The Ostells of Moorhouse

The Ostells of Moorhouse


When Jonathan Ostell died in 1752 he left most of his estate to his nephew, Thomas of Newtown who had married Mary Stordy.

Low Moor House

Thomas and Mary built a fine new home at Moorhouse (above) and their eldest son, Thomas, moved there together with his younger brother Joseph. Thomas married Rachel Glaister about 1757. Joseph married Mary Mitchinson, a local girl from Moorhouse in 1763, when his father and brother leased him part of the family property to farm.

Thomas died in 1772 at the age of only forty-two, leaving Rachel a widow with six children to bring up, the youngest, Jonathan, not yet a year old. Her father-in-law leased the farm to her for only five pounds a year on condition that she “shall and will work and sufficiently support with meat, drink, apparral and all other things …. all the living children of the above named Thomas Ostle, late deceased, and herself and likewise to give the said children a proper education and such exercise or labour as may be suitable for their tender years.” It appears from the lease that Rachel’s brother-in-law, Joseph was, at the time, still occupying part of the premises.1

The two youngest children of Thomas and Rachel, Mary and Jonathan, died at an early age. Ann (Nancy), their second daughter, married Jonathan Peile. Their other four children all had interesting lives or went on to found interesting dynasties, as did the children of Thomas’s brother Joseph. Each of their lines deserves a mention here.


John married Margaret (Peggy) Norman in August 1793 at Great Orton Parish Church. John seems to have been disowned by the Quakers as a result of this marriage. However, the births of all his children appear in the Monthly Meeting records; perhaps their grandmother passed the details to the clerk of the meeting. Like his father, John died in his forties and, seven years after his death, his widow Peggy took all four of her surviving children to Burgh-by-Sands Parish Church where they were baptised in a batch and received into the Church of England on April 25th 1815.

This seems to mark the end of the family connection with the Moorhouse Quaker Meeting and indeed signalled the decline of what had once been a large and very important Meeting. The suicidal policy of the Friends in rejecting any member who married outside the society had disastrous consequences for them in all parts of the county. In severing the connection with John, the Quakers lost their most wealthy remaining member and, no doubt, suffered from serious financial problems as a result.

From this time on, John’s family are normally referred to as ‘Gentlemen’ in the official records; the only branch of the family to qualify for this distinction. They owned a large estate in Moorhouse and the surrounding area; their wills show evidence of considerable personal wealth too.

John’s grandson John (1828-1880) became a solicitor in Carlisle with offices in Fisher Street. He was clerk to the City Magistrates and lived in an imposing house near the city centre.

3, Cavendish Place
John's Home.
3 Cavendish Place (Now Warwick Road)

In 1880, his next-door neighbour was John Burgess, a famous local newspaper editor.
Note the varigated Carlisle brick work

His son, John Junr. (1855-1894) moved the practice to smart new offices in Bank Street. John sold Low Moor House, the old family home, with its adjoining farm, 136 acres of land, and a wood at Great Orton to George Thompson, another Carlisle solicitor, thus finally severing the family connection with Moorhouse2. He was the Conservative Party Agent for the Carlisle and North Cumberland Constituencies, secretary of the Carlisle Dispensary and held important posts with both the Carlisle Savings Bank and the Carlisle and Cumberland Bank. John also held the senior captaincy of the First Volunteer Battalion of the Border Regiment and organised camps and marches for the volunteers to Penrith and Skinburness.

12 Cavendish Place
The palatial home of John Ostell, Junr. at 12 Cavendish Place

Note the servants' quarters in the attic

During 1893, he suffered a mental breakdown and, on medical advice, spent some time in Scotland. By the following January, he had recovered sufficiently to return to Carlisle and, with his wife, attended a Charity Ball in aid of the Cumberland Infirmary. The following morning he rose at 7am, locked himself in his dressing room, took his pistol and shot himself through the head. Death was instantaneous.

An inquest was held the same evening and returned a verdict of ‘suicide whilst in a state of temporary insanity’. He was buried at Carlisle Cemetery on January 9th, 1894. The “Carlisle Journal” which would have been a fierce opponent of John’s political views published a moving editorial tribute.

12 Carlisle Journal Obituary

John and his wife, Frances King Atkinson, had five daughters, Sybil, Olive, Lilly, Ivy and Myrtle but no sons. After John’s death, Frances took the girls to live in Bexhill, Sussex. The solicitor’s business was sold, later becoming part of the Saul and Lightfoot practice and, sadly, the Ostell name died out in this line.

Bank Street
Bank Street Carlisle, circa 1890

The offices of Donald and Ostell, solicitors, were located above the
Clydesdale Bank, in the centre of this photograph.

The original John (1761-1808) had another son, Thomas (1804-1841). As a younger son, Thomas had to make his own way in life. He seems to have left Moorhouse as a young man and might have lived in London for a while with his father’s cousins, Isaac and Charlotte. It is here that he may first have become involved with the East India Company although there is no record of him being actually employed by them. By 1831, he was in Calcutta running a bookshop; a year later, at the age of 28, he married Jane Olivia Hutteman in the Anglican Cathedral there. A year later, Jane gave birth to their first daughter – Olivia Mary Margaret.

On October 15th, 1836 twin girls were born to the couple: Eleanor Charlotte who lived for only one day and her sister, Sophia Elizabeth, who survived for just over a week. A fortnight later, Jane herself died. All three were buried in India.3

Thomas, now a widower with a three year old daughter, returned to England. He set up a new business as bookseller in Leadenhall Street, London.

Catalogue of Friends' Books
A book published by Thomas

Sadly, this was a short-lived venture; Thomas died, at the age of 37, in November 1841.

His young daughter, Olivia Mary Margaret, must have been brought up by her relatives at Moorhouse. On May 22nd, 1856 she married the Rev. John Burton Norman, the perpetual curate of St. Kentigern’s, Grinsdale in Burgh-by-Sands parish church. The couple had only a year together, Olivia died in 1857.

Olivia's memorial

John must have been devastated by her death and erected a beautiful memorial to her (above). A hundred years later this monument was to inspire a local author, Ann Robinson, to write a charming illustrated children’s book – ‘Olivia Mary Margaret’. John stayed at Grinsdale until 1865 when he was appointed Vicar of Stanmore in Middlesex.

Book illustration
An illustration from 'Olivia Mary Margaret'


Thomas also married outside the Quaker community. His wife was Jane Johnston and they were wed at Burgh-by-Sands Parish Church in October 1809. They had four daughters and one son – Joseph, born in 1810. In 1836, Joseph eloped with Elizabeth Tyson and they were married at Grenta Green.

Research continues on this branch of the family.


Sarah Ostell was born in 1766 at Moorhouse. In 1790, she married John Fidler at Burgh-by-Sands. John may have been the illegitimate son of Mally Fidler from Wigton. Sarah and John had three children. Mary, born in 1791, Thomas, christened in Great Orton in February, 1793 and Joseph, christened in Bromfield in January, 1796.

The year 1814 found the family farming in Salta, near Allonby. John and Sarah’s daughter Mary, by then in her early twenties, was baptized in May of that year. Eight weeks after her baptism, she was buried in Allonby. Her mother Sarah followed Mary to the grave four months later. Their eldest son Thomas married Jane Irving Graham in 1829 at Thursby and both are buried in the churchyard there.

An old engraving of Allonby

To date, nothing definite has been found on either widower John Fidler, or his youngest son Joseph after 1814.


(The Spelling of the family name in this line varies. Ostle is used by Jonathan’s descendants today)

As the youngest son, Jonathan had to make his own way. He married Elizabeth (Betty) Reid at St Cuthbert’s Church in Carlisle in January 1795 and seems to have worked as a farm labourer for his whole life. The births of his six children are all listed in the Quaker records at Moorhouse but, from 1805, Jonathan is described as a ‘non-member’.

His second son John, born in 1802, became a professional photographer in Carlisle. In the local directory for 1847 he is described as a painter but, by 1858 he had become a Photographic Artist with business premises in Castle Street. The date suggests that he must have been one of the very first people to take up this new profession in the city. Later, he moved his business to Corporation Road.

Unknown Lady

John's Stamp

This portrait of an unknown lady from Carlisle bears the stamp of John Ostell on the back.

Jonathan’s youngest son, William, born in 1810, was also a farm labourer. As a ‘Hired Man’ he moved around the county, working on farms in Bromfield and Burgh-by-Sands before settling for several years in a cottage on a large estate at Borrans Hill near Welton in the parish of Sebergham. He married Mary Byers from Sebergham and fathered at least ten children.

His eldest son, Jonathan, born around 1838, was also a farm labourer with a great talent for woodworking. His descendants still own a walking stick carved, from top to bottom, with little hearts and another with a different design, as well as a marionette type doll with beautiful free moving joints. They have memories of a snake painted green and yellow that wriggled across the floor.

He had at least two partners and six children, moving around farms in the Cockermouth and Carlisle areas. Jonathan’s first son, John, born in 1863 appears to have broken with the tradition of farm work. He was a coal miner but his sons did not follow in his footsteps. His second son Joseph served in the Army and in the Police Force.

John’s eldest son, another John, also served in the Police Force and, for over six years, in the Army. He was sent to France and from there was discharged in 1917 because of a gun shot wound in the thigh. For his service in the army he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Victory Medal.

Jonathan’s second son, William, also became a miner and moved to County Durham. He did not seem to share Jonanthan’s talents for woodwork other than to grow and cut his own walking sticks but his son’s were very deft with a fret saw. William’s extra talents lay in gardening and he and his sons walked away with many of the prizes in the local ‘shows’. He had nine children. Four of his sons served in the Army during the second world war. Thomas, the youngest, had joined the Army 3 months before the war started. He was just seventeen and lied about his age so that he could proudly take his place in The King’s Own Royal Regiment. During the 1939-1945 war he saw action in North Africa, including the Siege of Tobruk and with the Chindits in Burma.

Tommy Ostle
Tommy Ostle, the soldier.

He survived that war but was recalled to the Army in 1950 to fight in Korea with the Royal Ulster Rifles. He died in action in 1951 days before his period of reserve was due to end. Sadly, it took 40 years to get his name added to the Cenotaph in his home village. The Korean War is aptly called “THE FORGOTTEN WAR”

Grave of Thomas Ostle
The original cross marking
Tommy's grave in Korea

Jonathan’s youngest son, Thomas was born at Caldbeck in 1874 and was deaf and dumb from birth. He was only four years old when his mother Jane died, it is believed that his elder brother William was the one who looked out and cared for him in his early years. Thomas married Mary Ann Ray in 1907. Mary Ann died in 1950 at Blennerhasset.

Thomas and Mary Ostle
Thomas and Mary Ann Ostle.

They had six children, of which two, Mabel and Robert, were born deaf and dumb. Thomas went on to work for the family of Sir Wilfred Lawson, M.P, as a gardener at Brayton Hall, near Aspatria. He remained there till he retired about 1939, during this time he lived at Yew Tree Yard, Blennerhasset, where he died in 1957.

Brayton Hall
Brayton Hall

His granddaughter, Joan Palmer, recalls that although Thomas was deaf and dumb and he communicated with his wife Mary Ann by using sign language, he could read and write. Joan remembers visiting him with her father and having to communicate with him using pen and paper as she could not understand sign language. Where he learnt to read and write is still a mystery; perhaps it was at some special school or did someone at Brayton Hall teach him?

Thomas’s eldest son, born in 1911, was also called Thomas. He married Jane Little in Wigton and was a hired out farm labourer and lived at Silloth, he had three children, and died 1976.

* * * * *

Returning now to the 18th Century, the original Thomas Ostell of Moorhouse had moved there with his younger brother, Joseph. Joseph married a local girl, Mary Mitchinson and they had four children. Their second son, Isaac married a Charlotte and moved to London. By 1813 he had set up business there as a Sadler and was living in Monmouth Court, near Trafalgar Square. His eight children were all baptised at St Martin’s in the Fields, a beautiful church designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

John Ostell

Isaac's youngest son, John, (above) born in 1813, emigrated to Canada in 1834 and settled in Montreal where he became a prominent architect, the Provincial Surveyor and a Justice of the Peace. He served his apprenticeship with the Surveyor Andre Trudeau. His wife came from a family linked to the local construction industry.

John pursued his career as surveyor until 1852. During this time he also worked on various designs for architectural projects. His first assignment was the Customs building in Montreal. He then produced a design for the arts faculty and training college of McGill University, along with plans for the Montreal Law Courts. His first important undertaking in the field of ecclesiastical architecture was the construction of the towers for Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal. He then undertook to draw up plans for several churches including the churches of Sainte-Anne and Notre-Dame-de-Grace in Montreal and was the architect for the Episcopal palace there.4

McGill Arts Building
The Arts Building, McGill University.

Basilique Notre-Dame.

Sugar Refinery

He also designed the Redpath Sugar Refinery (above). Sugar refining is a complex process, the various stages of which explain the building’s huge volume. John organized space vertically. Raw sugar “moves from the upper to the lower stories and undergoes processing along the way. The height and number of stories reflect the requirements of its process”. He created a baroque palace and divided the seven-story building into two main levels.5

Ostell Crescent in Montreal is named after John. He died in 1892. More details on his work can be found at by typing “John Ostell” into Google; several web sites contain interesting pictures.

1. County Record Office, Carlisle; BOX DX 46 BRA (68,69)
2. House History by Ron Palmer, present owner
3. Calcutta Records, British Library
4. Quebec Religious Heritage Foundation
5. Redpath website