16th Century Woolman – Thomas Sheard of Ovenden

Thomas Sheard of Ovenden, Halifax, is my direct ancestor and is the ancestor of many if not most of the Sheards in the Dewsbury, Batley, Mirfield and Kirkheaton areas. I must therefore have a great number of Kirklees Cousins named Sheard! But Sheard is not one of the oldest names in the area. In fact, the first Sheard known to have been in the Calderdale area in the 16th Century, was Richard Sherd, who may have arrived in Calderdale in the 1530s and is thought to have been Thomas’s father. The Sheard name spread to Mirfield and on to other parts of Kirklees through Thomas’s sons. Thomas Sheard of Ovenden is regarded as the key person in the ancestry of many if not most of the Mirfield, Batley and Kirkeaton Sheard families.

Origins of the Sheard name

The name Sheard is an old Anglo-Saxon name.

Sheard Name Meaning. English (West Yorkshire): topographic name for someone who lived by a gap between hills, from Middle English sherd, sharde (Old English sceard, a derivative of sceran ‘to cut or shear’).


Thomas Sheard of Ovenden

My 11th great-grandfather, Thomas Sheard of Ovenden, was a “woolman” who was born about 1515 in Ovenden (Halifax). Thomas Sheard’s putative father, Richard, had moved to Ovenden, a township in the parish and union of Halifax, by the 1530s, probably attracted by the new growth in textiles in the area.

The surname Sherd is derived from a small locality in Cheshire and means a cleft or gap. It gave rise to a family name over 600 years ago and one of the first bearers of the name was Hugo del Sherd in 1354. Like many other families, the Sherds or Sheards were attracted before long to the commercial centres of the West Riding and in 1440 the surname appeared in Sheffield in the south and in 1455 in Ripon in the north. The next 100 years saw the rapid rise to prosperity of Halifax and not surprisingly by the 1530s a Richard Sherd was living in the Ovenden area. He was probably the father of Thomas Sheard of Ovenden who died in 1565 and whose will provides one of the main links in the family history. Thomas Sheard had four sons, who apparently moved down the Calder valley, settling in Batley, Mirfield and Kirkheaton. The name is still common in that area and various branches of the family became millers, coal-owners, and quarry developers in Lepton and Gawthorpe Green.

Surnames, DNA and Family History” co-written by George Redmonds of Lepton, West Yorkshire, geneticist Turi King and local history specialist David Hey of Sheffield University

Prior to Thomas’s marriage, he had two illegitimate children, a boy and a girl, by Agnete Davey. Thomas married Margaret Holdesworth on 10th March 1550 in Halifax. The Holdesworth family ancestry in Halifax dates back to some of the earliest records in the area and they were an illustrious and influential family, but so far I have been unable to find exactly where Margaret links into them (see below).

Michael Sheard’s book “The History of Batley” gives a brief summary of the family of Thomas Sheard and includes a transcript of his will, signed in 1565. Thomas mentioned his illegitimate children in his will in addition to his five children, four sons and a daughter, from his ten year marriage to Margaret, whilst they were living in Ovenden.

  • Michael Sheard born 1551.
  • Martin Sheard born 1553.
  • Sybill Sheard born 1554.
  • Matthew Sheard, born 1559
  • Luke Sheard born 1561.

Thomas Sheard’s Will

The last will and testament of Thomas Sheard of Ovenden in Halifax Parish in 1565 reads:

In the name of God, amen, the 12th September, 1565, I, Thomas Sheard of Ovenden, in the prsh of Halifax, within the co. of York, wolman, of whole myne and pfete remembrance but………………………and troubled with seckness, and therefore fearinge and mistrusting the uncertantie of this miserable and wretched world, do ordayne and make this my last will and testament in manner and forme as hereafter ensuythe ffirst and principallie I do give and bequeathe my soule unto God almyghtie Or heavenie father, surlie Trustynge and stedfastlie belevenge to have full remisscon of all my synes in the bold shedding of his most dearlie beloved sone Or Savor Jesu Christ, and in the meritte of his blessed passion, and my bodie to be buried in the churche or churche garthe of Halifax, amongst the bodies of the other faith full people of God, and one mortuatie to the Vicar of the same church, according to the Raite of the late prince of most famous memory King Henrye the eigth statutes for that purpose established and pvided, ffirst, it is my will that I be decentlie brought further of all my goods according to my vocacon and whereas before the daite here of my deed bearing Date the seavent of June, in this instant seaventhe year of the reign of Or soveryne ladie queene Eliz.th that now is, I have gyven and delivered by good will and concent of Margaret Sheard, my wife, to Mychaell, Martin, Mathew and Luke Sheard, my sones and Sibell Sheard my Doughter, the full some of one hundrethe pounds of good and lawful English money, as by the said deide bearing date as it more plainlie it appeareth, the said whiche gyfte I will shall be and remayne fyrme and stable, and irremovable, in althings, and contente according to the proportine and terme of the same deide, ther my last will, or any other thinge or content to the contarie not withe standing, also, I do gyve and bequithe to the saide Margaret, my wife, the full third part of the Residue of all my goods, cattells, detts, and implements, where with she the said being prst at the making and reading hereof for the naturall faver and goodwill she hath and bearithe to her said children is agred and fulie contented, also I gyve to John Davye my bastard sone 40 shillings, also I gyve and bequithe to …….. Davye my bastard daughter 40 shillings. I do gyve also and bequeathe to Thomas byshoppe of Surrobie, in Lincolnshire, 10 shillings. I do gyve and bequithe to everyone of my godchildren 12 pence. I do gyve also and bequithe to Grace Dean 6s 8d. I do gyve and bequeathe to Eliz. Barwike, my sister, 3s 4d. I do gyve also and bequeithe to Edward Haldesworthe, my wyfes brother, two stone of shorte wolle, to make his children clothes to array them withal. The other two ptes and residue of all my goods, chattels and implements besides the said hundred pounds given by deede is paid, the said thirde pte appointed to the said Margaret Sheard, my wyfe, my detts, legaces and funeral expences deducted and discharged, I gyve and bequethe to the said Mychaell, Martin, Mathew, Luke and Sibell Sheard, my children, who with the said Margaret Sheard, my wyf, I do ordyne and make my lawful Executors of this my last will and testament, also, I have desired my verye faithful frends Mr John Waterhouse of Schypden, Gentleman, as principall, Robert Sheard, my brother, John Craven, John Whitley, Thomas Wilkinson, and William Otte (Oats), to be supervisors of this my said last will and Testament, unto whom I gyve authoritie and power to ovrsee, correct, and assyste my said Executores in all thing fur about, and concerning the true executing and performance of this my last will and testament according to the terms of the same. The which said supervisors shall shall have there costes and charges fullie borne of my said goods. Witnes, Robt Bryghouse, Henrie Ryshworthe, John Spensor, Thomas Gledhill, William Burton, Gylberte Haldesworthe, John Ledgyerd

The History of Batley Parish by Michael Sheard, 1894.

The will was proved on 7th November 1565.
(Note, we do not know what relationship Gylberte Haldesworthe had to the family but it is possible he was Margaret’s father. It is perhaps less likely he was her brother as he might, in that case, have been mentioned in Thomas’s will, as was her brother Edward).

The Value of Thomas’s Estate

Thomas Sheard, conducted his wool business in mid 16th Century Halifax. Just as the West Riding wool trade prospered there, so did he. We don’t know if Thomas owned a fine house, but judging from his wealth when he died, that may have been the case. In the 16th Century, many of the better houses in Halifax, occupied by the yeomanry, were timber framed…some would have later been encased in stonework.

A “Halifax House”, typical of that owned by a wealthy yeoman.

In 2006 I attempted to value Thomas’s estate at the value of the day. Using sources from the House of Commons Library, I estimated that the value of Thomas’s bequest to his children of £100 amounted to some £80,000 at 2006 value.

The two stones of wool that Thomas left to Edward Haldesworth, his brother-in-law, was also valued at 2006 prices. To value the bequest of wool, I consulted “The Enclosures in England, an Economic Reconstruction, Harriett Bradley 1918, House of Commons Library, Kitchener 2001”. This publication lists the price of wool for ten year periods from 1261 to 1582. From 1561-1570, the price of a tod of wool (a tod is 28lbs or 2 stones) was 16 shillings. Thomas left that amount to Edward Holdesworthe, his brother-in -law. Using the same method of calculating, that would amount to £675 worth of goods at 2006 prices.

The remaining two thirds of his property and goods were left to his wife and children and we do not know exactly how much that was, but clearly he was quite a wealthy man, perhaps not a millionaire by our standards, but certainly “middle-class” and comfortably off.

Thomas’s widow, Margaret Sheard (born Holdesworth)

Margaret, Thomas’s widow may have been born 1528-1532 in Southowram. There were two family lines of Holdesworths, one in Northowram and one in Southowram, the latter family at Ashday or Astey.

The Latter Day Saints (LDS) records give Margaret’s parents as Richard Holdesworth and Margaret Waterhouse of Ashday, Southowram. However, it appears from the research of Deb Walker in Mirfield that Margaret, the daughter of Richard Holdsworth, who died in 1543, did not have a brother called Edward. A transcript of Richard Holdsworth’s will mentions his children; Robert, John, William, Christopher, Margaret and Anne.  He doesn’t mention a son called Edward and we know that “our” Margaret Holdsworth had a brother called Edward, who also had children of his own, because her husband Thomas Sheard mentions him in his will c.f. “Edward Haldesworthe, my wife’s brother”. When Richard Holdsworth died in 1543, he would have mentioned Edward if he had been his son, especially since we know that Edward was still alive 22 years later in 1565 and had children of his own, which may suggest he was still in his minority in 1543. Our Margaret was almost certainly related to the influential Holdsworths of Astey/Ashday, just not this particular couple, but we can’t exactly place her position in the family. It is possible that her father was Gylberte Haldesworthe (Holdesworth), who witnessed her husband’s will.

Looking at the burials in Halifax, I found no certain burial for Margaret Sheard. Deb Walker says “Unless she was the “Uxor Thomas Sheard de Ovenden xviii Feb 1576”, but of course she should have been “vidua” not “uxor” “. Maybe it would have been a simple mistake for a clerk to write “uxor” rather than “vidua”. Mistakes in Parish records may not be common, but they did occur.

However, if we assume that Margaret was younger than Thomas and our birthdate for her is correct, she may only have been about 33-37 when he died and so remarriage is possible and probably likely. There is a marriage entry at Halifax between a William Wadsworth and a Margaret Sheard in February 1571. William Wadsworth was an Ovenden man and he and his new wife had two daughters, Grace and Margaret, baptised in 1572 and 1575 respectively. There is a burial entry for ‘the wife’ of William Wadsworth of Warley in May 1577 and there are a number of possible re-marriages for this William. But if this Margaret was born as early as 1528, that would make her 49 at the birth of the last child and that would have been quite rare in those days, probably impossible. If she was born as late as 1532, it would still make her 45 at the birth of the last child, which is still unlikely.

I lean to the idea that it was the Margaret who died in 1576 who was Thomas’s widow.

Thomas’s Legacy in Kirklees

Of Thomas’s children, Martin Sheard married and settled in Batley parish. Many of the Batley Sheards are descended from him. Michael, Matthew, and Luke settled in Mirfield parish. Luke appears to have moved to Kirkheaton, as there are a number of records in Kirkheaton referring to him and so the Kirkheaton Sheards in my family are possibly descended from Luke. The vast majority of my Sheard ancestors have been found to be descended from Thomas Sheard’s eldest son, Michael. So far I have documented almost 2000 of his descendants, related in some way to me, and I have many more still to add to the family tree. Both of my parents are descended from Thomas’s eldest son and are related to each other many times over. What we can say with certainty is that Thomas Sheard started a dynasty in the Kirklees area. If you are a Sheard whose ancestors are from Mirfield or Kirkheaton, I am probably also related to you!

1881 Census returns on the name “Sheard”

The Census of 1881 shows how concentrated the name of “Sheard” still was in the West Riding after the passage of more than 300 years. There were hardly any Sheards outside Yorkshire, the second highest concentration being in Lancashire.

Top Counties for Sheard name in 1881

CountyTotal Sheards
Yorkshire 2189
Lancashire 222
Isle of Man 39
Denbighshire / Sir Ddinbych2
Co Durham 7
Gloucestershire 4

Top Parishes for Sheard Name in Yorkshire in 1881

In 1881, most of the Yorkshire Sheards in the UK were still concentrated around the parishes close to and including Mirfield and Batley, where Thomas Sheard’s sons settled in the second half of the 16th Century, and Dewsbury.

Census DistrictTotal Sheards
Thornhill 69
Dewsbury 114
Lindley Cum Quarmby46
Soothill (Earlsheaton and Chickenley)31