Ickornshaw

Amanuensis Monday – John Dawson (1768-1832)

Today I want to tell you about my 4xgreat grandfather John Dawson. He is the earliest Dawson relation I have found in Cowling, West Yorkshire. For a long time I believed that John was a local chap although I hadn’t been able to find any clues as to his birth or his parents.

More recently I have discovered via other researchers that it is highly likely that John actually comes from Clitheroe in Lancashire. Now for someone who believed that his roots were firmly set in Yorkshire the idea that I might orginate from Lancashire has been hard to take. But it may well be an opportunity for a later post when I have looked at the information available for the Dawson’s of Clitheroe in the future.

But for now I want to concentrate on John’s life in Cowling.

According to the IGI John Dawson married Ann Watson on 3rd May 1792 in Kildwick, West Yorkshire. I have an IGI burial record for John dated 16th October 1832 at Kildwick Parish Church.

On the 1841 census I found Ann indexed under the name of Davson. The IGI shows her burial also at Kildwick Parish Church on 9th July 1846.

John and Ann had nine children – Priscilla (1793); John (1795); James (1797); Thomas (1799); Alice (c1802); Elizabeth (c1804); William (c1806); Watson (c1808) and John (c1812).

The first John born on 31st May 1795 died the following year in July 1796.

The village of Cowling has had a number of textile mills over the years and this could be the subject of a post all on it’s own. However I want to talk about Ickornshaw Mill which was built in 1791. There is a very interesting story about John Dawson in connection with this mill. The following extract is from a book called Cowling A Moorland Parish written by the Cowling Local History Society and published in 1980.

Ickornshaw Mill

Ickornshaw Mill is the oldest mill still in use in Cowling, being built in 1791, on land bought by John Dehane of Kildwick from Hugh Smith, a yeoman farmer of Cowling who owned Upper Summer House Farm.

The mill was built in three months and a waterwheel was installed by Mr Dawson of Clitheroe who lodged at the public house in Ickornshaw. Here he fell in love with the barmaid whom he married, but as his family disinherited him, he stayed on in Cowling and acted as “engine tenter”, blacksmith and mill mechanic. His son and grandson followed in his footsteps tending the wheel for one hundred and ten years. The wheel was capable of 50-60 horse power, running 150-180 looms with the engine completely stopped. In 1910 the wheel was overhauled, after 119 years free of any major repairs, a fine testimony to the quality and craftmannship.

The mill whistle had to be blown at 5.30am to rouse the workers, and as the engine tenter thought this was an unearthly hour to get up, Mr Dawson having an inventive mind, built a contraption from old clocks, picking bands, a weaver’s beam, pieces of wire and a few loom weights which would perform the duty for him whilst he slumbered a little longer. He tried out his invention several times, but always being on hand in case it failed, and at last decided that there was no point in him having his “brainchild” working and being present himself. So, the following morning he decided to listen to his invention operating on its own. It started off at the correct time, but Mr Dawson quickly realised that it was not going to stop. However, it did bring the hands to work earlier that morning, anxious to see what all the noise was about. The contraption worked well for some considerable time, and was only terminated when Messrs. John Binns and Son took over the responsibility of rousing the neighbourhood with their own much louder whistle.

I really like this story and have a great fondness for John Dawson.

As mentioned in the extract above his son, John, took over from him. In the 1851 census this John Dawson’s occupation is shown as “mechanic”. In 1861 and 1871 he is described as “engine tenter”.

This John Dawson’s son…..also called John, took over from his father and continued to look after the wheel and the engine. I have found him on the 1871, 1881 and 1891 census records described as “engine tenter” – but so far I haven’t been able to find him in 1901. In 1881 and 1891 this John was living in Nelson and Barrowford respectively – about nine miles from Cowling – so he had a bit of journey in those days to get to the mill.

I am not the only Dawson to have found the story and the history really interesting. Here is a letter from Jas Dawson dated 3rd December 1937 published in the Craven Herald & Pioneer and reproduced here by Cowling Moonrakers. Jas seems to be the son of the last John Dawson to look after the wheel and engine. The letter was written shortly after the waterwheel had been dismanted and gives more history and information.