Jewel in the crown of a family saga

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NEXT week’s Royal Wedding will create the first link between Yorkshire and the British throne for five centuries. Roger Ratcliffe traces the bride’s family roots in the county.

SHE is the most recognisable young woman in Britain, and on Friday millions will sit down in front of the television to watch as she marries Prince William and sets out on the path to becoming his Queen.

It will, like all the great Royal weddings, be a moment of celebration, writing its own page in history. But the countless viewers who will wish Kate and William well as they walk down the aisle of Westminster Abbey are probably unaware that she is already steeped in history – and her story leads to Yorkshire and its most famous military commander.

The Leeds graves are now virtually hidden amongst a dense wilderness of thorns, trees, mosses, ground ivy and nettles, and it is hard to believe that many eminent Victorians are buried here.

The churchyard has obviously not been tended for many years, and is surrounded by a fence with notices warning visitors about the risk of unstable headstones and other dangers. As for the church of St. John’s, Roundhay, the congregation has moved to a modern building on the other side of Wetherby Road.

But on the fringes of this old churchyard it is possible – with a fair amount of trepidation and a good pair of secateurs – to uncover a series of graves which have suddenly become part of Britain’s history. For here lie buried many members of the family of a future Queen.

You can find yet more connections all over the northern suburbs of Leeds, and one on the outskirts of York, and to say that next Friday’s marriage of William and Kate is the most exciting event in living memory for Yorkshire’s historians and genealogists may well be an understatement.

It has sent some of them hacking through overgrown graveyards and scouring tomes of parish records, while others have combed history books to find other A-list royals who had Yorkshire connections.

The earliest significant figure to emerge from this was back in the 1st century AD when Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes, the largest and most powerful tribe in Pre-Roman Britain, ruled from Yorkshire. Then there was Richard III, of course, whose adopted home was Middleham Castle in Wensleydale.

But the last that anyone can point to was in the 16th century when Lady Eleanor Brandon, niece of Henry VIII, lived at Skipton Castle.

Kate Middleton’s Yorkshire connection is all on her father’s side, and the story begins with the county’s most famous military commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax.

Even 440 years after his death, it is hard to avoid his name in Yorkshire. You’ll find it in the local histories of Leeds, Bradford, York, Hull, Wakefield, Selby, Knaresborough, and Helmsley.

Born at Denton Hall, near Otley in Wharfedale, he led troops who fought for King Charles I against the Scots in the Bishop’s Wars of 1639-40 and was knighted for his efforts, but within a couple of years turned against the King to support the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War.

He saved Hull from falling into Royalist hands and from then on the tide turned against King Charles. However, despite supporting the Parliamentarian cause he argued unsuccessfully for clemency when Charles I was sentenced to death.

Fairfax and his wife Anne are buried at St. James Parish Church, Bilborough, near York. Their connection with Kate Middleton has been traced down from Sir Thomas’s son, William, through 10 generations to Frances Elizabeth Greenhow (known as Fanny), who married into the great Lupton family of Leeds in Victorian times.

It is this Lupton branch of Kate’s family tree that is particularly fascinating, because they were one of the great dynasties of Leeds manufacturing and civic life in the 19th century.

The earliest gravestone relating to the Luptons so far discovered is right outside the ornate “rainbow” porch of the city’s oldest church, the 12th century St. John the Baptist at Adel. The connection with Kate Middleton was actually made as long ago as 2002, when tabloid newspapers first named her as Prince William’s girlfriend.

Looking back through the old parish registers, members of the local history group found that her seven times great-grandparents, Francis Lupton and Ester Midgley, were married there at Adel Church in 1688, and the grave of Ester’s parents was one of the oldest graves still to have a readable inscription.

The author of The History of Adel, Val Crompton, says: “I checked the old parish registers to discover that there was a very strong family connection going back more than two centuries. Not only that, it turned out that Kate’s paternal grandparents, Peter Middleton and Valerie Glassborow, were married here in December 1946.”

Peter Middleton’s grandmother was Olive Lupton, said to have been a famous society beauty in Edwardian Leeds. The Luptons’ rise to prominence in the city can be traced back to William Lupton, who set up a small textile firm in 1773, but it was his son Frank who took the firm to a stratospheric level.

He bought a former cloth mill in Whitehall Road, Leeds, and manufactured woollens, worsteds, tweeds and other fabrics, building up a substantial fortune in the second half of the 19th century.

He and his wife Fanny – the descendant of Sir Thomas Fairfax – had five sons, the eldest being Olive’s father, Francis Martineau Lupton, and they bought a large mansion called Beechwood overlooking the rolling fields which would become Roundhay Park, and joined the elite of the West Riding’s industrial titans.

Their sons became some of the most distinguished men in Leeds life. Francis was an alderman of the city council, while Arthur was pro-vice chancellor of Leeds University, Charles was chairman of Leeds General Infirmary and Hugh became the city’s Lord Mayor.

Francis joined the family firm and married Harriet Davis, daughter of the local vicar. They lived in Chapel Allerton and began their family with the birth of Olive, Kate’s great-grandmother. When the family patriarch Frank Lupton died following a heart attack in 1884, he left £64,650 in his will, the equivalent of more than £30m today.

Francis’s wife Harriet would give birth to another daughter and three sons before she died in the Leeds influenza epidemic of 1892. More tragedy came when all three sons were killed in World War I.

Before then, the Middleton strand of Kate’s family entered the picture on January 6, 1914, at the nonconformist Mill Hill Chapel off Boar Lane in Leeds when Olive Lupton married a young solicitor named Noel Middleton. They would live at a fine house called Fieldhead, overlooking Roundhay Park, where Kate’s grandfather, Peter Middleton, was born in 1920.

Today, the house is divided into flats, while the grand Lupton family mansion of Beechwood has been turned into an office park. There is nothing to suggest that these were the origins of a woman who would marry a man who will one day become King.

Down the road at St. John’s Church, Roundhay, where so many of the Lupton family’s graves now lie overgrown, you can imagine that sometime in the future the churchyard will be on the itinerary of an official visit to Leeds by Prince William and his Princess. And Professor David Starkey or another TV historian will no doubt stand amongst the briars, nettles and sycamore saplings talking to a camera about the Yorkshire forebears of the Commoner Queen.