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John Smith ...

a genealogist's nightmare?

Some time ago, whilst tidying up the spreadsheets showing all the Adamthwaite marriages, I noticed that no less than three Adamthwaite females had married a John Smith.  There were a couple of other Adamthwaite/Smith marriages, which is possibly only to be expected, but it seemed too much of a coincidence  that there should be THREE John Smiths.

  • In 1817 John Smith married Ann Adamthwaite at St George’s, Hanover Square

  • In 1836 John Smith married Elizabeth Adamthwaite at St George’s Hanover Square

  • In 1897 John Smith married Mary Ann Adamthwaite at Salford

Even more puzzling was the fact that TWO of the marriages had taken place at St George’s Hanover Square in London (not a parish that many of our Adamthwaites were known to frequent!).  I was confident that I knew who Ann Adamthwaite was, though I also knew that both she and her new husband lived in the West Riding of Yorkshire both before and after this marriage, so the choice of venue for the marriage seemed a little strange.  At this point, I had no idea who the Elizabeth Adamthwaite, who married John Smith in 1836 could possibly have been.


The final Adamthwaite/John Smith marriage was between Mary Ann Adamthwaite and John Smith and took place in 1897 in Salford.  But there was no mystery about this marriage:  Mary Ann had been living with John Smith in the 1891 census as his ‘sister in law’ (a convenient fiction?) and appeared as his wife in the 1901 census by which time they were living in Rawden in Yorkshire. So Mary Ann was nothing to do with the Cotherstone John Smith.


I decided that the two marriages in St George’s Hanover Square needed further investigation and duly trotted off to the Westminster Library to check out the actual parish records.  Frustratingly, there was precious little information to be found there.  The records were there, but they gave the bare minimum of information:

  • 8 December 1817  marriage at St George’s Hanover Square between John SMITH and Ann ADAMTHWAITE, both of this parish, after Banns.  The Curate was J Greville and the witnesses were Wm Santhorne and Elizabeth Berryman.  Both parties signed (and Ann had very neat tidy writing!)

  • 21 December 1836 marriage at St George’s Hanover Square between John SMITH and Elizabeth ADAMTHWAITE, both of this parish, after Banns.  The Curate was W H Dickinson and the witnesses were Frederick and Jane RING.


None of the witness names meant anything to me (though I did find Frederick and Jane RING living in Southwark in the 1841 census), and sadly there was not the usual mention of whether the parties were bachelors, spinsters or widows.  Neither did the Library hold the records of the Banns, which just conceivably could have provided some tiny snippet of extra information. Grrr!

one of many advertisements for the Cotherstone Academy placed in the Times of London by Mr Smith

Of course, the 1841 census doesn’t tell us the relationships between individuals, but it certainly looks like a family group.  Surely, after Ann died in 1834, John Smith had not gone on to marry his step daughter Elizabeth?  I knew that Rev Joseph and Ann had had four children – three of whom had died in infancy, but their daughter Elizabeth, born in 1807, seemed to have survived. I had not found any further record of her in census or marriage records, though I did have a possible death record for her in 1845, but this was with the surname Adamthwaite.   I checked up on prohibited marriages – sure enough marriage between a man and his step-daughter was not permitted.  It MUST have been a coincidence that a John SMITH married an Elizabeth ADAMTHWAITE in 1836 ... mustn’t it?


At least, I would hopefully be able to get hold of the birth certificate for the baby Sarah Smith, which would clarify the mother’s maiden name.  But oh dear!  When I searched the GRO index for the birth reference, what did I find? ...

  • Sarah Adamthwaite SMITH, born 1841 march quarter Teesdale (just the right time for her to have been 5 months old in the 1841 census which was taken on 6th June).  

And there were two more:

  • John Adamthwaite SMITH, born 1839 jun qtr Teesdale – he died the same quarter; and

  • Elizabeth Adamthwaite SMITH, born 1838, jun qtr Teesdale – she died the same quarter too


I also located christenings for both Eliza Smith (who was 15 in the 1841 census) and for Sarah Smith both took place at Romaldkirk (which is very close to Cotherstone and the nearest parish church):

  • Eliza Ann SMITH, born Cotherstone and christened 11 November 1823 at Romaldkirk, father John Smith, mother Ann Smith – Eliza died on 15 Jul 1845 at Cotherstone1845, 'dau of John Smith, gentleman, death reported by Jn Smith, inmate?

  • Sarah Adamthwaite SMITH, born Cotherstone, and christened 19 February 1841 at Romaldkirk, father John Smith, mother Elizabeth Smith.  Oh dear!

There is no sign of Sarah in the 1851 census, neither have we found a death certificate for her. What can have happened to her?


Could this explain why John SMITH took his brides to London to marry?  Although even if he was embarrassed to marry first his ex-employer’s wife and then his ex-employer’s daughter in his home village of Cotherstone, it didn’t stop him getting the children of both marriages christened there!


After a frustratingly long wait, Sarah Adamthwaite SMITH’s birth certificate arrived – and confirmed my fears:

Sarah was born at Cotherstone on 27 December 1840.  Her father was John SMITH, gentleman and her mother Elizabeth SMITH, formerly ADAMTHWAITE.  The informant was John SMITH, father, of Cotherstone.


I then decided that I needed to get hold of the death certificate for the Elizabeth ADAMTHWAITE who died in 1845, just in case my suspicious mind had led me astray and John SMITH had actually married another Elizabeth ADAMTHWAITE (though, to be honest, I knew of no other Elizabeth ADAMTHWAITE born between 1807 and 1811 who could have been recorded as aged 30 in the 1841 census, even with the rounding down). 

 to find out what the death certificate revealed,  click on the link for PAGE TWO, which will open as a PDF file

You can also read the recollections of an actual pupil at the Smith's Academy in Cotherstone

This link, will also open in a new window with a

reproduction of all the pages of the article which helpfully also transcribes at the foot of each page an extract from Nicholas Nickleby as a comparison!

I apologise for the rather clumsy reproduction of the article about the Cotherstone Academy, which you will find if you click on the above link.  I had hoped to add a link directly to the copy of the article which I located some years ago on but they no longer hold vol 1 of Edward Stirling's "Old Drury Lane, Fifty Years Recollections of the Author, Actor and Manager" which contains his description of the Academy in Cotherstone, which he attended as a young boy. In 1827, when Stirling attended, the school would have been run by John Smith, who had taken over after working for several years for Rev Joseph Adamthwaite. "The boy" in the story is Edward Stirling himself. It sounds truly appalling!  Also the Author's notes on page one concerning the similarity between his own description of the school and Dickens' description of Dotheboys Hall are not completely wrong.  It has come to light that another Cotherstone School was indeed one of the notorious Yorkshire boarding academies that Dickens visited when research Nicholas Nickleby, but that one was run by different member of the Adamthwaite family!


Fortunately, I had made a copy of each page of the article when I first located it, because although currently claims to hold several versions of Vol I, when I checked they all seem to be Vol II

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cotherstone academy cropped
map of cotherstone

Cotherstone, Bowes and Barnard Castle from Jeffery's map of Yorkshire 1771 - reproduced with kind permission from Digital Archives Association - click to enlarge image

In memory of the Rev. Joseph Adamthwaite

Minister of Bowes

whose remains are interred in the south aisle of the church

ob. August 5 1811 Age 36 years


 Also of


Mrs. Ann Smith widow of above

Daughter of Henry Bourn Esq.

of Cotherstone

Buried here

OB June 23 1834 age 55 years

Rev Joseph Adamthwaite, Minister of Bowes, had taught for a while at the Ancient and Free Grammar School at Bowes, but in 1801 he opened his own school at Cotherstone.  Coincidentally, also in Bowes there was another Academy (the very same Academy which, it is said, was later used by Dickens as a model for Dotheboys Hall) which was run by a Mr. John Adamthwaite (although this John Adamthwaite claimed to be a native of Ravenstonedale, we have never found any evidence to link him to the other Adamthwaites who ran Academies).


After Rev Joseph’s death in 1811, his former assistant at the Cotherstone School, John Smith, had continued to advertise the school in the Times – the advertisements following much the same lines as those composed by Rev Joseph.  It seems that as well as taking over the Reverend’s  school,

John Smith also took over the Reverend’s wife!  But it looked a little unusual that the above gravestone described Mrs Ann Smith as ‘widow of Reverend Joseph Adamthwaite’ when she was clearly more recently the ‘wife of Mr John Smith’.


I then started hunting through the censuses to find the couple in the second marriage ... and was somewhat worried when I came across the following family in the 1841 census, living at Cotherstone:

    John Smith, 49, late schoolmaster, not born in county

    Elizabeth Smith, 30, born in county

    Eliza Smith, 15, born in county

    Sarah Smith, 5m, born in county

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