Friday, 3 December 2021

Cotness and the Orson Welles connection.

 I was recently asked about the history of Cotness, a hamlet about one mile from Laxton in Yorkshire. I know it quite well - there are less than 10 houses there today.  But it has a long and interesting history and was mentioned in the Domesday Book.

The settlement was owned by various landowners over the years but the family I am most interested in is the Wells family. A John Wells was living there in 1525 when he  was the Cotness representative at the  annual meeting of the 48 [ Eight and Forty] township men who governed Wallingfen Common. Another John Wells was the bailiff for the Metham estate when he died in 1572. A Christopher Wells owned a messuage and lands at Cotness in 1583 and died in 1592. Another Christopher or the same was named as the former owner of a house, dovecote, orchard and garden which was let to tenants in 1625.

The line of descent is difficult to follow but an Anthony Wells [the younger] was a merchant and prominent Quaker in Hull. He died in 1716.  His father [?] Anthony Wells senior passed the Cotness estate on to his younger son Nathaniel.

Nathaniel, like the rest of his family was a Quaker. There were many Quakers in the area including the Empsons of Goole and the Ellythorps of Sandholme. His marriage in 1693 actually took place at Cotness

Nathaniel Wells' marriage in 1693

Nathaniel had sons Anthony, Nathaniel, Burdon and Gideon. He  died in 1730. After  his son Anthony's death the whole of his Cotness lands  eventually passed to Gideon.

Gideon, born 1701 at Cotness was a doctor. He married Mary Partridge in London in 1730 in a Quaker ceremony. Her father was Richard Partridge who was the agent at the "Court of Great Britain for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware"

Gideon lived and practised some of the time in Sheffield, selling some of his Cotness lands to the local Mawson and Empson families. But he kept the family house and surrounding gardens and appears as Gideon Wells MD,  Cotness in  the 1741 poll book.

He was the personal physician to Evelyn Pierrepont, second Duke of Kingston  [upon Hull] who had a very colourful life. The duke had a French mistress Marie Therese de Fontaine de la Touche, aka Marquise de la Touche. She was married and had three children but then eloped with the young Duke. But when the Duke abandoned her in 1750 she retired to Gideon Wells' house at Cotness.  It is hard to imagine this  aristocratic French lady at Cotness! She eventually returned to France and reconciled with her family. 

Gideon died in 1759 at Cotness and was buried in his own burial ground. 

His widow and son Richard born 1734 [who lived in Philadelphia] sold in 1761 "their manner and toftstead and all the site and circuit of the same manner and a stable and hophouse." Soon afterwards Richard sold a 9 acre close between  the house and  the Saltmarshe boundary. He initially reserved right of access to the Quaker burial ground where his family were buried.

This picture is taken from the Saltmarshe side - Cotness is on the other side!

This house was it is believed on the site of the Manor Farm house.

Richard was 16 when he emigrated to America  and returned briefly on the death of his father. He returned to Philadelphia and later that year  - 1759 - married Rachel Hill. 

They had several children including  Gideon born 1765 and William Hill born 1769.  Richard was a prominent merchant and cashier of  the Bank of North America. He wrote anti slavery pamphlets. He died in 1801 and was buried in  the Friends Burial Ground  in Philadelphia. 

His son Gideon was a merchant  and married Hannah Waln. His son William Hill Wells married Elizabeth Aydelott Dagworthy, the adopted daughter of General John Dagworthy.

William served as a  senator for Delaware. His son Henry Hill Wells born 1797 married Mary Putnam. Another son  son John Dagworthy Wells married Ann Lehman in 1832.

Henry and Mary  had children  including William Dagworthy Wells born 1837 and Richard Jones Wells born 1843. At some point the family began to add an extra 'e' into their name - ie Welles.

Richard Jones Wells married Mary Blanche Head whose father, Orson Sherman Head was a lawyer in Kenosha Wisconsin. Richard and Mary had a son Richard Hogdgon Head Wells. He had a son Orson Welles born 1915 in Kenosha. And the rest is history.

Who would have thought that Cotness was once the haven of a Duke's mistress and the ancestral home of Orson Welles?

I would like to wish all readers of my blog a safe and peaceful Christmas. It has been yet another strange year - let's hope 2022 is more normal!

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