Scallywag, Bigamist, Womanizer, or ….?

Robert Featherstonehaugh was born in 1835 in Appletreewick, Yorkshire, to Alexander and Elizabeth (Gibson) Featherstonhaugh (West Yorkshire Parish Records). In the 1841 and 1851 census he is living with his parents in Appletreewick.
In 1861 he is located in Manchester as a waiter living with a Publican and the census indicates he was married. It also indicates he was born in 1836, Appletreewick, Yorkshire.
In 1862 Robert Featherstonhaugh marries Caroline Priestley in Huddersfield, Yorkshire; his father is Alexander, and Robert is a spirit merchant. (Marriage certificate) They had four children, Elizabeth (Lilley), Polly, Jane and John Alexander as found in the various census. Polly died young and John Alexander at 20.
He seems to have vanished in the 1871 census for that area and the only possibility is an R Featherstonaugh(Ancestry spelling), West Derby…right age, servant, unmarried, but birthplace is Liverpool…this could be wrong of course. Caroline is still living in Huddersfield, as Head of the household.
In 1881 his wife Caroline is still in Huddersfield but it indicates she was deserted. There is a marriage in 1881 between Robert Featherstone and Harriet Gott, nee Woodcock, in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. The parish records say his father is Alexander. The census for that year includes the fact that Robert was born in 1842 and there was a son Frederick Woodcock, 11, and a daughter of 3 months, Jane Gott. Obviously, Frederick is not Robert’s. Harriet had married a George Gott in 1878 (FreeBMD) but her husband dies in 1878, so this Jane could not have been his. In later census she is down as Featherstone.
By this time Robert has dropped the ‘haugh’ from his name and it is just Featherstone.
The 1891 census has him living in Clifton, as a maltser, born Appletreewick in 1839, married; and Harriet is marked as Head in that census and with her children in Dewsbury. Caroline is still in Huddersfield married but also marked as head.
1901 census has Robert a widower, born Appletreewick in 1941, and an estate labourer living in Skipton by himself; Caroline is still in Huddersfield, living with her daughter Jane and Harriet is in Dewsbury living with her daughter Jane! (Robert had a sister Jane so presumably these daughters are named after her.)
Caroline dies in 1904 (FreeBMD). In 1911 Harriet is still in Dewsbury, and Robert, born 1836 in Appletreewick, is down as a widower and living in Skipton, with Eliza Watson, housekeeper. He is living 3 Carrs Yard, Skipton, Pensioned Gen.Labourer on Estate, born in Skipton, widower having had 2 children born 1 died. (Obviously incorrect)
It appears that Harriet died in 1918(FreeBMD) but Robert dies in the Skipton Workhouse in 1916, with his nephew Alexander Lister as informant (death certificate).
Now we have not been able to establish a marriage for him earlier than 1861; nor have we been able to establish another Robert Featherstone(haugh)’s birth in Appletreewick or Skipton for the right time. In the census his ages vary considerably, as does his marriage status. It is a well-known fact that the census have many errors, but trying to see through these problems, we think we have come up with the fact he was at least a bigamist!
(Note: there is another Robert Featherstonehaugh, his nephew, born in 1865 but we have traced him through various census, always marked single; he appears never to have married, and to have died in 1912.)
If anyone has further information regarding Robert, or his wives, we would be very interested in hearing it. It certainly has been fascinating digging out the details for this fellow!
Cath Greenwood and Monica Taylor

3 thoughts on “Scallywag, Bigamist, Womanizer, or ….?

  • I have presented an interesting explanation as to the origin of the Featherstonehaugh surname in the book, “Diana, Princess of the Royal Forest of the Peak; From Domesday to Derbyshire with the Eyres, Featherstonehaughs, Fanshawes, and Fanchers”. The book can be previewed at,, or

    • You may indeed have thought you presented a interesting explanation, but haugh is found in many northern place names. The earliest Featherstone in Derbyshire is found in the early 1600’s. And Fetherstan is found in the Doomsday book as a place in what is now South Yorkshire. Lord of the Manor was Ralph de Fetherstan, So the name developed from the place/village not an occupation. When a later member of Ralph’s Family married into a Northumberland family(Tindale), he took up residence in the Tyne valley and added the haugh as another locative name, hence Fetherstanhaugh. The theory of the stone and feather broaching is a different twist to the story of the stone being found with feathered markings. I also note from the preview that of all the Fanshaw variations not one haugh exists, which rather proves the fact that it is a totally different name form. I agree that the name could have existed back in Roman times as a place name in South Yorkshire

  • Thanks so much for your reply to my comment. I appreciate your info.

    It is logical that “haugh” is found in many northern place names, since Northern England borders Scotland and “haugh” is the Scottish form of the English “hawe”. The two are pronounced the same and both mean a nook of land, thus my summation that through the centuries a “haugh” could have migrated southward to take on the English “hawe”.

    Concerning place names, The Domesday Book was created in or about 1086. The Romans were there thousands of years before the Domesday Book. Before the Romans entered Northern England the land had no place names. Placenames could only become attached after people had moved into the area, and for some reason attached a name to a location. In all probability a family which moved into a location and lodged there became associated to the area by other inhabitants and as a result the families nook of land, in our case, came to be known by Featherstan’s of Featherstone’s place.

    We are left with the thought of just how a person determines what their surname will be. In many cases the surname is derived for the person’s occupation, ie a person who works in a mill might be called Miller. Likewise, a person who works at feathering stones might be called Featherstone. “Haugh” could have been attached to a featherer of stones who lived in a nook by the river, therefore becoming Featherstonehaugh.

    It Seems like the logical progression in this situation would be as such, the occupation provides the surname, a family with said occupation moves into an area, the family lodged at this particular place until in grew into a settlement, the locals and passers through began referring to it by the occupational surname of its original settler, and in time the occupational surname became the placename attached to the settlement.

    Logically, it is impossible for the placename to be the original. The placename has to evolve from some preceding criteria. Otherwise, the place would have had a name before its first visitor had set foot on the ground. In all probability, the Featherstonehaughs were in Northern England during the Roman occupation, and probably worked on Hadrian’s Wall. It is very possible this family came to England with the Romans. They got their name from their occupation of feathering stones. The family continued in this location until the place took on the name of Featherstone, or Featherstan.

    Fanshawe, Fan = a person from the marsh or bogs. Hawe (English) = Haugh(Scottish). Fanshawe = a person from the marshland who relocated to a nook of land(hawe) in Derbyshire. Note: a person who relocated during the time relevant to our discussion was named based upon something characteristic to the land from which he came. Fan, could have denoted the marsh and bogs in and around the South Tyne, which I have read were much more of a marshland back then than they are today.

    Sorry for the length, but I find this a very interesting topic of discussion. Thanks again for your input.

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