John Cowburn

(1814 – 1855)

The 19th century provided numerous opportunities for middle class entrepreneurs to make their fortunes. Unfortunately, there were unlucky losers as well as winners.

John Cowburn from Skipton married Jane Cork, who was the daughter of William Cork, the Settle wig and hat maker. They had at least six children and lived in Duke Street, opposite the end of what would become Station Road, before moving to the exclusive residences of The Terrace.

John was an educated man so had the means to become an attorney and solicitor. In the 1840s, he took advantage of investments in ‘railway mania’. ‘Cowburn and Norris’ was set up to manage the business of a railway planned to run between Lancaster and Newcastle upon Tyne. The reality was that a third of all railway contracts failed and this was one of them. The business was liquidated. Despite this, John must have been well regarded as he had been elected to the prestigious position of High Constable for the West Riding. Before the establishment of regional police forces, counties appointed high constables to oversee provision for keeping order. This was an immense responsibility.

John had a most unfortunate death following an accident whilst skating on the ice at ‘Birkbeck Wear’, nearly Anley. In the mid-19th century, the newspapers often commented on the severity of the weather. As was quite common, John appeared to die from an infection picked up at the time, rather than from the injury itself. John was just 44 and died without leaving a will, which is rather careless for a solicitor.

His widow Jane moved to much cheaper housing in Kirkgate and ran a confectionery business with her daughters, Hannah and Mary Frances.