Hannah Pickard (1838-1891)
This is the life story of an Ossett woman, Hannah Pickard, who even 128 years after her death, polarises opinion. It is time for Ossett to decide whether to honour her memory in a fitting manner; by the provision of a Blue Plaque in her name. Based on primary records this article seeks to set out for the first time the facts about Hannah Pickard. To assist the reader understand the context of the time in which she lived there is some interpretation based upon those facts. Those who have researched and written about her life find no evidence that she be not remembered in a way which other towns and cities have remembered individual kindness, selfless benefaction and philanthropy during and after life. We ask no more than this article be read, carefully considered and acted upon.
It may be that those in a position of power and influence in this matter, being devoid of self interest, conclude after objective and unbiased consideration that Hannah does not warrant recognition. In those circumstances Ossett would welcome an objective, evidence backed, written analysis of those findings. Then the final decision should be left to the people of the town she loved.
There is more modern context here too. In 1973 Ossett took away Hannah’s right to be remembered on her gravestone when it was wrecked and her body removed to an unknown mass "grave" somewhere in an unkempt and barely accessible burial ground in Gawthorpe. In 2007 the remnants of the Pickard Fountain were removed from Green Park to their new home somewhere in a private garden in distant Sharlston. This is also the time and opportunity for an Ossett redemption.
The debate about Hannah Pickard has become corrosive. Ossett needs to move on but can only do so after reasoned debate and conclusions.
Above: One possible location on Green Mount for a Hannah Pickard Blue Plaque.
The Ossett Pickards
Miss Hannah Pickard was a member of a prominent Ossett textile family and lived her later life at "Green Mount", situated at the junction of Southdale Road and Ossett Green. Ossett grocer and draper, George Pickard (born 9th April 1798, a Quaker by birth) married Hannah Mitchell (born 1805) in 1824 and they had four children, two sons and two daughters: Sarah, born in 1826; David born in 1830, Andrew born in 1835 and Hannah born in 1838. All of the family were members of the adjacent Independent Congregational Church and were buried in the Church Burial Ground at nearby Dimple Well.
The Pickard family had existed in Ossett for generations and the family lived in a cottage, said to be where the substantial dwelling "Green Mount" would later be built and which was purchased by Andrew Pickard in 1876. The name Pickard has existed in Ossett for generations and is said to have its roots with those men of Picardy, France who fought with The Duke of Normandy, William The Conqueror, in the Conquest of England in late 1066. Pickards fought hard and won.
Above: Green Mount another view whilst building work was underway.
George Pickard’s two sons, David and Andrew, ran successful businesses. By 1871, David was a "Cloth Manufacturing Master" employing 100 women, 20 boys and 90 men in partnership with Mark Wilby of Manor Mill, Ossett. Andrew moved to Leeds becoming a "Woollen Manufacturer", with mill premises in Aire Street.
The family was not known for its longevity. George Pickard, the father, died after a long illness on March 7th 1852, aged 53 years. His daughter, Sarah, aged 35 years, died on May 14th 1857 of a diseased knee joint and her mother, Hannah (senior) died on April 25th 1862 aged 59 years. David, aged 52 years, died on July 6th 1882 of a fatty degeneration of the heart and his brother Andrew died on September 18th 1890 aged 54 years with heart problems and pneumonia.
Not one of Hannah’s closest family members reached the age of 60 years and she too died, on June 29th 1891, aged 52 years of a malignant disease of the pelvis. Perhaps she too expected an early death after she had witnessed the early demise of each and every one of those she loved?
Hannah Pickard's Life
What then of Hannah’s life in those circumstances at that time in history? When Hannah was born in 1838 and when she died in 1891, Queen Victoria was on the throne. Did this define Hannah? Her place was in the home. It was expected. It was demanded. Hannah Pickard was a product of her time. Hannah Pickard was a Victorian woman.
Hannah was only 13 years of age when her father George died in 1852. She was only 18 years when her ailing only sister Sarah died in 1857 and 23 years old when her mother died in 1862. In those ten years Hannah had seen death and tragedy at a time in her life when she might have expected to have been making a life of her own.
Did she forfeit that opportunity for the love of her brothers, David and Andrew, who were both single and aged only 32 and 26 years old when their mother died in 1862? They were doing what was expected of them as entrepreneurs and businessmen during the Second Industrial Revolution.
After her mother’s death in 1862 Hannah, aged 23 years, was the last surviving woman in the Pickard household. Did she give the rest of her life, almost 30 years, for her brothers, running their household as was expected of a woman of that time? If not who else would undertake that task? She became the mistress of the home of which they were all immensely proud. In that way Hannah also contributed to the success of the Pickard businesses.
There is more evidence of the selfless, self sacrificing character of this Victorian woman, Hannah Pickard. In her last nine years of life she lived at Green Mount with her brother David’s, "adopted" (illegitimate) son, George, who was only 11 years old and orphaned when his father, David, died on the 6th July 6th 1882. Perhaps, even earlier, Hannah had become a mother figure to George following his birth mother’s death in 1875 when he was barely 5 years of age.
Given the family’s history of poor health it was perhaps inevitable that Hannah would die at a relatively young age. Hannah Pickard died on June 29th 1891. She was 52 years of age.
Above: Manor Mill (now demolished) was owned by partners David Pickard and Mark Wilby, both Ossett men. The mill was built in 1854 and was used for rag grinding and scribbling, employing at one stage 210 people. When David Pickard died suddenly in July 1882 aged 52, without making a will, Mark Wilby carried on the business alone and then later with David Pickard's brother Andrew.
Inheritance plays a major part in Hannah Pickard’s history and provides further evidence of her benevolence towards those whose lives had been less fortunate than hers. David, Andrew and Hannah herself, as surviving children, had shared equally in their mother’s estate following her death in 1862. Her will was witnessed by members of their mother’s family, Robert and James Mitchell.
Hannah Pickard lost her two brothers David and Andrew in 1882 and 1890. David died intestate and, as his heirs at law, Hannah and her surviving brother, Andrew, were each entitled to half of David’s estate. Being aware that David’s "adopted" son George had not been provided for by his father, Hannah declined her half share, assessed at £20,000 (adjusted to 2019 prices =£2.4m) which then passed in law to her brother Andrew who, in his Will, left it with his trustees for the maintenance of Green Mount and the education of David’s son, George.
When Hannah’s brother, Andrew, died in 1890, his estate was valued at £164,000 (adjusted to 2019 prices = £20.9m). His Last Will and Testament left his real estate and chattels to Hannah as his next of kin. He also made substantial bequests to many charitable causes together with sums in trust including £9,500 (adjusted to 2019 prices = £1.2m) for his uncle Robert Mitchell and his nine children or their children. Andrew left his half share of David’s estate in trust for David’s "adopted" son George and his children or, failing issue, to Robert Mitchell’s children.
Just nine months after her brother Andrew’s death, Hannah Pickard passed away at her home, Green Mount, on June 29th 1891. She left an estate worth almost £140,000 net (adjusted to 2019 prices= £17.8m). Her Will specified 56 legacies to individuals and 48 bequests to charitable organisations. In respect of her Mitchell uncle and his nine children Hannah’s Will mirrored the legacy made in her brother Andrew’s Will written shortly after David’s death in 1882. Hannah also left property to Robert Mitchell’s children; 3 cottages to his son James Mitchell and a life interest in a cottage and 2¾ acres to his married daughter, Sarah Scott.
With one exception those legacies to friends and family are too many to list here. The exception, further evidence of Hannah’s benevolence should it be needed, is the provision she made for her brother David’s "adopted" son, the orphaned George who was 20 years of age at the time of her death. Hannah was the last of his closest Pickard family. Together with her chattels Hannah left Green Mount and four acres of land to George in the hope that he would live there for the remainder of his life. That much he did, but sadly he died less than a year after Hannah, on June 10th 1892, aged 21 years. He never married.
Young George died a long, slow and debilitating death from phthisis (pulmonary tuberculosis) the virulent disease which took his mother in 1875 and which was destined to cause the victim to dwindle and waste away. It is not known how long George had suffered from the disease. Perhaps a lifetime. Hannah provided in her Will £10,000 (adjusted to 2019 prices= £1.25m) for the wife of George should he marry. Perhaps Hannah knew that he might require care for the remainder of his life. Perhaps Hannah had offered that care to George for the nine years that he lived as an orphan with Hannah until her death in June 1891 at Green Mount.
Above: The Hannah Pickard Fountain in Ossett Market Place.
What then of Hannah Pickard’s benevolence to the many charitable causes?
The "Ossett Observer", dated Saturday 11th July 1891, published a list of bequests from her Will totalling £34,950 (£4.4m adjusted to 2019 prices). Some of the charitable legacies left to institutes from further afield were:
- £1000 for the maintenance of the Pickard lifeboats (bequeathed by the late Andrew Pickard);
- £2100 to Ackworth Schools of The Society of Friends for a scholarship;
- £1000 to The Society of Friends to provide drinking fountains and troughs for towns;
- £500 to The London Home of Rest for Horses; £500 each to the Wakefield, Dewsbury and North Wales Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals;
- £500 to the British and Foreign Bible Society;
- £250 each to the Llandudno and the Southport Convalescent Homes; St Bartholemew’s Hospital, St Thomas' Hospital, The Ilkley Hospital, The Harrogate Bath Hospital and Leeds Cookridge Convalescent Home;
- £500 each to Brompton Cancer Hospital and The New York Hospital for Consumptives;
- £500 each to The Royal Albert Asylum in Lancaster and Hull Society's Orphan Home and School;
- £1000 each to the Coatham and Redcar Convalescent Home, Doncaster Deaf and Dumb Institute, Wakefield Clayton Hospital, Dewsbury Infirmary, Leeds Hospital for Women and Children, Leeds Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institution, Leeds Victoria Home for Invalid Ladies and Leeds Unmarried Women’s Institute;
- £500 each to Henshaw's Blind Asylum in Manchester, Leeds Tradesmen's Benevolent Society, the Yorkshire College at Leeds, the Bradford United Independent College and the Derby Railway Servants Orphanage;
- £1000 for the poor of the Redcar Congregational Church;
- £100 to the Leeds Trained Nurses Institution;
- £50 to Liverpool Home for Nurses.
Hannah also left sums of money to Earlswood Asylum, the Commercial Travellers’ School at Pinner, the London Hospital for Diseases of the Heart and Paralysis and the Wilberforce School for the Blind at York.
Hannah Pickard’s legacy to Ossett, mainly for distribution to the poor, included £9,700 (adjusted to 2019 prices almost £1.25m) to the following:
- £1000 Ossett Congregational Church (interest to be distributed among poor members of the congregation);
- £1000 Ossett Primitive Methodist Chapel (for like purpose);
- £1000 Ossett Common Wesleyan Chapel (for like purpose);
- £1000 Ossett Common Baptist Chapel (for like purpose);
- £1000 Ossett Common Primitive Methodist Chapel (for like purpose);
- £2100 Ossett Grammar School (for providing scholarships);
- £2100 Ossett Technical School (for like purpose);
- £500 Ossett Corporation to provide a drinking fountain & water trough for cattle and dogs.
In 1893 there was a legal challenge by the Mitchell family against both Andrew’s and Hannah’s estate. William Emsley of Leeds, a solicitor, had been appointed as an Executor of both estates. The Chancery case became known as Pickard & Emsley v. Mitchell. The legalities were complex, but based upon the technical legal interpretation of what was pure and impure personalty in the Wills. The challenge, had it been successful, would have meant that the Mitchell family would benefit financially to a greater extent than hitherto they had. Certain charitable organisations would suffer an equivalent loss.
In February 1894 the judgement was declared and press coverage on February 19th 1894 included the following short summary of the Chancery Court decision:
WINDFALL FOR YORKSHIRE CHARITIES
"Mr Justice North on Saturday gave judgement in the Chancery suit arising out of the will of the late Andrew and Hannah Pickard. His lordship’s decision is that Leeds Corporation Stock is held to be pure personalty, and as such may be bequeathed to charitable institutions without interference under the statute of mortmain, the effect being that a sum of about £100,000 **is set free for division among a number of charities, of which two-thirds are in Yorkshire and the West Riding. The intention of the testator is thus carried out”
** Adjusted to 2019 prices this legal judgement in favour of Andrew and Hannah’s estates and the charities provided, in current day values, an additional £12.6m for charitable causes.
On February 20th 1894 The Yorkshire Herald in a more detailed report on the decision concluded:
".........It is satisfactory to find that the testamentary intentions of this benevolent lady will thus be carried out and that nearly the whole of her residuary estate goes to charities which she meant to benefit".
A later challenge from the same plaintiffs was settled in May 1894 in favour of the Charities.
If there is still doubt about Hannah’s credentials what did her contemporaries have to say about her character?
In 1893 Ossett Mayor, F.L. Fothergill had this to say " ....she was a very benevolent lady, always good to the poor and they had some proof in the fact that she bequeathed five sums of £1000 each for the relief of the poor in her native town and also two sums of £2100 each for the foundation of scholarships".
Alderman Clay said "....a lady of very kindly and benevolent disposition.....her goodness and generosity....."
Alderman Wilson added that "other wealthy persons in Ossett had died and their money had gone out of the town; but Miss Pickard had bequeathed large sums for the benefit of the inhabitants.....He hoped others would follow suit in leaving a portion of their wealth to the town in which it was made".
The much respected local architect and designer of the Pickard Fountain Mr William Arthur Kendall said of Hannah "A nobler woman than Miss Pickard had never lived and had she lived longer she would have been a yet greater blessing to the poor of the borough". He added that "he hoped that her example might do something to spur others who were quite as able but not so willing".
Failing all else perhaps this is how we should remember Hannah Pickard. In the words of those who lived at the same time. Those who knew her best.
For all of her benevolence as witnessed by her actions towards others, her bequests and the words of her contemporaries the town she loved treated her poorly in 1973 and again in 2007.
The Pickard family featured above were all buried in the Ossett Green Congregational Church Burial Ground at Dimple Wells. In 1973 approximately 160 corpses, including the bodies of these Pickards, were exhumed by mechanical digger and transported by open lorry at the dead of night to Gawthorpe Zion Burial Ground. Some of the bodies that were removed were apparently "well preserved". A large pit "a digger width across" and 9-10ft deep was the repository for the re-interred remains. No burial service was read nor other religious ceremony performed at this second burial. The exact location of the mass grave is not known.
Above: Hannah Pickard Fountain. Photograph taken from a slightly different position in the Market Place. Picture courtesy of Andrea Hartley.
Hannah Pickard’s Will required her Executors to erect a drinking fountain and water trough in the Market Place or in some other suitable location at a cost of about £500 (adjusted to 2019 prices = £63,000) to be presented to the Corporation of Ossett as a memorial of the 1890 Incorporation of Ossett and the donor. It was erected in the Market Place in 1893 and began to be dismantled in 1948 to be removed entirely in 1956. After several years of storage, what remained of the memorial was relocated in Green Park shortly before 1964. Having suffered at the hands of vandals, the remains of the memorial was finally removed on the authority of Wakefield Metropolitan District Council in 2007.
1. Ossett Through The Ages Facebook Group
2. "Green Mount" by Alan Howe
3. "Hannah Pickard – Ossett’s Philanthropist" by Helen Bickerdike