Wood Sisters

Journey to Heysham, England

The Ancestral Home of Our Stephensons

By Doug and Debbie Wood

Background and Halifax, England

In July 2019 Debbie and I decided to join our daughter, Kimberly, for a trip to London and Halifax where she would participate in their chalk festival. She had applied for the last remaining opening for an American artist and was accepted in mid July. We scrambled to make flight, hotel, train, and car reservations with only a month lead time – and doing this in the height of Europe’s vacation time in August. We spent 4 nights in London (we need to go back!) and then spent the weekend in Halifax watching Kimberly and about 35 other artists create their artwork on the Piece Hall courtyard.

Halifax Piece Hall

Piece Hall courtyard in Halifax

Piece Hall first opened 1 January 1779 for the purpose of local merchants to sell their woolen cloth “pieces”. The Hall was renovated for £19 million starting in 2014 and opened 1 August 2017. This was a great venue for the artists as the granite floor stones were nice and smooth.

Kimberly Wood - artist

Kimberly Wood from Michigan!

Eric Greenawalt - artist

Eric Greenawalt

Kids area

Kid’s area with lots of participation

First place prize

Eric Greenawalt from Pittsburg won 1st place with his “Steampunk Winston”

Finished piece by Kimberly

Kimberly’s finished chalk

Even though the weather did not cooperate on Saturday (rained and washed out everyone’s work) the artists did an amazing job on Sunday and finished in time for the judging!

Hesham, Lancashire, England

After the weekend we drove for about 2 hours to Heysham in Lancashire on the West coast of England near Lancaster. Driving on the left side of the road was relatively easy … until we came to two lane roundabouts! There were a few honks and cross looks when I didn’t quite follow the rules. Every morning I would recite the mantra, “stay LEFT, stay LEFT”.

England Map

Heysham, England

Heysham, England in the Lancashire region
Courtesy Google Maps

Many of our Stephenson ancestors are from this area including John Dobson Stephenson, his brother, Edward, and his wife, Elizabeth (Preston), who all immigrated to Canada. John, aged 20, joined Edward and his wife, Elizabeth, and their 7 children on the ship West Point arriving in New York on 6 May 1857, and then travelling to Canada near Toronto. Also travelling with Edward and John was John Preston (brother of Elizabeth), his wife, Sarah, and their 5 children. Both John and Edward were listed as “Coal Dealer” on the ship manifest.

Ship List

Passenger list from the ship West Point that arrived 6 May 1857 in New York City

After Edward died in 1859 in Canada, John married Elizabeth and they and her 7 children moved to Sparta, Illinois where John’s sister Hannah and her husband Adam Gillibrand had moved about 1850. Unfortunately, Hannah died sometime around 1850. The 1860 census shows John’s family living next door to Adam’s family.

We stayed overnight at The Royal at Heysham Hotel in downtown Heysham, just a block from St. Peter’s Church. This hotel from the outside looks very old (which it is) but the complete interior had recently been remodeled including the rooms.

The Royal at Heysham

The Royal at Heysham Hotel (originally a grain store in the 16th century)

Our stay at the hotel was fantastic – an excellent restaurant is in the hotel and a grill on the patio out back.

St. Peter's Church, Heysham

After checking in, we walked up to St. Peter’s Church on the coast of Morecombe Bay where we met Graham, a church member who made arrangements to give us a tour of the church and its grounds. Graham was extremely knowledgeable about the history of the church where the foundation was probably built in the 7th or 8th century with its first documented date of 1080 as an old Anglo-Saxon Church.

St Peters Church

St. Peter’s Church in Heysham, South side

St Peters Church

Panorama view of the Sanctuary with the Baptism Font near the entrance on the right. The present chancel with its beautiful east and south windows was erected about 1340-50

South section

South section facing East with stain-glassed windows

Changes and additions were completed in the 15th century and 19th century. Graham was able to point out areas in the church where sections were modified and added onto to increase the size of the church.

Chancel wall

Changes made to original exterior wall (added the Chancel)

You can read much more detail about the church’s history at St. Peter's Church.

Inside the church are numerous artifacts that cover the history of the church including the baptismal font from the 15th century with a unique weighted balance system (from the 19th century) to allow the cover to be easily moved up and down.

Baptismal Font

Baptismal font from the 15th century

This baptismal font would have been the font used for the baptism of Christopher Stephenson (father of Edward and John), born 4 Feb 1794 and baptized Sunday, 2 Mar 1794. Christopher’s father, William C. Stephenson, was baptized here (born 22 Jan 1769 and baptized Sunday, 19 Feb 1769) and married Hannah Hodgson in the church on Thursday, 24 Oct 1748.

Main Chancel

Main Chancel

Christopher’s seven other siblings were also baptized here and Christopher’s grandfather, John Stephenson (born 13 Oct 1725 and baptized Wednesday, 24 Oct 1725) was married to Jane Webster (born 16 Feb 1725 and baptized Wednesday, 21 Feb 1725) on Sunday, 19 May 1748. Both were baptized in St. Peter’s Church as were all nine of their children. Jane’s parents (Jonathan Webster and Rachel Lawson) were married in St. Peter’s Church on Tuesday, 18 Feb 1710. Continuing back in time, Christopher’s great grandfather, Christopher Stephenson (born 4 Dec 1672 in Ulverston which is across the Morecombe Bay) was married to Mary Edmundson on Friday, 27 Mar 1716 in St. Peter’s Church and all eleven of their children were baptized in St. Peter’s Church.

So a number of generations of our Stephenson line and related families lived in the area of Heysham and were members of St. Peter’s Church. Some of them are buried in the cemetery that surrounds the church but no headstones exist for them (William and Hannah, John and Jane, and probably Christopher and Mary). It was a common practice to bury subsequent generations on top of prior ancestors since the cemetery is not very big. Sometimes as many as three deep. An old tradition prior to the 20th century was to bury infants, who died shortly after birth, under the stepping stones around the church, later they were buried along the stone wall surrounding the cemetery.

Other artifacts in the church include the large Viking Hogback Stone in the South chancel that is Viking in origin and probably dates to the 10th century. This is a very fascinating piece – covered with carved images that tell of the story of Sigmund and Sigurd his son who slayed the dragon Fafnir.

Hogback Stone

One side showing the story of Sigmund (wolves, stag and supporters)

Hogback Stone

Other side showing the story of Sigurd (killing the great dragon Fafnir)

If interested in the interpretation of this stone, you can read about it on St. Peters Church’s website at Hogback Stone.

Also, there is a grave headstone on the West wall that purportedly is a headstone for a Crusader Knight from about 1100. This interpretation is based on the style of the headstone, the size and shape of the sword, and the rose carving at the base (represents Jerusalem).

Crusader Knight Headstone

Crusader Knight’s headstone from about 1100AD

Crusader Knight Headstone

Rose representing Jerusalem at base of Headstone

It was very special to hear Graham explain the analysis that was done by an expert of the Crusade times. We spent about two hours with Graham and are very grateful for his time and knowledge.

St. Patrick's Chapel

A short walk from St. Peter’s Church are the Anglo Saxon St. Patrick Chapel ruins. The legend is that St. Patrick escaped from his captors in Ireland and boarded a ship bound for France, but it was caught in a storm and shipwrecked near the shores here. He supposedly walked ashore at this spot and the small chapel was built in the 8th or 9th century

St. Patrick Chapel ruins

St. Patrick’s Chapel ruins on the Morecombe Bay coast.

St. Patrick Chapel ruins

Panorama view from St. Patrick’s Chapel ruins

Next to the chapel ruins are six rock-cut graves that were probably carved in the granite stone in the 6th to 8th century and were most likely used as a reliquary for bones of important Christians. There would have been large stone slabs on top of the graves and wooden crosses mounted in the pockets at the head of each grave.

Rock-cut graves

Rock-cut graves on top of cliff next to St. Patrick’s Chapel ruins

Visits to other churches and cemeteries

From Heysham we drove North to the Holy Trinity Church in Bolton-Le-Sands where Margaret Walker (John Dobson Stephenson’s mother) was baptized on Sunday, 25 June 1797. Margaret’s parents, Thomas Walker and Dorothy Dobson, were members of this church and are buried in the cemetery. We were not able to locate their headstones. This is another very old church dating to before 1094. The tower dates from the 15th century.

Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Church in Bolton-Le-Sands

Holy Trinity Church Tower

The tower built in the 15th century

Holy Trinity Sanctuary

Beautiful Sanctuary with exposed wooden beams

From Bolton-Le-Sands we drove further North to Warton and to St. Oswald, King & Martyr Church where Christopher Stephenson and Margaret Walker were married on Monday, 26 May 1817. Margaret’s parents, Thomas Walker and Dorothy Dobson, were also married here on Monday, 25 July 1796.

St. Oswald Church

The original church was built prior to the 12th century

St. Oswald Church

The current church was constructed in the 15th century. George Washington’s ancestors were associated with this church

St. Oswald Church Sanctuary

Sanctuary in St. Oswald Church where Christopher and Margaret were married

Baptismal Font

The baptismal font where most of Christopher and Margaret’s 11 children were baptized


Cemetery next to the church where some of their children are buried but we were unable to locate their headstones

Finally, we drove down to St. John the Evangelist Church in Ellel. It is on the North end of Galgate and about a ¼ mile from the church’s cemetery. The original church was located in the cemetery but was torn down and a new church built about 1800 on the edge of Galgate. Sometime between 1838 and 1841 Christopher and Margaret moved to Galgate (they are listed in the British 1841 census) and were members of St. John’s.

St. John Church

St. John the Evangelist Church in Galgate

St. John Church

St. John the Evangelist Church in Galgate. Unfortunately, the church was not open

St. John Church

St. John the Evangelist church tower

Margaret died 25 August 1842 and was buried in the church’s cemetery in Ellel.

Ellel Cemetery

The cemetery is located in Ellel

Ellel Cemetery

Cemetery entrance

Ellel Cemetery

Panorama view of the front of the cemetery


Christopher and Margaret’s headstone near the Southwest corner of the cemetery

Christopher died 10 December 1870. The headstone was provided by the Lancaster Canal Company. The headstone is readable if viewed from the right angle and light.


The tombstone reads: “In Affectionate Rememberance of Christopher Stephenson For 45 years a faithful servant to the Lancaster Canal Company. Died at Glasson Dock on the 12th December 1870. Aged 76 years. Margaret his wife, Who died at Galgate, on the 25th August 1842, Aged 43 Years”.


Southwest corner of the cemetery

Christopher and the Lancaster Canal Company

Lancaster Canal Map

Lancaster Canal still in existence from Preston to Lancaster
Courtesy of Canal & River Trust website

According to the British Census of 1851 Christopher was the “Canal Bank Ranger” living in the Galgate Canal Cottage. A Canal Bank Ranger was someone who looked after a section of the canal and all aspects of the waterways; for example; locks, barges, canal traffic, licenses, etc. In essence a towpath warden. Christopher worked for the Lancaster Canal Company (probably starting sometime around 1825) which was formed in about 1794 and the first canal sections were opened in 1797. The first passenger boats (Packet Boat) started running in 1802. Most of the canal traffic was hauling coal from Lancashire coalfields North to Kendall and limestone South from Cumbria to Preston (hence the canal was often referred to as the Black and White Canal). The Glasson Branch (1826) allowed cargo to be transferred from sea-going ships to inland markets.

Glasson Branch

Glasson Branch of canal from Galgate to Glasson Dock with 7 locks
Courtesy of Canal & River Trust

In the British 1861 census Christopher is listed as the “Lock Keeper” and living in the Glasson Lock Cottage in Glasson, Lancashire, England. This may have been the cottage that still exists next to the locks in Glasson Dock. At this point he is 67 and a widower. Living with him is his daughter Dorothy Fischer, her husband and four children.

Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to visit some of the unique bridges and aqueducts that are part of the canal, like the Lune River Aqueduct. You can learn about the history of the Lancaster Canal at Lancaster Canal Trust and also how the canal is used today as a recreational waterway at Canal & River Trust website.

Lune Aqueduct
Aqueduct over the Lune River in Lancaster
Courtesy of Canal & River Trust

After spending a full day in the countryside visiting the towns, churches, and cemeteries (and getting lost several times) we headed to Manchester to fly to Dublin, Ireland for the second half of our trip – that’s another story that I will write up on the McCaughan side of our family. Katherine McCaughan, born in Northern Ireland, married Alonzo Stephenson, son of John Dobson Stephenson.