The Revd Richard Armitstead (1766-1821)

The Revd Richard Armitstead

Written by Tim Cockerill

Occupation: Clergyman

Early life and education

Richard Armitstead was baptised at St Oswald's Church, Arncliffe, in the West Riding of Yorkshire on the 20th January 1766, the second son of Marmaduke Armitstead (1735-1811), of Litton Hall, Arncliffe, yeoman, who had married Mary Savage of Bolton Percy, five miles south-west of York, in 1763. The Armitstead family, farmers in the area since the 17th Century,  had been tenants of Litton Hall, a modest farmhouse, for the previous two generations, but were also the owners or occupiers of nearby Prospect House, Arncliffe and Armitstead Farm, the latter built by the family in 1734.

Young Richard's education is unknown but he may have attended Ermysted's Grammar School at Skipton, some ten miles south of Arncliffe. He certainly received a sufficient education to enable him to enter Oxford University. He matriculated at The Queen's College, Oxford on the 25th June 1784, aged eighteen, graduating B.A. in 1788 and proceeding to M.A. in 1791 'as Armistead'.

Ordination and Clerical career

The Armitstead family were fortunate to find a patron for Richard Armitstead in the person of the Revd Edward Wilson (1739-1804), a Canon of Windsor and sometime private tutor to William Pitt the Younger, whose family came from Halton Gill, near Arncliffe. Wilson was a friend of Bishop Douglas of Carlisle and, in exchange for a Herefordshire living in the Canon’s gift, the Bishop agreed to ordain Armitstead and persuade the Earl of Lonsdale to immediately present him to the living of St James, Whitehaven.

Canon W.A.Shuffrey in Some Craven Worthies comments, 'we can imagine with what eagerness these details would be read by Mr Armitstead's friends in Littondale and as we read in the letter (from Canon Wilson to his sister) how the ordination was hastily conducted in the Royal Chapel (St George's, Windsor) by a Bishop who was not in his own diocese, and the two orders of deacon and priest were conferred upon Mr A. in a single week, contrary to the rubric, and that without a title, we are impressed by the fact........that a great change has passed over the Church in this respect for the better since the eighteenth century'.

Canon Wilson recounted that the young Armitstead 'had the good fortune to obtain the good opinion of us all. We had his company a whole week, and both in private and in public he has comported himself in a way that has given us great pleasure and set him very high in our esteem. I have great hopes of him doing extremely well in life...'

Thus on Christmas Day 1790 Richard Armitstead, aged twenty-four, the then minimum age to be appointed to a living, and without serving any curacy, was inducted to St James Church, Whitehaven, which, until 1835, was a chapel-of-ease to the parish church of St Bees. In 1813 Lord Lonsdale also appointed him Rector of Moresby, about two miles from Whitehaven, which he held in plurality until his death in 1821 but both livings brought in more than a total of £200 per annum, paying a curate £50 per annum. In addition he held several unpaid posts as one of the three surrogates for Whitehaven and Chaplain to the Whitehaven Local Militia.

Civil Appointments

In addition to his clerical appointments Armitstead held a number of local civil ones. He was a Justice of the Peace on the Whitehaven bench, and, somewhat unusually, a Deputy Lieutenant for Cumberland, a quasi -military post rarely given to a clergyman. In addition he was a Commissioner of Land and Property Taxes for Allerdale above Derwent, a Governor of St Bees School, a Trustee of the Whitehaven Harbour Board, and Vice President and Auditor of the local Benevolent Institution.

Family Life

In 1796 Richard Armitstead married, at St James, Whitehaven, Agnes (1769-1853), the eldest daughter of William Lewthwaite (1740-1809) J.P. of Broadgate, Thwaites, near Millom and later of The Cupola, Whitehaven, landowner and West Indian plantation owner. Mr Lewthwaite had inherited the plantations in Antigua and at Check Hall in Dominica from his elder brother John (1730-1781) and, in 1795, had won a Chancery action concerning the defective Will of his cousin, another John Lewthwaite (1701-1790), a wealthy West Indian merchant in Whitehaven, against his relations the Lawsons of Isel and Brayton, making him a millionaire several times over in modern money. This enabled him to purchase from the Gale family The Cupola, in Duke Street, one of the finest houses in Whitehaven in 1796.

The young couple began married life in Whitehaven, probably living in a house provided by William Lewthwaite, who had inherited several properties in the town, and because neither of Armitstead's livings had a parsonage. In 1813 Armitstead asked the Bishop of Carlisle to assist him financially with the building of a parsonage house in Moresby, where he intended to live for six months in each year.

When Mr Lewthwaite, Mrs Armitstead's father, died in 1809, he left her £5,000 in 3% Consols (now about £200,000), together with the rents from three farms at Lamplugh and Frizington for life and then to her surviving children. In addition she shared, with her brothers and sisters, the Check Hall plantation and slaves in Dominica.

Richard and Agnes Armitstead had twelve children, five sons and seven daughters between 1797 and 1815, but four of them died in infancy, only three of them married and none of them produced any issue, as follows:

  1. Richard, (1797-1869), educated at St Bees School, lived at Millgrove, Moresby, a prominent Whitehaven Solicitor, who married in 1829 Caroline, daughter of Mrs Mary Morland (1764-1830), of Moresby Hall, the widow of John Morland (d. 1819 aged 54) of Killington Hall and Capplethwaite Hall, Killington. He died without issue.
  2. William, the Revd, (1799-1870), of Oak Hill, Lorton, perpetual curate of Lorton 1825-1864, unmarried.
  3. Mary (1800-1869), of Whitehaven in 1851, later of Oak Hill, Lorton, unmarried.
  4. John (1801-1853), of Lancaster and later of Parramatta, New South Wales, Solicitor, who was struck of the Roll of Solicitors in England 1836, re-admitted in New South Wales and appointed Coroner of Parramatta in 1838. He went bankrupt in 1844 and was probably struck off again. He died at Whitehaven, unmarried.
  5. James (1803-1804)
  6. Agnes (1804-1805)
  7. Margaret (1807-1809)
  8. Frances Elizabeth (1808)
  9. Agnes (1809-1869), of Ulverston, married in 1858 William Postlethwaite (d.1867) of Ulverston, merchant and banker (Petty and Postlethwaite), whose first wife was Mary Lewthwaite (1793-1853), daughter of William Lewthwaite of Broadgate (d. 1845). No issue.
  10. Joseph (1810-1834), Overseer of the Pembroke estate, parish of Trelawney, Jamaica, where he died, unmarried.
  11. Margaret (1811-1826)
  12. Frances (1815-1890), married in 1857 William Lancaster Alexander (18---1910) J.P. of Oak Hill, Lorton and Shatton Lodge, Embleton, second son of William Alexander of Whitehaven and Mount Vernon, Liverpool. W.A. Alexander was a wealthy local landowner and philanthropist, Chairman of the Cockermouth magistrates and of the Cockermouth School Board. He left an estate of £84,000, about £6.4m in modern money, but left no issue.

The later years

Despite his early promise the Revd Richard Armitstead never obtained further preferment after 1813. Perhaps he was happy to be a big fish in a small pool and was content to live in or near Whitehaven, a social centre of the district, rather than in a remote country parish.

Armitstead died on the 18th May 1821 aged fifty-five and was buried at St James, Whitehaven, where there is a wall monument to him and his wife. She died on the 15th April 1853 aged eighty-three and was buried with her husband. His Will dated 9th March 1821 gave his wife his house at Moresby called Croft Hill, his three pews in St James Church, Whitehaven, together with a house and half share of a farm in Yorkshire. Her Will dated 5th May 1852 shows that she owned an estate called Winder in the parishes of Arlecdon and Lamplugh, freehold property, offices and a warehouse on the north-west side of Queen Street, Whitehaven and two pews in St James Church there.

The Armitsteads of Whitehaven died out in the male line in 1870 and in the female line in 1890, with the death of Mrs Frances Alexander of Lorton. Portraits, silhouettes and photographs of them still exist at Whitehaven Archives and in the possession of their relatives.


  • Caine, Caesar, A History of the Churches of the Rural Deanery of Whitehaven, Whitehaven, 1916, 79-100
  • Nicholson, I.S., St James Vicars’ Biographies, Parish of Whitehaven Publications HS 9, (undated).
  • Parson and White, History, Directory and Gazetteer of Cumberland and Westmorland with Furness and Cartmel , Leeds, 1829, 228 and 250, 
  • Shuffrey,William Arthur, Some Craven Worthies, Leeds, 1903, 74-81
  • Tingley, June The Families of Halton Gill and Foxup (Part 1), The Armitstead Family, The Airdale and Wharfdale Family History Society ,2020
  • CW2,lxvi, 374-380, CW2, lxxii,338-339,and CW2,lxxxvii,157-159