Cumberland Street, York YO1 9SR


Erected in the early eighteenth century by Alderman William Cornwell, one time Sheriff and twice Lord Mayor of York. It appears to have been given its name in honour of the Duke of Cumberland, second son of King George II, who was given the freedom of the City on his way back from the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

One of the finest early-18th-century houses in the city, Cumberland House was built around 1710 for William Cornwell, tanner and brewer, Lord Mayor of York, 1712-3 and 1725-6. The fine five-bay west façade in brick with stone dressings overlooks the River Ouse. Accessed from the quay on King’s Staith, the basement, faced in limestone, would have been used for the storage of goods connected with Cornwell’s trade. ‘Staithe’ is an archaic, Old English word for a landing stage and King’s Staith was one of the main arrival points for visitors travelling to York until the development of faster forms of transport.

Cumberland House in Cumberland Street, York

Duke of Cumberland

The house is thought to have acquired its name in honour of the Duke of Cumberland who may have resided there on 23 July 1746 on his journey from Scotland to London following the victory at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April. Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, was the third and youngest son of King George II. Although the king planned for his son to become Lord High Admiral, William preferred an army career. In the War of the Austrian Succession, George II and Prince William led the allied British, Hanoverian, Austrian and Dutch troops against the French in the Battle of Dettingen, 27 June 1743. This was to be the last time that a British monarch led his army into battle. Although William was seriously wounded, the French were defeated. Following the victory, he was made lieutenant-general and, in 1745, became captain-general of the British land forces and commander-in-chief of the allied army in Flanders. But success was short-lived; the French prevailed at the Battle of Fontenoy on 11 May 1745. Cumberland was forced to retreat to Brussels and his tactics were called into question.

Jacobite rebellion

As part of the French campaign against the British, Louis XV had been planning an invasion of England to restore the Catholic Stuarts to the throne and depose the Protestant Hanoverians. An invasion attempt was made in 1744 but the French fleet was repulsed, largely by the weather. However, the defeat of the British at Fontenoy emboldened the French. In what became known as the Forty-five Rebellion, Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”), supported by the French, attempted to regain the British throne for his father, James Francis Edward Stuart, who was the grandson of James II of England, James VII of Scotland.

Having waited in vain for French reinforcements, in July 1745 Charles sailed for Scotland with only a handful of men, landing at the Isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides on 23 July. Travelling inland towards Fort William, he rallied forces sympathetic to the Stuart cause at Glenfinnan and gained his first victory against the English at the Battle of Prestonpans on 21 September, having first occupied the city of Edinburgh four days earlier. The Jacobite forces then headed south into England taking the north-west route through Carlisle and Preston where they believed support for the Stuarts was strongest. Although support for the Jacobites in Manchester was encouraging, by the time the rebels reached Derby, they had failed to attract sufficient numbers of recruits and decided to return to Scotland.

In the meantime, the Duke of Cumberland had been recalled to London from Flanders with a force of 12,000 men. He set off in pursuit of the Jacobite army, arriving in Edinburgh in January 1746. The Jacobites retreated to Inverness and Cumberland headed further north to Aberdeen where he paused to rest and train his troops for the battle to come. On 16 April, the uprising was swiftly and decisively snuffed out at the Battle of Culloden. Cumberland’s brutality earned him the nickname, ‘the butcher’. He is said to have ordered that all wounded enemy soldiers on the battleground should be stabbed to death. A purge of the Jacobite-supporting Highland clans followed. ‘Rebellious’ villages were burned and livestock confiscated; the wearing of tartan was banned; there were mass hangings of suspected rebels and hundreds of prisoners were sent south to England for trial.

York remains loyal

The people of York were mostly Protestant and anti-Jacobite and, in 1745, braced themselves for an attack, undertaking building work to strengthen the city walls. Thomas Herring, Archbishop of York, played a central role in rallying support for the Crown and, on 22 September 1745, gave a celebrated sermon in York Minster. He attacked Charles Stuart, ‘the Young Pretender’ who had been ‘bred up in a Hatred of the Protestant Reformed Religion’. Two days later, Herring spoke at a rally at York Castle, raising funds for a militia to fight the Jacobites. By the end of October, a ‘York Company’ of 240 men had been armed and equipped. Catholics in the city came under suspicion. Although Viscount Fairfax was a friend of Archbishop Herring and supported the Protestant monarchy, his Catholic faith meant that Fairfax House was searched in October for any signs of support for the Jacobites. Nothing was found.

Although the Jacobite forces never reached York, during Cumberland’s campaign hundreds of captured rebels were sent to the city to face justice. As Cumberland headed north, fighting the retreating army in a series of skirmishes, 11 men were taken prisoner at Lowther Castle near Penrith on 3 December 1745 and sent to York. At Clifton Moor, a few miles north of Lowther, 69 prisoners including eight women were taken on 18 December. They arrived in York on 31 December. After the recapture of Carlisle on 30 December, 193 prisoners were sent to York, arriving in the city on 27 January 1746.

Trial and execution

By February 1746, more than 250 Jacobite prisoners were held in York. Although the new Debtors’ Prison had been completed in 1705, there was serious overcrowding and, in March, 100 prisoners were transferred to Lincoln Castle. Following further redistribution of prisoners, by September, 75 remained in York and their trials took place in the first week of October. Fifty-three pleaded guilty and were automatically sentenced to death. Of the remaining 22, five were acquitted and the others sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. However, there were to be only 22 executions; the remaining convicted rebels had their sentences commuted and were transported to the colonies.

The prisoners were executed over a three-week period. On 1 November, 10 executions were carried out at the gallows on the Knavesmire. A further 11 prisoners were hanged seven days later. The final execution took place on 15 November. Four men were due to be hanged but three were reprieved when they agreed to enlist in Admiral Boscawen’s ill-fated expedition to the East Indies which took place in 1748. There was some controversy over the final rebel to be executed. James Reid pleaded as his defence that, as a piper, he carried no weapons. However, the judges ruled that, as every Highland regiment marched to the sound of the pipes, bagpipes were technically a weapon of war and James was duly sent to the gallows.

Mystery of the missing heads

To emphasise the seriousness of the crime of treason, the heads of three executed prisoners in the first round of hangings were removed for public display. The head of Colonel George Hamilton of Redhouse, aide-de-camp to Charles Stuart, was sent to Carlisle. Those of William Connolly and James Mayne were placed on spikes on Micklegate Bar where they could serve as a warning to all visitors to the city arriving from the south. The slowly rotting heads were to remain there for seven years until, in January 1754, they were stolen. When the theft came to the notice of King George II, a huge reward of £112 10s was offered for information leading to the arrest of the culprit. Eventually, the perpetrator was discovered: William Arundel, a tailor and Jacobite sympathiser. He was tried and convicted at York Assizes in July 1754, fined £5 and imprisoned for two years.

The Duke of Cumberland was fêted as a national hero for defeating the Jacobites. On his arrival in York on 23 July 1746, the prince was presented with the freedom of the city in a 100-guinea gold box. Back in London, he was welcomed with a celebratory service at St Paul’s Cathedral. However, his popularity soon waned and a big humiliation for the Hanoverian monarchy was Cumberland’s failure to defend the city of Hanover from a French attack in the Seven Years’ War in 1757. Heavily criticised by his father, George II, Cumberland was disgraced. He resigned his commissions and retired into private life. Prince William died in London in 1765, aged just 44.

A prison romance

Whilst researching the role that York Castle played in the Jacobite Rebellion, Steve Pickard, a volunteer at York Castle Museum, discovered an interesting story concerning one of the female prisoners held in York Debtors’ Prison. Elizabeth Grant, a seamstress from Banff, was one of the eight women captured at Clifton Moor on 18 December 1745. In severe winter weather, they were marched from Westmorland, via Bowes, Richmond and Bedale, arriving in York on 31 December. Although the women were held in a separate cell, Elizabeth managed to meet another prisoner, Edmund Clavering, who had been captured at Lowther Castle. Their relationship deepened and, in breach of prison regulations, the couple were married by a Catholic priest, Father Rivat, who was also a prisoner in the castle.

Edmund’s fate had been sealed, however. On 8 November 1746, he was one of the 11 prisoners hanged on the Knavesmire. Elizabeth survived; she was among the 49 prisoners from York Castle who were sent to Liverpool for transportation as indentured servants. The transport ship, the Veteran, set sail for Antigua on 8 May 1747. Shortly before it reached its destination, the ship was captured by a French privateer. The Jacobite prisoners were taken to Martinique where they were given the choice of remaining in the French colony or of travelling to France where they would be free to live and take up businesses. No record exists of Elizabeth’s decision.


Jonathan Oates, York and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, Borthwick Paper No.107 (York: Borthwick Institute, University of York, 2005)

Steve Pickard, ‘The Jacobite Rebellion and the Fate of Elizabeth Grant’, York Museums Trust website. (accessed 6 September 2019)

Steve Pickard, ‘York Castle and the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion’, York Museums Trust website. (accessed 6 September 2019)

W.A. Speck, The Butcher, The Duke of Cumberland and the Suppression of the 45 (Cardiff: Welsh Academic Press, 1995)

I would like to thank Steve Pickard for supplying information regarding the prisoners held at York Castle and the subsequent executions.

© Richard Wilcock