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Mary Bainbrigge

Proprietor 136 of the Leeds Library - 1809

by Michael Meadowcroft

I have always been intrigued by the curious spelling of Bainbrigge Street in Headingley. I then noted that a Miss Bainbrigge had been an early proprietor at the Library. Although there have always been women involved in the Library it was still unusual enough to assume that Miss Bainbrigge must have been a woman of substance. When I came across an "entire" - ie in the days before envelopes, a letter written on a single piece of paper which was then folded in three, with one flap tucked into the other and then sealed - sent from Italy to "Mrs (sic) Bainbrigge, Headingley, Leeds, England" on 11th February 1816, I realised the significance of this item and therefore acquired it. Again, international correspondence was not common in the early nineteenth century and such a letter emphasises that Miss Bainbrigge was a person of some importance and that there was presumably a connection between her name and that of the eponymous street. The text is a description of his travels across Italy and it suggests that this is only one of a number exchanges of correspondence between him and Miss Bainbrigge.

The Bainbrigges were an ecclesiastical family. Mary was the eldest child of the Rev Richard Bainbrigge (curate of St Matthew's Chapel Allerton) and Mary Bainbrigge (née Walker). Their elder son, John, was ordained an Anglican clergyman in 1780 and became the rector of West Haddon, Northamptonshire and, later, vicar of Broadchalke, Wiltshire. Their second daughter, Anna Maria, married the Rev Richard Fawcett, the Vicar of Leeds for twenty-two years, and who was himself the son of the Vicar of St John's Church, Leeds.

Mary junior never married and lived with her mother who was a widow for forty years. Mary senior built Bainbrigge House around 1770. This manor house was demolished around 1900. Mary Walker senior was the sister and heir of John Walker who owned a considerable estate at Hyde Park. At her death in 1805 she bequeathed the estate to be shared between daughter Mary and her sister Anna Maria. In 1801 Mary Bainbrigge senior was one the six major landowners in the Headingley-cum-Burley township. Over the years various parcels of the Bainmbrigge estate were sold, including the site which became the zoological gardens, and it was quite appropriate that, in 1869, two new streets would be named Bainbrigge Road and Bainbrigge Terrace - which survive to today.

When Mary junior died in 1832 in her will she left the land in Headingley below Headingley Lane to her "lifelong friend, Doctor William Disney Thorp during his life and, on his death, to my godson, Disney Lander Thorp." Doctor Thorp occupied the manor house. It is tantalising that the only fragment of the letter referred to above that has not survived the succeeding two hundred years is the writer's signature, but it would probably be quite near the mark to assume that it was written by Dr Thorp.

Thus the connection between the 1809 proprietor of the Leeds Library, the eponymous street in Headingley and the letter from Florence, Italy is solved.

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