Though the family had moved its principal home to plusher country further south, the Heber family originated from Marton. Their name Hayber or Haybergh ‘is supposed to derive its name from a hill in Craven.’  The Marton estate was originally purchased, from its ancient owners of that name, by Thomas Heber ‘by 1500 or soon after’.  The first incumbent of that name was Reginald Heber in 1679.

1783  Reginald Heber, born April 21st.  His father’s letter to his sister Elizabeth Heber (in London) that same day, ‘I take the very first opportunity of acquainting my dear friends that my dear Mary was, a little after three this morning, safely delivered of a fine little lad.  I thank God She and the little Bab are both as well as can be expected.  He is as fat as a little mole and they say looks very well.’

In a following letter on the 29th, he wrote, ‘Would you think it, she is monstrous fond of the little brat and thinks him very pretty indeed;  for my part though I don’t think him an ugly boy, yet I cannot as yet descry the number of beauties his Mama sees in him.  His eyes are at present a dark blue but whether they will assume a different colour as dear Richard’s I know not.  He is, they say, a tall child.  Mary [his wife, who had suffered much after the birth] ate a chicken on Sunday and some nice Hodnet perch boil’d and sparrow-grass and toast yesterday with a very good relish.’

1787  From his widow’s memoir, ‘When travelling with his parents in a very stormy day, across the mountainous country between Ripon and Craven, his mother was much alarmed, and proposed to leave the carriage and walk.  Reginald, sitting on her knee, said, “Do not be afraid mamma, God will take care of us.”  These words spoken, as she herself expressed it, “by the infant monitor, carried with them conviction to her heart, which forty-three years of joy and sorrow had not effaced”.’

1800  He went up to Braesnose College in Oxford, achieving a brilliant career culminating in his prize poem Palestine printed in 1807 and several times reprinted.  And in 1805 was elected to All Souls. 

1807  Ordained to the ministry, Hodnet having been reserved for him after his father’s death in 1804.  Married Amelia, daughter of the Dean of St Asaph. 

1815  Bampton lecturer.  Later published as The Personality and Office of the Christian Comforter asserted and explained.

1818  First proposals for uniting the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts with the Church Missionary Society.  1822 Preacher at Lincoln’s Inn.  1822 edited A Life of Jeremy Taylor and a Critical Examination of his Writings.  Wrote frequently for Quarterly Review and Christian Observer.

1823  After twice refusing, he finally agreed to be made Bishop of Calcutta.  His care covered not only the spiritual interests of the Indian continent and of Ceylon, ‘but those of New South Wales, including Van Diemen’s Land and its dependencies, of the Mauritius, of the Cape of Good Hope’, St Helena and even for a while Madeira.

1824  Of a dinner he hosted in Calcutta, ‘I also asked several of the wealthy natives, who were much pleased with the attention, being, in fact, one which no European of high station in Calcutta had previously paid to any of them.  Hurree Mohun Thakoor observing “what an increased interest the presence of females gave to our parties.”  I reminded him that the introduction of women into society was an ancient Hindoo custom, and only discontinued in consequence of the Musalman conquest.  He assented with a laugh, adding, however, “It is too late for us to go back to the old custom now.”

1824  Ordained Christian David, a native of Malabar, many years a catechist for SPCK in Ceylon, who went on to become colonial chaplain on the island.  ‘On Trinity Sunday I had the satisfaction (though by me it was felt at the same time, in some degree, a terrible responsibility) of ordaining him priest.’

1824  ‘I have found too that the Church of England, her ceremonies and clergy, are daily gaining popularity.  We are not here an old establishment, acting chiefly on the defensive;  we are a rising and popular sect, and among the candidates for Confirmation, many of whom are grown up, and some advanced in life, there were many who had been brought up among Dissenters or the Church of Scotland, and who confessed that a few years back they should never have thought it possible for them to seek the benediction of a bishop.’

1825  Bp Heber had interesting and important relations with the Armenian Christians in Calcutta and Madras.  ‘The intercourse so happily commenced with the Armenian Church is the source of much pleasure and information to us, and may be, with the Blessing of God, the means of great good’.  He began to translate the Book of Common Prayer into that language, which work was finished by others after his death.

1826  Though he admired Indians, he did not ascribe their qualities to their religion, for he loathed Hindu practices, caste and suttee most especially.  ‘The Musalmans have a far better creed’ but ‘the forms of their worship have a natural tendency to make men hypocrites’ and worst of all is ‘the degradation of their women’. 

1826  12th Feb  Burial of an infant on board ship, as they sail south from Calcutta.  The Bishop comforts the mother, who has left her husband in Calcutta as she sails to England.  As one who had lost his first child while an infant, on Christmas Eve 1818, he told her this story: ‘A shepherd was mourning over the death of his favourite child, and in the passionate and rebellious feeling of his heart was bitterly complaining that what he loved most tenderly and was in itself most lovely had been taken from him.  Suddenly a stranger, of grave and venerable appearance, stood before him, and beckoned him forth into the field.  It was night, and not a word was spoken till they arrived at the fold, when the stranger thus addressed him, “When you select one of these lambs from the flock, you choose the best and most beautiful among them.  Why should you murmur because I, the good Shepherd of the Sheep, have selected from those which you have nourished for me the one that was most fitted for my eternal fold?”  The mysterious stranger was seen no more, and the father’s heart was comforted.’

1826  On a journey south through his vast diocese, he died unexpectedly at the age of 42.  3rd April, at Trichinopoly, after an early service and the confirmation of eleven young Christians, all in Tamil, and a talk with his chaplain, he took a cool bath before a late breakfast, where he was found later to have died of a brain haemorrhage.




Born at Westminster on 5th January 1773, the eldest son of Reginald Heber (who succeeded his eldest brother as lord of Marton and Hodnet in Shropshire) and of his first wife, Mary Baylie.  The future bishop was the son of his second wife, also called Mary. 

Richard read classics at Braesnose, MA in 1797.  Friend of Scott – ‘Heber the magnificent, whose library and cellar are so superior to all others in the world’.

Succeeded to the estate on his father death in 1804, which he greatly improved both in Yorkshire and Shropshire.  Stood for election at Oxford but failed;  travelled on the continent buying books and making new friends.  Elected MP for Oxford University in 1821, resigning in 1826.  Returned to England in 1831 and lived a secluded life at Hodnet or Pimlico.  He died in October 1833.

The greatest book collector of his age (and until a better candidate comes forward, one might even say ‘of all time’)  His delightful and best-known maxim was ‘No gentleman can be without three copies of a book:  one for show, one for use, and one for borrowers.’ 

‘Perhaps no man ever collected such vast accumulations of choice volumes’ (Dictionary of National Biography). It did unfortunately bankrupt him and his estate;  Marton was mortgaged during his lifetime and sold on his death, along with his entire collection.


Thomas Cuthbert, younger brother Reginald, became a Fellow of Braesnose, and then Rector of Marton;  he died in 1816, a bachelor aged 31.  ‘His hobbies were genealogy, heraldry, and the study of ancient church brasses.’  He also died of a brain haemorrhage – he had been curate to Reginald, until he became perpetual curate of Moreton Saye, where he appears to have lived (Marton being no more than a source of extra income). 

He wrote the hymn for Epiphany 4 – the widow of Nain, including this verse in the original manuscript:

            He called me by a brother’s bier,
                  As down I knelt to prayer,
            But ah! though sorrow shed the tear,
                  Repentance was not there!

Sister to Reginald and Thomas.  He got there before Tesco’s:  in Feb 1822, Richard Heber wrote to his (half) sister Mary, on her hopes of marrying Charles Cholmondeley, the curate at Moreton Saye in Shropshire, ‘In the meantime, I tell you for your private satisfaction that I shall be glad to assist your income by presenting Charles to the Rectory of Marton which is fortunately still within my own command unfettered by any positive promise.  This, it is true, is no great matter (say £100 into pocket, curate paid) but every little helps.’



Henry Richardson, who built the cover for the holy well, is the Thornton rector who most interests us now, but there were other members of that family, and other clerics of interest before and after.  We hope to gather information on as many as possible.


Son of Dr Richard Richardson, a member of the Royal Society, botanist and antiquarian, Henry was brought up in a sophisticated literary and scientific household at the gracious manor at Bierley, near Bradford.  Educated at Oxford, he obtained the living of Thornton-in-Craven even before being awarded his BA, thanks to the patronage of his brother-in-law, in 1735 and held it until his death in 1778.

Henry’s report to the newly enthroned Archbishop of York in 1743 reveals that there were 148 families in the parish (which then included Earby and Kelbrook).  At the average eighteenth century family size, this would give a population of around 700 people, of whom 80 were Anabaptists or Quakers.  There was a public school ‘free to the parish at large’, but no alms house nor ‘other charitable endowment’.  ‘Neither have lands or tenements been left for the repair of our church or any other pious use.’  He claims to be mostly resident in the parish (not a universal practice by any means), but had a curate living with him whom he paid £35 a year, who would do the work when he was absent.

He married a Mary Dawson in 1747, daughter of a prosperous Oldham merchant, from which point he appears to have begun a serious programme of building and improvements.  The altar rails, still in use, were installed the next year at a cost of £8.13s.4d.  In the same year he designed a fine and imaginative four-sided sundial, with quotations in English, which nicely express his scientific interest in God’s creation.  His largest memorial is the old parsonage, still standing at the top of the village, which was sold by the diocese in the 1940s after some nefarious and secretive manoeuvring.  He began it in 1754, and completed it with a fine Latin dedication.

In 1755 he presumably removed the medieval font, and replaced it with the simple classical sandstone one we have now.  It looks curiously out of place in its present surroundings, but would then have been in harmonious company under the Georgian music gallery built a few years before.  No sign of this remains, except the repair to the incisions made into the side of the tower arch, just above head height either side of the font.  The bell frame was repaired and later two bells were placed in it in 1759, probably existing ones recast.

The well is his last recorded building project, and the most graceful of them all.  Over the older square basin, set into the curve of the slope below the church, Mr Richardson erected a simple but elegant octagonal structure, capped with a large millstone.

We will publish much more about the good man when we have gathered the material.  Meanwhile, a much fuller treatment of the life and work of Henry Richardson can be found in: 

Henry Richardson 1710–1778, life and legacy of a Thornton rector

by Derek Clabburn, and the Earby and District Historical Society  £5.00


A letter from Dr Richardson of Bierley, father of our Henry, written in 1709 states that ‘Ilkley is chiefly famous for a cold well which has done very remarkable cures in scrofulous cases by bathing and drinking it’, the only direct reference we have (so far) to his interest in healing waters.

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