Out of all the family lines connected to the Blacketts that we have encountered, that of the Mitford/Midford family is one of the most complex and enigmatic. The results of our research outlined below, and the conclusions we have drawn from them, inevitably rely in part on conjecture and we would welcome any further evidence to clarify the precise relationship. In the meantime our conclusions and the nature of the family relationships shown in the tree should be considered tentative and not entirely secure. We have recently (March 2016) discovered a little more about this line, causing us to redraw some of the relationships, though with some hesitation as the evidence, though persuasive, is circumstantial.
1. In 1772 Francis Mitford married Elizabeth Gibson in Astbury, Cheshire. Francis and Elizabeth, who appears to have been nearly 40 years younger than Francis, had already had at least four children born between 1766 and 1771, presumably while the previous wife of Francis, Margaret Yardley, a widow whom he had married in 1761, was still living. Several of Francis’s descendants were given a Christian name of Blackett, and his youngest son, Michael Walter Blackett Mitford was the godson of Sir Walter Blackett (1707-1777), who bequeathed him a legacy of £100 in his will. It seems clear, therefore, that Francis descends from Michael Mitford of Earsdon, Northumberland, the son of Christian Blackett and grandson of Sir William Blackett (1621-1680). Michael Mitford had a son, Francis, who was baptised in Earsdon in January 1700.
2. There has been some confusion over Francis Mitford/Midford of Cheshire. He appears to have been married at least three times and had married his 2nd wife, Margaret Yardley, in the neighbouring hamlet of Swettenham in 1761. The Marriage Allegation and Bond dated 5 May 1761 describes them as Francis Midford, of Cambden [Chipping Campden], Gloucs., gentleman age of forty years and upwards, widower, and Margaret Yardley, of Kermincham in the parish of Swettenham, Chester [i.e. Cheshire], aged twenty five years and upwards, and a widow. (Please see para 4 below for a possible reason why Francis gave his address as Cambden.)
From the approximate ages, it would seem on the face of it that Francis was born in or before 1721. That would make him a son of the elder Francis. However, no suitable baptism around that time has been found for him, (other than the Francis Mitford baptised in 1722 in Hexham, Northumberland, the son of George Mitford. That Francis, a surgeon, seems to have remained in Northumberland and died in Hexham in 1767).
A Francis Midford died in Congleton, near Astbury, Cheshire in 1777. No age is stated, so that could be either Francis senior or junior. No other suitable burial has been found, either in Northumberland, Cheshire, or in London, where it is known that Francis senior was apprenticed in 1716. The absence of both a baptism and a burial thus raises the question of whether there really were two Francis Mitfords. We have now concluded that there was only one, i.e. Francis born 1699/1700. Our conclusion is based on the following:
(i) the suggestion that there was a second Francis born around 1721 relies solely on the wording of the 1761 Marriage Allegation and Bond, i.e. “forty years and upwards”. Unlike the more common “21 years and upwards”, (which had legal significance), a higher age can often be an approximate guide to the age of a party to a marriage, but occasionally in Marriage Licences the age preceding “and upwards” can be far less than the actual age, particularly where the ages of the two parties differ considerably.
(ii) Margaret Yardley, widow, is stated to be 25 years and upwards but no earlier marriage of a Margaret to a Mr. Yardley has been found in the area. However, in 1754 Margaret Manwaring./Mainwaring, spinster, married George Yardley, widower, in the City of London. Margaret is shown as of Islington parish. George Yardley, believed to be a Citizen and Merchant Taylor of London, died in 1760 in Islington.
(iii) the name of Mainwaring would have been well known to Francis Mitford. Swettenham, where Francis and Margaret married in 1761, is 4 miles from Peover Hall, Over Peover, (see Blackett Properties), where Sir Henry Mainwaring (1726-1797), great-great-nephew of Christian Blackett and Robert Mitford, was then living. A branch of the Mainwarings was based near Swettenham, which was their parish church and was where many of them were baptised and buried, and the two branches of the Mainwaring family, being just a short distance apart, would no doubt have visited each other regularly. Francis was the 2nd cousin 1xremoved of Sir Henry Mainwaring, and it would be surprising if he was not well acquainted with the Mainwarings, both of Peover and of Swettenham.
(iv) for Margaret Yardley to have been in Swettenham in 1761, the year after her first husband’s death, infers that she had strong connections with the village. The only suitable baptism we have found is of Margaret, the daughter of James Mainwaring, baptised at Swettenham in 1718. Margaret was not the only Cheshire Mainwaring to have married in and around London, and she seems to have returned to her home village after the death of her first husband. She would, however, have been aged 43, at the 1761 marriage where she is described as a widow of 25 years and upwards. (see Note 1)
(v) it seems, therefore, that Francis decided to state younger minimum ages for him and for Margaret (which he was legally entitled to do, because of the wording “and upwards”). Whether he did so because he and Margaret had not told each other their true ages, or for some other reason, can be only speculated at. However, the coincidence of names, family connections, places and dates strongly suggests that it was this Margaret Mainwaring who was the 2nd wife of Francis Mitford. For him to have understated her age so significantly also removes any confidence in his stated minimum age also being approximately correct. The scenario outlined above does rely on conjecture, however, and our conclusions should be treated with caution. However, it does explain the absence of a baptism or burial for a second Francis Mitford.
3. While some doubt must remain over whether there one or two Francis Mitfords, what does seem to be clear is the line of ancestry stretching back from Francis born 1699/1700. However, what is not clear is the connection, if any, between Francis Mitford, who descended from the Mitfords of Seghill, Northumberland, and two other notable branches of the Mitford/Midford family, where circumstantial evidence suggests a possible link. There is, however, more than one possibility.
4. The first of these is the link to the Mitfords of Mitford, Northumberland, a branch that contains several notable descendants including James Smithson, after whom the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. is named, and the “Mitford sisters” (see link to Wikipedia article), who included Diana Freeman-Mitford who married Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists prior to World War II. On his marriage in 1761 Francis Mitford gave his address as Cambden [Chipping Campden], in Gloucestershire, more than 80 miles from the village of Swettenham where the marriage took place, but only a few miles from Batsford Park, the home at the time of Elizabeth Edwards Freeman (nee Reveley), great-granddaughter of Barbara Mitford, a descendant of the Mitfords of Mitford. (Batsford was subsequently bequeathed to the Freeman-Mitfords.) We have found no link between the Mitfords of Mitford and the Seghill line later than the 14th century, (other than the probably unimportant reference outlined in paragraph 7 below). However we have found no other connection between Francis Mitford and the Chipping Campden area to explain his presence there at the time of his marriage in 1761.
5. The circumstantial evidence for the second link is a little stronger, and there are two possible versions of this. At his 1761 marriage Francis Mitford is described as a widower, aged at least 40, but no evidence of his first marriage has been discovered. In a letter dated 14 May 1918 from William Mitford of Toronto, Canada, to Daniel Midford, both descendants of Francis Mitford of Cheshire, William Mitford states that “our great-great grandfather, Francis Mitford” married a Miss Ogle of Kirkley Hall, a sister of the Very Rev. Newton Ogle, Dean of Winchester. Other references to the marriage have been found, though not the Christian name of Miss Ogle. If her marriage was to a descendant of this Mitford line she may have been the first wife of Francis.
6. The possible alternative version stems from the family of the well-known author Mary Russell Mitford, the daughter of Dr. George Midford and Mary Russell. Dr. Midford (who adopted the spelling of “Mitford” - see Note 2) was widely believed to be related to the wealthy Ogle family of Northumberland, whom he visited with his daughter in 1806. To describe him as a “colourful character” is somewhat of a euphemism. Virginia Woolf in her biography “Flush” states that he, “in conformity with the canons of the Heralds College, chose to spell his name with a t, and thus claimed descent from the Northumberland family of the Mitfords of Bertram Castle…. But the mating of Dr. Mitford’s ancestors had been carried on with such wanton disregard for principles that no bench of judges could have admitted his claim to be well bred or to have allowed him to perpetuate his kind.” (It gets even stronger later on, as Virginia Woolf warms to her theme!) What is known, however, is that he was born in a relatively modest town-house in Hexham, Northumberland, the son of Francis Midford, also a surgeon of Hexham. On completing his medical studies he gained an introduction through Newton Ogle to his future wife, Mary Russell, who was 10 years his senior and descended from the family of the Dukes of Bedford. His wife brought to the marriage a not insubstantial inheritance which George Mitford subsequently squandered, as he did a further £20,000 won on the Irish lottery in 1797, when his daughter picked the winning numbers. (Eventually her only remaining possession bought out of these winnings was a Wedgwood dinner service bearing the Mitford crest – please see paragraph 8 below.) He was constantly running into debt throughout most of his life and spent time in a debtors’ prison.
7. Given his character, or lack of it, it might be supposed that George Midford invented his family links with the Ogles, as well as his Mitford ancestry, but they seem to have been credible enough, at least to his daughter. In Mary Russell Mitford’s account of how her parents met she states: “Dr. Ogle, Dean of Winchester, was related to the Mitfords, as relationships go in Northumberland, and having been an intimate friend of my maternal grandfather, had no small share in bringing about the marriage between his young cousin and the orphan heiress.” George Midford seems to have been a child of the 1756 marriage of his father Francis to Jane Graham, and if Francis had had a previous marriage to Dr.Ogle’s sister, George would have been Dr. Ogle’s step-nephew. The use of the word “cousin” in those circumstances would perhaps have been a little unusual, but Mary Russell Mitford clearly believed there to be a close family relationship between her father and Dr. Ogle. The truth of this is supported by the 1806 visit to the Ogles, copious details of which are contained in her diaries. Although Mary Russell Mitford and her father saw much of her father’s cousin Lady Alicia Aynesley (nee Alicia Midford), who also had Ogles in her ancestry, their companion and host for most of the extended visit was Nathaniel Ogle (see Note 3) , eldest son of Dr. Ogle, who had died two years previously, and they met other members of the extended Ogle family. Nathaniel remained a close friend of George Midford after the visit. (In her account of the Northumberland visit, Mary Russell Mitford does briefly mention refusing a dance to “my cousin Mitford of Mitford” at a ball at Alnwick Castle, but the reference to “cousin” may mean no more than that there was an assumed, though undefined, family link with that branch of the family.) This version of the relationship between the Mitfords and the Ogles is supported by Burke’s Commoners, (though the usual care should be taken in relying on that publication, which Oscar Wilde described as “the greatest piece of fiction in the English language”). More importantly, George Midford’s grandfather, George Mitford (1694-1750), yet another surgeon of Hexham, by his will devised lands in Kirkley to his wife for life. As mentioned above, the Miss Ogle who married Francis Mitford was of Kirkley Hall. Interestingly, this George Mitford is almost certainly the “George Midford of the Towne and County of Newcastle upon Tyne Barber Chyrugion [surgeon]” who was left a legacy of £5 “for a token” in the will dated 17 March 1711/2 of Robert Mitford of Seghill (1645-1713), the husband of the Christian Blackett mentioned in paragraph 1 above.
8. There is one more piece of evidence linking the family of the Seghill Mitfords (i.e. the descendants of Robert Mitford and Christian Blackett) to the family of Mary Russel Mitford. A plate believed to be a part of the Wedgwood dinner service bought out of Dr. George Midford’s lottery winnings (see paragraph 6 above) is still held by a descendant of the Seghill Mitfords living in Canada.
9. As indicated in paragraph 3 above the line of descent from the Blacketts and the Mitfords of Seghill appears secure. It follows therefore that for the 1918 letter mentioned in paragraph 5 to be correct, i.e. that the Francis Mitford who was a descendant of the Blacketts was the same Francis Mitford who married Miss Ogle, the line of ancestry back from Mary Russell Mitford must at some point join up with the Seghill line. No evidence to support that has been found. It seems clear that Mary Russell Mitford’s grandfather was Francis Mitford (1722-1768), a surgeon of Hexham, and that his father was the George Mitford, also of Hexham, the barber surgeon mentioned in paragraph 7. (This George was also the grandfather of Lady Alicia Ayneseley, Mary Russell Mitford’s 1st cousin 1xremoved, who accompanied her on the 1806 visit to Northumberland. George was also the father of Catherine Fenwick, who was widely known at the time as Mary Russell Mitford’s aunt, though she was in fact her great-aunt.) Several sources show this line of Hexham surgeons as descending from the Mitfords of Tyne Mills, Hexham. It is however possible that George senior did not descend from the Tyne Mills Mitfords, but was an estranged son, or possibly a grandson, of Robert Mitford and Christian Blackett (perhaps explaining the token legacy of £5 left to him in Robert’s will, as mentioned in paragraph 7 above). We have not had the courage to show this possible connection in the tree, nor a post-medieval connection, if any, between the Seghill and/or the Hexham Mitfords to the Mitfords of Mitford, pending further evidence emerging. Moreover, although it is our belief that there is a relatively close link between the Francis Mitford who married Miss Ogle of Kirkley and the family of Mary Russell Mitford, we have not shown this link, particularly as it is not known for sure which Miss Ogle married Francis Mitford, nor which Francis it was, i.e. Francis of Earsdon or Francis of Hexham.
If you have followed the tortuous logic above without losing the will to live and can shed any further light on these complex relationships please contact us. We are grateful to Nick Mills and Fiona Mitford, whose knowledge of the Mitford family is far more extensive than ours, for supplying us with information. The research on which the more recent conclusions this article are based is, however, our own and any mistakes can be laid at our door and not theirs.
1. There is another possible Margaret Manwaring. i.e. Margaret born 21 Feb 1730 and baptised 7 Mar 1730 in neighbouring (to Islington) Bloomsbury, the daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Manwaring. However, the Swettenham connection remains more persuasive.
2. The spelling of Mitford/Midford seems to have been interchangeable over many generations. As far as possible we have tried to follow the spelling shown in baptismal records.
3.Nathaniel Ogle was the brother-in-law of the playwright and poet Sheridan and had also been acquainted during his army service with the poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (see also the reference to Coleridge on the Sockburn Hall page).