Hamlet Riley (1851-1922)

Hamlet Riley

Written by Tim Cockerill

Occupation: Landowner

Ancestry and early life

Hamlet Riley was born on the 29th January 1851 at Brearley House, Midgley, in Calderdale, between Hebden Bridge and Halifax in Yorkshire. He was the third son of James Riley (1810-1867) of Brearley House, which had been built by his grandfather John Riley (1786-1856) JP in 1840, near to the family worsted and stuff mill, making fine woollen yarn. The Riley pedigree is shown in Burke's Landed Gentry 1894 for the first time, beginning with John Riley of Souter House, Wadsworth, west of Halifax, who married Sally Riley in 1781. His grandson, Hamlet's father James, married in 1845 Sarah (d.1895), eldest daughter of John Crossley of Hebden Bridge. Mr Crossley was the senior partner of Messrs John Crossley and sons, cotton spinners and manufacturers. There were twenty other firms of cotton spinners in Hebden Bridge in 1845 and a population of 6.000.

Hamlet Riley's father James and uncle Thomas (1813-1887), JP of Ewood Hall, in nearby Mytholmroyd, continued the family business, but the younger brother John (1820-1862) was a barrister-at-law and married in 1857 , Elizabeth, eldest daughter of John Laurie MP of Hyde Park, Chigwell, Essex, of the firm of J. and R. Laurie, saddlers and coachbuilders in Oxford Street, London. The latter's only son was Athelstan Riley (1858-1945) a writer of hymns and one of the two most prominent Anglo-Catholic layman of his time ,the other being Charles Wood, the second viscount Halifax (1839-1934).


The young Hamlet was thus brought up in a wealthy Yorkshire family, whose fortune was based on manufacturing and his father was determined to secure for him the best education possible. He entered Burrows House at Rugby School in 1865 aged 14, where he was joined in 1868 by William Lewthwaite (1853-1927), q.v., his future brother-in-law, and was admitted pensioner at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1870 (LLB. 1874). He was a football (rugby) blue and captained Cambridge as half-back in the first 'Varsity' match in 1872. His degree indicated a legal career but no evidence of this has been found, nor does he seem to have been directly involved in managing the family business. In 1878, at the age of 27, he married, moved to Cumberland, and seems to have enjoyed a healthy private income enabling him to become a prominent local country gentleman, devoted to public life.

Family Life

On the 25 April 1878 Hamlet Riley was married, at St Anne's Church, Thwaites, near Millom to Anne (1852-1933), elder daughter of the late William Lewthwaite (1826-1867) JP.DL of Broadgate, Thwaites. His new brother-in-law and Cambridge friend William Lewthwaite (1853-1927), q.v., was later created a baronet for his public services in Cumberland, and his sister-in-law Mary Lewthwaite (1855-1946) married the Hon. W. H. Cross (1856-1892) MP, eldest son of the 1st viscount Cross of Broughton-in-Furness (see ODNB), Home Secretary and then Secretary of State for India in Disraeli's Cabinet, but who predeceased his father. The newly-married couple first lived in Penrith before buying an estate called Ennim Bank, Blencowe, near Penrith, in about 1883, formerly the seat of the Troutbeck family, which comprised about 800 acres. The Rileys re-named it Ennim, greatly enlarged a rather undistinguished early Victorian mansion and gradually increased the estate to about 1,000 acres by the time the family sold up in the 1930s. From 1955 it became the home of the 1st viscount Whitelaw (1918-1999; ODNB), when he was elected MP for Penrith and the Border until his widow sold up in the early 21st Century.

The Rileys had two children. Their only son was Lt Col Hamlet Lewthwaite Riley (1882-1932), was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford (BA, 1904) and joined the Rifle Brigade in 1906. He saw active service during World War 1, in France, the Dardanelles and in India. Wounded several times and mentioned in dispatches five times, he was awarded the DSO in 1915. In 1916 he became a temporary Lieutenant Colonel, commanding the 12th (Service) Battalion of the Rifle Brigade at the age of 34, and was seriously wounded at the Somme in that year.

During World War 1 Mr and Mrs Hamlet Riley converted most of Ennim into a hospital for wounded servicemen at their own expense and Mrs Riley and Lady Mabel Howard of Greystoke Castle were the mainstays of the VAD movement in the Greystoke area.

In 1922 Colonel Riley joined his regiment in Ireland and was awarded the OBE. In 1924 he resigned his commission on inheriting the Ennim estate following the death of his father, but in 1928 he re-established his military connections by being appointed commanding officer of the 5th Battalion of the Border Regiment in the Territorial Army. In 1925 he had become a JP and in the same year married Joyce Nancy Fetherstonhaugh (1900-1994), elder daughter of Lt Col Timothy Fetherstonhaugh DSO, JP, DL of The College, Kirkoswald, Cumberland and they had two sons. Colonel Riley died on 9 December 1932 and was buried at Greystoke. His sister Ethel Mary Riley (1879-1926), who was unmarried, moved to Burbank House, Blencowe with her widowed mother in 1922.

Public Life in Cumberland

Hamlet Riley and his wife devoted much of their married life to public service, local philanthropy, education, church and social matter in the County of Cumberland. Hamlet was a JP and DL and was High Sheriff of Cumberland in 1901. He chaired the Penrith magistrates for many years. In addition he held a commission in the Cumberland and Westmorland Imperial Volunteers (nicknamed the 'Rainbow Volunteers' on account of their gaudy uniform) from 1887, retiring as a Major in about 1910. Hamlet Riley was the last chairman of the old Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway, which had just over a 30 mile railway-track, was opened in 1861 and was absorbed into the LMS Railway in 1923.

Hamlet Riley was also a keen member of the CWAAS from 1884, a governor of Blencowe Grammar School and an active churchman and longstanding member of the Carlisle Diocesan Board of Finance, a member of the County Police Committee and numerous other organizations within the County, extending over a period of forty years.

Mrs Riley was described in her obituary in 1933 as devoted to her husband, like him, never weary of doing good works and very prominent in the philanthropic life of Penrith, President of the local NSPCC, Chairman of the Ladies Committee of the Cottage Hospital and also a governor of Blencowe Grammar School.

The later years

After the traumas of the war, which had devastated so many families, Hamlet Riley and his wife hardly ever saw their only son again since he was mostly stationed abroad. At least he had survived, although seriously wounded, and had attained a distinguished military record. In Mrs Riley's own Lewthwaite family, one nephew was killed and another was badly wounded.

Hamlet Riley died on 14 October 1922 aged 71 and was buried at Greystoke, where there is a wall-tablet in the church with an inscription and the arms of Riley impaling Lewthwaite. His widow, who was predeceased by her son who died in December 1932, died herself on 21 April 1933 and she is also buried at Greystoke .The last male of this branch of the family was Hamlet Riley's grandson, Major Timothy Richard Riley (1928-2017) DL of Burbank House, Blencowe, late the Rifle Brigade, the younger son of Lt Col. Hamlet Lewthwaite Riley.


  • Burke, Sir Bernard, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland, 8th edition, vol. 11, 1714, London, 1894
  • Census Returns for England and Wales, 1861, 1881 and 1911
  • Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles, Armorial Families, Third Edition, 1899, 705, Edinburgh, 1899
  • Hudleston, C. Roy, and Boumphrey, R. S., Cumberland Families and Heraldry, 281 (for Riley) and 344 (for Troutbeck of Ennim Bank), 1978
  • Michell, A.T. (editor), Rugby School Register, vol. 11,248, Rugby 1902
  • Penrith Observer, 17 October 1922 (obituary of Hamlet Riley)
  • Robinson, John Martin, A Guide to the Country Houses of the North-West, Cumberland, 106, London, 1991
  • The Daily Telegraph, 28 April 2001 (Ennim and the Whitelaw connection)
  • Townend, Peter, (editor), Burke's Landed Gentry, 18th edition, vol. Two, 522-523, London 1969
  • Venn, J.A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Part 11, vol. V, 305, Cambridge, 1953
  • White, William, Leeds and the clothing districts of Yorkshire, 677-678, Sheffield, 1853
  • Family information from the author and Noel Riley