The ‘Sir’ Levett-Hanson Letters – Part of the History of Normanton, West Yorkshire

Written on 21/10/2013

Following the death of my grandfather in 1988 I found an old book in a pile in my parent’s garage which I promptly rescued.  In it were hand written notes and old newspaper clippings from the 19th Century.  This included what appeared to be some hand written copies of letters between a man called ‘Sir’ Levett Hanson (c.1748-1814) and his Yorkshire based cousin Thomas Leake.  Some years ago I wrote a biographical summary of Levett-Hanson based on information derived from these letters and some rudimentary research.  What follows is the summary that I wrote together with a transcript of the first of the letters (I may publish the rest in due course).

Biographical Summary

Levett Hanson was born in 1748, in the village of Welton-with-Melton near Beverley in North Yorkshire.  He was the only son of Robert Hanson and Elizabeth Jackson (nee.), but had a sister who would later marry Sir Thomas Cullum of Bury-Saint-Edmunds in Suffolk (who also had holdings in the Normanton area).

Fate dealt Levett a cruel blow early on in life, when he was  only 5 or 6 years old (c.1743) he lost his mother and this was compounded at age 11 (c.1749) when his father died.  The legacy of this double tragedy dwelt within him for the rest of his life.

He was born into a proud and influential heritage; as far as the History of Normanton is concerned, his family ties with the Levetts and the Leakes, both families playing key roles in its development for much of its history, are significant.

From around 1790 to his death, while he was overseas, he entrusted his Normanton interests to a manager called Mr Brook, who would have dealt with all his business affairs in the local area such as collecting rents, selling land, etc.  He communicated with his manager via his bankers, Messrs. Hamersley, based in Pall Mall, London.

Out of all these cities it was Copenhagen that captured his heart; this was the place where he felt most at home, and showed great affection with relation to it in correspondence back to Yorkshire.

From c.1790 to the end of his life, he resided in cities of the Baltic Sea region, most notably Stockholm, Copenhagen and Hamburg.  It seems likely that it was around this time that he acquired the title of knight.  He was an officer of the knightly order of St. Joachim, which was founded in 1755 by members of the German nobility.  He was an officer of the chancery of this order of chivalry and it seems reasonable to assume that his duties were of a diplomatic nature.

In a letter to his cousin, dated Copenhagen, 9 July 1807, he said that he had been evading the French armies since 23 October 1805.  This must have related to the increase in British involvement in the anti French coalition; it was only 2 days since the Battle of Trafalgar, which took place on 21 October, giving Britain naval supremacy.  It was also a time when, it would be reasonable to assume, there was considerable unease in the areas where he resided and had links with (Copenhagen and Hamburg).  Indeed, the French defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Ulm (in southern Germany between Stuttgart and Munich) on 21 October of that year; it must have seemed that Bonaparte could have pushed north at any moment.  It was just after this time that Napoleon scored one of his most impressive victories at the Battle of Austerlitz on 2 December 1805.  The armies of the great general must have seemed invincible to the officers of his enemies at that time.

Sir Levett Hanson died on 22 April 1814, at Copenhagen in Denmark; he was 59 years of age.  The war against the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte, of which he seems likely to have played a role, would wage on for over a year until it reached its climactic conclusion at Waterloo on 18 June 1815.

Chris Knowles

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First of the Letters – Correspondence Between Sir Levett Hanson And His Normanton Cousin Thomas Leake

Copenhagen November 27th 1804

Dear Kinsman

Your letter gave me great satisfaction.  Had I not been favoured with yours, I meant to write to you.  I do not doubt you and your family have lost two good friends by the death of Mrs Elizabeth and Mrs Catherina Hanson.  However, [if] you and your family conduct yourself properly and [you] remain an honest respectable character, you will always find me to be a sincere and good friend.  I have already said as much in my letters to Mr Brooke.  Whenever you have the misfortune to lose your mother, I have told Mr Brooke that you will continue to live in the house and have the orchard, both rent free, and in case of sickness or misfortune I have desired him never to let you, your family [or] your mother want for anything.

I can never forget that you are my nearest of kin on the Levett side, and, though fortune was not favourable to your father and grandfather, I beg you never forget that on the side of the Leakes and the Levetts you are as old [and] good a family as most in Yorkshire and as many in England.  The past Lord Scarsdale was a Leake, and always acknowledged your grandfather as a kinsman, although he could not come in for the Estate and Title.

The Smiths, the Torres and the Favells are [Fiz Gigges], as the late Robert Holdsworth called them in comparison with you, like father like sons.  I suppose the Baronet of Newland or the Squires of Normanton and Snydale are not a bit better than their fathers, where you do not posses the estate and fortune, these people do.  But that is nothing, remember manners maketh man, and an honest man is God’s masterpiece.

When I tell you never to do anything unworthy of your name and character, and [to] never forget whence you are sprung, I do so to [excite] you and yours to live [as] honest decent people and not to make you foolish, vain and proud, which behaviour is improper even in those who are rich and really great.

I have known you these one and thirty years, I think you must be about four and forty.  How many children have you in all and how many lads and lasses, as we say in Yorkshire?  What is the name of your [mother’s] aunt at Wakefield and is she living, she used to be my snuff merchant.  As to your son, I wish he was eighteen or twenty instead of fifteen.  I want a companion and not a servant.  My manner of living would not suit a lad [of] fifteen, although it might a young man of one and twenty.  I live much a[t] home and [am] very [retired] and do not like those who are with me to be running about.  This is hard for a lad of your son’s time of life.  Nevertheless, I do not give up the matter but he must wait [u]till I come to Hamburg.  I would wish your son, in the meantime, to stick to county business and beg you to assure him [that] I shall not forget him nor his father neither.  If you have lost two good friends in my aunts, you have found one in me.  If I have never any reason to the contrary, I shall always look upon you and love you as my next of kin.  Remember our Grandmothers were sisters.

As to the wood you wish to purchase, it is a matter upon which I do not pretend to determine anything.  Mr Brooke has my power of selling it for me and if you and he can settle the business, I shall be satisfied.  I have sent to him, by this post, that half of your letter which concerns this business and if you and he can agree, I think you ought to have the preference, but I must tell you once [and] for all, my good kinsman, that it is my firm and decided resolution never to take my business out of the hands of Mr Brooke, which I have [since] trusted to him, first of, all because he well deserves my [continued] and unlimited confidence by his past probity and attention for my interests, and secondly because, situated as I am and at so great a distance, Mr Brooke is far better able to judge of what is right and proper than I can possible [do].

When you talk of the ‘jungle’ near the house you live in, I suppose you mean the orchard.  I beg you will take great care to keep up the hedges and fruit trees.  Our Uncle, Mr Robert Levett, had made it, for its size, one of the best orchards in the parish.  It is your duty and interest to preserve it in a good state and plant choice trees when necessary.  I mention these things since you are old enough to pay due weight upon what I say.

I am glad to hear the [e]nclosure advances; certainly I would wish you to have a [close] for the convenience of you and your family and [Harpin’s Close], likewise, when he dies; but for these I expect a fair rent.  All these are things you must talk over with Mr Brooke who, I am sure, wishes to befriend you.

As to the complaints you make that the wood for repairing the house and homestead was not given to you, I must tell you I do not think you have such a great reason to be satisfied.  Mr Brooke agreed with the tenants Bailey about putting all the buildings in repair, and it was not extraordinary [that] Baily should wish to favour his brother-in-law.  So close as a man’s [shirt] sits to his…you may be sure, I as your kinsman, ever wish to give you everything.  But there is no rule with an exception, and on the outset of this rule [you] might to have made application to Mr Brooke, God knows, I never wish to take the meal of any man’s table, and least of all yours.

I heartily thank my cousin, your wife and your mother for all their kind remembrance of me and for their long and delightful assurance.  My kindest remembrances and wishes to Matthew, who is one of the most honest and best of friends I ever met with.  He has enjoyed my confidence for years and deservedly so. I don’t know anything his [quarters] with me as a friend.

But ‘tis all to no purpose, however, that will never prevent me from having more regard for him than for any other friend or acquaintance in this world and, am sure, his heart is the same towards me.  Pray let me hear from you in answer to this and write to me often.  Tell Matthew I have wrote at least two letters to him to which I have received no answer. I am very glad to hear he is well in health and spirits and I pray God you will continue so.  Remember you are a relation which is more than friend or acquaintance.  I must repeat it that I expect you will not fail to answer my letters regularly.  Be kind and neighbourly too to Matthew, when it is in your power.  I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year and remain with truest regards and friendships dear Thomas.

Your affectionate kinsman

Levett Hanson

PS. Your letter gave me great pleasure, when you write again speak to me as your near relation and make use of no ceremonies; common civility is all that is required between kinsfolk.