William Stables of Hetherick (1707-1787)

Summary of the Novel, Religion in Earnest, by John Lyth

Religion in Earnest.
A Memorial of Mrs. Mary Lyth of York
by John Lyth

This book, written in 1861, gives a fascinating account of events in the life of William Stables of Harewood, his wife, Sarah and their family. It was written by the husband of  Mary Burdsall, who was William’s granddaughter (child of his daughter Mary). I present only a brief summary here, the full story extends to almost 170 pages.

William was a wealthy yeoman who inherited a few acres at Heatherick (now Stanke) from his father and sought to extend his interests by renting the farm at Sandygate.

Around 1760, William commissioned the building of a new house beside the farm, which was situated on the estate of the Earl of Harewood. It was a substantial dwelling with outbuildings and surrounded by fruit trees. It was reached by a sandy land which passed immediately in front of the house and entered the village between the castle and the church. This being how the farm got its name of ‘Sandygate’, although the house was always known as ‘Stables House’.

William moved his family into the house before it was fully fit for occupation and his wife, Mary, took cold and died, leaving him with four children under the age of six years.

William was a shrewd and sensible man, of strict morals and unbending integrity, but stern, obstinate and a bigoted churchman. He was very punctual in the performance of his outward religious duties, which gave him the reputation of being a good Christian. His children were trained with great severity, with prayers regularly read in the family and the Sabbath rigorously observed. A stiff and precise order reigned through the whole household but it lacked the charm and life of spiritual feeling.

His youngest daughter was so traumatised by her miserable upbringing that she was moved to cry aloud for mercy in the church. William was deeply concerned for her but confessed to being incapable of understanding her feelings or the sorrow he had caused.

Mary was, therefore, forced to seek relief and comfort where she could and, having heard of the Methodists, secretly attended one of their Sunday meetings, where she met with a few humble but sincere people who could empathise with her state of mind.

Mary became an avowed Methodist, which so angered her father that on one occasion he locked her out of the house and, on another, threatened to shoot her. She held steadfast to her believes and eventually converted her two brothers, John and William, and two of the servants to Methodism.

Afraid that his eldest daughter Elizabeth might also be converted, William sacked the two servants and banished his three delinquent children to a farm that he had purchased at Kirkby Overblow. This had a negative effect, as the removal of her siblings so affected Elizabeth that she eventually converted too, and his other children, freed from William’s control, were able to pursue their new religion unhindered.

The children made the acquaintance of Richard Burdsall, a Methodist preacher, who Mary Stables went on to marry. Her father was so displeased with their marriage that he withheld her marriage portion and sent her forth destitute, with literally nothing but the clothes she was wearing.

Before his death, William Stables eventually came to his senses and effected a reconciliation with his daughter and her husband, Richard. He secured her future by providing her with an annuity for life. Richard visited him frequently, during his last illness, to minister to his spiritual wants. William died in peace on June 13th, 1787.

Download the entire text of this book (515K).


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