Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Sidneys of Cowpen

When Eneas McKenzie published a "Descriptive View of Northumberland" in 1825. He had this to say of Cowpen Township, now in the parish of Blyth:


This is a pleasant and healthy village... There are several well-built houses, including a public house... Mr Sidney of Morpeth has also three good houses and cottages here. The late Mr Sidney, who was an eccentric character, lived to be 95 years of age.
The name Sidney is well known in the Cowpen area. The recently demolished Sidney Arms, oral tradition and several high status monuments in and around the Roman Catholic church give an indication that this family was once influential in these parts. (The Sidney Arms was in the 19th century known as the Duke of York.) The tithe map of the 1840s indicates that Sidney was the landholder of most of the western part of Cowpen Township adjacent to Cowpen Road. The 1851 census lists Marlow JF Sidney esq  living in Cowpen Hall, with a retinue of servants. Another male Sidney, a barrister, was living in the nearby Cowpen House, which was also a high-status building.

I wanted to find out more about the family: Why Mr Sidney was considered eccentric? When did they come into possession of the estate? And how did their activities affect the residents of South-East Northumberland?

Cowpen c1895 (click to enlarge)

A search in the internet archives revealed a book written in 1911 by a Sidney descendant, on the subject of the earlier family history, called "Memorials of the Sidneys and the Woolletts" by BS Durrant. The story begins with Thomas Seddon, who also used the surname of Sidney, although the reason for this is not given. He was a rector and a chaplain to King Charles II during the 1660s. He was a resident of the south east of England.
To quote Durrant:
Thomas Sidney had three sons, Lawrence, Thomas,  and Henry. Lawrence held a commission in the Army and resided at Danbury, Essex, and afterwards at Bishop's Castle, Salop, where he was buried in 1736. He married Mary, the only daughter of John Marlow, a London banker, whose patronymic became a favourite Christian name in the family. Thomas died in 1677 [without children]. Henry, of the Middle Temple, London, Barrister-at-Law, purchased Cowpen Hall from Stephen Mitford in 1729. A fine oil painting of him that adorned the dining room of the Hall bears a striking resemblance to the present owner of the property. Henry died unmarried, leaving the estate to his elder brother Lawrence's second son Marlow, who was born on the 15th March, 1708 and likewise died unmarried in 1804.
It was obviously Marlow Sidney, who had been bequeathed  the Cowpen estate by his uncle, Henry, who Mckenzie was referring to as eccentric. The family also had a tradition of working in the legal profession which was still occurring  in 1851. Durrant continues:
The Sidneys were identified with the Church of England until 1771, when an incident occurred while Marlow Sidney, son of Lawrence Sidney, [the brother of Marlow owner of Cowpen Estate] was in residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, which resulted in the family becoming Catholics. Whilst following the University curriculum, young Marlow fell in love with his pretty cousin Mary, or, as she was generally called, Polly Mangaar, who was only 17 years of age, and a marriage quickly ensued. His marriage being contrary to the rules, and as he was anxious to continue his studies, he kept it a secret and took a cottage close to the University for his young wife. Mr. Sidney one day made her a present of a guitar which became an unexpected instrument of Divine Providence in bringing about their conversion. The guitar having got out of order, a college friend suggested bringing in a gentleman he knew who was an excellent performer on that instrument as well as on others, and who was, in fact, an accomplished musician. It was explained, however, that the friend in question was a Roman Catholic Priest, who in view of the severity of the penal laws against Catholics had considered it prudent to accept the hospitality of Lord Stourton, who then occupied Sawston Hall (the seat of the Huddlestons), near Cambridge. The proscribed clergyman was the Revd. Lewis John Barnes, O.S.B., who concealed his identity as a Catholic Priest under the incognito of " Mr. Barnes, a guest of Lord Stourton's." At first Mrs. Sidney strongly objected to the proposed visit of the " Popish Priest," but an introduction was shortly afterwards brought about by the college friend above referred to. In Mr. Barnes' skilful hands, the guitar was quickly set to rights, and as he also proved to be a gentleman of superior culture and attainments, Mr. Sidney requested the pleasure of making his further acquaintance. Some time prior to this, Mr. Sidney had expressed to his wife strong doubts as to the truth of the doctrine of the State Church regarding the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. These doubts he ventured to broach to Mr. Barnes on his next visit and solicited his opinion. The priest would not, however, enter into any controversy, as he had made a promise to that effect on entering the domicile of Lord Stourton, but instead, sent some books, the perusal of which resulted in Mr. Sidney and his wife embracing the Catholic Religion. Old Marlow of Cowpen Hall was noted for his strong anti-Catholic proclivities and as soon as his nephew had changed his creed, some friend immediately informed his uncle of the fact. Anonymous letters also followed to the same effect. On one occasion when young Marlow paid a visit to Cowpen Hall his uncle said to him: "Marlow my boy, they want to persuade me that you have joined those d.......d Papists, but I don't believe one word of it. I know their tricks, but they won't succeed, my boy." Another time he said---"It's no use asking you, for of course you would not be fool enough to own it if you had turned Papist."" But are you sure I am not one?" was the quibbling reply of the sagacious Marlow, who laughed as he put the question. "Quite sure, my boy," said the old gentleman. " I know why they say so," and so it passed off. Mr. Sidney was with his uncle at his death. Shortly before it took place he said, turning to his nephew "Had you become a Papist, Marlow, you should never have had an acre or a shilling of mine, but I won't gratify those who have been trying to make me think so."
Marlow resided at Witham House in Essex with his mother, even after his inheritance of Cowpen Hall. He did, however, make occasional visits to Cowpen. The journey took around six days to complete.

1840s plan of Cowpen (click to enlarge)


Marlow Sidney died in 1839 and according to Durrant:
On the decease of Marlow Sidney he was succeeded by his eldest son, Marlow John Francis Sidney, who was born on the 3rd December, 1774, and prior to his inheriting the estate, carried on business in partnership with his brother William, under the style of " M. and W. Sidney," in Star and Garter Yard, Ratcliff Highway (now St. George's Street), " once notorious for robbery and murder." When Mr. M. J. F. Sidney came into possession of the property it was in a very neglected condition, [due to the lack of a resident landholder since 1804?] and he immediately set about renovating and partially rebuilding the Hall, relaying out the grounds, and planting those fine avenues of trees which now ornament them, and also the neighbouring village. He was a Justice of the Peace, and during the great miners' strike in 1844 he took a prominent part in maintaining order amongst the miners. The grounds and gardens possess a varied collection of rare and valuable shrubs, fruit and other trees, which were planted and fostered under his care.... In 1840 he founded the present Catholic Church at Cowpen, and three years later added the schools...


Marlow and his brother clearly took up residence at Cowpen in 1839. They must have brought their mother, Polly, to be with them as she died in 1844, age 91, and is buried in a crypt at the Catholic Church at Cowpen.

Cowpen Church and Sydney Memorials (click to enlarge)


In 1882 the Northern Catholic Calendar carried an article about the introduction of Catholicism to the area and the influence of the Sidney family in this process:
The entry goes on to tell of the Chapel at Seaton Sluice, used by the Delaval family who were Catholics until about the end of the 17th century.
In the will of Sir John Delaval (dated A.D. 1655) there is a clause which says, “I will that Sir Richard Anderson, have meat and drink with my son Sir John Delaval, and also for doing duty, during his natural life, £4-6s-8p.” In those times priests were titled Sir rather than Reverend.
The entry continues “For years, aye for a century or more, from the day when Mass was said for the last time in Seaton Delaval Chapel, the Catholics of Blyth and (its) neighbourhood may be said to have been ‘without priest, without an altar, without a sacrifice’.  At length in 1778, a Benedictine Father took up his residence in Morpeth to minister to the scattered flock. Morpeth had been served by a Jesuit Father from Longhorsley for some 50 years previously. Then in 1821 the church was built in North Shields and it is told how the Catholics of Cowpen, Seaton Sluice and Hartley came regularly to Mass on Sundays and Holidays, in fair weather and foul, and though farthest from the church, were always the first to arrive.
Twenty years later (in 1841) the Cowpen Mission was established by the Benedictine order under the auspices of the Sidney family... Mass was first offered in the east wing of the Sidney’s home (later to become the Sidney Arms) by a French priest and the baptism records for the period 1811-1820 show 17 entries. Mass later moved to Cowpen Grove House, but this became too small due to the expansion of the Bedlington Iron Works, and an influx of Irish immigrants, who swelled the Catholic population. In 
1841, Mr. Marlow J. Sidney, a local Justice of the Peace, converted an old cow byre, with a hayloft, into the first church at Cowpen.  This would later be pulled down and the stones of the old building worked into the church that survives to this day. The church became part of a Benedictine Mission which included Bedlington, Morpeth and Cowpen and would later encompass New Hartley, Blyth, Backworth, Annitsford and Ashington.
These records do not give an indication as to the eccentricity of old Marlow Sidney. Perhaps Mckenzie had known him personally, or he had interviewed local residents for his book? Maybe he wasn't that eccentric, after all, McKenzie seems to be inaccurate in saying Mr Sidney was from Morpeth? The Catholic Church and accompanying graveyard is still standing. However, the other grand buildings were demolished during the 20th century.