earliest record so far found for this branch of the Burnell Family
shows that in 1632, two brothers, William and John Burnell were living
in Roundhay near Leeds. It is not clear who was the older as no record
has been found for their birth, and both had their first child (and in
the case of John his only child) in 1632. It is likely that both were
small scale tenant farmers like their descendants.
Roundhay Park was created at the end of the 11th century as a deer
hunting park for the Norman aristocracy and was part of the estates
granted to Ilbert de Lacy by William the Conqueror. It is not mentioned
in the Domesday Book, but there is a reference in 1153 to Henry de Lacy
granting "those...lands...next to the Roundhay" to the monks of
Kirkstall Abbey. Roundhay Manor included certain land in Shadwell,
Thorner and Seacroft as well as the Deer Park.
There were many hunting parks in England in Norman times. Each was an
area of semi-wooded land enclosed by a ditch, bank, hedge or fence. The
name 'Roundhay' refers to the circular 'hay' or enclosure. A small part
of the 6 mile long perimeter bank and ditch still survives and even
today the ditch is 20 foot wide by 10 foot deep. The bank was topped by
a wooden palisade of oak.
The boundary of the Deer Park is still visible on the 1850 Ordnance
Survey map, covering an area considerably larger than the current
public park. There were several entrances, the main one being in the
north east near the medieval hunting lodge. The darker green area on
the map shows the boundaries of the modern park. See map.
By the 15th century Roundhay had become part of the royal estates and
in 1486 Henry VII granted a 7 year lease to William Nettleton of
certain lands in Roundhay, Shadwell, Leeds and Thorner. Nettleton
abused his position and felled many of the trees. By 1503 the Park had
begun to decline - the lodge was in ruins and there were only 34 deer
When Charles I inherited the estate in 1625 he sold Roundhay and other
estates to settle his debts. By this point most of the trees had been
cleared and new arable and pastoral farms established. Fields were
enclosed and given specific names.
It may have been around this time that William and John Burnell became
established as tenant farmers on land in Roundhay Park, or their family
may have moved in earlier as the Park was progressively cleared.
Certainly they were living there by 1632 and continued to live there
for a couple of generations, surviving the English Civil War and Oliver
and his wife Elizabeth had three daughters, and a son who died
in infancy. Elizabeth was obviously a fiery character since on 7th
October 1652 she was indicted at Wakefield Quarter Sessions of assault
and affray against a certain Margaret Holmes. William died in 1668 and
Elizabeth in 1673.
However, it is from the other brother,
John, that our line of Burnells
is descended. John's wife was probably called Agnes, but the
christening record for their only child, John, on 1st July 1632 gives
only the father's name as was normal at the time. John Burnell senior
died in 1655 and Agnes in 1664.
of Roundhay fell within the parish of Barwick in Elmet, and it was
in the parish church here that these Burnells married, christened their
children and were buried. John Burnell junior was still living in
Roundhay in 1661, in which year he served as churchwarden. It
long journey to the parish church since Roundhay formed a semi-detached
part of the parish in the west, and Barwick in Elmet was right in the
east of the parish.
The historic parish boundaries had much more to do with the
original ownership of the land than with any rational arrangement.
There is a detached part of Thorner parish within Barwick and Elmet
parish, and an extremely small area (no more than a small field) which
lay within Thorner but actually belonged to Barwick in Elmet. Other
similar examples can be seen on the map.
Note: this map is from 1850 but the parish boundaries shown are the
historical ones from before this date.
Burnell junior married Elizabeth West, also living in Roundhay Park, in
1664 and they had a total of 7 children, of whom one (Mary) died in
John's oldest son, Robert, did not stay in Roundhay. Sometime before
1717, he bought, or more likely rented, land within Shadwell township
which although part of Thorner parish was actually much closer to
Roundhay than Barwick in Elmet. The owner of the land was probably the
same as the owner of his father's land.
We do not know what happened to John's other children and there are few
records of Robert's life. We know that in 1717 he served a year as
churchwarden at St Peters, the parish church and in 1720 he married
Jane Wiggin from Harewood in Harewood Parish Church. The fact his name
was recorded as 'Bornill' may indicate the Yorkshire pronunciation of
the name. This was a late
marriage (Robert was 44 and Jane 23) We do not know the date of his
but it may be that Robert only had the means to marry once his father
had died. His mother, Elizabeth died in 1722 in Thorner Parish, so she
had probably gone to live with her son in Shadwell after her husband
first child, Samuel was born in Shadwell in 1721, followed by
Timothy (1732), Benjamin (1727) and Abraham (1730). There is more
information about the lives of these children in The Youngest Son.
died in Shadwell and was buried on 26th January 1749. He is
recorded as a farmer in the burial record. Jane lived on another 20
years, dying in Shadwell in 1769.
The later history of Roundhay Park is
interesting, although by this
stage the link with the Burnell family had ended. The trees continued
to be cleared and by 1780 hunting was no longer the main source of
income. In 1797 the estate was put on the market by the then owner,
Charles Philip, the 17th Baron of Stourton. No single purchaser
appeared and the land was eventually sold to two Quakers originally
from Leeds, Samuel Elam and Thomas Nicholson. Both were involved in
banking and other business ventures, Elam in Leeds and Nicholson in
Samuel Elam, who owned the southern portion, failed in various business
ventures and eventually became bankrupt. He died in 1811 at the early
age of 37, almost certainly as a result of the stresses and strains
brought on by his financial difficulties. Some of his land in Roundhay
was bought by Thomas Nicholson, adding to his existing holding.
Nicholson was only 38 when he purchased Roundhay and wanted to return
from London to be nearer his family and to live the life of a country
His part of the estate included several farms, three streams and a
tree-lined gorge. He landscaped the grounds, creating lakes, ponds and
follies and built a mansion. The Waterloo Lake and much of the
landscape is thus entirely manmade. Most of the construction was
undertaken by unemployed soldiers who had returned from the Napoleonic
Wars, an arrangement which no doubt appealed to both Nicholson's
business and Quakerly instincts.
Thomas Nicholson died in 1821 at the
early age of 56. He was buried at
Camp Lane Court, the Quaker burial ground in Leeds. He left the estate
to his half-brother, Stephen Nicholson, who paid for the building of
Roundhay Church in 1826, thus ending the long trek to All Saints Church
in Barwick in Elmet for the inhabitants of Roundhay.
The Nicholson family put the estate up for sale in 1869 following the
death of William Nicholson, Stephen's nephew. It was purchased by John
Barran, the then Mayor of Leeds, who wanted to establish a public park
for the town to compare with Lister Park which Bradford had purchased
the previous year. There was much opposition from the
residents of Roundhay which had become a prosperous middle class area
with substantial houses but eventually the necessary Act of Parliament
was passed to allow the Council to take over the Park. It was
officially opened on 19th September 1872 by Queen Victoria's third son,
Initially the distance of Roundhay
centre of Leeds and the
cost of travel by wagon or omnibus meant that the Park was mainly used
by the middle classes, and the townspeople for whom the park had been
purchased stayed away. This was solved, after an initial false start,
by the opening in 1891 of an electric tramway from Sheepscar to
Roundhay. This was the first electric tramway operating on the overhead
wire system in Europe. The line was later extended to run from
Kirkstall to Roundhay.
There is much more detail on the later history of Roundhay Park in
Illustrated History of Roundhay Park by Steven Burt
in the tourist guide Goodall's
Illustrated Royal Handbook to Roundhay Park
in 1872 to mark the opening of the public park. The latter is of
interest for its advertisements alone.