top of page

John Binns (1809-1890) and Sarah Emmott (c1813-1860)


Lothersdale Meeting House. Originally built in 1729, it was altered later that century. The meeting room was behind the three large windows with the caretaker living in the right end end

The Quaker movement arrived early in the West Riding, and its message, with a dislike of ritual, and its emphasis on morality and the individual, appealed to the Yorkshire nature. A Society had formed in Skipton in 1652, only five years after George Fox and others had started the movement, and purpose built buildings began to go up before the end of the century. Lothersdale was an early Quaker community, and built its first meeting house in 1729. One of those attending it was John Binns (the grandfather of the John Binns who later married Sarah Emmott), who had married Lucy King in Lothersdale, and then baptised his first child there in 1778. The family would later be attracted to Methodism, with its focus on the poor, but Lothersdale would remain central to their lives for many years, and members of the family continued to be buried at the Friends Meeting House long after they had left the village.


John (I) and Lucy had twelve children and, after the birth of their second child, they moved two miles along the road from the hamlet of Lothersdale, to the mother parish of Carleton, where they lived at Carleton Biggin Farm for nearly twenty years. (Note 1) Then, after a brief stay at Woodhead Farm, back in Lothersdale, they moved to Haws Farm in Cowling, a short distance the other side of Lothersdale. Each of these houses was an impressive building; but the Binns were weavers, so would not have been living in the main house, but in a small cottage let out by the landowner. Small as they were, the house still needed to be home and workplace: the handlooms would have been on the first floor, where the light was better, but the family would have slept in the same room. With twelve children, space would have been very limited.

John (II), born in 1780, was their second child, so would have seen all the grand houses near his parents' cottages, in marked contrast to the cramped conditions in which his own family lived. Inevitably he, too, was a weaver and, when he was in his early twenties, he married Mary Snowden, a girl from Kildwick, and set up his handlooms in a cottage on Haws Farm. They had two daughters there before moving to another cottage in Carleton Park, where their remaining five children were born. During the latter part of the 18th century weavers had been in demand so, while life was difficult, they knew their skills were needed; but that was changing. John and Mary's  eldest child was John, and his childhood cannot have been particularly happy. Both his elder sisters died as young girls and, as the Napoleonic War ended, his family was faced with the twin hardships of decreasing demand for their work, and the increasing industrialisation of weaving, whereby machines could work quicker and more cheaply than the handlooms.


One man who saw the difficulties facing the weavers was Abram Binns (no relation) in nearby Cowling. He was a Methodist, who had set up a Sunday School in 1795 at his own expense, based in a room in Ickornshaw. He had also bought a building which he equipped with looms, so that weavers could work away from their homes. Then, in 1811 he had bought and revived the Ickornshaw Mill, so he was clearly an influential man in the community. He died in 1812, but that year two further cottages and a smithy were were bought and added to the original Sunday School buildings,so that up to 300 people could worship. While this was happening, John (II) and Mary were still based in Carleton, but it was destined to be the place of worship for the next generation of Binns.


John (III), born in 1808, appears to have have stayed in Carleton until his marriage, as that is where he married Jane Whiteoak; but they moved to Haws Farm in Cowling, probably to live with his father, where a daughter, Mary, was born. Any happiness was short lived as, two years later, Jane died. She was buried as a Quaker and her burial entry states that she was 25, the wife of John Binns jun, a weaver, and that she lived at Haws, Cowling. The previous entry is for John (III)'s father, John (II), who has exactly the same address and had died a week before. He is described as a farmer, so two likely conclusions can be drawn: father and son were living togehter at Haws Farm, and father and daughter-in-law may well have died from the same thing, each catching it from a common source. John (III) was now left with a farm and a very young daughter, so needed to marry quickly. The woman he chose was Sarah Emmott, about whom we know very little as, while she claimed to be born in Cowling in about 1813/4, there is no sign of that baptism. She might be the illegitimate daughter of Ann Emmott but, if so, she appeared to have little to do with her mother as Ann died in Cowling as a pauper. (Note 1) What we do know is that, by 1841, she and John were living at Horncastle, Cowling with John's daughter, Mary, and two more children; and within a few years that had become four more. John was farming 20 acres (and was probably weaving as well as his children soon became weavers and bobbin winders) and throughout this time the family had lived next door to John's brother Thomas, another farmer. Oddly (or perhaps not) Thomas had also married an Emmott, Elizabeth. We know she wasn't Sarah's sister; but she was the niece of the Ann Emmott mentioned earlier, so could have been Sarah's cousin.


Carleton Farm (top), Woodhead Farm (middle) and Haws Farm (bottom): each 'home' to John Binns (1780-1833)


Elizabeth Gill nee Binns; John and Sarah's daughter, taken within John's lifetime

In 1860 Sarah died of epilepsy. During the first half of the 19th century, little was known about this condition and it was thought to be closely linked to insanity. Academic papers describing it as a neurological condition and possible treatments, such as bromine, started emerging in the 1850s, but rural Yorkshire would not have been an area that benefited from that knowledge until much later. That said, Yorkshire was quite advanced compared to other parts of England, having three hospitals with enlightened approaches, including the West Riding Lunatic Asylum in Wakefield; but it was over twenty-five miles away and we know Sarah wasn't treated there. (Note 3) Whether Sarah spent her last days at home or was taken elsewhere, they cannot have been easy. Sad as her death was, this time John did not face the same crisis of needing a wife as the children were now able to look after themselves: his daughter Margaret was twenty and she had four younger children to help her, as well as continue as weavers. John remained at Horncastle until his death in 1880, twenty years a widow but with one of his children at least living with him all the time.


(More detail and background to be added later).


1. This is based on the birthplaces of their children as mentioned in their baptismal entries.

2. It is likely that either her mother or father (or both) was alive in 1841 so all the Emmotts have been followed up. The 'best' candidate is Ann Emmott: Sarah's illegitimacy would have been of little consequence to a young farmer with a small child looking for a wife; and we know Sarah called her first child Ann

3. The other two were the Leeds Hospital and The Retreat in York which was founded in 1796 for Quakers. The records for The Retreat and Wakefield each list a Sarah Binns being treated in the middle/late 1850s, but the admission papers show that neither was our Sarah Binns.

bottom of page