prior to the birth of his same-named brother.
Reverend Luke Bell was born abt. 23 APR 1854 in Bellingham or Wark on Tyne, Northumberland. He married on 13 NOV 1876 in Chollerton, Northumberland, England to Annie DAWSON. She was born Abt. 1854 on the farm of Whiteley Shield, West Allandale, Northumberland, England, as the daughter of Joseph Dawson and Elizabeth Hetherington. Annie's family is described on the Dawson Family Page. Luke and Annie had the following children:
Luke Bell came from a long line of shepherds and farm hands. He initially began his life in the same way as an agricultural labourer living in Houxty Bankhead, Northumberland. 1881 Census records also show him as a Methodist preacher and he was also a musician. It is believed that he played the organ as a book of his church organ music still survives. As there is a Methodist chapel at Whiteley Shield, it seems likely that Luke may have been preaching there and that is how he may have met Annie Dawson. Annie's uncle also worked at the farm of Lee Hall, which is adjacent to Houxty Bankhead. In 1891 Luke and family are still found in Houxty Bankhead, but then Luke was working as an insurance agent. In 1901 Luke, Annie, and Jean are found living in Fearby, Yorkshire where Luke was working as a road surveyor.
According to Frances' daughter, Win, Frances and Jean were raised in "Seattle", Yorkshire. A postcard survives showing a photograph of their house upon which it is written "Seattle". However no such place can be found on current maps, so it is assumed that Seattle must be somewhere within the parish of Fearby.
Luke and Annie's daughter, Frances Bell, was an extremely adventurous and free-spirited girl. She longed to move to the "new world" of North America, but her father was strongly opposed to emigrating. When Luke died sometime after 1901, there was nothing to keep Frances back. She convinced her younger sister Jean to accompany her to Canada where they followed Annie Dawson's brother Thomas and ended up in the Merlin area of Tilbury Township, Kent County, Ontario. A letter from Frances to her mother refers to staying with her uncle already living in Kent County, but the uncle is not identified, though it could be Thomas Dawson. It's in this same letter that Frances tells her mother "by the way, I got married".
Frances married ABT 1905 in Tilbury East Township, Kent County, Ontario to Job TASKER of Merlin, Kent County. Job was born 3 JAN 1857 in Tilbury East, Kent County, Ontario. His family story is told on the Tasker Family Page. Some years later Frances' mother, Annie, also came to Canada to be with her daughters.
Frances Bell claimed that the Bell family could trace their ancestry to an illegitimate child of one of the Stewart kings and she had a family tree which showed the connection. Unfortunately her children were not interested in this history and it was disposed of after her death. (Pausing for the collective gasps of genealogists the world over). All knowledge of the alleged royal connection for the Bell family died with Frances. Although many people like to allege a royal ancestry, in this case there is a shred of plausibility to her claim. Frances Stobbard (shown above) was a grandmother of Frances Bell. The surname Stobbard is an Anglicized corruption of the Scots Gaelic surname Stiubhaird, which is Gaelic for Stewart. However the Stobbard family cannot at this time be traced to any Stewart king. And I believe you have to go a ways back to find a Stewart king who still spoke Gaelic.
For the later descendants of this family please continue with the Tasker Family Page.
|Stan & Lynn Coulson's Bell Page from New Zealand||http://homepages.paradise.net.nz/stancoul/surnames.html|
|Whiteley Shield farmhouse today||http://www.castleuk.net/castle_lists_north/87/whiteleybastle.htm|
|North Pennine Area Research Aids||http://www.northpennineancestors.co.uk/|
People researching this family include the following. If you wish your name added to the fellow researchers' list, please contact me.
|Hamilton, Ontario, Canada||all branches of this family|
|Karin Main (nee Bell)||South Australia, Australia||all branches of this family|
|Stan & Lynne Coulson||Wellington, New Zealand||all branches of this family|
|Ingrid Grieve||Waterloo, Ontario, Canada||all branches of this family|
|John Bell||Blaydon, Durham, England||all branches of this family|
|Lillian Bell||Blaydon, Durham, England||all branches of this family|
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ABT = "about" and is used in three ways:
Where it precedes a precise date of birth, such as "ABT 3 DEC 1855", then it means that the person was baptized on 3 DEC 1795, but his/her exact date of birth is unknown.
Where it precedes a semi-precise date of birth with the month only given, such as "ABT DEC 1855", then that means that the birth is recorded in the civil birth registrations for the quarter ending with that month. Thus the person's birth was registered sometime between the beginning of October 1855 and the end of December 1855, but no baptism record has been found nor any more precise birth record.
Where it precedes a year only, such as "ABT 1855", then it means that there is no information on the person's birth date at all and an educated guess has been made that he/she was probably born sometime around 1855.
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This page was last updated on June 15, 2009