Tillotson family – another interesting surname

I was first motivated to write about this branch of my family when I came across Hannah Maria Thompson (1864-1932), my 3rd cousin three times removed, whose parents were Joseph Thompson (1835-1907) and Sarah Tillotson (1837-1920). In the 1911 census Hannah was living with her widowed mother Sarah, brother Charles (1865-1926) and niece (Gertrude) Irene Thompson (1898-1970) at Moor, Garforth near Leeds. Hannah was described as a baker and confectioner (maker) and employer; her brother Charles a baker worker. The census also included three servants: two assistant confectioners and a servant. Her brother Henry Malcom Thompson (1868-1938) was also a baker in 1911. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any of them in the 1908 Kelly’s directory for the West Riding of Yorkshire. However, a judicious purchase of the 1921 census from FindmyPast revealed that, at the time the census was taken, Hannah was still a confectioner on her own account and that she was living with her brother Charles and Aunt Maria in Main Street Garforth. The following 1908 OS map shows the locations of Garforth Moor and Main Street, Garforth.

OS Yorkshire Sheet CCXIX.NW dated 1908

Hannah’s family – Hannah had been born into a family who worked in the pits in Garforth. Mining coal was one of the main industries in the area, as noted in Lewis’ 1848 topographical directory of England.

Lewis’s Topographical Directory of England 1848 – entry for Garforth

Hannah was the eldest daughter of Joseph and Sarah’s six children. The 1871 census records the family as living in Moor Garforth with Joseph described as a weighman at the colliery, possibly working at the nearby Sisters Pit owned by the Gascoigne family. He continued to work as a weighman until he retired. Just two of his sons, Charles and Frederick (1870-1936), spent part of their working career in a colliery. By the 1901 census no family members were working in the pits. By then Charles and Henry were bakers, alongside their sister Hannah, Frederick was a railway porter, Emily (1872-1926) a servant and Edward (b 1875) a bricklayer. The following chart shows Joseph, Sarah, their children and grandchildren.

Descendant chart for Joseph Thompson and Sarah Tillotson

Working in the collieries could result in accidents and deaths. The Durham Mining Museum has an entry for Garforth Colliery which has a thought to be incomplete list of 57 deaths dating from the mid-19th century until the early 20th century. It contains the details of three Thompson’s who were killed there: G Thompson, a shunter, in 1896, and T Thompson and H Thompson who fell off roofs in 1897. Unfortunately, there is only limited information about the deaths in local newspapers like the Skyrack Courier. It is possible these men could be related to Joseph Thompson but clear links have so far not been found.

Tillotson surname – Hannah’s mother Sarah, is my 2nd cousin four times removed, and I decided to see what I could find out about the origin of the Tillotson surname. Redmonds book of Yorkshire surnames is an excellent source of information and has entries for Tillotson (with variants Tillitson and Tillottson and the variant Tilson. The following is a quote from Redmonds about Tillotson and its variants:

“’Son of Tillot’, a diminutive of Matilda via the pet form Till. This is a surname with a single origin and the progenitor can be identified in the poll tax of 1379. Her name was Tillot de Northwod and she was listed in Cowling along with her two sons, John and William Tillotson. The surname ramified in Kildwick parish and surrounding parts of Airedale and it remains numerous there… The most illustrious bearer of the name was John Tillotson of Sowerby near Halifax, born in 1630 and created Archbishop of Canterbury in 1691.”

Redmonds, George. (2015) A Dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames. Donnington: Shaum Tyas. p. 743

In my own family research, I have probably traced my ancestors back to James Tillotson, my 6th great grandfather, who died in 1778 in Barwick on Elmet, just a few miles from Garforth. Encouraged by the information about the surname in Redmonds, I carried out further research and found two possible baptisms for James:

  • James Towleson baptised 30 July 1698 in Hartshead cum Clifton, a chapelry in the parish of Dewsbury, to father Abraham.
  • James Tillson baptised 1 September 1705 in Pontefract to father Henry.

James’ burial record suggests that he was 80 at the time of his death in 1778 which would suggest that the 1698 baptism was the more likely one for him. However, it is probable that the Towleson baptism is not his. Towleson is a variant of Tolson/Toulson which Redmonds attributes to the place name “Toulston, a locality in the parish of Newton Kyme near Tadcaster”. In contrast, Tillson is also said to derive from ‘Son of Till’ a pet form of Matilda. It occurred in a number of places in Yorkshire and was also found alongside Tillotson and Tillison. Redmonds asserts that it “must often have been a contraction of that name”.

In the case of my 6th great grandfather James, it seems possible that he was baptised as a Tillson and buried as a Tillotson. If the 1705 baptism is correct for him, then his father Henry was born in 1676 in Dewsbury and married Elizabeth Walker on 2 December 1703 in Pontefract. They had their first child James there and then returned to Dewsbury. The following is a possible family chart for James showing how he is descended from Samuel. All my potential great grandfathers are circled on the chart in purple. John (1734-1798) is my 5th great grandfather, then James my 6th great grandfather, Henry my 7th great grandfather and at the top of the chart Samuel my 8th great grandfather. Sarah, my 2nd cousin four times removed is circled in lilac.

Pedigree Chart for Sarah Tillotson

Lastly – I would like to know more about all the people mentioned in this blog post. Do contact me if you have any further information which you are willing to share.

Note: the map used in this blog has been reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under the following creative commons licence https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/ and sourced from the NLS maps site https://maps.nls.uk/.


1921 Census. https://www.findmypast.co.uk/ : accessed June 2022.

Births, marriages and deaths. https://www.ancestry.co.uk/ : accessed June 2022.

British newspaper collection. https://www.findmypast.co.uk/ : accessed June 2022.

Census records. https://www.ancestry.co.uk/ : accessed June 2022.

Dewsbury. https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/YKS/WRY/Dewsbury : accessed June 2022.

Garforth. https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/YKS/WRY/Garforth : accessed June 2022.

Garforth Colliery Deaths. http://www.dmm.org.uk/colliery/g230.htm : accessed June 2022.

Kelly and Co. (1908) Kelly’s Directory of West Riding of Yorkshire. London: Kelly and Co. Vol 1. p.278.

Lewis, Samuel ed. (1848) A Topological Directory of England. London: Lewis. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-dict/england : accessed June 2022.

OS Maps. https://maps.nls.uk/ : accessed June 2022.

Old photos of Garforth https://www.ianatkinson.net/garforth/ and information about the pits

Redmonds, George. (2015) A Dictionary of Yorkshire Surnames. Donington: Shaum Tyas. p. 743 and p.747.

West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935. https://www.ancestry.co.uk/ : accessed June 2022.

Yorkshire baptisms, marriages and burials. https://www.findmypast.co.uk/ : accessed June 2022.

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