One often neglected facet of Williamson’s life is that he did not limit his business interests to Liverpool. His will included the following words:

“… all that my farm or tenement situate in Rosewen in the Parish of Wigton in the County of Cumberland … and also the land conveyed to me by Michael Dand … together with the several closes of land thereunto belonging (be assigned) upon trust nevertheless for the sole and absolute benefit of Elizabeth Walton now of Edge Hill aforesaid spinster … and … the payment of one hundred pounds a year to Cornelius Henderson of Edge Hill aforesaid Painter of Portraits … and moreover I do hereby give and bequeath to the said Elizabeth Walton … all and singular my household books and pictures and clothes”

Joseph Williamson wrote the above amendment to his will just two days before he died and had it witnessed by two of his workers. One can imagine the men being called from their work, the scratching of the quill on the paper, the dusting with sand and the ritual tappings and rustlings as the documents were folded and rolled and tied with ribbon.

At this point, already ill from water on the chest, he may well have known that the arrangements above, alongside earlier promises that his land at Edge Hill be left to the Leigh and Tate families would be final.

All sorts of questions are raised by his choice of bequests. Not least among them is the issue of the bequest of the land he owned in Cumberland (now Cumbria) to his housekeeper, Elizabeth Walton. In 1999 FoWT researchers set out to find any remaining trace of the ‘farm or tenement’.

The tell-tale sandstone block gateposts
The tell-tale sandstone block gateposts

Directed by several elderly residents of Wigton, we found a road junction amongst fields between Wigton and Curthwaite which had a ring-top signpost with the legend ‘Rosewain’. Half a mile further on we found an old dressed sandstone block standing on its end as a gatepost, showing a sign for Rosewain Farm.

Williamson's farm, still operational today
Williamson’s farm, still operational today

The farm is set well back from the road in a little dip on a north-facing slope of land running down to the River Wampool. The track which runs through the farmyard passes under the railway running between Carlisle and Workington. This was one of the earliest commercial railway lines, fully opened in 1845. The main farmhouse is a solid early 19th century building, and there are traces of much older barns alongside. Did Joseph Williamson have this new house built sometime between 1828, when he appears to have acquired the property, and his death?

This low rolling countryside west of Carlisle is sandstone country, and Williamson must have felt quite at home here. Did he make tunnels under his Cumbrian lands too? The gateposts and the house itself are of the dark red local stone.

The current owner of the farm, who had just moved in, did not know much about the history of the estate. His uncle, whom we met in Wigton Church, did not know of any connection between the farm and the name Elizabeth Walton.

We pursued a possible link between the farm and Cornelius Henderson, friend of Williamson and tenant of one of his houses on Mason Street. Henderson had lost his first wife, Elizabeth, in 1836 but is said to have married Elizabeth Walton a few months after Williamson died. Indeed, in 1851 Cornelius and Elizabeth Henderson were recorded as living at No.10 Mason Street, and one can see from the census that her birthplace was Cumberland and that she had some relatives from there living with her too.

Cornelius is now listed as land owner, this being more important than being an artist in the eyes of the census taker. We have found that an Elizabeth Henderson died at Baldwinholme, which is a hamlet about three miles from Rosewain, but her estate was less than £450, so there is no list of her possessions. Equally unclear are the date and, above all, location of Cornelius Henderson’s death. We do not yet know if either actually came to live at Rosewain itself.

Finding the farm was very exciting but these glimpses into the past are both tantalizing and exasperating; indeed often replete with red herrings: the marriage register for Warrington (where Williamson was probably born) shows a Joseph Williamson marrying an Elizabeth Walton! but this was five years before our JW was born. The research goes on …